Monday, March 15, 2010

I Am Wrong

Walking home this Saturday morning, I thought out of the blue - maybe I am wrong.  

And I did not doubt it. 

I was looking up at the blue sky breaking through the clouds and found my whole heart assenting, Maybe I am wrong, and suddenly an overwhelming relief.  The relief becoming, step-by-step, contentment - almost joy - that if I was wrong, then all was right with the world after all. 

Except my feet, which were threatening blisters.  Feet that have grown soft from too many days writing, too many days away from tramping up hill and down.  Because lately I've been feeling eaten by worry, I had taken a break from the usual pre-dawn walk with my friend so I could stay home and sleep it off - or lie in bed talking quietly with Fritz, which is what more usually happened. 

And my friend and I have not even been walking our long-standing Saturday morning walks:  mismatched schedules continually postponing our usual hilly miles. Hence tender feet.  But now, once more, my friend and I were back on the road together.  

We talked about education - which we always do.  And kvetched about other things - which we often do. 

She saw a cobble mark dissolved into the clay of a fresh road-cut.  Evidence of a weathered rock that was once picked up in the lava - eons ago.  We talked about volcanoes: how from the basketball court on Mt. Tabor can be seen a perfect cross-section of a volcano - the layers of lava, the central core.  How the West Hills are bubblings up like tar on a hot day.  How Portland itself, though, is built on the gravel gathered up and layered there by the Missoulas - huge floods of long ago.

For her, the whole landscape is in motion. 

For me, too, when I walk with her, looking at what she sees. 

She points out the ferns growing out of an old tree, still living but leaning almost onto the ground. I'm supposed to remember it so I can plant it on her grave.  If I outlive her.  If I remember.  I've asked her before, "You know that you might  end up with the giant anthill on your grave? Haven't you pointed that out to me as often as that old nurse tree?"  But she's told me so many times now  - not quite serious, not quite joking - as we pass the mossy trunk and the small forest of tiny ferns, that I may very likely remember.  Though that is a long, long time from now.  Years and years,  God willing, of Saturday morning walks.  Miles and miles of hills still ahead of us. 

Coming down the last of the hills, we talk about bananas, how they are all genetically the same and threatened by a deadly fungus (or bacteria?)

Would it be right to genetically modify bananas so that they are immune?  We think perhaps so.  Because we like bananas. 

I tell her Jasper Fforde's theory that bananas are actually GMOs from the future, brought back to the 1800s by time-travelers who needed to establish a conveniently packaged, all-natural wonder food.  Genetically modifying something that is by nature genetically modified seems just fine, doesn't it?

She tells me about wild African cats that have been cloned to avoid extinction - though they have no natural habitat left and will live out their lives in zoos.  Is this ethically right?  Environmentally?  We're not so sure. 

And what if researchers figure out how to clone mammoths from DNA frozen for millennia?  A sudden mammoth seems a waste of resources. Such a huge organism without its supporting ecosystem? But also, we admit, very cool. "If I were a researcher and could bring a mammoth to life, I'm not sure I could resist it just for the wahoo!"  My friend agrees.

The anthill at the edge of the road - as tall now as we are - we've been watching it grow through the years - teems with movement.  When we walk that way around the hills, my friend often stops there, as if at an altar.  This is her church, if anything is.

I had told her, back when we were still talking about volcanoes, about the beetles and spiders another friend had just learned about while visiting her sister in Hawaii, that eat - yes, eat - the barren lava and excrete it out the other end as the beginning of soil.

She told me in turn about the strange wormlike creatures that live deep in the oceans, their heads stuck into the trenches living on the torrid, caustic gases from the core of the Earth, their ends waving out into deep water so frigid that only the immense pressure keeps it from freezing.  "Who would think anything could live there?" But these worms have circulatory systems that move so quickly that their internal temperatures exactly balance both extremes of hot and cold.  She wonders, If the core of the Earth heats up, do they grow longer and extend further into that icy water to cool themselves off a little more?  Or the other way, if the oceans get colder, do they shrink in, stretch out into the unbearable heat of the trench?  And isn't the world full of marvels?

And we lingered at our last corner talking about the beauty of diatoms and the recovered meadows of mint and mustard, forests of almond, birch, and pomegranate that paleo-botanists can call forth just by reading the fossilized pollen record.

And then we parted ways and I began hobbling home, aware suddenly of my sore-footed state.  That is when I heard that thought in my mind - Maybe I am wrong.

About what? Wrong about my worries or about my consolations?  Wrong about my hopes or my despair?

Sure, why not. 

I am wrong. 

And it is such a relief to realize that this isn't an algebra problem that I have to work out.  This isn't an essay whose right conclusion I have to construct.  What if this is a world where kindness and violence, injustice and mercy, heroes and cowards hold hands and dance around in a ring?

I don't want to be right, if all that is true is only what I can contain in my own head.  We are lucky that in some way, in some essential part, we are all always wrong - about everything that isn't our joy at the color of the new leaves on the willow.

Or the smell of the wind.  Or our wonderment for marvelous bugs.

We asked the captain what course of action he proposed to take toward a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable. He hesitated to answer, and then said judiciously: "I think I shall praise it."

Robert Hass


ArtSparker said...

This made me cry. Something like this has occurred to me, the moment of terror and freedom when I know- just for a moment- that the world is not the limited one inside my head, it's more incoherent and mutable than anything I can imagine. I'm going to put in a link to this post.

Emma J said...

It is terror and freedom - but joy too, you know? Like missing the last ferry and no way to cross and your whole trip is ruined, all your plans have to drop away and you have to suddenly start living right there, right now.

ArtSparker said...


Needle Woven Studio said...

Thank you for putting these feelings to words - it rings so clearly to me and is so beautiful. I found your post through ArtSparker's weblog ... and am so glad I did.

Celeste Bergin said...

what a concept...I am wrong. I very much agree.

Eva said...

Poetry and philosophy. Wonderful reading and photos.
Even decay looks beautiful if nature does it.
Nature is always right -- it can't be wrong to be humble, seeing what she does. We should not try and repair what we've done -- repair by manipulations like weather forming or genetic engineering. Man hasn't yet understood the concept; we'll make it worse. Stopping wrong action will be enough. We have to leave it to nature to repair; we should just let her.

Harnett-Hargrove said...

What a relief it is when we really understand, and accept this part on the flux. -Jayne

Clowncar said...

this is just gorgeous. I'm so glad i stopped by.

Emma J said...

Away from the computer for a day and I come back to all these messages - like finding Easter eggs.

Thank you all for walking with me this little ways - and thanks, ArtSparker, for the link over. Made my day.

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