Yesterday I was driving down a winding gravel road in rural Adams County, Illinois. I was lost in thought; the route I was following is thoroughly embedded in my mind these days and miles can go by without leaving a trace in my memory.
The mental state known as “being lost in thought” is a peculiarly human trait. Is it a good thing? Sometimes it can be, but the state can also lead to a disconnect from that Real World out there, a messy and disorganized set of places which fortunately contains those unrepeatable and beautiful alignments of time and location which are all too easy to miss.
Being lost in thought can have a malign effect upon the world. When those thoughts become entangled in endless loops of striving, ambition, and exploitation of both other people and places on earth they can lead to irreversible damage leavened by financial profit. The common mode of “business-like” practical thinking, in other words.
For better or worse, I’m not afflicted much by that particular mode of thought, tending more towards the aesthetic as a general rule. Head in the clouds? Not really that, it’s more that I try to stay aware of the cresting wave of the present moment — except when I become lost in thought!
I take refuge in the excuse that all of us are bundles of contradictions, some of us being more aware of that universal human condition than others.
Back to the gravel road: I gradually became uncomfortably aware that I had to take a piss. I kept my eye out for a secluded dip in the road, out of sight of farm-houses or farmers on tractors. I was trying to be reasonably discreet, you see!
I found a spot, got out of the car,stretched my legs a bit, and did my business, a golden stream of urine making pockmarks and small puddles in the dry white limestone dust. Certain butterflies will appreciate my liquid contribution to that stretch of road! There are worse roles to play than being, for a short time, a benefactor to the lepidopteran tribes.
Certain readers will be wrinkling up their noses and thinking, “I don’t want to hear about such icky reminders of human animality! Yuck! Go back to pretending to be a pristine soul inhabiting a body that is best ignored!”
There are two different ways of regarding our inescapable status as organisms, creatures inhabiting the earth along with the worms, reptiles, and birds. You can try to deny biological reality or you can acknowledge it as a necessary part of our existence.
Denial results in such intellectual aberrations as a belief in Heaven or a desire to be downloaded into a silicon matrix, both of which involve fantasy and willful ignorance of the power of Occam’s Razor, a keen blade which effectively deals with ideas with no repeatable proofs or any evidence other than words.
I have an optimistic nature and in general try to see advantages and benefits in circumstances beyond my control, such as the fact that I inhabit a body which periodically exudes a variety of substances, most of which are not appealing at first sight or smell.
So what are the good points of urination, you might well ask. There is the oft-ignored, or at least not talked about, feeling of well-being which follows such voiding of the bladder. You no longer are carrying around a sack of fluid waste. That insistent pressure is gone.
More pertinent, though, is that you are forced out of the mental world of day-to-day duties and activities. You have a bit of a time-out when nature calls. You can take advantage of this forced interlude and take stock of your life and environment. Of course this works better when you are outside, rather than in a marginally clean room with a hexagonally-tiled floor, surrounded my white porcelain structures with chromed handles.
I’ve made my point, such as it is, and I sense a certain restiveness in my readers.
“Okay, Larry, so you took a piss! I didn’t come here for this! Where are the photographs, the amusing dialogs and scenarios? Maybe a book review or a cool video?”
During my time-out period, standing by the side of the road heeding a nasty and unmentionable biological urge (I can’t resist a bit of irony here!), I saw a young Black Oak sapling, a tree which may never have had the privilege or (more commonly) bad luck of being observed closely by a human being. Quercus velutina is a coarse member of the oak tribe, a tree with crudely-designed but effective leaves and black and furrowed bark. The leaves look as if they were designed by children, the master designer looking on indulgently as they practice their craft. This particular tree had the abnormally large leaves common to very young trees fighting for whatever light they can glean from what its elders had let slip by. Like a scrawny dog, its ribs showing through mangy fur, lurking beneath a kitchen table and hoping for fragments of tossed or dropped food.
It was the range of colors which attracted my attention, rooted as I was for a minute or so to the spot. The green of the leaves’ centers was darkened with admixtures of black and blue. The rims of the leaves were changing first, a border of a deep red slowly spreading inwards. The colors were muted by the diffuse light from an overcast fall sky.
I shook off golden droplets and went back to the car to fetch my camera for a couple of quick shots. These colors and textures became the backdrop of my thoughts for the remainder of the day.