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Understanding

cairn surf drive
Liz Lerner
/
CAI

I do not understand the brilliance of the bright full moon in the sky tonight, though I stand beneath it on the beach. I have had its phases explained to me, but I do not fully grasp them. I have been told that it is a hunk of rock ripped from the ball of the Earth billions of years ago, and that its pure white light is simply the Sun’s reflection. But these facts do not account for the miracle of the moon.

Nor will I ever fully understand the mechanism of the tides, though I have studied them and live by their dictates. Yet I stand on this beach tonight and feel the power of the incoming water and am thrilled and energized by it.

Even the sand beneath my feet defies my understanding. I have read that it represents the ground-down mountains of New Hampshire washed this way so many eons ago, but who can contemplate an eon? And the geology of the Cape’s formation still eludes me, though its components are fairly simple: wind, wave, and sand. And time, of course, deep time. Still, the crook’d arm of the Cape defines me.

The vast intricacies of the food webs of sea and land are also elusive. I have spent my life thinking about them, and this past winter picked through tiny invertebrates in a lab at the Center for Coastal Studies for a research project on benthic ecology. But I have to confront the unknowingness of the subject, even as I plunge my hands in my warm garden soil and see the many miniature worlds it contains.

I have had the basics of bird song explained to me, and read various studies about it, but its essence escapes me. Still, the cardinal’s song lifts my heart, as does the sparrow’s chipping in the underbrush.

And on it goes. I have a child’s perception of the mechanics of day and night, and the seasons, the tilting of the earth as it revolves, but I yield to the power of the dark and respond to morning light and awaken, and yield to the seasons as they come.

Love is another imponderable, and the connections between beings. But I revel in the intimacy of small-town life and the connections between people, not to mention the powerful bonding with our pets and the wild animals that are our neighbors.

Botanist and Native American Robin Wall Kimmerer explains that Science attempts to learn about the natural world while the indigenous perspective attempts to learn from it. This is as close as I can get to my approach to life. I do not have to understand the workings of everything, or even anything, to feel a closeness to the world around me and perhaps even my place within it.

Within the mystery, there is a place for us all.