So much death, some so close it really hurts. Lives cut short, shorter than our expectations. People, friends, family members whose lives we took for granted, no longer there to laugh with, be bored with, irritated with.
First of July and the daisies along the sidewalk are weeks into blooming having rushed to their task following ample May rains. Now the midsummer’s heat fails to faze them, their flower heads already heavy in seed. So too do the fescues, cane grass, blue grama, crested wheat grass and spear grass wave their efforts about, grains full of pollen (while the cheat grass imposter laughs at their tardiness). Bumblebees and hummingbird moths favor the catnip, the beetles the daisies. In the evening scrub jays chase thru the high grass and the architecture, where the meadowlarks brought us into the day (making me attempt birdsong); then the magpies argued raucously over the table scrap, grinding and chortling between the catcalls. Doe antelope appear one afternoon looking as skittishly lost as they should, here where the mule deer come to nibble at the horse skull on the front step of the mountains. A fresh crop of calves and lambs on the way to work; cottontails dart between flattening tread and turkeys skitter into roadside shrubbery. My co-workers arrive with other sightings of jackrabbits, fox, coyote, eagles, osprey, hawks, vultures that my preoccupations missed. My triple filtered drinking water turns green having been too long in the sun and requires repeated vinegar rinses to remove the algae whose spores found a new, though temporary home there. Now viruses fill my sinuses, lungs and throat and I reel under their lives. The mosquitos, gnats and deer flies come for brood blood and egg incubation; I rinse their efforts away with Windex and alcohol. The ranchers get their first cutting of hay and alfalfa just before a late rain, requiring more time for turning and drying to thwart the ubiquitous mold. Still the fields fill with ample oversized bales of hay. It’s a wet spring and mushrooms grow in the desert, cactus blooms. Then comes the heat and brown. Still, life pushes every limit it can hunt down.
At night, Jupiter and Venus hang below the moon. In 1610, Galileo using a telescope of his own fashioning, discovered the four moons of Jupiter noting that they disappeared around, and therefore orbited the planet. This got him into a bit of trouble as the common knowledge of the day dictated that all heavenly bodies orbited us, because we’re special and the bible says so. (In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie would use his expedition telescope to observe the same moons and fix his position on the Canadian west coast, a helpful tidbit for Lewis and Clark ten years later.) My cousin’s husband slips away at night from his wife, and steals out into the Utah desert to prop up his telescope near the ghost town of Cisco. His is equipped with camera and computer. The computer positions the telescope on the selected heavenly body, like say Andromeda, Sagittarius or VDB105 and Tally trips the shutter, counts off some minutes, some hours, and sends me beautiful photos of the universe. My son is fond of similar outings involving long exposures of starlight thru a camera lens. Now our bedroom is graced with a photo of a million stars splashed across the Cascades. My daughter goes to the California desert to watch NASA play with rockets and comes away mumbling about long van rides, bad weather and scrubbed launches. We are observing the universe and death is not so ugly. That collapsed star, now a black hole full of dense mystery and speculation. Or a white dwarf cooled from a red giant, very lord of the rings. Nebulas spinning out stars and planets from space gas and debris, using the same set of governing laws and basic building blocks that Murphy hits us over the head with on a daily basis. Okay, they do have some thermo-nuclear explosions to help the process along that might not be as helpful to life forces currently operating on Earth. But don’t life act like it was born out of a thermo-nuclear explosion?! The billions of grains of pollen blown in clouds from the junipers outside our window; the thousands of eggs spawned from a single salmon. Sex in full display and in every variety, life in every brilliant dark hot freezing corner…nature is excessive and not taking any chances. The universe is an explosion of energy hell bent on life. (And that’s just the visible four percent of the universe, the other ninety-six percent consisting of dark matter we’re still clueless about.) On a grand scale it’s hard to find death. There’s a lot of transformation, some cooling down and coalescing into some other butterfly, but nothing really goes away. Energy is neither created nor destroyed and all that elemental physics.
On a smaller scale, is it really all that much different? Maybe we just fail to see the possibilities in Simba’s circle of life. Evolution has made us so exploitive we scoff at recycling like it’s only for wienies and certainly not for us. But garbage is a human construct; there is no trash in nature, everything is reborn. So what’s so distasteful about sharing the fate of the stars, about being part and parcel of the fabric of an astounding universe? We live a life. We are subject to every law of the universe we can peer review, along with every other life form and inert matter we perceive. We see our place in evolution, our relation to the tree of life. Our lives, like other animals require nutrition, rest, shelter, a place to grow and reproduce, and we die similar deaths of trauma, disease, old age. Yet we think that in death (and life) we are special, that across the vast expanse of the universe, this one tool building primate species on a speck of a planet amongst billions and billions of galaxies will defy every observable life-death scenario and magically ascend to heaven to commensurate with grandma. Is this what happens to the earthworms? So why us? We aren’t that special, not by a long shot.
Yet we are. We have the consciousness to reflect on the gift we share in. It’s no small thing to be borne of the stars and return thru the energy, beauty and life of the universe to a world without end, Amen. Why is it so hard to think of our loved ones as embraced into that fabric, energized and alive with a pulse that does not falter, ready to transform, grow and expand until we collapse and start again? Just like the rest of the stardust in this hurricane universe.
In 1610 Galileo pointed out that we are not the center of the universe. That made some people very unhappy. We want to be special, our ego demands it. So we are not the center of the universe. Can we not be happy with being centered with the universe?
About the Author:
Dan Becker is a Colorado builder, explorer, occasional poet.