It was around eleven pm and I started feeling hungry. I’m not sure if this is my stomach or my brain. I had a cup of black rice with about a cup of cooked vegetables for dinner around seven. Yet, since ten, I wanted more.
I opted for a bowl of organic Cheerios-esque cereal with almond milk. Not long after – not even after, halfway through the bowl, actually – I regretted every spoonful. So I continued, more and more loathing building with each mouthful until I finished the bowl, now empty of cereal but brimming with contempt.
Having eaten, it being about a quarter after eleven, I have to take a walk. While I know this does not undo what has been done, there is a part of my brain that tells me that is precisely what it does. A part of my brain exists that says this one action, talking a walk, will undo the cereal. A crazy part, no doubt. This is not something of which I am unaware. But had this part spoken up before the cereal, I’d be in bed now.
So I put on my socks and sneakers, collar and leash the suddenly ecstatic dog and out we go.
Today it stormed. This evening it stormed. I could hear the frogs and various un-named creatures through the windows. So, while I would normally take my MP3 player with me, this time I leave it at home. While normally I’d listen to lectures on physics, or religion, or recorded books, tonight I will listen to the sounds of the natural world, all wet and happy, awake and loud.
We leave through the back door, quietly, as my wife is sleeping, grabbing the bamboo short staff. There have been, as of late, stray, large, unfriendly dogs following us on our walks. Dogs in pairs and triplets, one at the heels, one on each side, each pushing me into the other. Growling and showing teeth. I tell them to leave and they do, then return a minute or so following closely, more closely, at my heels and side once again. I tell them there will be one fewer if I find a stick. When I do, they leave me before I can pick it up. Since I have carried this thirty inch long, one inch thick bamboo, they have not approached.
Through the yard and out the gate to the sidewalk. I attach the free end of the leash to my belt loop and my dingo trots along my left side, leash loose, looped, swaying as we walk.
I don’t see her, of course, walking next to me. One side is the blind side and the other side is the one with very little peripheral vision, so I need to trust her. And I do. I know what she is up to. I can tell where she is by the pull on the leash. When she gets a sandbur, and we have some versions of cenchrus here that appear to have been developed as devises of torture by the SuperDevil, I can tell immediately by the change in her gate, the different rhythm in the paws on pavement, the change in the sway of the leash.
A short walk. Two and a tenth miles. I walk this in the morning in thirty-five minutes which is a shade under four miles per hour and quite good for a fellow with my leg-length. Far too fast for an extended conversation which makes the dog a perfect partner. Tonight, though, we’d take our time and walk for the air and the sound.
The rains have left the night cool. Wet. It feels like home. Not a specific home, not a specific place, but home, a home faintly, distantly recognized, comfortable, familiar, inviting and kind. The wind is easy and the frogs are singing. Insects are buzzing. As we walk, Dusty’s nails clack on the sidewalk, insects tick in the taller grasses. There are croaks and calls and buzzes.
I place the staff, lengthwise, on my right shoulder, a foot and a half or so behind me, a foot and a half or so before me. It balances easily, seesawing from time to time, swaying in and out now and then, like a compass needle. This will keep my posture in mind as we walk.
I wonder what sings in the grass. Not names, not labels, just what is. So many creatures and so few found. So few named. Many people think we know all of life on the Earth, but here, right next to me, could be life unknown. There very likely is.
Very few have any interest in this. You could gather all the taxonomists in the world into one small hotel. Experts on fungus? The world’s mycologists could meet at a Day’s Inn conference room.
In The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson describes the work of one botanist who spent a few days in Borneo and discovered over one thousand new flowering plant species. More discovered in half a week than the total of what is known in North America since we have been keeping records. A pair of Norwegian scientists, as a lark, picked up two samples, only one gram each, of soil from a beech forest near their lab. Carefully analyzed, they found between four and five thousand separate bacterial species in each sample. More than is recorded in the best known record of things microbial, Bergy’s Manual of Bacteriology. Over nine thousand species in two pinches of soil taken from no place special. In Kenya, four new species of millipedes and a new tree, a big tree, is found.
Such is the myth of naming. Such is the idea that we explore, thirst to discover, to mark, to label, divide, organize. We don’t care, most of us.
I don’t care for names. But I listen as we walk, wonder what might be singing I have never heard singing before. Maybe something is thrumming with life, just beneath my feet, no one has ever seen. Maybe.
Bamboo leaves rustle. Jasmine glows under the three-quarter moon. Angel trumpets hang, moonflowers open as we pass. A rabbit is sitting by an in-ground pool behind a house no one has lived in for over a year. Owls call. Bats dart. Dusty, from time to time, walks out slightly ahead, looks this way and that. When I follow her gaze, I see cats.
Lives in the trees as we approach silence as we walk under them and resume as we pass.
I bend forward and the staff slips off my shoulder and down into my right hand. I twirl it forward, back, round and round, behind me, under my arm. I flip it over my hand and into my left to do the same. My dog never notices. I place it on the left shoulder, grab the front with my left hand and the back of the staff with my right, pulling down, bringing my shoulder lower, digging into the muscle, ironing it with the broad bamboo. Over the back and onto the right shoulder for the same. A large toad crosses the sidewalk in front of me.
I leave the staff to balance once again. Blue lights of TVs brighten and fade, one person argues with another, cicadas call, moaning gains intensity, breathing quickens rhythmically, gains volume, slackens, softens, intensifies again, a dog barks, a baby cries, there is buzzing in the grass, someone says they are not coming back. A car starts.