Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Great Blue Heron





The more I write on here, the more it becomes apparent that there are two things that we all share.

a) The long term experiences that tend to get pounded into your brains day after day and only sink in over time.

b) The unexpected revelations that come out of no-where and are burned into our minds that force us to pause and question everything we have learned.

Most societies tend to apply repetitive education to their citizens. We are trained to repeat things over and over until we have them memorized and they become part of our daily routine. We recite multiplication tables, memorize the alphabet and read about the noble deeds of our forefathers. Some of it is propaganda while some is just standardized social skills. It makes us more homogeneous, more of a collective instead of a bunch of individuals. Collectives are more likely to pay taxes and not question things.

But there are times when we stop and start asking questions. When we say to ourselves, "Wait a minute, is everything I've been told really true?". These questions aren't necessarily about science or skills. They are about the way we have been trained to perceive our world. Questions about religion, reality, our souls and our purpose.

It is these experiences that keep coming back to me in these blogs. The recollection of questioning what infinite really is on a dark forest path and wondering, if just for moment, if there were unseen doors that no one every told us about.

As a small child I took a train trip from the west coast to Iowa with my mother. We had a sleeper car and the clickity-click of the rails lulled me to sleep at night. I had a small bunk that folded down by the window. In the middle of the night I felt the train come to a stop. I rolled over and parted the curtains to look out. There was a snow covered station platform illuminated by a single overhead light. Someone from the train walked down the platform, hugged a waiting relative and they both exited into the darkness. As the snow continued to whirl in the night breeze, the train slowly pulled away into the inky blackness. I went back to sleep and the next day I wondered if it was all a dream. I still do. How much of what we perceive is real or just imagined?

As a young man attending Oregon State University, I was able to take a single skull out on the Willamette river. A skull is one man oared boat that can do 14 mph in calm water. They are barely a foot wide and sit only inches above the water. One cold spring morning I checked out a skull and launched into the fog shrouded Willamette for an early morning workout. About a mile downstream, I stopped rowing and just listened to the world around me. Because of the fog I couldn't see more than 20 feet in any direction and the only sound was the water rushing beneath the hull. My mind told me I was about a hundred feet from shore. But my thoughts said I could be in the middle of a vast ocean. I was alone and surrounded by water. As I pondered the silence a shape appeared out of the fog. A Great Blue Heron, with a five foot wingspan, flew out of the mist and floated directly toward me. He swooped over my head and disappeared into the fog from which he came. He was visible for about 5 seconds. If I hadn't stopped to ponder and listen, I would never have seen him.

Just like nature shows us glimpses of the world before we arrived on the planet, our fellow man can sometimes shows us the darker side of the human experience. This is something that isn't usually pounded into our brains. Text books and teachers don't usually emphasize what the ramifications of fear and failure are and how it is perceived by others. The emphasis these days is to focus on the 'positive'.

I spent the summers of my youth in Fort Dodge, Iowa with my paternal grandmother. There was a park at the end of the street that had a miniature steam train. You could ride it for 10 cents and to a small boy it was the coolest toy in the world. One summer, when I returned to the park, the train was gone. For the next 10 years, I would return to that park in hopes that the train would have returned, but it never did. The path in the ground where the rails used to be was still there as a reminder. The last time I visited the park as a young man, a building had been erected on the site. I wondered if I am the only one that remembers it even existed. If no one else remembers it, was it really there? Are we just ghosts in the machine?

My paternal grandmother used to save stale bread so we could take it to the park and feed the tame deer that were in a large enclosure there. It was a traditional thing. The deer would come up to the fence and eat the bread out of our hand. As an 8 year old boy we thought of them as huge pets. I would rather go back and feed those deer for 10 minutes than spend hours playing video games. In my mid-thirties, I learned that some drunken teenagers had jumped the fence and killed most of the deer. They probably never knew how many memories they erased that day or how much innocences was lost.

During Christmas as a little kid, my parents always made me leave a glass of milk, some cookies and some carrots out for Santa and his reindeer before I went to bed. When I awoke the next day, I always noticed the glass was empty, the cookies where gone and only the stub of the carrots remained. I suppose the key to making a child believe in the impossible is to not leave out the details. Back then I believed that a man could actually fit down a chimney and deliver gifts (and we didn't even have a chimney).

During my honeymoon, my wife and I were visiting all the places in the Midwest where we had grown up as children and visiting all the cemeteries where our ancestors lay. While walking through a cemetery with my video camera I spied my new wife lost in thought and focused the camera on her. As she stood in the setting Midwestern sun, bathed in light and surrounded by trees, the breeze blew through her hair and made it appear to float around her face and shoulders. I thought to myself, "Damn, what a beautiful woman." Almost anyone can be more beautiful than we ever imagined, if we just take the time to see them in a certain light.

The older I get, the more these memories and questions haunt me. Most of the things I was taught growing up have been slowly chipped away by experience. We weren't put here to be trained to do repetitive tasks and be homogeneous. We are supposed to wonder about and question everything. It is our gift. We need to unwrap it more often.

(this is a re-write / expansion of a previous blog that I wrote over 2 years ago entitled Home....) It is also a prelude to an upcoming blog...stay tuned.