Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Natural Sensorium

It is cold outside and I dearly love walking to Prospect Park with Mira, getting a coffee, a toasted bagel, and watching the birds fly over the lake. The air is crisp and I find myself bewildered by the patterns the birds produce together. Sometimes feeling like one entity, just this pulsing pattern of squawks in the sky. There is the swirling tornado shape where they glide in circles up up up and then down, producing a collective drain into the icey stratosphere. There is the hey, lets all head over there, mad panic where for reasons unknown, the birds head out to another section of the lake together. Do they work these things out in advance? There are the individual chase scenes where I always wonder, "Why are those two birds mad at each other? Is that a game they are playing? Love? Crankiness? Are these the wrong emotions to lob onto a bird?" An old man was feeding the birds and they all were whipped up into a feeding frenzy. I always latch onto a small bird who gets his bread consistently taken by the geese and mallards. Oh the poor things. I imagine myself with the bread and selectively feeding the runts. Feeding time is a time of justice, even in my mind. Good feathers! Have a piece of bread. You there, don't worry about your aggressive friends, I will throw this piece out toward the left. You didn't run fast enough! ugh, no wonder you are so small. The geese are always so demanding.

Sitting by the lake I watch other urbanites sit hypnotized by the goings-on of the birds. Is nature really healing? Really? I remember feeling somewhat mystified by my early 20s desire to become mystically alert by heading into nature. I am part of the legacy that feels that nature whispers genuine wisdom into us. As urbanites, it can be our piece of the garden of eden where we long for the tasty fruit trees and solace that inevitably accompanies the myth of nature. Buddha didn't lean against a freeway divider mind you. Nature is an experiential book. We collectively gravitate toward reading it. Sitting there. Dodging bike riders, joggers, men with metal scanning devices moving over the earth, and healthy yuppies. We sit on rickety benches and stare marvel-eyed at the rorschach test of maddening specs of white birds loving, feeding, yelping, pulsing like an ant hill. Nature, what do you want from me?

I remember living with my mother in the woods of Winchendon, Massachusetts. I had fled from the Bay Area because I was depressed to no end. I hadn't really intended to face nature really. I was looking forward to the couch more than anything. Slowly, I got used to heading out into the woods and just sitting there, hoping to spot a deer or even a bunny. I loved waking up to see the tracks in the snow of the animals that had scampered about the night before. As though, during the snow season, the earth was covered in tracing paper. Why, I could just follow these deer tracks to a deer bungalow. It is that simple. I remember sitting there in the snow and realizing that nature isn't quiet. It's loud. Cracks, pings and ticks abound. You could hear branches breaking in the wind, and that birds are far too gregarious. If everyone could shut up, I could hopefully hear the delicate steps of a deer or the ever so rare umph of a moose paw.

As I sat on a log with miranda today with my coffee spewing steam and her hair getting caught in her mouth from the wind, I once again thought about how our senses dim over time. They get selective. When I was young, I understood nature by the smell of dirt and the texture of bushes as I hid in them. I knew the stains of grass on my knees and the way sticks felt on my hands as I ran with them. I knew the smell of rotting apples, walnuts, and blackberries. The feeling of thorns across my arm. The familiar mud between toes in a river. Now we sit on a bench and stare across a lake with birds mimicking the bleary static of our eye-laden living. We push into a natural world with our eyes shoved forward and our hands in our pockets. Dirt is best when it is smelled and pushed between our fingers. An icey lake comes to life when your feet crack through the ice and the different temperatures slide along your leg as you fall in. Your nose can remember better than you. It is a scrapbook with few pictures in it.

Reminds me when natalie jeriminjenko said that we she can't stand the popular notion that we are bombarded with more information now than ever. As though our minds have never been put through such a filtering test. As our senses dim, we turn the light out on far more information that is out there. We privelege our eyes out of convenience and let go of the vast sensorium that would have us bristling with multiple forms of pleasure, agony and deliciousness.

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