The Big Divide
A Land Ruled by Wind and Water
based on a trip up the River Road on February 9, 2002
Over the past fifty years I have traveled this same road so many times I can not even estimate just how many trips I made but, as with many things that one does during a lifetime, the same can prove to be different. As I sat thinking about this simple and well repeated trip something new began to develop within me, it was composed of flash images from that day–a soaring eagle riding heat thermals welling up the westward facing slope of the river bluffs, the stampede of wavelets as the continual gusts of a wintry wind swooped across the land and over the surface of open water, the star-like quality of the water surface-broken by the relentless wind into countless tiny mirrors catching and reflecting the sunlight from a perfect day-dazzling the eye and inflaming the mind.
This water that we so confidently confine behind levy and earthen damn carries within its liquid body the heartbeat of a continent relentlessly moving toward the open sea. In human time it may be majestic and even, upon occasion, awe inspiring but in planetary time it is a force beyond reckon. Capable of moving a continent and modifying the environment of a nation. Yet as powerful and eternal as it seems it’s lifespan is as the flash of light reflecting off its surface on a perfect winter day-there and then gone. An life span so short and un-permanent that if unobserved its even existence would be without record. It is into this reality that I wandered that sunny day totally unaware that I had traversed the reality of life and entered the reality of geological time. The key I suppose was my human desire to understand and experience things beyond my own existence.
I believe that people of all times have struggled with this issue because from birth the realize that their existence is so limited that it demands search and struggle to find the something that makes a lifetime meaningful. You can see them working and surviving in much the same way today as their ancient relatives did throughout the past. The struggle is the same just the tools have changed, but toil we do–each day to acquire and posses things, wage battles to determine superiority of both product and person, develop elaborate ceremonial structures to glorify and edify our own self and, finally, labor to create something that will last beyond our short physical existence. We have always done this a probably always will for it comes with an existence that is temporary and connected to a time and place. It is out of this realm I inadvertently stepped for a short time and into a spatial plain for which time stretches beyond both horizons and the singular events of a day or even a century are so minuscule when balanced against the whole of time that there is no reason to develop ritual or myth to remember. Each tiny unit of time is part of a seemingly without end and for that reason can be accepted and experienced upon it own merits as a singular event worth or not of remembrance. This is probably the reason that most of use spend a lifetime living a parallel existence to this reality without ever making a connection. Consider the sunset, happens every day but how many do you remember–one, two, maybe none? Its not because they may not have all be extraordinary its just that because they exists in a different plain that only touches that within which we exist we remain unaware–for after all there will always be another and maybe tomorrow I will have a bit of time to stop and look.
It is within this thought pattern that I made the transition from here to there and once there I was encompassed by a feeling of forever. I sat in human time and looked through the window into geological time as I watched an event that has probably occurred millions and billions of time in the past and will continue countless times in the future. It is an event that exists in both dimensions and occurs parallel in both. I was parked atop a rock and stone dam separating a section of backwater, which had been corralled into a boat harbor, from land humanly designated as crop land. All of which, before human intervention, was and is part of the great flood plain of this mighty river–but, for just these moments of human existence, relegated to different purposes by the masters of the earth. I have been at this vista several times in the recent past and I guess the last time was a few months before near the end of summer on another perfect day where warm temperatures and a to-blue sky was canopied by white cumulus clouds. At that point the view in front of me was of a rough crop land with its brown furrowed rows planted and a tractor trail leading away from the end of the rock and asphalt ramp leading down from the top of the levee and into the crop land. Today the view was one of ramp into water as recent rains north and west and an unusually mild winter created some local flooding. It was at this meeting that I understood a message so commonly sent yet because of its commonness containing a hidden message. That message was one of both timelessness and timeliness.
The message arrived and passed over me on a gust of wind. The type of gust you can both hear and feel as it presses against your back much like the hand of some unknown visitor pressing for your attention. This visitor less interested in me, in fact completely unaware that I even existed, was moving across the parallel boundary between the human flow of time and the geological flow of time carrying some message to those entities capable of interpreting its meaning. For me the message played out not from behind but in front of my eyes as the wind swept down the rock and asphalt ramp and across the surface of the shallow water which stretched out before me. The message was in code for I could see its pattern on the surface of the water as it piled up a unknown number of little wave peaks which shuttered and danced and then in an instant all moved forward in mass as if driven by common purpose. I could clearly see the message and watched as it disappeared into the distance growing ever smaller as it rushed away from me. I wanted to chase it and catch it and in that way, as men do, try to understand it and explain it to others. But, I knew all to well that this message was not meant for me and that I was only privilege to observe its passage and not meant to be privy to its meaning, for that meaning was part of those things both unknown and unobserved that create the matrix of the universe. The seeing was enough, though, for it opened for me a door way allowing me to think beyond my humanness. It has precipitated both a string of thought and kaleidoscope of images that have given me insight into events that eclipse those of people in both scope and duration. We might think that those human things that have survived from thousands and even millions of years ago are testament to the greatness of man. What of the cosmos, what of the earth and the millions of other earth’s that exist even in our own galaxy. What of the events and forces that have set these in motion and precipitated what we today know as a body of knowledge, however limited, about the universe.
As I sat at the base of this great divide which separates one half of the continent upon which America sits from the other and look westward I began to realize that no matter what I did or accomplished in my lifetime or, for that matter, in a million lifetimes would pale in comparison with those events that are crafted by the forces which move the stars. I realized that I was a tiny entity sitting upon a tiny rock in the middle of a sea of stars that themselves are tiny in comparisons to that which we believe to be. Then, I realized that even though so diminished my unique existence however short was important enough to place a mark or two on the fabric of existence and that it was for this purpose that men search and work and strive. In fact, it was for this purpose that all living things struggle and, in turn, place their tiny mark on the fabric of existence. Just like the individual wavelets, which only moments before had hurried away from me, as part of an unknown message transmitted on the wind, each self-important but when viewed collectively yet lost in a sea of their brothers carrying their little piece of code–so living things that have inhabited, do inhabit, and will inhabit our little piece of the universe to carry a piece of the code of life unique to themselves yet part of the puzzle of existence.
What then is the value of a day? How important are the choices we make in terms of living and the totality that we term existence. On the one had it could be that the choices of individuals are much like the effects of single raindrops falling on a dry and parched land. Each, in its own course, makes an impression which lasts for a time and then is gone. The effects of its moisture have but limited effect and only upon those things which boarder its physical appearance. If this were the case then the effect of a human life would be felt only by those surrounding us and only for a short time. If you think of it this way and then think of things that have happened as a result of your choices you may be enticed into thinking that this, in fact, may be the case. In point of fact, the choices we make each day may seem like they have only momentary effect if at all on others or on the flow of existence. This may be due to the false way in which we have been trained to value events. Today, in America, we say that yesterdays news is old news–which is another way of saying that what has happened is over and gone and that it is only what is currently occurring or eminently about to happen that will affect us. This is a false assumption for throughout our historical record it is the events of the past that for whatever reason have lasted down to our time that have had the most affect on the way we, as humans, view and respond to our today and tomorrow.
On the other hand it could be that the choices and actions of people are like the wavelets formed by a storm of wind across the fabric of the water. Each carries its own version of the message, yet the message itself is dependent upon the total sum of the parts and the meaning of the message has nothing to do with the individual parts that carry it but with something external, something bound by less constraints and with a greater purpose that the messengers it enlists. It could be that the actions and beliefs of individual people create the reality which we term existence and that individual changes in the message reform that existence in subtle ways only visible from the distance of history.
If this is the case then everything that I do and that you do is of critical importance to what will become. It is not that we must view every action as a precursor of change but that we must view every action and decision in the larger light of history. It is important that we are thoughtful about what we engage in and upon because our little part of time will ripple throughout all of eternity and sometimes singular events change the course of what is and will become. Who would have ever imagined that the self-centered searching for wealth in the late 17th and 18th century would have led to the world of today or that the singular idea of an Edison or Marconi would have translated into a smaller earth by connecting even the remotest events to the daily life of a single individual a world away.
Even as I sit and write these words I am changing history–even if no one beyond myself ever reads them or even knows of their existence I am still changing history because by writing them I am changing me an as I change and evolve I change those things around me which in turn change the things around them and so on–hence the wind driven message I saw rushing across the water and out of site so my changing myself sets in motion a wave that rushes across humanity and into a new formed future. It is easy now to see and understand that the future is actually a reflection of the changing events of today and is written as we live.