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Bathe Like This

To see a baby elephant splashing and take it as a suggestion.

May I know it for answering thirst, and to wash; for cooling feet, brushing teeth, boiling food; for baptism. May I swim to you through it. May I always remember the depths of its substance, the hidden multitudes beneath its infinite unknowns, and the speed at which I might be swallowed whole.

And yet, let me also remember what this little one knows at first touch, when she is feeling only surface, undistracted by depth: how it presses back against skin, against the pressure of whomever leans in. How this willingness to return touch magnified makes it best for splashing.

The first praise song ever uttered goes like this: Splash, tap, tap, splash! Open hand, open mouth, open foot. Again, again! Not to make a point, but for the delight of having none, but this.

***

Inspired by this video of Chaba, a rescued baby elephant, enjoying the water in her new tub, which I encountered on My Modern Met:

Horoscope Buffet

Some days, just one isn’t enough.

What’s wrong?

I don’t think my coffee is working. Did you switch to half-caf again? 

No way. How about some astrological guidance? Let’s see. . . Here’s Cancer.

Mmhm.

Begin an honest discussion.

What else?

That’s it.

Well. I’m going to need a little more than that today. Read the others.

You mean the other signs?

Yah. Start from the beginning. I’ll sip, you read. We’ll see what takes.

Okay. Let’s see. . .  Ram says once your priorities are straight, it’s smooth sailing. New information is coming to reveal a higher purpose.

Then, according to the bull, an ounce of prevention now will save you lots of headaches later.

The twins suggest adding beauty to your surroundings. The lion suggests exercise.

What else?

Who’s this one, Virgo?

The nurturer.

Well, she’s saying you’re about to have a change of heart.

Hope so. Keep going.

The goddess of justice wants you to do more research and this scorpion forecasts a gift on the way.

Vacation?

No, it says it may actually look like extra work, at first.

Hmmm. Next?

The centaur is of a mind that a good walk can help you process your shifting emotions. . . 

And?

Wants to remind you to ask for guidance.

Exactly. Keep it coming.

The sea goat insists on expanding horizons. Plus, standing your ground. But they don’t specify the order of operations on this one, so it’s not exactly––

What else?

The water bearer says it’s time to relax your expectations.

Of?

Um, others. And there’s one more. This from the fish. They say, whatever you’re doing, it isn’t working. So––

What? I thought these were supposed to be encouraging!

They are. They say try something else. 

Earthling to Moon, on News of its Departure

Imagining some awkward breakup conversations inspired by the moon’s inevitable departure from Earth’s gravitational pull.

At first, I didn’t believe it. My gravitational gauge is oversensitive sometimes.  I always think things are closer than they are. For this reason, I avoid parallel parking when possible. (“You’ve got like, three feet! Seriously!” a helpful person will try to explain. “No, no, never mind!” I’ll say, preferring to walk a few more blocks as needed to avoid what looks like a near collision.)

Needless to say, the idea that you’ve been drifting away this whole time comes as a bit of a shock. 

You say it’s “just gravity” but isn’t that sort of like one of those noncommittal statements that really mean a whole other thing (“It’s not you, really, It’s me,” or “I just have a lot going on”)? Isn’t gravity what we had going on? I mean if that’s getting weaker, what are you really saying? 

I know there’s something you’re not saying.  Was it all the photographs? I know, I know. It’s a lot, but you were always changing––color, size, shape; we couldn’t get enough.

Was it how were always projecting our own insecurities, variabilities and hopes onto you? I know it’s a lot: our moods, our energy levels, certain personality traits. 

Wait a minute, now that I think of it, what did you mean when you did that thing at the festival? Well, I know it wasn’t You-you, but c’mon. I mean, that thing with the balloon at the parade? That huge one that looked just like you, with craters and everything? How it broke free and started rolling in the street, remember that?  

I bet you do. People ran after it, but it never came back to the parade. They called it “a mishap” but you planned that, didn’t you? ––As, what, like a hint? Like a sign of things to come? Is this your idea of communicating?

I wasn’t alive when we were supposedly much closer than we are now, but I love the idea: once we needed only a ladder and a willingness to leap, and there we were, scooping cheese from your surface and hurling it back. Thank you, Calvino. I love to imagine the small earthlings, like jellyfish and children floating into you until they are caught by someone on a boat.

Apparently, the same forces drawing you away are slowing our days. We can barely feel this, of course. When does anyone ever feel when this happens, in real time? Once it was four hours from sunrise to night-time, and what were we doing then? 

Just wait, someone tried to say. They called it our honeymoon phase. We laughed. But, I wonder now, how will we explain the totality of what we felt here, when you were close enough to block the whole sun?

Inspired by Marina Koren’s Atlantic article The Moon is Leaving Us. Also, the thought of moon distances shifting inevitably calls to mind Italo Calvino’s wondrous story,  “The Distance of the Moon.”

Saint of Creatures

On remembering each creature as its own message.

You offered, in your daily practice, some reminders, such as: each creature carries its own message, its own metaphor, and how to recognize the animal soul.

If you have men who will exclude creatures from the shelter of compassion, you said, so will they do with other men.

You would speak with birds, who stayed with you until you said goodbye. You called after a cicada, saying Sister, sing, and she did.

Even worms, moving close to your path, were moved by you. Be safe, you would tell them, setting them back from the approaching feet.

Flash of ferret, oriole oracle, what you remembered with the rabbit; insect insight, iguana inspiration; the vision of vipers; signs and symbols you shared with the swallows.

Wonder of wolf, its terror transcended to peace in your presence; how did you know?

Had you a microscope, I wonder, what might you have made of the tardigrade, its ability to live in what others would call hell. What epiphanies would you have seen in these; about the limits we imagine for the living?

And I wonder what you would have made of the yeti crab, who appears like a child’s pet monster, hovering near the ocean’s hydrothermal vents? The mineral level is poisonous, but she carries colonies of bacteria in her pincers to null what would kill. What songs could you hear in her patient waiting in those depths?

And I’d love to know what you’d make of the sea creature that reverts to infancy after maturity, who renews herself again and again, body without a seeming end. What would you say to her, and how would you learn to listen, over time, to the bass-beat of her endlessly whispered devotion?

Notes:

Inspired by the coming feast of St Francis, as illuminated by Richard Rohr’s Every Creature is an Epiphany, from his Daily Meditations series at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC.org).

and also by Mihei Andrei’s article Meet the World’s Only Immortal Animal on ZME Science

Headlines Almost Missed

News of the world, in miniature.

This morning, catching up on news from past months, I find some worth sharing.

Orange Orb Owning Onus of Our Origins, Outcast Among Us.

Dancing bears circle: stomp, push, shove; their mother waits. I watch through a lens.

Baikal babushka crosses the lake on skates her dad made, after war.

Second Looks: Einstein Edition

Even after these phenomenal scientific breakthroughs, he’s still a guy: music, hair, misunderstandings.

You know what I love about Einstein?

Relativity?

Of course, but it’s hard to love something you don’t know well, and I can’t say that my understanding of any of his theories goes very far beyond the basics of dinner party repartee.

That’s still happening?

Relativity? I assume, I mean, no one’s exactly––

No, dinner parties and such.

Well, I don’t know. I haven’t exactly been to too many since––

Just wondering. Anyway, what do you love about him, then?

The other things. Like how he played the violin and wrote all these letters back and forth with his wife, even when they weren’t getting along. Plus, of course his hair. I love that he makes this phenomenal scientific breakthrough, but he’s still a guy. With his music and his hair and his misunderstandings. It makes him even better somehow, knowing that.

You know, he spent a number of years working on refrigerators, too?

Huh. Well, everybody’s gotta start somewhere. I didn’t know he was a repairman, though.

No, I mean inventing a better one. And this was after he was the famous Einstein.

So, he just got it in his craw to start tinkering on home appliances? Did he do toasters, too, because this one I’ve got is a real––

He read a story about a family that got killed overnight from a leak. Back in the day, they were using chemicals like ammonia and sulfur dioxides as coolants. So, you can imagine. 

I am trying. So, you mean to tell me, my fridge is an Einstein invention?

Well, no. He got his patent for an induction cooling system right around the time that the great depression hit. Also, freon came around, and that took the issue of poison out of the equation. So, his invention wound up being applied to nuclear breeder reactors. 

I see. What about the rest? Did he keep on with the letters, the violin, the hair?

I like to assume so. We never actually met.

Me too. I like it when something or someone looks like one thing up close, and then when you zoom out and take them in––

They are so much more?

Exactly.

Cheers.

Have you had dinner yet?

Let’s go. Call it a party.

Notes:

Inspired by Steve Silverman’s Einstein’s Refrigerator and other Stories from the Flip Side of History (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2002), which I found at a library used book sale some years ago, and opened for the first time today. You just never know when you will have your day brightened by a a book like this, which is why I love used book sales.

Second Looks

The trick is to learn how to look from a distance while close to the pieces, and to account for the movement of light.

Huh.

What?

There are faces.

I don’t see any. 

Look here. You can’t see them as a collective. Go one at a time. 

All I see is wallpaper.

Step back. There is a face.

I’m not––

It’s in the shadows.

The face is?

The shadows make the features. It only works at a distance.

Like memory?

Exactly.

I read something about mosaics recently, just like that. By someone who was learning the art. How the trick is to learn how to look from a distance while close to the pieces, and to account for the movement of light.

There’s a little winged man in the garden sometimes. 

––The art of broken parts, she said.

In the clouds, a giraffe. The lights in the sky, like a bird in flight.

There’s a green haired man in the rocks.

Madonna in a gourd, toast Jesus, the grilled cheese miracle.

There’s a rabbit on the moon. Or a man.

A man, you think?

Well, a face anyway. Like this. Step back a little more. Right here. Relax your eyes, like a cat.

I ––oh. Wow.

Yes.

It’s there.

Right there.

I almost missed it.

Keep looking.

Notes:

This piece is inspired by an article about artist Lee Wagstaff’s recent work, in which “hidden faces” emerge from canvases of repeating geometric patterns, and also by an article about the human tendency to see patterns.

Margherita Cole’s September 29th article in My Modern Met: “Hypnotic Portrait Paintings are Based on AI Generated Faces.” 

Larry Sessions’s Earthsky article, “Seeing Things That Aren’t There? It’s Called Pareidolia,” (November 2020)

The reference to mosaics is inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ Finding Beauty in a Broken World

Listening to Lepidoptera

We appreciate the beauty of butterflies, but what else? What of the moths disguised as tree bark, and what do they say with those wings?

For most, a typical response to a tray of specimens can be a ranking in order of beauty. This because, what else? Butterflies and moths cause no marked aversion; they do not sting or make terrible pests. We do not eat them.

What, then? Initially, we have no other means, beyond the appeal of their colors, to appreciate them. 

In North America, there are more species of butterfly on the endangered list than any other insect. Not everyone gets field experience, so look.

Why are the wings so large? They speak with them.

Consider these canvases, painted differently on each side, according to audience.

Where are the moths in daytime? In the day, they become tree bark, lichen, twigs.

Consider one hundred caterpillars, wrapped or naked; cylindrical or bulging, immaculate or marked. See the chrysalis, head down, unclothed, posing as a leaf.

Some ride mice to safety, to lay eggs in an underground den.

One makes no sound, but what about a chorus of millions?

Here is a waterfall.

Patience now. A more complete discussion will be possible after secrets are revealed.

Notes:

This morning’s post is assembled from found phrases in the opening chapter of 100 Butterflies and Moths: Portraits From the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica, by Jeffrey C. Miller, Daniel H. Janzen, and Winifred Hallwachs. I came across it in the used bookstore adjacent to the library in the year before the pandemic, and was taken by the color images. It seemed like the sort of book to keep on hand for future inspiration.  Waking especially groggily this Wednesday morning, I pulled it from the shelf to see what I could find. 

Flight Paths

Considering the migration patterns of birds, and the instincts that teach a body when and how to move.

As weather cools and light shifts, I am remembering the late summer geese. They were molting, apparently, which is why spent several weeks doing nothing but walk around and honk. They were regarded as pests, but I admired their swagger.

Later I learned that they had been hunted to near extinction around the turn of the century. Some measures were taken to protect them. Meanwhile the geese got wise to the fact that hunting didn’t happen in the cities and the suburbs. They liked the lawns. 

When did they fly south for the winter? Many stayed put, but some would have started this month. This is what you learn to do. You can either adapt when things change or fly elsewhere.

The arctic tern goes farthest. At just under fifty-thousand miles per migration year, one of their journeys, tallied over thirty years, is the distance of three trips to the moon and back.

They store fat for the journey. Some birds will nearly double their weight. 

I wonder about those times when they get it wrong, about the ones that think they are adapting while miscalculating either the food or the poison in it. I wonder if there is a sudden moment of collective consciousness that makes some groups suddenly move, and about those times when the impulse comes just a little too late. Consider the flocks falling whole from the sky, researchers scratching their heads the next day. Often no known event can explain these falls––not directly, anyway. How often we want to blame the knowns. This is why we give children books with monsters in them, for the comfort of the danger with a face. That isn’t what gets you in the end, though, is it? It’s almost always what you can’t or won’t see, until it’s too late.

Sometimes the young ones will get confused. I don’t mean just the geese here. I’m thinking of snowy owls, wrens, wheateaters, hummingbirds, godwits, ducks, raptors, and countless species I can’t name. 

When the little ones get lost, or read the signs wrong, they can sometimes start migrating in reverse. These renegades live alone, belong to no known group of birds, and have to rely on their own instincts afterwards. They may struggle in mating season. 

Not all of the ones flying in reverse are lost. Some know exactly where they are, and how, and they know they haven’t stored enough fat to make it. But what internal gauge is telling them when they don’t have enough to make it all the way? How did they learn to hear it, and what happens when two impulses, both related to survival, demand opposite actions? How does it know? I wonder if the most necessary of the two somehow manages to be so loud that it drowns the other one out, the way it is possible–– for the hungry body on another species on edge of exhaustion, to forget food in favor of sleep’s relief.  

Notes

The Migration of Birds – from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website

Misplaced News

There is a turquoise parakeet out there somewhere, and a young girl missing him. He goes by Morris.

Today’s news comes from the lost and found pages on my favorite online message board.

The white cockatiel is still missing; the wedding ring, too.

But found are the kayak paddle, swim fins, and the Madonna with child.

Someone is specializing in the finding of white furry pets. It is unclear whether this particular focus has to do with the white ones being easier or harder to find, or if some deliberate effort is made to ignore pets of other colors in order to preserve some measure of brand identity in a niche market. 

A male husky in the southeast once was lost, but now is found.

Today’s top story involves the finding of money. Or rather, that whoever found seems to be a large sum is now trying to give it back. Please respond, the message says, with exact details of what you lost.

In related news, someone else wants it known that the couple that saved them when their kayak capsized has restored their faith in the ability of people to do right by one another.

Meanwhile, there is a turquoise parakeet out there somewhere, and a young girl missing him. He goes by Morris, also Moe Moe, and the absence of his ongoing conversation is felt in a now-quiet household of three. There is an open cage in the front yard, waiting for his return. 

There is hope and a plea: Cash reward, please call––

and a child at the window, waiting, repeating a familiar refrain: Please, come back.

More Craigslist-inspired dispatches:

News of the World

Seeking Anon

Lost and Found

I’ll Meet You at the Lost and Found

Counting Losses