Tim says: a number of years ago I entered an essay contest sponsored by Shell Oil. The theme was something or another about how we interact with the environment and vice versa. Since the prize money was good, I thought and thought and thought, and came up empty. And then one day I was sitting on my dock, watching a pair of ospreys fishing for dinner. I was fishing for mine, too. Something clicked, and as we spent some time fishing together, my mind began to wander. I decided to go with a series of short vignettes, loosely tied together. A typical Simply Tim unorthodox approach. Maybe that’s why I never heard a peep out of Shell Oil.
EARTHRISE AND RUNNING SHOES
(an Essay of Sorts)
When mankind’s first interplanetary travelers stood on the Moon and gazed back at Earth, they were startled to see only a fragile blue sphere surrounded by a minuscule membrane of atmosphere. As the water planet rose delicately above the stark lunar moonscape, the astronauts snapped a few pictures to remind us that we are all captive passengers on an environmental star-ship of sorts, one whose resources are not limitless after all, but terribly finite. Fittingly, the now famous sequence of photographs became known as the “Earthrise” series.
* * *
In the gray North Carolina morning, a dappled osprey tucks its wings tightly and dives into the mirror surface of North Shore Cove. Powerful wings raise the predator sluggishly from the water, a wriggling bass clutched in its talons. Rivulets, the color of sunrise, are cast off with each measured down stroke. Struggling in the cool air, the osprey circles in search of rising thermals, the startled bass gaping, open-mouthed, as the lake’s surface dances just out of focus, a new perspective for the fish, both curious and terrifying.
If not for a lone fisherman sitting at the end of a nearby dock, the osprey’s plunge and subsequent seizure of a meal would have gone unobserved. Instead, the fisherman tightens a catfish line and watches the osprey circle the cove’s perimeter while the frightened bass dangles precariously from a single clenched claw. After a while, the osprey’s outstretched wings visibly snap taut, catching the warm rise of a thermal updraft. Now soaring without effort, the osprey relaxes and circles, climbing until it is but a black speck against the white pillow of a single, towering cumulus cloud. The last thing the bass glimpses is a vertiginous green slash of a bluish lake very, very far below.
* * *
Five hundred miles to the north, a lonely old woman tosses a handful of sunflower seeds to a scattering of Central Park pigeons. Sleepy joggers, wrapped in Speedo spandex and crowned with Walkman headphones, are oblivious to the landscape that surrounds them. To them, the park remains timeless and unchanging except for the seasons that come and retreat, made homogeneous by the steady slap of running shoes.
Away from the squat brownstones and tall concrete and glass infrastructures of New York City, the woman sips a cappuccino from a paper cup and reaches into a crumbled, recycled brown bag. The sunflower seeds feel oddly cool to the touch. Central Park, like a green womb, hugs the bench on which she sits. Pigeons cluck and coo at her feet, some hopping up on her lap or nestling on her shoulders. But she plays no favorites and scatters a fistful of seeds on the sidewalk. A jogger plods by. Some of the seeds flip into the runner’s Nikes. The jogger curses, stops and shouts at the old woman while the pigeons jostle for position. The jogger slips off his shoe and shakes it against a thigh, all of this while hopping in place and listening to digital rap music. Tying a shoe to a rap beat is an art and not easy. Especially when squirrels are watching.
* * *
Elsewhere, a rubber raft filled with tourists plunges through Colorado River whitewater. Screams of joy and surprise are swallowed up by the rush of the river, whose sounds tremble like thunder and earthquake, echoing off the chiseled, mile-high red stone walls of the Grand Canyon. Embraced within the racing whitewater’s roar, the Grand Canyon’s basin is stiflingly hot and still — not at all what the rafters expected.
Earlier, the rafting guides had fried fresh-caught fish and omelets, handed out cups of coffee and suntan lotion to the group of overnight tourists as they emerged from their tents, while the Colorado River churned around them through cut sandstone walls and rocky riverbeds. Far above, huddled safely on Lookout Point, more tourists wearing dark glasses reflecting twin sunrises, peer downward, clicking photographs through telephoto lenses at the rafters below. Higher up still, a gathering wake of buzzards circle, patiently waiting for the rafting guides to bury the leftover remains of breakfast and move on.
* * *
In the arid Baja, below southern California, a trio of Yamaha four-wheelers streaks across the watercolor-splashed landscape. Sagebrush, cactus, and sand patterns that ripple like ocean bottom flicker by so quickly they all appear as a single brown smudge. Stretching as far as the eye can see and then some, tire-wide trails scatter and conjoin like zippers opening and closing. Split by crisscrossing seams that weave beneath clouds of yellow dust, the face of the Baja swallows up the free wheeling enthusiasts who are absorbed by the countryside entirely, perfectly content at being in it, and of it, completely. Coyotes scamper away and lay down with the shade wherever they find it, only slinking out in the cover of night to howl at the pale moon, which looks down upon the wash of halogen headlights, campfires, and laughter.
* * *
Yellowstone National Park campers awaken to a distant clatter of tin cans as hungry bears discover carelessly discarded dinner items from the night before. A mother grizzly bear stands up and sniffs the air expectantly. From the cover of young blue spruce and towering ponderosa pine, two cautious cubs mimic the Mother Bear’s actions perfectly. Their noses twitch in unison, picking up the same moist scent of burned candied yams, wood ash, and Bush’s Home Style Baked Beans. Although bear-safe trash receptacles have been provided by Yellowstone Park services, some visitors grow careless late at night when campfires die down and shadows take on disquieting shapes. The campers pull back from the flimsy mesh flaps of their Sierra tents and watch the bear family’s every move. Danger looms so close the tent’s occupants are afraid the bears will hear their hammering heartbeats; which the bears do, but choose to ignore. For the moment at least, the bears are much more interested in candied yams and baked beans than fear-tainted fresh meat.
* * *
Floating above a Virgin Island lagoon, snorkelers dip below the blue and silver surface, confounded by the flash of bubbles and barracuda. Viewed from below — back-lit by splashes of sunshine — barracuda look like sleek, silver needles; from the side and head-on, they are nearly invisible, perfectly camouflaged predators only mildly interested in the hoard of tourists who relentlessly visit the Caribbean reefs morning, noon, and night. For hours on end sunburned swimmers frolic near the surface, trailing coconut oil slicks. Even though occasional grouper and pods of spotted porpoise keep their distance, the landlocked visitors feel a peculiar kinship with the myriad sea life that share, for a brief moment, the same warm amniotic broth. Awash in riotous color, the filigreed outcroppings of coral shimmer and flush within patterns of sunlight. Instinctively, reef lobsters scurry for cover while conchs duck deeply into their spiral shells.
* * *
Hidden high up in the umbrella of a Brazilian mahogany tree, an as-yet-undiscovered insect peers from beneath a moldy leaf and blows saliva bubbles that are carried away on a tropical breeze. Goggle-eyed, the bug with no name samples the steamy Amazonian wind with a pair of orange antennae as soft as spider silk. From its lofty perch atop the giant tree, surrounded by miles and miles of similar hardwood rainforest canopy, the bug ventures from the safety of an overhanging leaf. It produces a soft and diminutive screeing sound by rubbing its sandpaper mandibles together, lubricating them with a thin film of saliva that acts just like the rosin rubbed onto a violin bow. The sound is as delicate as two ice cubes tinkling together in a crystal glass, and carries only for a few meters. Patiently, the insect waits for more tinkling sounds—an answer to its mating offer. But similar bugs are nowhere close by.
Undaunted, the bug screes again, releasing a larger foamy bubble of saliva that lightly floats away. The bug with no name is not aware the bubble may very well contain a cure for all forms of cancer. Instead, it wonders why a mate can’t hear its fragile mating sound over the strange new song of distant chainsaws.
* * *
The old fisherman carefully cleans a Lake Gaston catfish, making sure not to waste even the tiniest piece of fillet. A tireless osprey deposits a small bass in a far away nest, shredding the flesh in bite-sized pieces before dropping them into yellow-rimmed beaks. A bag woman with arthritic fingers and without a single friend feeds a flock of pigeons in a greening Central Park, ignoring an angry jogger and chuckling squirrel. Buzzards scatter the remains of a breakfast omelet among themselves while rubber rafts full of whitewater tourists plunge noisily around a bend. The tallow moon shines down on a Baja dessert now fallen silent, except for an occasional coyote’s cry or fireside conversation. Newlyweds turned naturalists, show their neighbors a honeymoon video of grizzly bears ransacking their campsite. Sunburned swimmers — as red as their broiled reef lobsters — sip conch chowder while examining tan-lines. A lonely bug with no name flits desperately from treetop to treetop in search of a mate…
* * *
Like it or not, we are — all of us — passengers hitching a ride on a statistically overcrowded ark, hurdling through space, protected by a bubble of air. In such tight quarters it might be wise to appreciate the space of our neighbors, large and small, for we may be in for a wild ride. The ark is adrift, the doors have been sealed, the tide has us in its pull. Dry land is so very far behind.
“copyright© 2010 by Tim Lee & SimplyTim.net”