Saturday, September 03, 2011

One step closer to the unknowable

     Sleep made me awake and the whisky sleepy. Surely that’s coming full circle though I’m left dazed and not a little woozy, midnight passing and me yet chained to the computer. After a week without Internet I’m still spelunking the endless alleyways of cyberspace with thoughts of birthdays and aging and creativity and getting somewhere or nowhere, depending upon my outlook at that particular heartbeat. The aggregate is toward the future, uncertain though it is. This is a relatively new thing seeing as how for most of my existence I was firmly in the Janus camp, two-faced with two pairs of eyes staring forwards and back, though my favorite view was toward the direction I’d come. Scrutinizing the past gets you nothing more than a low-level remorse based on unchangeable events, most of which were far more insignificant in the larger scheme of things than our feeble memories allow.   

I’m still puzzled over a stranger asking if I’d be interested in second shooter position for an upcoming wedding. I said I would but needed more information. My puzzlement lies not in the request but in my response, for wedding photography was never something that interested me. I’m still questioning what I want to be when I grow up, a laughable concept indeed considering the finite number of years left to me. That the wedding fell on my birthday meant nothing other than I’d wanted to do as little as possible that didn’t include cuddling, reading, drinking and eating, in that order.

At my age birthdays are more an excuse for cake and ice cream, also some minor introspection formerly reserved for the final day of the year. While others partied I glued my butt to a chair and hammered out pages of reflection that ultimately did little other than calculate gains and losses. I grew to envy mammals and birds their freedom from self-consciousness but then realized that perhaps their supreme awareness of their surroundings and their place within it was more advanced than our own simpering egotistical efforts, at which time I left off writing in favor of something more practical, like reading a book or going to bed at a reasonable hour. 

Whether from dread or anticipation I’ve started a countdown of sorts without a fixed end position which leaves me floating about in a cloud of uncertainty. Life is what we make of it and how we deal with the cards we’re dealt, not the number of our days. Fortunately I’ve been dealt some good hands and won more than I lost. From here on I suspect losing will be the norm, at least in terms of family members and friends, also health, fitness and that ill-defined concept called well-being. After mowing the yard on our return from New Mexico I realized that for all my efforts at walking straight to keep my body aligned with my knees, I’m still meandering like a crab, not exactly sideways but hither and yon as if my lower legs had differing opinions about the route to be taken. This isn’t a huge handicap though while skirting knife-edge ridges in the San Ysidro Anticline care had to be taken that my legs wouldn’t wander the rest of me off a cliff. Unfortunately it places stress on my hips and a blossoming pain as irrepressible as the morning sun rising above the wooded creek to the east of our house. It dawned on me that someday I’ll be a crippled-up, gnarled old man with fire in every joint and all because of a bad knee. 

As someone who tries to find connections in all things, sometimes to the point of absurdity, I’m afraid, it comes as no surprise that our bodies hinge on connections of the weakest materials: cartilage, brittle bone, atrophied muscles. It probably doesn’t help that in the past year I ate more than I exercised, thanks in large part to the selfsame knee, thus adding to the mass requiring support. I’m often my own worst enemy but seem incapable at learning from my mistakes. Just now I cut myself another slice of birthday cake but not until stifling the interior voices advocating restraint. Being raised Independent Baptist infected my conscience with a prudish, prissy demeanor that finds no joy in living when Old Testament austerity worked so well for Job and the desert-wandering prophets. Screw that. I might have two pieces of cake, and a shot of bourbon to wash it down.

Thinking of the desert and aridity reminded me of our recent traverse across the Great American Desert, a prescient description to be sure in light of the drought. Somewhere in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle we came upon a tractor dragging a plume of dust, each disturbed particle rising and falling to settle again in the ragged furrows until the agglomeration sifted into waves of sand hammered down by a merciless sun. I slowed to watch and wondered if the reason for the endeavor was more ingrained than purposeful, effort for effort’s sake and none other, neither planting nor harvesting but something else entirely, spitting in the face of adversity, perhaps, or a fatalistic act to stave off madness and despair. And as I watched movement caught my eye, swarms of dragonflies weaving the air in a southbound dash, sprinkled here and there with orange splashes of Monarchs. I’ll fly away, the old gospel hymn, came to mind, an old tune almost forgotten here on this deserted stretch of highway, but not so deserted that for a short moment we were all conjoined, the farmer, the travelers, the migrants, while all around us things were moving, migrating, the wobbling world spinning them off into unknowable trajectories, and anchoring us to this time and place a spray of wildflowers blue as the cloudless sky, and as full of unrealized promise.

The point was further hammered home upon our return when the evening sky darkened with the wings of hundreds of nightjars, swifts and swallows wending their way toward the tropics. Our chimney swifts apparently tagged along for since then the heavens have been deserted. I’m always left slightly bereft at the passage and not a little jealous. Why they get to go and I have to stay proves that life is unfair, but then again I’m safe and cozy in our darkling house, weary though I am.


The wedding fell through, or my part in it, anyway, leaving me the freedom to pursue other avenues. Mine led me to a local school where I watched an artist teach students the technique of encaustic painting, sort of a Photoshop layering using beeswax, brushes and heat guns rather than digital files. Seeing the students create their own works gave me hope for the future of the human race, something I’d not felt for some time but then I’ve been studying the political farce we call government and subjecting myself to online reader reviews, testament to the indomitable witlessness of my fellow Americans. I’ve come to the conclusion that the nation is doomed though it might be my pessimism talking. My timing was off meaning I arrived late for the workshop and had only a few minutes to indulge, but as I turned to leave my eye snagged on five wrinkled canvas aprons hanging on a wall. Something about them was mesmerizing, the interplay of light and shadows, the juxtaposition of rough texture against smooth wall, or maybe that indefinable conviction of seeing beauty in the ordinary and mundane. Without hesitation I lifted the camera and snapped the shutter. 

I didn’t have to look at the LCD to know I had what I wanted, not merely an image but a substantiation. Life is a lot simpler than we make it out to be. I could needlessly complicate my remaining minutes by marking the inexorable ticking of the clock, watching the dissolution of our nation or lamenting the grand migration of our birds, or I could do something substantive, something creative, maybe even something beautiful. Why that escaped me before is anyone’s guess, but here before me was the path I was meant to take. So bon voyage, my feathered friends, and bon voyage my U.S.A., we’ve come to Frost’s fork in the road. You go to your perilous journeys and to your doom, respectively; I think I’ll stick around and make myself useful.


Reece said...

Happy birthday! Hope you stick around to make yourself useful for a good long while. Love your dawn shot of Ojito. Better than what I got. God, I need a wider lens.

Tom Parker said...

Thanks, bro. I was surprised at that shot because it wasn't what we came for. The rest of them sucked, but such are the fortunes of photographers who rise too early.

A superwide lens is a joy forever.

Wes said...

Happy B-day, bro!! I sincerely hope you have many, many more. It was great to hobble around with you (LOL) again. As soon as I win Powerball, I'm getting a lens and camera like you!!

shoreacres said...

Scrutinizing the past gets you nothing more than a low-level remorse based on unchangeable events... Maybe. But there are ways to approach the past other than scrutiny. Re-membering. Re-vivifying. Taking a second slice, so to speak.

And just my opinion: strongest part of this piece the section that begins, And as I watched movement caught my eye, swarms of dragonflies weaving the air in a southbound dash... That, and the rest of that paragraph, is vibrant, strong, rhythmic.

I'm wondering. Do you suppose the monarchs and swifts and dragonflies ever think, "Why do we have to go and they get to stay?"