yammering

oh, well, whatever . . .

the pure white doves and the peregrine

leave a comment »

boulmer tractor

Early one morning in high summer a few years ago I was sitting on Great Gable at Westmorland Cairn looking down the valley at the famous view of Wastwater.  I had the mountain more or less to myself, having camped the previous night down on the shore of Sprinkling Tarn. As I sat leaning against my rucksack, a raven and a peregrine falcon floated up on a thermal close to the crag. They were no more than thirty feet from me. The raven was harrassing the peregrine, which was mostly ignoring it, but at one point made a quick and very short move towards it, as if to get it to back off. Sort of like the way a lion might suddenly turn towards a troublesome hyena. The gesture had the desired effect. The raven made off across the valley in the direction of Scafell Pike. The peregrine continued to rise into the sky on the thermal. I lay back and looked up as it became an eventually invisible speck in the blue sky far above me.

As I lay there I wondered what would happen if a flock of fifty pure white doves passed beneath the falcon. It would stoop, of course, and take one of the doves – but which one?  How would it decide?  Would it take the whitest?  The smallest? The slowest? One in the middle? One on the edge? The doves would be flying in a flock as an evolved protective tactic: being in a flock is safer than flying alone. It might be that if fifty doves passed by one by one a peregrine would take every one. In a flock of fifty only one will be lost.  But which one would a peregrine target as it hurtled towards the flock like a thunderbolt? And why would it choose that one?  Could the peregrine discern differences between the doves invisible to the human eye?  Did the peregrine have a special kind of knowledge? How was its victim selected? I lay gazing into the cloudless sky as if waiting for the answer to descend on me. It didn’t.

Swine Flu is becoming a lot more widespread now. Lily went off with it at the beginning of this week.  The disease is picking off more and more people, apparently at random, although I’m inclined to find metaphors that suggest selection at some level.  I imagine the disease as the peregrine over the flock of doves.  Does the peregrine pick the dove it just happens to get its eye on?  I imagine the virus as a lion running at a herd of zebra. It tends to take the one that runs a little slower than the rest, the young or weak one, or the one who gets separated from the herd for other reasons or whose trajectory just happens to unfortunately veer too close to its own.  So while chance plays a part here, it’s not an entirely random process. Here we see the unfolding of the probabilities that, aggregated, evolution rests upon. It’s a process which features chance and choice, natural selection.

There is a tendency to ascribe intentionality and purpose to agents that do not in any sense make decisions or have any consciousness of their own actions.  A virus is obviously not like a lion or a peregrine, but that’s something we easily forget.  In fact we often seem ready to attribute an even higher level of intentionality and meaning to activities of invisible, microscopic organisms.  The hand we cannot see becomes the hand of God or Fate.  We see a moral judgement or higher purpose in who the virus ‘chooses’ to infect.  The virus must be the agent of a higher force. What we cannot see and rationalise quickly falls into the realm of the mythical. Often this shift of perspective can be seen in a change of terminology: a disease becomes a plague. The myth of the righteous and evil plague makes sense for us of the invisible, uncontrollable danger that we may be prey to.  To prevent or survive its onslaught we need to clean up our lives.  We need to repent and cease our evil ways. The virus is karma. If we get straight with the universe the continuation or restoration of our good health will be assured.  And yet the innocent must die too sometimes.  But there’s a reason for everything.  God is good. God is merciful.  Those innocents His virus takes from us have a special place in His plan. They will have the best seats on the Black Aeroplane that will take them straight to the orchard-plots of Heaven.

The fact of course is that in the case of every epidemic some people are always more likely to die than others and even though some of the strongest will die too, in the pattern of swine flu mortality we will also surely see the principle of natural selection at work. The lion may most often take the weak and the vulnerable, but once in a while he’ll take one of the strongest and quickest zebras on the plain. Swine Flu will do the same.

Last night I went for a walk up through Newsham, over to South Newsham and the old waterworks, down to the beach and back along Rotary Way. When I got back Margaret was on the telephone. I made myself a cappuccino and sat down beside De Kooning in front of the television to drink it. What I took to be a sports programme trailer or link was on. The voice-over was reciting a poem by Michael Laskey.

On Having Given Up Cricket

I shall play cricket in heaven
in return for the afternoons
gladly given to the other
pleasure of others’ leisure.

I shall walk, without haste, to the wicket
and nod to the angels kitted
in their whites waiting to discern
the kind of batspirit I am.

And one stroke in heaven, one dream
of a cover drive will redeem
every meeting of bat
and ball I’ve done without.

And I’ll bowl too, come on to bowl
leg-breaks with such control
of flight and slight changes of pace
that one over will efface

the faint regret I now feel.
But best of all I shall field:
alert in the heavenly deep,
beyond the boundary of sleep.

When Margaret had finished her telephone call she came through.

‘That was Brenda,’ she said.

‘Oh, how is she?’ I asked.

‘She’s very well. I asked her about your cat stealing the nine jigsaw pieces.’

I ignored her, as if I was engrossed in the television. I gave De Kooning a stroke.

‘Did you hear what I said?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘He won’t sit still for acupuncture, if that’s what she has in mind.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ Margaret said, tersely. ‘I know you’re not interested, but Brenda does think the theft and burial of those nine linked jigsaw pieces has a definite meaning.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Really?’

‘Yes. She actually thinks your cat is protecting you. Brenda thinks that by removing the driver from the steamroller he is neutralising the person who might use it to do you harm. She says the steamroller stands for someone or some force close to you that does not have your best interests at heart.’

I said nothing. Margaret paused for a minute or so. I was wondering if it could be the Swine Flu that De Kooning was supposed to have in mind.

‘Brenda also thinks she can help De Kooning,’ she eventually said. ‘She feels his energies are out of balance. She asked me if you would agree to her doing some work with him. She says she won’t charge you for her time.’

‘Some work with De Kooning?’ I said. ‘What work does she have in mind, exactly?’

‘Reiki.’

‘Reiki?’ I said.

‘Yes, reiki. She thinks it will really help him.’

‘She thinks that doing reiki on a cat will put an end to him stealing jigsaw pieces? Is that what she thinks?’

‘Yes.’

‘No,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘I won’t let her do it.’

‘Why not? What harm can it do?’

‘De Kooning doesn’t particularly like reiki,’ I said. ‘He has no faith in it. And besides, he won’t give his written consent.’

‘Then you could give it for him.’

‘I could,’ I said. ‘But I won’t. And in any case, I don’t want him fixed just yet. First I need him to tell me who’s driving that steamroller. I need to see those missing pieces.’

At that moment I wondered how Lily was.  I wondered if Lily might be dead.

.

Advertisements

Written by yammering

July 16, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: