There is a mystery in human endeavor. Digging daffodil bulbs is a mystery. You do this in July while frying eggs on the bricks. You cannot do it in June, which up here is cold and you have to wear a shirt. You cannot do it in September when fall is in the air and it's nice out there.
You have to do it in July when even the catfish sweat, because that is the time when the roots have died back and before the new ones have sprouted. But no matter how well you like daffodils, you think (crumbling the dirt and fanning through every cubic centimeter of it with your hands) it really is too hot to dig. And yet it must be done. The bulbs can sit there only so many years before they weaken and have to be separated and given a new chance.
After a long time digging I sat down by the fish pool to continue my valuable research of many years on Known Goldfishes. The small one with the white mouth and two rosy spots was all right. But why does he never attend the first sitting? You feed them raw oatmeal, of course, and it's a mystery why some of the fish rise instantly to feed, but others never come up. You wait a few minutes and put some more oatmeal in, and the second-sitting gang arises, and the white and rosy one partakes of the second feeding.
It's not that the biggest show up first or second. I cannot see any reason why some eat sooner and some later, but I have noticed the pattern. What a mystery. Which is why I continue my valuable research. Thus far this consists of feeding them oatmeal. It takes 50 years or so, like Jane Goodall and her wild chimpanzees, to get the feel of things; you don't just go barging in if you're working on Known Goldfishes, and in doing research you let the beasts get used to you. One of the disappointments of goldfish research is that the fish sometimes die after 10 years before your spectacular projects (the ratio of ginrin scales to missing scales in Big Pearly from 1971 to 1985) have got properly under way.
And then there's El Salvador and Lebanon and the First Colon; so many things going wrong in the world we are disheartened. And one's own research goes so slowly -- the life so short, the craft so long to learn. And one's faith is so often shaken, as mine was this week when a hornet stung me on the eyebrow. I used to kill bugs until some potter friends of mine had a party once where some Indian potters were present with nose veils to keep from accidentally slaughtering some tiny bug accidentally breathed in.
At the time my wife questioned whether this was nonsense. Not while the Indians could hear, of course; that would have been unspeakably crude, but a few minutes later when she said religion can be carried too far by half. And precisely at that point (the drinks were in pottery mugs because potters do not have glasses to drink out of) she swallowed a cockroach. He had been hiding in the bottom of the pottery tumbler when the drink was poured in, in the kitchen, and probably thought he had hit land just in the nick. My wife, who does not go around screaming to the world, excused herself, got to the bathroom and one way and another got the animal out of her throat, but not before the bug had scratched her throat pretty bad.
This shows you should not say anybody's religious notions are absurd. If she had worn a mouth veil it would have been better. You can always learn from other cultures.
But to get on, I resolved not to slaughter God's creatures like bugs, and though more afraid of wasps than lions, I decline to kill them. The year the yellow jackets built a megacity at the base of a bush on the front walk, I never hurt a one and they never hurt me. So I figured my reputation with dirt daubers and hornets and so forth was pretty sound. One year I didn't even bother a hornet nest the size of a basketball that I walked under all the time at American University.
This hornet I speak of, however, came barreling out of a large viburnum while I was digging a hole nearby and stung me just below the eyebrow. This is international politics, this is man's place in the cosmos. You do good, you refrain from violence, and bam, the hornet gets you the same as if you never wished him well. Soda paste is best, by the way, just baking soda and water, spread on thick. The pain abates and you have time to think beautiful thoughts while awaiting death. It takes 10 days for the swelling to go all the way down.
So there you are, musing on the mystery of things, and how nothing is easy and the righteous suffer and wondering when the poor president will be able to eat Grape Nuts again and maybe the goldfish need some more oatmeal and you really ought to get back to digging the bulbs no matter how hot it is because it's not every day you have Time to Do It.
Is this all that life is about? One halfway effort after another, one minor anxiety after another, interrupted by an occasional hornet who has not even bothered to learn who his friends are.
Is this the world? Behind schedule on the bulbs, worrying about the president and running out of oatmeal. The mind is a cloud of anxiousness, the center is not firm nor the direction clear. You should head right in to one thing at a time and not let the cloud form. Do something about it or else dismiss it entirely.
This, I now think, was the glory of primitive man. I don't think he let the slow progress of his goldfish research bother him; and he probably encountered the usual ration of hornets without thinking one way or another what his relationship with them was, or how he should modify it.
Musing thus -- and possibly I did doze for a second, or perhaps lost consciousness briefly from the burden of profound reflection -- my eyes sprang open suddenly; and behold, a cloud of dragonflies was jerking about over the surface of the pool. They have not got grain one of brains. Some of them were laying eggs (despite what you may read, they can lay eggs just hovering over the water, not hanging on to a reed or anything) and others were coupling in flight, and others were zooming around reversing direction like a woman who is halfway to the car but only halfway and darts back because the stove may be on or the dog door may not be locked.
They don't make noise when they fly. They stop on a millimeter of air and they sparkle like pearls that have somehow caught the trick of diamonds. They are more ancient than almost anything and more beautiful than seems reasonable.
You can watch them for quite a spell. You could reach out and touch them. Unlike the chimpanzees and the goldfish you don't need half a century to get them used to you. They don't give a damn about you one way or another.
And I saw clearly, for a change, that this is the world. This is man's role, even more than to worry about everything, even more than to get some more oatmeal, even more than to complete the great work on Known Goldfishes.
Just to sit there and clear out all the stuff in the head and just watch and not dig or sweat or do anything at all except marvel.
Is this what seven millennia of civilization come to? All the wars, all the science, all the love and learning and lore so painfully collected -- as chipmunks accumulate -- over the centuries?
Sure. It comes to dragonflies on a summer's day. You watch them as they are flying. It's all there is and it comes to you in one second, it's all there's room for and all there ought to be.