Thursday, May 4, 2017

Massive magic purple puffballs...

Cruising blogs, including this one, are filled with pictures of sunsets and sunrises. There are pictures of sailboats riding quietly in anchorages of clear water, tropical islands, white sand beaches, amazing flowers, and trees that overwhelm. There are stories of gazing across a star-filled cosmos from a cockpit far out of sight of land, of festivals and costumes, and of kids laughing. All testimony to one of the most attractive things about this cruising life; it is one filled with beauty.

Not always of course. There are also the occasional pictures of trashed v-drives, leaking holding tanks, boats run aground, and hulls long abandoned. But for the most part much of the cruising tribe spends days on end gazing at some of the prettiest places on earth. Still, and truth to tell, catching sight of the beautiful places has been a challenge for me for these last few months. We sailed to them alright, but often arrived tired and worn, having struggled with weather and sails and ham-fisted deck monkey antics. It seemed much more time was spent listening to the wind howl through the rigging while the boat bounced to its rode, than was spent watching the sun set over a placid sea of emerald blue. We pushed hard to get around the Abacos to the Berry Islands. Then we pushed again to get back to the States and around the Keys to Tampa Bay in time for the flight inland and the summer of work. Pushing hard will build callouses on the hands - a good thing. But it can also build callouses that make it hard to see beauty or feel the brush of the magic.

There are other beautiful places of course, places that one can't reach in a boat, places that are not even wild. One of them is a stretch of land that was once the home of a Mr. Henry Shaw. In 1819, just in from England, Mr. Shaw ventured west of a small French village laid out along the west back of the Mississippi River. He fell in love with that stretch of land and made it his home. The little village grew. Mr. Shaw's fortunes grew. Now, nearly 200 years later, that stretch of land is known as the Missouri Botanical Garden, is the oldest of its kind in the nation, lies deep in the heart of the metropolis of St. Louis, and is located just a few block's walk from Daughter Middle's home. (To give you some hint as to Mr. Shaw's influence on St. Louis, his Garden is located on Shaw Blvd.)

Daughter Middle, being a connoisseur of all things beautiful, has a Family Membership Card and makes visiting the Garden a regular family adventure. This time DeMa and Grampy T joined She and Grand Kids (5) for a day's visit. A day can't do justice to the 79 acre sight. There is the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Victorian District, and the Japanese Garden (where one can go to feed a lake full of huge, sometimes colorful, catfish. Fish so tame that little ones can reach out and pet them as they feed.) There is a Temperate House that protects Mediterranean plant species, a Climatron conservatory for science and study, and a Butterfly House. There is a bee hive made of glass, a Center for Home Gardening, and a Grandpa's Garden that includes rope bridges, caves, a climbing boulder, elevated walkways, slides, and a tree house. (Okay, its official name is the “Children's Garden,” and Grampy T didn't really climb the boulder or use any of the slides. Rope bridges, elevated walkways, caves, and the tree house were fair game though.)

We weren't too far into the day when the laughter of little ones folding into the quiet of the nature all around started to soften some of the callouses built up over the winter. When we stepped through the gateway into the Ottoman Garden, reportedly the last example of such gardens which date from the 16th century, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Standing tall over the other flowers were hundreds of massive purple puffballs. Think of the dandelion puff balls you used to wave around as a kid writ giant-sized, glowing with a brilliant purple magic. It was an unexpectedly amazing sight, standing out even though surrounded by acres of carefully cultivated beauty.

It isn't likely that many of the people around me were struck in exactly the same way. Beauty and magic are nearly universal, yet stubbornly individual. What strikes me as magic purple puffballs might look to someone else like giant purple dandelions. Maybe they were struck by the manicured precision of the Japanese Garden. Surely someone was taking advantage of the Botanical Garden's dedication to science and education, learning some new technique for working their personal garden. (A well known place to find beauty and feel a brush of the magic.)

There were many groups of school kids there as well. Some of the younger ones were in the Children's Garden with us. This being the city, “minority” kids were so well represented that they were not in the minority at all. No one cared. Kids of all sizes and skin tones clambered around the climbing boulder, some encouraged to stretch their skills after watching one of my grandsons, who is an excellent climber and fearless to boot. Following his lead left some of the younger ones higher off the ground than they liked, and they needed a little help getting down. Grampy T suddenly had a dozen or so grandkids, and no one minded if I laughed with the new ones and helped them find their way to the ground. In the middle of all the laughter and fun it occurred to me that, not only was this a place of beauty where one could feel a brush of the magic, it was also a place of quiet rebellion.

For this was public place, in the middle of a metropolis, where science and the pursuit of understanding ruled alongside beauty and magic. It was a place of tolerance and fun, with generations, nationalities, and histories mixing without rancor, arrogance, or hate. It is a strange world we find ourselves in when simply going to a Garden and acting like a decent human being flies full in the face of the ideology that drives those in power. It is an even stranger world when one realizes that many of those who claim to support that ideology often act in rebellion to it. I wonder how long it will take them to figure that out? (How ironic is it that Donald Trump, who hates science, tries to rule by Tweet?)

It is possible that quiet rebellions will be enough to stem the tide of ignorance and hate flowing over our shores. My suspicion is that most Americans are simply not that deeply racist, don't really hate gay people with much enthusiasm, have only a slight tolerance for authoritarianism, and deeply value education, learning, exploration, and science. (Which, odd as it may sound, is exactly what my Trump supporting friends claim.)

I don't know that we really love war all that much. We just haven't seen any up close and personal for a while, and have forgotten just how inhuman and evil it is. (Something likely to change pretty soon. It will be a hard and costly lesson, much to the detriment of those currently in power.)

It is more likely that, eventually, those who are pushing us into decline will have to be removed from power. There is some hope that they will prove so incompetent as to soon stumble into oblivion of their own accord. Such may well be the way forward with the least potential for chaos, destruction, and violence, but I think it unlikely. Many currently worship incompetency, and will likely do so right up until it kills them off. (Nothing blinds like worship.)

Perhaps they will find themselves voted out of power by numbers so large that claims of fraud will be both laughable and utterly ignored. Given that America's forms of democracy were never very strong and are now, additionally, badly compromised by propaganda and corruption, this seems unlikely. Still, stranger things have happened. And, again, such a defeat would also deeply discredit the ideology of those so defeated; just as the last election deeply wounded the neo-liberal ideology of the Democrats, hopefully hastening its ultimate demise. Unfortunately neo-con ideology, which is arguably much worse, took its place.

Perhaps something entirely new and unexpected is just around the corner. Maybe the next generation, having learned some very hard lessons about ignorance, greed, hate, and war, will value peace and justice above all things. Maybe they will be the generation that elevates ideas over ideology, facts over faiths, understanding over dogma, and wisdom over wishful thinking.

As unlikely as that sounds, such a world lives deep in the human imagination. Virtually all religion claims such a place and calls it “heaven”. Many other forms of human fiction and story telling are filled with similar images. Indeed, nearly every human being I have ever known can imagine a world better than this. All we need do is move toward a world that most of us already know, deep in our own dreams, can exist. It is one of the reasons I don't put faith in any god. Given unlimited power, divine knowledge, and the ultimate in benevolence, pretty much any one of us could create a better world than the one we find ourselves in.

What ever happens, quiet rebellions are a good place to start. Maybe massive magic purple puff balls (otherwise known as ornamental onions) will become the new symbol of the rebellion. Stately, beautiful, and non-threatening, yet going about the task of spreading the seeds of renewal on every breeze and in every direction, as far as the eye can see.


Anonymous said...

I truly enjoyed reading your latest post. You have a true gift in being able to translate your visual experiences into physical words.
It is wonderful to see that you are having fun with your family. You are missing a return to pleasant springtime weather in the Tampa area. Another cold front has given us mild temps and low humidity with strong winds. It is great for day sailing but lousy for overnight anchoring.
Hopefully, you are correct about the American people. I hope that you are correct but the data is not encouraging.

TJ said...

Benjamin, thank you, I appreciate the complement. We will be back in the Tampa area early next week.

Santa...? I think your comment got lost in the either and ended up in the wrong place.

pfrymier1 said...

Those are massive onion blossoms. I've seen some from native wild onions here in TN but they are only maybe a couple of inches in diameter at the outside.

My wife is a gardener and home decorating fanatic. Bad combination for a sailor with wanderlust.

Hope all is well.

rolekkyle said...

Well written post
Kyle Rolek

Anonymous said...

Please send me a PM when you return to Snead Island. We should meet for lunch

TJ said...

Benjamin, touch base through the blog contact form and we can put something together.