Thursday, February 14, 2013

straight lines

Shambling through my mind with the cavalier attitude of an unexamined bias....

Isn't it strange that human beings whose composition both physically and mentally is anything but a straight line should nonetheless invest their world with straight lines? Is there any other creature or phenomenon in nature that does such a thing? I don't think so, but I don't know.

My shambling and unexamined bias: Only man makes straight lines; nature is far less foolish.

I first noticed this when walking through the woods: Any time a straight line appeared in foliage or along a ridge line, the odds were astronomically high that I was looking at something man-made. 'Astronomically high' leaves room for the natural anomaly that might occur here and there ... the odd moment when nature accidentally seemed to create a straight line of its own. But if such a thing did or does occur, I think it lacks the deliberation or assertiveness or insistence that human beings bring to their straight lines. Instead, in the rest of nature, it's as if by light-hearted accident, a possibility among myriad other possibilities... a bit of laughter as if some child were chortling with delight at the possibilities of finger-painting.

Roof-tops, flag poles, yardsticks ... the array of straight lines goes on and on. And the same insistence seems to invest the mind ... the meanings and conclusions and judgments. Straight lines lead from "here" to "there" ... or so the insistent mind proclaims. Straight lines are easier and quicker and, most important, assert sovereignty over the higglety-pigglety, playful nature of the near-by world.

If-then is such sweet reason.

Reason, reasoning, reasonable ... but is it true?

Just because a thing is false does not mean it lacks truth or usefulness. Straight lines, if-then's, meanings and conclusions are certainly possible, but a grasping insistence on them leads to unhappiness, I think. The usefulness of what is 'true' or what is 'false' lies in the fact that such insistence doesn't work. Limitation alone doesn't work. The chortling child with the finger paints laughs because everything and anything is possible. Straight lines offer the oh-shit possibility that straight lines are not true ... they're just possible.

Straight lines lead from "here" to "there."

Or, more probably, from "here" to "here."

At which point the question might be asked, "What nitwit ever imagined a 'here'?"


  1. I am reminded of Alan Watt's " lawn order "...
    His term for attempting to impose neatness on rampant life.

    Michael Crummey, from Arguments With Gravity. Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1996.

    I thought I was following a track of freedom and for awhile it was. Adrienne Rich

    Consider the earnestness of pavement
    its dark elegant sheen after rain,
    its insistence on leading you somewhere

    A highway wants to own the landscape,
    it sections prairie into neat squares
    swallows mile after mile of countryside
    to connect the dots of cities and towns,
    to make sense of things

    A river is less opinionated
    less predictable
    it never argues with gravity
    its history is a series of delicate negotiations with
    time and geography

    Wet your feet all you want
    Hericlitus says,
    it's never the river you remember;
    a road repeats itself incessantly
    obsessed with its own small truth,
it wants you to believe in something particular

    The destination you have in mind when you set out
    is nowhere you have ever been;
    where you arrive finally depends on
    how you get there,
    by river or by road