Leave the Past Upriver


We can’t stare into the sun, but only see it reflected in the world it makes possible.

That reminded me of what someone once said, that man invented religion because our brains could not tolerate a direct encounter with God. What would we see in the last flash of brilliance, before it burned away our eyes and drove us mad?

Consider the orb spider on the rose bushes. The little engineer, born with multiple PhD’s including orbital mechanics, biochemistry, civil engineering—and with the composure of a Zen monk—figures out how to span gaps hundreds of times her body length, trailing a miracle of nature from her own body, knitting it all together in one of those perfect patterns we immediately experience as genius. Then waits with inborn trust that something just the right size will blunder into it and be held, and survival of the spider and her brood for a while longer assured.

But does she know, in any way we’d understand, that a passing hummingbird, or a sudden wind, a passing animal or one of us, and all that work, all that ineffable artistry is sent into eternity? And that this is inevitable, and that the world the sun has created expects her to begin again or die?

Does she not know regret? Self-pity? Anger? Either way, rebuilding begins again. I don’t remember a spider giving up, and for as many days as she has, keeps working in the rose garden, leaps into the unknown and weaves, again and again, and waits.

A stranger said…

“Leave the past upriver.”

That is a Cree phrase that seems to fit [the question of what to do with beautiful, but decrepit and dangerous old buildings towns across the country that are slowly crumbling, whose residents refuse to admit it and have hopeful street fairs and vintage B&B’s].

“I recently stopped in Butte, Montana on a road trip across the west,” the anonymous sage continued. “There have to be more ‘historically  significant’ buildings in that town than any town I have visited. All have gone beyond their best-by dates and then some. Most are beautiful in their own ways. But, judging from the state of the town, none will be brought back to their former glory. Most, if not all, will continue on their slide toward an ignoble end. Butte, Montana is my metaphor for old age. If we humans are to go out with dignity intact, we ought to leave the past upriver and build anew with what time we have.”

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