Saw the weirdest damn thing today.
In an effort to get some fresh air and blow the stink of flu off me, Ed and I decided to take a walk at Harkness Park. For those you who don’t know, Harkness is located in Waterford, CT on the site of the old Harkness Estate. It’s now a state park with picnic areas, walking paths, and frontage on Long Island Sound.
So…we get down to the beach and we’re walking along and I look out to sea. “What’s that?” I say, pointing at this black thing bobbing in the waves about 100-150 yards offshore. Ed has no idea. We watch it for a few minutes to see if we can discern if it’s a seal, some other animal, or flotsam. No clue. We keep walking. In a few minutes, I look up again and damn if the thing hasn’t kept pace with us! We’d left the binoculars in the glove box, so we stood there straining our eyes against the overcast day trying to figure this thing out. It actually outpaced us, moving against the wind and tide. Didn’t look organic, but didn’t look like anything else. Steel drum caught in a differing current? Sea monster? Secret submersible? Undersea diver towing a float? (No way; the thing moved too fast.) It outstripped us and moved around the headland. When we got there, it was still going, growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared into the fog.
I like not knowing what it was. We need mysteries in life, if only to keep ourselves humble. In mystery lies magic; in magic lies wonder; and in wonder lies an appreciation for all things known . . . and unknown.
I am reminded of a story I read about author Tom Brown. I’m paraphrasing here, so I apologize to Mr. Brown if I get any part of this wrong. He was being taught about the natural world and his place in it by the older Native American man who became his Grandfather. At one point, this gentleman pointed out a bird and said “What’s that?” Mr. Brown replied “A robin.” His Grandfather went on to explain that “robin” did not define what that bird was and explained that every bird called a robin was different from every other bird called by the same name. To begin know the bird (that particular, individual bird), one must look for the differences in plumage or track or eye color or flight pattern. It’s like humpback whales. You can lump them all together under that moniker, but that is not what they are or who they are. You must look at individual patterns in the markings beneath their tail flukes, at scarring on their flanks. And even then, even when you think you’ve identified an animal beyond any doubt, you must admit that you will never know them, that they carry at their heart (as all wild things do; as we ourselves do) the unknowable, the secret, the mystery.