Driving to work I pass by many fields supporting various agricultural delights: corn, tomatoes, grapes, pears, and peaches to name a few. The most interesting field though, is the one that houses the cows. Big, Black Angus and white faced Herefords stand majestically, always seeming to face in the same direction, their heads slowly dropping down to pull up a pound or so of grass, then slowly raising again to munch their lunch. I noticed that they never actually finish lunch; it is an endless goal the cows keep trying to reach – all day long. At first glance, cows may seem less sophisticated than almost anything; not very interesting at all, but on closer inspection the average Angus reveals a methodic intelligence and sense of purpose that is easily overlooked. That big, smelly, slow moving creature may even display brief moments of wisdom.
I received a survey in the mail this week that asked the question, “Are things getting and better?” The question wasn’t that direct, but the intention was clear. It occurred to me that my answer will differ from another person by the way we choose to define “things” and “better,” because my things will differ from yours, and better is a very relative term. My perspective at the moment the question is asked will play a big part in the answer too.
If I choose definition of “things” to be narrowly focused – my waistline or retirement account, then I might conclude things are not getting better, since one is increasing and the other decreasing (guess which is increasing).
Imagine you are in a small plane, flying at 10,000 feet above South Placer County. It is a clear autumn morning, the sun is up but only producing a brisk 58 degrees; there is a moment of white on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, signaling the first of many snow storms had arrived last night. Dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a tee shirt (if you are a girl, the outfit matches; if a guy, then you don’t care), you can feel the cold outside the plane, which is ten degrees lower than on the valley floor. You slide open the passenger door of the four passenger Piper; the wind instantly tears through the interior creating a tornado like effect with the few papers on the dash. The velocity of the chilled air striking your bear arms makes you believe you now know what it must feel like to be lost in a blizzard – in a bathing suit. (You were always one for drama!). Unbuckling your seat belt, you send a nod to the pilot, place both feet on the door threshold, and jump. In less than a second, the plane is a distant memory.
As Newton predicted, you fall towards the earth accelerating at 32 feet per second. Depending upon your weight, and position while dropping, you will reach terminal velocity in 7-10 seconds. This is the point where your descent speed can no longer increase, but remains constant at about 125 miles per hour due to the friction of the surrounding air. Kind of a good news / bad news story: you’re not falling any faster, but you are falling real fast. It will take another minute to find the ground, but a lot can happen in a minute.
I spent much of this week in Canada, near Toronto. It is an absolutely beautiful area: rolling green hills, with strands of purple and yellow wildflowers winding between the small lakes and tall trees. Autumn is gently taking stride; the trees wore bright yellow leaves, and every so often a deep red would highlight the season. Rounded stone walls surrounded the pitched steeples of old, yet still vibrant churches at many of the four way stop signs as we drove through the countryside. The square stone construction and arched stain glass windows of the churches reminded me of a time when days were filled with hard work on the family farm, and the nights with a fire, blanket, and a good book to end the day. Nostalgic memories of what were, or of what I envisioned it to be, filled my mind; and I freely let it pour in, drenching my subconscious with thoughts of all that was good, and filtering out anything that wasn’t.
Our car sped down the two lane Canadian road in metric time; the signs telling me in kilometers how much further until we reached the reality of the city, where grey concrete obscured the yellow of the trees, and red was the color of the light at intersections. The transition from the tranquility of the country, to the attempted beauty of the city was slow, like a small leak deflating a bicycle tire. Make no mistake, Toronto is an amazing city, with more to offer than most, but it cannot compare to the land that surrounds it.