On the efficiency of form and function in nature

On the efficiency of form and function in nature

I once saw a big bird of prey in a nest on top of a hydro tower. I was driving to a friend’s cottage- pursuing the elusive peace of the country- when I saw the bird at the side of the road in front of acres and acres of tall white pines. The majestic bird didn’t give a damn what the hydro tower looked like; the bird just knew that, for whatever reason, it worked better than the pines. That the bird picked the hydro tower got me questioning why I regretted the fact I was leaving an old cottage and outhouse for the comforts and innovations in town.

I mean it’s kind of funny- we prefer the designs and feel of things in nature and wildlife often make do with the things we manufacture. The bird seems much more practical than I am. I wouldn’t give up my inefficient, unworldly nostalgic streak, though. The idea of peace and exhilaration that exists in nature somewhere between my memory and my imagination inspires me to build great friendships and beautiful things, and while many people say nature is indifferent, I’m happy I’m not that efficient (and I think every individual animal has a unique character).

I’ve thought about the political success of Donald Trump

Donald Trump doesn’t epitomize the better angels of our anti-establishment desires (freedom and justice). The establishment is extremely disdainful of him, though. So, I reckon supporting him is good enough for a lot of people to make the point and poke the establishment in the eye with it.

It’s the same impulse, and I must say I somewhat share it, to shake show offs who police arbitrarily standard grammatical forms and pronunciation (i.e. forms with no logical basis for clarity, just conformity, snobbery, and status grubbing).

The whole farce does raise an interesting political question: at what point does policy matter less than integrity? It seems most people will vote for a corrupt politician aligned with their values over a principled politician with a different worldview. I think at some point you need to put policy aside and scrub a political ship when it has too many barnacles on it.

On the promise of a Canadian frontier spirit

On the promise of a Canadian frontier spirit

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.

Reading the first few parts of Adam Shoalts’s account of his adventure in the Hudson lowlands made me ponder the frontier spirit and ask, Is there a distinctly Canadian frontier spirit? I’m going to think on this and publish it here, come what may. I also question whether to explore in order to make a name for yourself and leave a mark is the best motive. Still, the river of Shoalts’s dreams is evocatively named the Again river and brought to mind one of the most amazing verses, which is both a celebration of courageous exploration and a reproach for egotistical striving:

Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall

–T S Eliot, Little Gidding

(well, I’ve since pressed on in the book and Shoalts eventually quotes from the poem)

I’m encouraged to hear from Shoalts that the age of discovery isn’t over. I think that even if the entire earth was walked and recorded, though, there would still be surprises. I agree with Thoreau: a ten mile radius is all you need for discovery- every day it will offer something new and never be quite familiar.

On re-reading Good Friday, Riding Westward by John Donne

On re-reading Good Friday, Riding Westward by John Donne

Follow Jesus around in the Gospels and you’ll see a radical embrace of outsiders, evocative and unceasingly rewarding mysteries, a call to deeper water, and you’ll see on the cross evidence of things not seen, true heroism, true love, evidence of the only things you can give your life for without regret.

When we experience ‘the Great Chime and Symphony of nature’ it is natural to feel with Henry Vaughan that ‘prayer is the world in tune,’ that we hear a call and give an irresistible response. When we experience beauty or the sublime- a touching piece of music, a mathematical apprehension of infinity or an overwhelming cliff- it is natural to believe in God and be moved toward what Aristotle called the prime or unmoved mover. When we experience doubt, it should be like wind to a tree- it should encourage roots and growth.

That push and pull movement when we draw closer to God and then, and sometimes simultaneously, misdirect our souls is expressed in Donne’s divine poem. I heartily ask you to read the poem and a paraphrase of the narrator, a shadow of himself, struggling to turn to the sun doesn’t even come close to cutting how Donne has expressed the psychology of the Passion. Donne wrote that memory is salvation, and the turn in his poem is a recollection, a voice that harmonizes with all the other voices puts them back into key for the first time.

I have a few thoughts about what it means to be ‘in the zone’

I have a few thoughts about what it means to be ‘in the zone’

When you’re in the zone in sports or music or whatever, it’s the least selfish you’re going to be– you irresistibly stop thinking about yourself at all. You stop thinking about strategy or time and get in the groove of something bigger; this bliss can’t last on earth, but the more you can open up to people, because you’re thinking about what’s best for them or about the art or the craft more than your own fears and status, the closer you come to that zone we long for even though we’re often misdirected.