I’ve entered my period of solar idiocy. It happens every summer. The July sunshine vaporizes any worthwhile thought and all I can do is walk around stupidly, look at things, water the plants, read books, watch movies, drink tea and gin, and sing made-up songs that embarrass my children. I don’t mind it much, but not minding is part of the solar idiocy too. I don’t mind that I don’t mind. I don’t mind that so many people do mind about so many things. I hope they don’t mind about me not minding, but if they do, well, I guess I don’t mind about that either. Let them mind that have a mind. I have none.
A week ago on a beach at Monterey Bay I saw an impossibly vast flock of sooty shearwaters. It’s no exaggeration to say that there were hundreds of thousands of them. I had never witnessed anything like it. A hundred yards out and no more more than twenty feet above the swells, they moved in a thick inky line that stretched for more than a mile and curled out to sea in an arc that came round to bite its own tail, like an ourobouros. The birds were constantly crashing into the water and taking off again, tearing up the sea as they went, herding what I assume must have been a school of fish or krill toward the center of the wheel.
When the solar idiocy is upon me this is how I feel: like someone standing perfectly still while watching the immense chaos of activity which is the world as it swirls around and feeds on itself. But rather than feel a sense of horror or the fear that I’m somehow missing out, I just watch it all a little dumbfounded. Can there really be so much to do? Why all the noise and elbows and hubbub? What’s in the center of the wheel? I can ask the questions but, smothered as I am in dopey satisfaction and complacency, I can’t pretend to care very much about the answers.
Rabbits have no important thoughts. Their brains are quite smooth and unwrinkled, from lack of mental exercise. They do not even try. Our brains are full of contortions and convolutions, showing that we have made an effort at least.
~ Will Cuppy, How to Attract the Wombat
I feel as though I’ve spent the whole summer munching carrots, my brain as smooth and uncomplicated as the cloudless sky. Each falling leaf presents a challenge.
I’ve neglected you, dear reader, but against my will. In the peculiar life of businesses there are occasional moments of crisis (usually self-imposed or imaginary), and my employer has seen fit just now to schedule one without consulting my convenience.
Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution writes that “most men of business love a sort of twilight.” Bagehot had in mind an “intellectual haze,” but I’ve seen the literal twilight of evening here from my office window more than once these past few days, and the midnight dark too. I haven’t loved it – which consoles me a little for the vile image of myself as a ‘man of business.’
Meanwhile, Orion is climbing down the sky again, the tomatoes fatten dreamily in the planter box and the oleanders explode into color. The ritual baring of flesh commences in street and park, and it’s suddenly hot enough at midday to resent the sun. There is no doubting the summer.
Everyone loves a fire, at least for a while. Writing about the war years in Chronicles of Wasted Time, Malcolm Muggeridge says we all harbor a secret desire to see civilization crumble around us, to witness the Great Downfall, to watch the world go up in flames before our eyes.
During a heat-wave this past weekend a clutch of electrical storms pushed through the state, which is rather unusual and frankly unwelcome in a drought year. The lightning that scattered through the tinderbox canyons and Sierra sparked over eight hundred separate wildfires in a single day.
The northern half of the state is lit up like a birthday cake, and it’s only the beginning of the season. Few of us are in any immediate danger since the fires are mostly confined to wilderness areas. But the smoke smothers and deadens everything. The horizon disappears in an unwholesome twilight. The mountains look like belching volcanoes. There’s a fine ash on the morning streets.
When you finally do see the world burn up before your eyes any appeal the idea might have had quickly evaporates. The campfire odor sheds all sentimental associations when it persists for days and weeks. You grow sick over lost landscapes: redwoods and chaparral, oak-lined riverbanks, coastal ridges, alpine meadows – the grandeur passing daily into flame. You’re left to scratch, as best you can, some stoic comfort from the melancholy truth so nicely captured in Paul Valéry’s Eupalinos or The Architect:
What is most beautiful finds no place in the eternal… Nothing beautiful is separable from life, and life is that which dies.
Or “burns,” as the case may be.