Lying in my Camp Sherman hammock, a jet flies overhead, lit by the setting sun. Passing through an opening framed by the branches of Ponderosa pines, the jet and its vapor trail leave as quickly as they came. Soon, no trace.
I find myself going back in time two hundred years. I am an Indian staring at the same patch of sky. I see a hawk, not a jet, coursing across the heavens. Now I leap ahead two hundred years. I am a child of the future watching the passage of an anti-gravity hovercraft.
The jet of the present is as far removed from the hawk of the past as is the hovercraft of the future. What could not be even distantly conceived by the Indian is equally far from my current imagination. I am making up an image of the sky transport of 2204 from science fiction movies I have seen and novels I have read. Almost certainly the future truth will be so different from my present fantasy as to make my musings laughable.
“In 2004 this is how they thought our 22nd century would be like,” the unimaginable media of that time will write, or speak, or image, or beam directly into people’s minds. They will marvel at how primitive we were. Jets! They traveled on sub-sonic jets, all jammed together in teeny-tiny seats, taking hours to cross the continent.
For our six days in Camp Sherman we didn’t watch any television. No television to watch, that’s why. But we didn’t even drag out the TV/VCR combination to entertain ourselves with the recorded episodes that I had brought of Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck, Joan of Arcadia, The Man Show.
The world wasn’t too much with us for almost a week. Nature, supplemented by some books, magazines, and a daily newspaper, filled the psychic spaces that normally are inhabited by the evening news, Nightline, the Daily Show, Air America. We slowed down. Our indignation at the day’s events was at least a day behind, for our news cycle was that much removed from present reality (apart from some brief forays onto CNN.com when I couldn’t resist taking a peek at News Now.)
If life indeed is a vapor trail, and what I care so much about today didn’t exist in the past, nor will it in the future, then why is it so important to me now? The human watching the hawk two hundred years ago wasn’t concerned with George H.W. Bush, John Kerry, gay marriage, Iraq, global warming. And neither will the human watching the “hovercraft” (for lack of a better word) two hundred years from now.
Lying in that hammock, I had an all-too-brief and all-too-blurry glimpse of how the world really is. How it is, at least, when I look at it not through the lens of my constricted, confined, confused consciousness, but with a clarified vision that takes in much more of the territory that extends so far beyond the little corner of the space-time continuum that normally occupies all of my attention.
This too will pass. What “this”? Everything. The 2004 election. War on terror. Me. You. Vapor trails. Summer. Winter. Planet Earth. Our galaxy. Most likely, the entire universe.
This too will remain. What “this”? Ah, that’s the big question. Now we enter the realm of the spirits. It is much easier to point to what changes than to what stays the same.
A hawk flies across the sky. Then, a jet. And now, a hovercraft. Different eyes, different world, same empty sky. Perhaps, a lesson.
A nuclear winter blankets the planet. No birds fly. Nor any machines. No one is around to see the sky. No sky to see, anyway. But something is there where the clear sky was on August 11, 2004, captured by a 55 year old Oregonian lying in a hammock with an Olympus Stylus 300 in his hand.
The day is gone. The man is gone. The camera is gone. The hammock is gone. Earth as we know it, all gone. Something remains. That’s what I want to know: what remains?
Someday, perhaps, I will know the answer. For now, it’s enough to have a glimpse of what doesn’t remain: everything. Sure is easier to watch the evening news with that idea in mind.