Martin LeFevre: Disturbing Juxtaposition
Autumn is at its peak here in northern California, and I have never seen the parkland more beautiful than it is today. Footpaths are lined with orange and red foliage, and the creek runs clear, strong, and full.
High wispy clouds seem to hang down to the treetops. After the sun goes down, they become contrails of color, almost perfectly matching the hues along the banks of the stream.
A 200-meter strip of land on each side of the creek delineates the park boundaries as it wends through this town of about 100,000. It’s easy to forget that one is in the middle of a city on such an afternoon, but the contrast today between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of man, was, as I was to learn later, great indeed in this little corner of the Golden State.
It’s a warm, windy, afternoon, one of the last shirtsleeve days we’ll have before the winter rains and chill fully set in. The sycamores are swaying, and the land smells sweetly of decaying leaves and moist earth.
Personal concerns and philosophical questions -–the things of thought, right or wrong--are put in order and fall away in attending to what is. Everything is soon carried downstream with the current. The beauty of the day surges to the foreground in one’s awareness, and awareness expands and deepens.
Just as the meditative state is igniting, I hear a loud splash a short distance downstream. A salmon! Brown, mottled, and huge, the fat fish struggles against the strong current and the shallow, rocky bottom. At the lowest part of the washboard section of the stream in front of me, it powerfully flings itself forward, emerging partly out of the water, before swimming on. As suddenly as it appeared, it disappears upstream.
Astounded at witnessing such a primal event in the middle of a city, the mind and heart instantly leap to a new level. In the meditative state, there is a keen awareness of past, present, and future anyway. But the primordial experience thrusts one back to a much richer time, when people lived in communion with nature. Native Americans in this area tell of a time when a person could practically walk across the backs of salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
Another salmon races by, even closer, just a foot or two away. This one has trouble making it over the rocks in the shallowest part of the stream, and drifts down the creek. Then, a few minutes later, having gathered its strength, and driven by a force as old as nature itself, it tries again. The salmon flings itself forward, and lurches over the stones. The great fish is so large that it protrudes out of the water even before it hurls itself up and forth.
If one does not have a relationship with nature, one not have a relationship with anyone or anything. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in each year there are perhaps a half dozen days when the earth reverberates with beauty. Since there are no more than one or two a season, to experience such days one has to commune with nature nearly every day, if only for a few minutes, to feel them when they come.
With the sun just setting, I finish my walk and run. Stopping and looking toward the west, something doesn’t feel right. I’m in the part of the park where “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn was filmed in the ‘30’s, and except for the noise of the freeway cutting through and above the trees a couple hundred meters away, the large grove of valley oaks looks much the same as it does in the movie.
Turning on the news when I arrive home, I learn that a 15 year old girl was jumped and raped in the park by two men in their 40’s, hiding in some bushes just beyond the freeway. The incident is described in the flat, sensational tones of another news cycle, devoid of outrage and disgust. It carries the subliminal message: this is just the way things are.
A conversation I had yesterday with a well-known progressive-minded editor in town comes to mind. Reacting to my question about the degree of denial in the community, he said, “Well, life is good here, and people are comfortable.”
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.