Stochastic sagacity

I’m beginning to enjoy senility, you know; I seem to notice more unusual things now than I used to when I wandered lonely as a cloud through the woods. And I find meaning and purpose where before there was little to write home about. Maybe this happens to all of us after a certain critical number of neurons malfunction, but I’d still like to think it’s what society used to find charming about its elders: the wisdom of Age.

And it’s not just that we can’t understand the recalcitrance of the young that we once experienced, it’s more the wonder that it takes a lifetime to learn things that should always have been obvious; to see things that were never hidden but simply ignored – things missed by  walking too fast. But age liberates me from the usual constraints of logic that imprison the young and frees my eyes to look around, not just ahead; it forces my mind to wonder, and not simply analyse.

Like wondering about the plants that wave at us as we approach. Have you ever noticed them? You can be ambling along a familiar trail, when all of a sudden, a single fern somewhere just off the path begins to gesture as if it recognized a friend coming around the bend and wanted to say hello. The other plants around it simply watch quietly, no doubt embarrassed that one of their own has decided to commune with a stranger. A Fifth column.

Was it an acknowledgment or a greeting; a recognition or a bid for communication? There are times in the quiet moments of later reflection that I wonder if it was merely a plea for coexistence, a request for some form of understanding between our neighbouring kingdoms. After all, we are such close residents, with us in movement above, and them tunnelling beneath our feet. Plants are a diverse and often bickering nation, each with its own Umwelt, and yet their trespass on us is merely accidental, motivated by opportunity and not intention. Shy by nature, they tend to keep to others of their own kind, and anyway they move with seeds, not feet; they do not threaten our Kingdom as much as we do.

So is the fern actually waving at me, like a person on a passing ferry who sees someone standing on the dock –waving, that is, not stretching or pointing at something else nearby? To be acknowledged is a gift; to be confused for something else is a travesty I would rather not accept. I cannot believe it is merely an act of wind that singles out one leaf from an immobile, otherwise disinterested crowd; I’d prefer to believe that every so often, each of us is noticed; each of us has a moment on the plinth.

And then, of course, there is the rockface along a scarcely travelled section of a trail I sometimes visit. A grey granite boulder lies like the profile of a watching head along the path’s edge, although, in truth, the light has to fall at just the right angle to cast shadows on the heavy brow that guards his eye. It is a head all right, but there are times I cannot decide its sex. From some angles it looks like a female teacher I once had who, although she cared for the class, showed her disappointment with us all too frequently. At other times, I’m looking at Alastair Sim -the quintessential Scrooge in that 1951 classic movie A Christmas Carol. Surely there is a purpose to the head; surely there is a message there -one that I have to admit is different each time I visit. But it makes me wonder how rock-face got there in a forest of mostly growing things. And how many of us see it for what it really is? How many memories does it evoke?

There were some ferns growing around the face a few weeks ago; I meant to trim them back so I could more properly say hello, but I was running at the time and my eyes were on the prowl for roots and shadows and obstacles along the trail, so I left it for the future, hoping I could pass unscathed. I didn’t make it back until the other day in fact, and rockface was cleanly shaven once again. Someone had found merit in the face, and cleared the ferns. We do not all look at nature through the same eyes, but some of us use more than eyes to see. Perhaps it was a face they once had known…

Oh yes, and stumpman… One route I love to run, winds uphill on a gravel path before it becomes a muddy trail as it looks for the lake. Each time, breathless after the long climb, and where stones and ruts require careful placement of my exhausted feet, my eyes are hawks inspecting what lies ahead. But even hawks, I’d like to think, take time to look around to judge terrain, to sift through trees and plants for useful life -it’s my excuse, at any rate. I can’t say I’m bored at that point of the run -just curious I suppose: I’m on the watch for stump-man. He’s just a shadowed stump of a long-fallen tree that hides in the woods near the road. He watches me approach, and then, so I don’t have to destroy the fantasy, soon fades into the background of a once-logged forest and becomes a stump again. I look forward each time to seeing whether he will finally wave (a long lost friend), but the dangers of running on an irregularly gravelled path mean I cannot look for long. And anyway, maybe he watches to remind me not to look. Still, I feel selfish: I wonder how he bides his time between my runs. I really hope he has other things to do; other jobs. Maybe we will both finish our respective chores and disintegrate together in the coming years; maybe we can live on memories in the meantime…

Perhaps, though, I’ve discovered why neurons get so mixed up with age: they repurpose what they’ve stored so carefully from prior times, and fashion constantly shifting memories into stories that sometimes serve as wisdom as well as entertainment. Insights as well as babble. They just require an audience who wonders, too…

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