Davey Dow was walking down the street a bit earlier and a bit happier than was usual for a Friday afternoon (Friday, usually, being the least halcyon of his days), and anyone on the street who may have known him would have swiftly gotten out of his way with that long and peculiar sidelong glance reserved for the irredeemably weird.
But as it was, no one knew himâ€”this was not his town, though in feel, appearance and size are they not all about the same? The thing about Davey Dow was that every town was the same to himâ€”stiffbilly and overpopulatedâ€”even relatively smallish towns such as this.
But while every town seemed the same to Davey, every square mile of wilderness was shingilly unique. Although he had his small farm tucked away into a hidden mountain valley, he took every possible opportunity to visit the vistas far and near. And it was his desires to know the surrounding wildernesses that made his occasional weekend town-trips so unpleasant. But as has been noted, this Friday he was both in town and happy. Someone in possession of all knowledge of Davey (knowledge in terms of court-worthy facts) might suppose he was happy because he was about to buy seedâ€”quite possibly his final seed purchase as he was verging on self-sufficiency. A good reason, but not the reason. Indeed, no real reason existed. He was happy simply because he was. And it was in this frame of mind that he met Lala.
Lala was crawling out of her SUV after another dirty week in the mountains. She walked around to the back in order to dredge out her laptop, which had spent the week converting what it saw of the natural world into page-long mathematical equations. In the neverending search for knowledge and concreteness, Lala and her laptop were something of a heroic pair. In the laptopâ€™s prognosis of nature, Lala saw an example for humanity. â€œLook at the patterns and their simplicity,â€ she would say to a classroom of graduate students, pointing at a projection covered in characters Roman, Greek and Arabic, representing a lone pine overlooking a glacial lake, calm as glass. â€œIf only we lived that way.â€ And she would sigh a long, sad sigh.
â€œI donâ€™t say anything new,â€ she would say after a lengthy schpill in that language called the math of science. â€œEverything I say comes out of antiquity. I look back to our Bacchusses and Waldens, and I know that what I say is not new. Humanityâ€”civilizationâ€”should structure itself according to nature! Nature is the key!â€
As Lala stretched behind her SUV, she squeezed her eyes shut and pushed against the small of her back. She had been gone all week. As she closed up the back of her SUV, the sudden noise made Davey jump, for he was walking past just that spot as the door slammed shut.
â€œOh gosh! Iâ€™m sorry!â€
Davey just shook his head in an attempt to gain his bearings. As he shook his head, Lala took the moment to notice his rough and undyed dress.
â€œHey, arenâ€™t you that mountain guy from up in the Green Hills or something?â€
Davey, not yet ready to speak, simply nodded.
â€œWhat sort of philosophy for life makes you seclude yourself way up there? Whatâ€™s to be said for being a recluse?â€
Davey had been, as she asked her question, slowly, calmly, methodicallyâ€”almost sherlockinglyâ€”observing her, trying to place her.
â€œBeing a recluse?â€ he repeated, giving himself a chance to hear the question. â€œThere is much I can say about what may be learned from the simplicity of nature.â€
â€œOh, I know!â€ she gushed. â€œThere is such wonderful order in nature! Everything has its role and its time!â€
â€œI study nature incessantly, you know. Made it my lifeâ€™s work. Thank goodness too, haha; there is so much to know! Maybe someday Iâ€™ll narrow in on my grasp on everything, you know?â€
â€œEverything the natural world has to offer. I study everything.â€
â€œEverything! Well! Now thatâ€™s impressive!â€
â€œWell, nature is my subject, and that includes everything.â€
â€œSo do you plan on knowing Everything?â€
â€œKnowing everything? Well, I suppose study everything at any rate. We can leave it at that.â€
â€œIf you study everything, then Everything has yet to be studied.â€
â€œWhat? Thatâ€™s illogical. The more you study, the more thatâ€™s chipped off that block of infinity we call Everything. The less there is still to study. Wouldnâ€™t you say?â€
â€œI study Nothing, therefore there is nothing left to know. Therefore the world is open and clearâ€”mine for the understanding.â€
Lala looked at him. â€œWhat?â€
â€œI have been, of late, visiting the Beginning before the Beginning where Nothingâ€™s the only Something, which Something had yet to produce the Nothing that is the Something that became the Beginning which followed the Beginning before the Beginning. While I was there, I saw the Elements which were not yet elements and I watched them be penetrated by Energies that were not yet energy. By seeing things that were not what they were, I did not understand what is understood; but I did understand what no one from the Beginning before the Beginning till now has ever understood.
â€œThis is what I mean when I say that your studies of Everything leave everything to be studied. For I saw Everything when it was the Nothing that was not yet Something and I understood.â€
â€œI see,â€ said Lala slowly after a rather long pause. Letting another pause go by before she spoke again, Lala said: â€œWell, be that as it may, I think I have had something of an experience like that. You see, I am a scientist and a mathematician. And to me, the beauty of nature is best understood in this way. Watch!â€
To read Part Two, go here.
Authorâ€™s Note: I owe a great debt to Arthur Waleyâ€™s translation of Chuang Tzu included in his book Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. And, of course, to Chuang Tzu himself.
Theric Jepson likes both nature and laptops. Also: Chinese philosophers. He has appeared previously on Wilderness Interface Zone, viz. the essay â€œCommunion with the Small,â€ the poem â€œMorning Walk, Spring 2009,â€ an excerpt from the short storyÂ â€œBlood-Red Fruitâ€ (cowritten with Danny Nelson), and a reading from Nephi Andersonâ€™s Dorian. He runs Peculiar Pages which will shortly be releasing the collectionsÂ Fire in the Pasture (poetry) and Monsters and Mormons (pulp).
Editor’s Note: Photo above is of Theric himself.