This afternoon, I sat in the shade of the mulberry tree, taking in the warm day. The air was glittering with the bright wings of hundreds of darting and swooping insects, their individual fragility not belieing the impressive durability of their kind. The day was filled with birds, too. A woodpecker startled me with its hammering on a branch of the wild plum bush at the end of the walk. From the next street, the hammering of a carpenter building a new house echoed loudly. The odd synchronicity reminded me of how much longer the sound of the woodpecker has been heard here than has the sound of our hammers. Another bird was chirping in a nearby pine tree. I thought of the ages through which that bird's ancestors had built their fragile nests, and built them anew each year. Another bird, small and grey, patiently pecked in the lawn. A hummingbird briefly alighted on a branch above me. I have seldom seen a hummingbird with its wings stilled. They are surprisingly small. When, after less than a minute, the bird flew away, the beating of its wings was surprisingly loud.
In the insect-buzzing evening, I walked to the edge of town and looked down the canyon to the distant ridges glowing golden with the last light. In the fading sky, I saw a flock of dark birds crossing the canyon. The perfectly still air held a single pale strand of cloud. The sense of calm in this scene was palpable.
I see no portents in things. Things are things themselves, and require no meaning projected by the human mind. Nature is no more or less than days and seasons and ages unrolling without regard to our desires or what we may imagine to be our destiny. It may seem strange to some, but I find a great contentment in my own utter insignificance. Without me, without any human at all, this scene, or something like it, will continue through the ages, adapting to whatever changes come, until some rock from space returns the planet to a more primitive state, after which it will most likely renew itself with a whole new menagerie of beasts and birds and a whole new garden of plants, and this cycle will repeat until the sun at last flares up and consumes it all in a blaze that will wink across the universe until time itself ends. There is something very satisfying about that.
I returned to my house in the fading light, and read for a while. I came across this poem by the T'ang Dynasty poet Li Shang Yin:
The candle casts dark shadows
On the mother of pearl screen.
Slowly, slowly, the Milky Way
Goes down the sky. The stars go out.
Girl in the moon, are you sorry
You stole the herb of immortality,
And night after night have to
Watch over the distant, emerald
Sea and the boundless jeweled sky?
And then I found this one, by Sung Dynasty poet Ch'en Yu Yi:
A breach of clear heaven opens
In the clouds. To the Southwest
The River stretches smooth and still.
There are tattered skirts of mist
On the sandbars. On the wall a
Magpie shakes his wet feathers
And scolds. Beyond the rooftops
The thunder is still grumbling.
I decide to profit by
The fresh air and pay myself
A small sum of peace. I hunt
Busily for some fine words
To announce the return of
Good weather, and the splendor
Of the evening, but I have
No one to share them with.
So I sit quietly and watch
The Milky Way light up.
I am suffused with its glow.
All my spirit is illuminated.
As I read, in the dead of night, I heard the faint click of a deer's hoof on the driveway. It was seeking the new blossoms of the pansies. Later, when I when out to check on what remained in the flower bed, I saw a meteor streak across the sky so quickly that it seemed barely to have been there at all. I shone my flashlight on the flower bed. Once again, only a few blossoms remained. More will grow. The deer will return to eat them. Everything is as it should be.