September 07, 2021

Long shadows in the early morning on the rail-trail.


Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.



It’s early morning, but after dawn, when Waldo and I start our daily jaunt.  It rained last night, but the tarmac is dry.  Dew still hangs on some of the leaves and my boots get damp when I walk in the grass.  Waldo likes to walk fast (how else would he walk) through the grass with his head down, tongue out, dragging it on the upper parts of the damp blades.  I know he’s not thirsty because, in similar circumstances in the past, I offer him water and he refuses.  I think he’s just tasting the world, to add sensory information to what he can see, smell, feel and hear.  Every day is different and he’s there to take it all in anew.

Waldo is in constant search of new knowledge.  I’m convinced that is the real raison d’etre for his constantly holding his nose-to-the ground, ears-perked-up, and eyes-forward.  He wants to know what’s out there.  And sometimes he gets surprised.  I remember once we were walking along a suburban street on the BCT.  Phyllis, Christine and I were on the tarmac and Waldo trotted along on someone’s front lawn next to us.  Suddenly, he leaped a good three feet into the air, to alight a good six feet from where he was.  He then stared at a particular spot in the grass with a wide-eyed, surprised and uncertain look on his face, as if to say, “What the hell!”  I looked where he was looking and at first saw nothing.  I got closer, bent down and looked again – there was a small crawdad, standing on its aft legs, stretching up its opened, threatening, forward-reaching claws as if saying, “Yeah, bring that nose back over here and see what happens!”  The rest of us wondered how a crawdad got onto the lawn when there was no body of water nearby.  Not Waldo, though, he put it on his “things to avoid” list and moved on, with an occasional nervous glance behind him.

Waldo’s taught me a thing or two.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him is to get out of my head and give careful attention to what’s happening around me.  This pays off big time this morning on the rail-trail.  We’re walking along through the long shadows cast on the ground by the low-lying sun when I see a most amazing sight in front of me.  Last night’s rain soaked the wooden rails of the fence that borders the trail and they’re still damp.  The morning sunlight is shining in between tree trunks and beaming onto the rails.  The light warms up the wood enough to cause the water trapped there to steam into the air.  The air is still cool enough that it takes it awhile to dissolve the water into itself and the vapor hangs there, just above the rail, carried by a very, very light breeze into a gentle arc.  I’m reminded of watching low-lying clouds spill out over a mountain ridge into an idyllic green valley as if they were viscous, slow-moving whip cream.  All I had to do is pay attention to see this.

That’s what learning is all about.  Paying attention and, intimately as possible, experiencing an event or thing, then fitting that experience into a pattern that can be assimilated into a worldview.  I once asked myself, what do I mean when I say I understand something?  After considering this for a while, I decided that I say I feel like I understand an observation when I am able to fit that observation into my worldview without contradiction.  When I can do that, it feels like I understand.  If I can’t, I tell myself I don’t understand.  That’s all it means to me to “understand” something.  It has nothing to do with fact, truth or an objective reality.  If any of those things exist, I can’t know them.  All I can do is speculate about their possible existence.  Learning, to me, is the broadening of my awareness, the assimilation of new experience into the meshwork of past experience that I’ve built up over a lifetime.  A meshwork that hangs together on the idea that understanding abhors contradiction and loves all-inclusiveness.  It’s interesting to note, though, that neither of those latter two things are necessarily true themselves.  It’s just the way my mind works.  I can readily think of exceptions to each.  Godel’s theorem comes to mind, but that’s a topic for another time.

Waldo and I continue on down the trail, eyes open, ears listening and noses sniffing.

Eager for the next beautiful thing to tease at our senses.


Steam boiling off wet fence rails in the early morning light.

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