The World at Large

The air in Galveston, Texas is twenty-five degrees warmer this morning than the air in Hot Springs Village. While, in Galveston, the temperature is a brisk 57°F, it is barely freezing in HSV, just touching 32°F. Daytime highs on the Texas beach near 80°F and nighttime lows ranging from 50°F to 70°F make difficult the choice of clothing. “Layers,” says the common refrain. “Economy of space,” comes the reply, taking note of the need to limit wasting space for luggage for the trip to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The obvious solution, in my delusion, is to wander naked on the sand during the day and to don over-sized t-shirts at night. But that would be for a different moment in time, perhaps a century or two deeper into the evolution of the human species, when intelligence overtakes emotion in the quest for comfort and survival.


I wonder whether the evolution of our species will, eventually, reduce war and interpersonal violence to a dim, ugly, embarrassing memory? Were I a betting man, I would put odds on a timeframe of “never.” There’s something fundamentally and monstrously human about relying on violence as a means to accomplish our ends. Whatever the circumstance, violence seems to be the answer. Someone offends you by cutting you off in traffic? Road rage, up to and including murder. Someone else disturbs your sense of comfort by having greater financial resources? The violent taking of those resources. Your masculinity threatened by an idiot who challenges you with name-calling or mocking you? Respond with a baseball bat or a 357 magnum.

Those are small-scale eruptions of violence. Amplify them several hundred thousand or several million times and you’ve got yourself a little war going on. Obviously, we belong to a species that is, at its very core, stupid. Our motto might as well be “Kill or be Killed.” It’s embarrassing. I’d rather be associated with doves or butterflies.

Speaking of violence, my IC and I remarked to one another lately that the series Goliath and Squid Game are hideously violent; both of them are so flush with gratuitous violence that they seem almost hilariously violent. But I think the creators were making grisly points about humanity. And I can’t disagree. I wish I could. But I have to acknowledge my own violent fantasies about people I find thoroughly upsetting and annoying: my mind is just as capable as the creators of TV series of imagining the most grotesque means of dispatching “bad guys.” In fact, my mind might win a contest to determine who could create the most horrifying and painful circumstances of pure and heinous violence. Pity, that.


Among the rare memories of my childhood is one in which I found and observed (for several hours, my memory suggests, but I’m sure it was not that long) several sea anemones in the waters of Corpus Christi Bay. Sea anemones are beautiful creatures, but like humans, they are predatory creatures. I spent some time this morning reading about sea anemones (my random childhood memory triggered an adult interest in the object of my fascination). They are related to corals, jellyfish, tube-dwelling anemones, and Hydra. According to Wikipedia, “Unlike jellyfish, sea anemones do not have a medusa stage in their life cycle.” Nor do I. Reading about sea anemones took me down rabbit holes in which I learned a bit more about jellyfish and all sort of other sea creatures. And those little side-trips made me recall, quite clearly, a phase of my young life in which I felt certain I wanted to become an oceanographer. I imagined myself becoming intimately acquainted with all forms of ocean life and sea creatures. Living, as I did, by Corpus Christi Bay and spending time in educational programs at the Corpus Christi Museum, I easily imagined becoming a researcher dedicated to learning about and preserving our oceans. Somehow, though, that dream was eclipsed by other, more mundane stuff. It’s a bit late, now, to redirect my life’s work away from pointless bureaucratic paper-shuffling and toward something that matters. Ach, wisdom comes late to those for whom wisdom would not have mattered, anyway.


Perhaps it’s the mood I’m in. Whatever it is, I was fascinated a while ago watching YouTube time lapses of seeds growing. The specific video I started watching was entitled “I Could Watch Time Lapses Of Seeds Growing All Day.” And I could. I watched several others, as well, and found each of them just as intriguing as the others. Watching, closely, the actions of Nature is perhaps the most calming, yet most exciting, thing a person can do. The development of plants and animals (but especially plants, for some reason) holds enormous interest for me.  Maybe it’s just the high-speed replay of slow-motion evolution that intrigues me. But I think it’s more than that. I think watching such stuff appeals to the child in me. It sparks in me a sense of absolute wonder and awe. On those rare occasions I recapture it, makes me terribly sad that most of that sense of wonder has long since disappeared. I ache to feel the reverence and pure admiration I once felt almost every moment of every day, simply by looking at the world around me. Children are fortunate. They can feel and express their amazement at the simplest things without feeling even the slightest sense of awkwardness or unease. Adults should retain that magical quality of childhood. But we don’t. We become skeptics; rough, tough, worldly creatures who have a very hard time being amazed by the simple things that take place around us every single moment. We seem to think we outwit Nature as we mature. Most of us, in fact, we simply ripen and rot. We could choose to transform, the way a seed morphs into a stem from which leaves unfold. But we forget how magnificent was the experience of wonder and awe. So we leave it behind, languishing on the edges of memory where, if we’re lucky, it will on occasion move into the center of the surface, where we can enjoy it. If we’re lucky.


When we move to our next house, the views will be radically different. Instead of mountain views, we’ll peer deep into the forest. We’ll see deer more frequently. And raccoons and skunks and foxes. There will be more plants growing on the forest floor. A new experience. I will try to retrieve the magic of my long-since-forgotten youth. That will be my work. And I will try to capture in words what I see and feel. For now, I will finish this post and move on to another interaction with the world at large.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to The World at Large

  1. Meg, I’ve heard of “Braiding Sweetgrass,” but haven’t read it; I’ll add it to my “to-do” list, though. I have read “The Secret Life of Trees.” It is a fascinating, eye-opening book. I loved reading it.

  2. Meg Koziar says:

    Loved your post today, John. I share your fascination with the wnders of nature. Have you ever read “Braiding Sweetgrass ” ? Or “The Secret life of Trees”?

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