Thursday, February 16, 2006

Waterfowl, Alive and Dead

Watching a flock of Canada geese: they fly in two V-shaped clusters. They are coming in perpendicular to the river, so that in order to land, they have to make a sharp left turn. The first V splashes down in the water; the second group flies over their heads to land upstream.

Some people are of the opinion that Canada geese are turning into a pest in this city. There are a lot of them around, but I still think they're beautiful. They watch out for each other: each flock always has one or two individuals keeping a lookout, while the rest of them eat.

In addition to geese, the river near my house also attracts ducks (and occasionally the swans I wrote about earlier.) I can recognize mallards, but there are two or three other species of duck among them that I don't know the names of.

The other day, I found a dead male mallard by the side of the road. All those shining green feathers. The body both swollen and flattened. A long time ago, I read a poem by Gary Snyder called "The Dead by the Side of the Road." I didn't know at the time that he was some kind of famous poet, but the phrase has stayed with me. Poems about roadkill.

While I'm on the subject, if you find a dead animal on the road, and it's safe for you to do so, it's a good idea to move it off of the road. Scavenging animals will come to eat it - and they're all too likely to end up as roadkill themselves.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Snow, Wonderful Snow

Which is the more satisfying sight to a lover of beauty: a deep expanse of snow or a bare pavement? Never mind foolish considerations, such as which one has to be shoveled. I'm talking about aesthetics. We went from bare pavement to a good six inches - more - overnight. I like it better this way.

I grew up in the North. This is what winter is supposed to look like. It makes me happy, although I don't go out in it unless I absolutely have to. I can see it fine from in here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Obligatory "What Kind of X are You?" Quiz

You Are a Hunter Soul

You are driven and ambitious - totally self motivated to succeed. Actively working to acheive what you want, you are skillful in many areas. You are a natural predator with strong instincts ... and more than a little demanding. You are creative, energetic, and an extremely powerful force.

An outdoors person, you like animals and relate to them better than people. You tend to have an explosive personality, but also a good sense of humor. People sometimes see you as arrogant or a know it all. You tend to be a bit of a loner, though you hate to be alone.

Souls you are most compatible with: Seeker Soul and Peacemaker Soul
What Kind of Soul Are You?

How did they guess that I like animals better than people? I don't remember any questions about animals on the quiz.

But it's true. I am completely ambivalent about humanity: I believe--along with Anne Frank--that people are truly good at heart. But in general I find it almost impossible to trust anyone. (There are some exceptions.)

I once learned to build a wall around myself in order to survive.

I feel kinship with animals and nature, not humankind. As I learn more about my own limitations and proclivities, I come to realize that I am human. But the wall is still there. Are other human beings human? I'm slowly learning compassion, but I don't expect compassion from anyone else.

Is the wall coming down? I'll tell you: it wasn't my idea. I'm still angry. Suffering makes me angry--my own and other people's suffering. But the wall does seem to be coming down slowly, deteriorating, as if under the effects of wind and rain. I'm ambivalent about it. But I won't stand in the way.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The First Noble Truth

From The Sword and the Flute, by David R. Kinsley:

The First Noble Truth of the Buddha is "All is suffering [duhkha]," a truth that the Hindu tradition, too, has assumed for most of its history. What the Buddha articulated in his formula and what duhkha means to the Indian tradition is not simply that life has its misfortunes, bad luck, or tragedies. Duhkha suggests something much more fundamental in Indian spirituality: it underlines the inevitable realities of sickness, old age, and death, the inevitable change and passing away of things.

I first read this book a few years ago, and just re-read it this week. Here are my reflections:

A couple months ago, a friend of mine asked if I knew what duhkha was. I had completely forgotten about that passage quoted above, so I said no. But I did remember the First Noble Truth, and we talked about the existence of suffering for a while. I wish I had remembered what I read about duhkha, because then I would have said, that even though sickness, old age, and death are inevitable, we can still seek happiness in this life, whereever possible.

Reading that passage again naturally made me think about my own old age and death. It was not something I wanted to think about. I put it out of my mind.

Yesterday, riding to work on the bus, I saw an old person disembarking. He had to move very slowly. I thought, "That is duhkha right there: old age and disability." In that moment I realized: The fact that suffering is inevitable means that it is our duty as human beings to avoid increasing the amount of suffering in the world. There is already enough.

Having said all that though, I do wonder about one thing: the cause of suffering. The Second Noble Truth explains that suffering is caused by desire, or attachment. Or, as this web site puts it: "the cause of this suffering is Craving, born of the illusion of a soul." To say that old age, sickness and death are caused by desire seems odd. Although I would kind of agree that they are "caused" by the illusion of a soul--that is to say, the illusion that each one of us exists as a separate entity. (I would use the term "ego" instead of "soul.")

Suffering exists. There you have it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blog Post about Blogging

I have not been posting regularly for a while now. All the usual excuses: holidays, caught a cold, personal angst.

But this blog was intended to be based on my observations of nature, and I'm starting to wonder if there is less to observe in the winter. I mean, once you've rhapsodized about the first snowfall, you're done, right? I could post about the unseasonably warm winter, and how uneasy it makes me. There. I just did.

Anyway, I might try to expand the scope of this journal a little. Starting with the next post.