Saturday, June 1, 2013

Searching For Ships

There is this legend about the first natives who saw Columbus's ships approaching. The tales says that the scouts watching the seas from the shoreline couldn't actually see the billowing masts and great wooden vessels until they were a couple hundred yards from shore. The reason being that the human mind can't see what its brain has absolutely zero prior knowledge or concept of. It has to suss out the information and get it to the eyes and back. So the ships were invisible, inconceivable to those without the slightest notion of a giant trading ship. A similar legend was told of the Mezzo-American tribes who at first sight of a horse and rider, thought it was one animal instead of two. These are, most likely, hooey. But entertaining and eyebrow raising hooey, and for all we know could be as true as untrue. Point being, the mind sees what it wants to see, what it is trained to see, and what it expects to see. Which is why there is a plethora of ghost hunting shows on television now.

There is some valid science behind this concept though. Scientists call this perceptual blindness, or inattentional blindness. A definition from a study in 2010 describes it as such:

Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice an unexpected stimulus that is in one's field of vision when other attention-demanding tasks are being performed. It is categorized as an attentional error and is not associated with any vision deficits. This typically happens because humans are overloaded with stimuli, and it is impossible to pay attention to all stimuli in one's environment. This is due to the fact that they are unaware of the unattended stimuli. Inattentional blindness also has an effect on people’s perception. There have been multiple experiments performed that demonstrate this phenomenon.

So that's a thing. I'll get back to it in a bit.

Last night was a cool end to a very hot day. The afternoon was a scorcher, exactly like I prefer a summer day. It was in the nineties and humid. I adore humidity. I like being hot and sweaty. I do not air condition my house. I do not try and avoid heat or discomfort. I embrace it. I love the way it forces me to sweat and move like an animal instead of some doughy frump in a morgue. I like the way I can feel beads of sweat leave my brow and coat my back from normal chores and feel the water weight and toxins leaving my body. I swill water and spend as much time in the sun as I can, loving the soupy air. It reminds me of Tennessee, the dark greenness of it all. LUSH is the word! Right now Veryork is alive in ways few places on earth are alive. Every rock is is growing moss, every plant is dripping dew, and every young animal born in the hell of April is learning to pump and lope across forest and hillside alike. It is something to behold, this wet and happy summer. And yesterday I spent it like all my animals did, outside.

I farmed and gardened. I milked the goat and shot my daily quota of arrows. When it got to the point of making me dizzy I rested under the shade of the King Maple with cool water and my unshod feet dangling into the little pool by the well. You spent your whole day in that and your body adjusts. By sunset the lack of sun and light wind had me in a sweatshirt at 80 degrees. My body was so adapted and accepting of the discomfort that the lack of it gave me a chill. So in a sweater and kilt I swayed in my hammock, not thirty feet from the bubbling creek that runs down my mountain road and through my farm. I was reading The Fellowship of The Ring, and stayed out well into dark. A good book can trance you like that, make hours swirl around you until they are gone.

While reading in the dark, in the glow of the e-reader's backlit screen I thought I caught a flash in the corner of my eye. I looked and saw nothing, disregarding it as a glare from my glasses. Then another flash caught my peripheral vision, and then another. I turned to the darkest, wettest, green/black swirl of forest above the stream. I felt like the native looking for the outline of a ship, trying to remember the pace and flash of the holy glow in the distance. My mind strained to call it back, to remember the timing. There was nothing but the rush of my heartbeat and memory. I thought of glass pickle jars with holes punched into their metal lids. I thought of the drive-in movies, and how you knew when the flashes arrived the picture was about to begin. I thought of staring at them from hammocks in Vermont, and from hidden riverside cabins in Tennessee. I thought of Elkmont, the most sacred place in the entire world to me. I thought of standing before a hilltop field by a man I loved, and the disregard for these animals from men I didn't. I thought of all of this, and tried to see the horse and rider through the darkness as two animals. Thunder rumbled in the distance, a common and gentle sound aound these parts and my heart ripped right open.

And then I saw the flash.

And then I saw five more.

And the farm was alive with hundreds of fireflies.

There are places you can go where you can escape discomfort. There are places you can plug in machines to pretend weather doesn't exist. There are people who will tell you that humidity is a horrible thing and should be avoided at all costs. Do not go to those places, avoid plugs when you can, and never believe a liar. Because there is nothing more beautiful in this angry, scary world than a hundred fireflies in the dark of a lightening-kissed sky. Nothing.

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