Monday, October 11, 2010

The answer my friend

The wasp hovers momentarily, then flits laterally, vertically — zipping to and fro, repeating cycles of its dance.

The humming bird, its wings beating so quickly it’s all a blur.

The hare stops to study its surroundings, its ears pricked to every breeze and nuance of sound, its nose puffing at the wind.

Living a rural life affords the simple pleasure of seeing wild creatures going about their business.

Most of the North American population is lost to this magic. We live in cities and towns, designed it seems to push away the natural in favour of gated communities, storm-water retention ponds, the ersatz lakes of the present moment.

A city presses around us, a vice that loosens rarely. It seems improbable that we should have chosen the city as the best means of living together. There must be other ways to live.
But the pastoral life we may once have cherished has given way to the crush of humanity we know as a city.

Sheer numbers force the creation of knots of humanity, linked by the commonalities of our culture, that group-think of the present moment. Cars, buses, taxis and bicycles compete along the cement corridors that physically link city dwellers to one another.

‘The street’ is where life happens; it’s our modern commons of curbed and moulded pathways. Off the well-beaten thoroughfares, we eke an existence on the sidestreets of modern life, cajoling some semblance of joy and balance in an improbable world — the comforting drone of the always-on television giving assurance that we are part of something greater, better.

Youngsters play hockey on these residential streets or play stick on retention ponds that contain the runoff from our streets of golden dreams. Backlanes are hidden, coming off secondary streets at right angles. Faded garages, chipped driveways and sullen people raking the fall detritus from their lawns ooze along these dismal paths, reserved otherwise for garbage cans and dumpsters, and marauding youth looking for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg or whatever troupe of wild-eyed poets and gangsters may cross their path.

In the faraway land of a city’s downtown core, the grease that’s poured on the street is dark and sublimely nihilistic. The ethos is getting high, getting laid, getting drunk, getting of the madding train to ruin but always paying the conductor his due.

Urban planners and activists strive to colour over the pain. There’s an urgency to deny the darkness; it cannot penetrate the city’s soul, though it’s this malaise that says more of a city than all the positive spins of politicians who envision, always, a brighter future.

The tribes that roamed North America in search of food 10,000 years ago saw the changes in the days and seasons. The aurora borealis was more than a talking point in a high school astronomy class; it shimmered evanescent in the northern sky, speaking to the soul.

The orange glow near city overpasses rubs out the night sky, shaking off the once-luminescent Milky Way. The piercing lights of our consumptive city life are seen from the moon as patches of exploding electromagnetic activity, as if they meant something, a sort of message to the great beyond.

Here in my rural hometown, one can see the stars. There’s not a traffic light in town, and street lights are few and far between.

Walking the dog for its diurnal constitutional, the night sky dances overhead on a cloudless evening.

Should we return to the city and its cornucopia of ‘opportunity’, its promise of savings accounts to the good financial manager, its vibrant arts and culture scene?

Or should we wander timelessly through these fields of stream in the hinterlands?

The answer, my friends ....

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