Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reflections on Impermanence and the Inevitable Passage of Time

It's a sunny autumn morning on the 13th of November. The trees are growing bare and the shadows are lengthening as the year 2013 slowly fades away into history. There is "a certain light" in the air that reminds me a bit of a particular late autumn day in Denmark, around maybe 1975-76, when the weather felt like this and the light was the same. In a way not unlike what I do today, I was out with my camera, trying to "visually capture the feeling" of a day.

Denmark, early December 1975
In the evening of that day, we ended up sitting at the dining table, making Christmas decorations. It was the last Christmas my dad owned the house on Fuglevangsvej; the house where I'd spent my earliest years... that is, when we were not traveling somewhere. There has always been a certain "mood" that has stayed with me, and that I have associated with that particular day... maybe it was the momentary illusion that life was "OK" in the course of what otherwise felt like a very lonely and depressing existence.

My parents "hand built" that house from the ground up... I don't know if it was ever their intention that I should "take over" the house and eventually it would become a "family home" through generations. Hard to say. So much happened, since then... reminders that things always change, and things seldom go as planned.

From time to time, I distract myself by using Google satellite and street view to look at the many places I at one time or another have called "home." It's a strange distraction, I suppose... or maybe just a reflection that I really didn't come from a "photographically oriented" family.

When I look at the aerial photos today, things have changed so much. Farmer Boserup's field outside the hawthorn hedge is now a housing development. Mr. Lauritzen's house with the giant property around it now has three houses-- or maybe they are apartment buildings-- on the land. At nr. 7, our house, the red hawthorn tree in the driveway is gone-- all that remains is a circle in the pavement that's a slightly different color. And the pavement is no longer dyed deep red... I remember how tiny fragments would come loose when I shoveled snow, giving the snow a pinkish cast, around the edges.

The thick cypress hedge is gone; the former tulip bed and sand box area where I used to keep my tree farm is no more. The terrace at the back of the house, facing the long lawn... seems to have been paved over. The big willow tree where I used to have my rope and swing is gone... although I seem to remember it coming down in a storm some people called "the hurricane." The other big hawthorn tree, where I used to jump in the piles of autumn leaves I'd raked, is also gone. At the far end of the yard-- where our huge kitchen garden used to be-- only the "footprint" of the kitchen garden remains; otherwise it appears to just be a bed with assorted trees and shrubs. When I back out the view a bit, there now appear to be two new houses on what used to be the Ragoczy family's property, next door...

These changes... which feel like from "something" to "nothing" sit there as a reminder that the only constant in life is change. No matter what we may believe (and wish for), nothing can ever be "as it used to be." It can only be "as it is, now." I look around our entire old neighborhood, and most of the changes I see reflect that "in Denmark, there are no longer rich people who own large estates." The Smidstrupøre estate sits as the lone reminder of days gone by... a giant red brick seaside edifice overlooking the sound between Denmark and Sweden. It is a different world, now. A world I barely recognize as something I once was part of; something I tried to call "home," for a while

I move the map to the side, towards the house and sprawling grounds where my Aunt Grete used to live. There are still fields on two sides and the woods where I used to walk our dog remain. I don't think anyone keeps chickens at "Dortheaborg" anymore. Mr. Pedersen's expanse of colorful lupins has been mowed and is now just "another lawn," and what was once Aunt Grete's large kitchen garden with the most marvelous red raspberries is now just another grove of shrubs and trees.

Nothing can ever be as it used to be. On top of that, I feel like I am a witness, once again, to how people of our time increasingly remove the "hands on" aspects of living life.

The old farm house-- where I lived as a pre-teen-- still sits at the bend in the road where it has been since the 1780's, but it is surrounded by new houses. The neighboring family's land is home to most of them. Paved driveways have replaced horse paddocks. Oddly enough, the antlers on the end of the gable of Hanne & Viggo's house are still up there, 40 years later... just too hard to get to and remove, I suppose. Where we lived in the adjacent wing, a few of the cypresses and thujas I helped plant are still there, facing the street. They are tall mature trees, now, slightly scraggly. They look "tired," somehow. Our kitchen garden-- where our dog would dig up the new potatoes-- is long gone, too... now a paved parking area in front of a couple of houses. All around, there are new buildings. It feels oddly... claustrophobic... now, where before it felt rather "airy" and open.

I feel strangely sad, when I look at it all, now.

When I consider all these images, they all send a message: "We don't have time to take care of things anymore-- let's just pave them over and go for minimum maintenance."

I ponder that, for a moment... and the strange way we humans so often wish for "better times ahead" when we are younger, and then grow up to "long for the way things once were" as we age.

Back yard, November 2013
I switch my perspective from the past, to the present. Cape George, Washington, USA... our house, seen from the air. There is a circle in the back yard; the labyrinth we built... now finished, since the last satellite pass. What will people see, 50 years from now, when we are most likely gone? Will there still be a circle there? Will there still be signs of the vegetable beds we are planning to build? Will people look at the property from above and observe that some "strange people" who still had a "hands on" approach to the land lived here, at some point?

We go off chasing virtual worlds... and in doing so, it seems like we have become increasingly far removed from the earth beneath our feet. I worry, at times, that we have become SO far removed from it that we no longer understand the basic "care and feeding" of the planet. We "talk" about saving the environment, but do we "live" our talk?

And I worry, now, that we have really learned nothing... and as people start moving off towards colonizing Mars, we will merely bring our "bad habits" with us... having not yet learned how to develop "good habits" at home before we strike out to explore and settle other places between the stars.

Way back in the when-- when I wrote endlessly about "The Universe and Everything" in my personal journals-- I wove exceptionally complex descriptions of a version of the Greater Universe that was always a place where people were not so angry, not so loud, not so warring, no so aggressive, not so competitive, not so violent, not so dirty, not so destructive as I watched them be, all around me.

I don't know what it says about me-- as a 13-16 year old-- that these were my core preoccupations in the fantastical worlds I visualized inside my head. In those worlds, there was no "slaying" of anything, and there were no "battles between species," there were no "huge wars." The beauty of it was cooperation, exploration and peaceful trade. And nature didn't have to be "beaten down," and people weren't too busy and stressed to take care of their surroundings.

And yet... even by the very few trusted people with whom I shared some of these visions, I was typically told that I was a "delusional dreamer" and that "peaceful and gentle" is not in anyone's nature... that we're all basically "primitive, evil, vicious, selfish and aggressive." For 40+ years, I have pondered why my state of mind-- the place I "naturally go to"-- is SO different from everyone else's. I have no answers.

And to those who ask why it seems like I have always seemed "sad" or "mildly depressed," that is basically the underlying reason.

Yeah, yeah... I know. I'm "delusional." I'm "in denial about my true feelings." I'm "filled with repressed rage."

I have grown tired. I have become somewhat of a recluse-- at age 53-- because I have grown tired. Not only have I grown tired of the loudness and aggression and anger of the world-- and the inevitable destructive consequences thereof-- but I have grown tired of "defending my reality" to the endless stream of people who seem compelled to impress on me that MY reality can't be "real" because it's not the same as their own.

As if, somehow, allowing me to have my perception somehow denies them the right to have theirs. Oh. I'm sorry. I forgot. When someone has a different viewpoint from your own, it's considered a "personal attack." My bad....

Thinking about it... makes me feel sad.