Observations from a Buried Periscope

Yesterday afternoon, we protected ourselves from the blazing heat by sitting under the fan on the deck. Temperatures hovered around 87°F, but the covered deck and the breeze of the fan made the oppressive heat barely tolerable. Late in the day, when the light in the sky began to dim as the sun slipped toward the horizon, distant thunder interrupted the steamy solitude of the forest. As a gentle rain began to fall, the heat of the afternoon made the humid air grew even more dense. But, soon, cool breezes started rustling the leaves in the trees. The temperature dropped sharply. I think it had dropped as far as it would go when I checked the temperature again; 68°F. The sound of rain on the roof and in the leaves of the trees, coupled with the cool breeze, transformed the experience. Though the heat of the day at its peak was tolerable under the fan, when the air temperature dropped to the upper 60s, the comfort of sitting on the deck reached perfection. Visits by hummingbirds and woodpeckers and an assortment of other birds add magic to the experience of sitting outside when the weather reaches that point at which it could be no better. Any adjustment in temperature or wind speed or humidity or cloud cover could only diminish the circumstances.

Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.

~ Salvador Dali ~

Of course, adjustments invariably occur, so perfection passes. But my recollection of how I felt is what reminds me of what “ideal” means to me. Somewhere on this planet, there is a place where the weather consistently replicates my brief encounter with Nature yesterday. Somewhere, the temperature is always just right, the breeze is never too strong or too weak, filtered sunlight ensures visual clarity when looking at beautiful trees or brilliantly-colored birds or striking masses of clouds in the sky. But wherever that place is, the perfection is superficial; high prices, enraged residents, unfriendly neighbors, mosquitoes, snakes, scorpions, chiggers, hungry tigers, rampaging elephants, militias armed with high-powered rifles and low IQs, and a thousand other kinds of unpleasantness interfere with what could have been the ideal environment. So, we have to establish priorities. Our aims and objectives must combine the most appealing positives with the least offensive negatives; “tolerable” becomes the sought-after ideal. Yet many of us have few, if any, choices. Those unfortunates who have little control over their circumstances must learn to live with a deeply unpleasant imbalance: negatives that greatly outweigh the positives. Those of us who are lucky enough to have much greater control over our circumstances should exercise that power to the greatest extent possible; to do otherwise would be a travesty. We should examine all the positives and all the negatives, assigning priorities for both desirable and undesirable attributes of the lives we want to lead. Once the priorities have been firmly established, we should pursue them with dogged determination. But we should acknowledge, as well, that some of our priorities could well conflict with others; and with others’ likes and loathing. Wait. This is getting too complex. Perhaps it’s best to just “deal with the hand you’re dealt.” No, that discounts and discards the options available to us. Somewhere in the mass of wishes and dreams and things and people to avoid and concerns about how others feel and a thousand other influences on our lives, there is a constantly-transforming target that we seem to want to chase. The target—the environment we crave—changes with the same frequency as we take breaths. Desire is malleable, flexible. Ach. We cannot reach that place of perfection because the definition of perfection is fluid, like water in a river’s rapids. It moves within itself and slips through the fingers when one attempts to grasp it.


I have an appointment with a financial advisor in Little Rock this morning. As much as I would like not to worry about money and what to do with it to preserve it so it lasts as long as I do, I must devote some attention to the process. Hence the visit in Little Rock. I had an advisor in the Village, but I was not impressed with her, nor with her company. I returned to an old standby, a company with which I’ve had a variety of relatively superficial dealings over the years. I hope the superficial dealings transform into deeper engagements; I want to feel confident that I can rely on the advise I receive. It’s a bit late to be coming around to this, given my advanced and advancing age. But maybe it’s better late than never. We shall see.


I change my mind with incredible frequency. I suspect I have decided, with certainty, at least ten times in the last two days where I might want to live. Here. There. Over there. Close. Far. More distant. Nearer. Far, far, far away. In a small house. In a cavernous castle. In a cave. On a hillside in Chile. On the outskirts of a small town in Nebraska. On the Gulf Coast. In France…maybe Arles. In a small motor home. In a converted Greyhound bus. On a houseboat. On a thousand-acre farm. Finland. Reykjavik, Iceland. Tacoma. Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Schenectady, New York. Yellow Springs, Ohio. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Hawaii. Aix-en-Provence. The far northern reaches of Canada. None of my wishes and desires will matter if I am crushed by a meteor this morning. It’s all pointless daydreaming. I have better things to do. Probably.


If I lived far from civilization, I think I would experiment with tattoos and complex jewelry. I would create long, colorful strings of beads—metal, wood, stone, plastic, etc.—and hang them from my left ear. The strings would be long enough to drape over my shoulders and wrap around my neck. Colorful, glistening beads. As for tattoos, I am not sure yet. Perhaps an extremely detailed, very colorful dragon wrapped around my torso and one arm and one leg. Or a monstrous scorpion on my left shoulder. Or, perhaps, a phrase taken from a book by John Steinbeck. Mi novia would want a say in my tattoo, I suspect. And maybe she would like to have input into my lengthy earring.  But why wait until I live far from civilization? Why not just do it? Here. Now. Hmmm.


Time to shower and shave and prepare for my trip to Little Rock. Join me?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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