During my canoeing days I began to look for one of the minor but memorable nature signs that presaged Autumn, my favored season. With reasonable reliability the sign arrived in the midst of green August. I’d be trotting a canoe overhead on a wooded portage when the black mud trail ahead would wear a pool of glowing golden leaves. Weeks ahead of its kin a single aspen or birch would kick free its leaves to begin an early dormancy. I can only guess at the biological advantage of doing so same as I can only surmise why a few trees will hold onto their leaves when their neighbors are all deathly barren in appearance. Shifts in trees timing to the seasons must mean something, a natural message to be observed and learned from.

An opposite but related observation comes with the Spring season. Making maple syrup I began noticing annual differences in sap characteristics coming from the same stands of trees. One year the boil might be plagued by an abundance of cloudy globules that were the devil to filter out. A year or two later the boiled sap might produce layers of mineral sand that accumulated in the boiler and precipitated out of the syrup as it cooled. Over time I thought of these differences from one boiling season to another as a language of the trees saying something about their life experience the year before and they were passing it along in their sap. Nature is not completely mute nor simply something to enjoy when it’s full of pretty colors or washes us in a balmy breeze. That form of nature appreciation (sadly in my view it’s too much the norm) is what I call with disdain and scorn the skill level of the calendar or picture window nature lover who sits indoors looking out instead of being out there where there’s real life action. For them the water they’d dare enter has to be supervised in a tiled pool that’s heated and chlorined to just the right degree. Living in a greenhouse or going to an Olympic pool instead of a pond is safe and sure, but it is also falsely contrived as (so I think and feel) best suits the spirit desiring sheltering over daring the elements.

When I once did archaeological contracts (I know, if there was any way to not find riches I found it and did it.) part of the responsibility taken on was to help protect our cultural heritage buried in the ground and often mostly unknown. Careful uncovering of what the ground held would reveal portions of the past and uncover parts of little known stories. An archaeological survey was a way of giving word and voice to a past that was in many ways otherwise speechless. I can and do enjoy a review of a Gothic church or an intriguing Glensheen, but it is of equal merit to uncover a scene of stone debris that clearly shows where an unknown person worked hundreds of years earlier to drive flakes from the stone tool being crafted on that spot. There is no vaulted ceiling to wonder at or carved Italian woodwork to admire, but the story of that solitary worker producing a tool for survival is of much greater importance and consequence for humankind than the making of any mansion I’m aware of. The little things done over sprawling lengths of time by ordinary people making their way forward hold by far more significance than Versailles or the Taj. Wealth and power can dominate and command, but for all its brilliance a grand monument gives not a crumb to live on.

One of, as I see things, the human challenges is to be aware of our blind or contradictory areas. Looked at from a questioning base the major movements all dedicated to freeing humanity from tyrannies of wealth and power has each in turn shown to be little better at serving fairness or justice. A somewhat better record rests in the American Revolution as being less murderous to its own than the comparable thing done at roughly the same time in France power wielded by a tyrannical commoner proved no better or in cases worse than power held by nobles. The great social and cultural revolution of Marxist Socialism in the former Soviet State was hardly a decade old before it turned to punishing Ukrainians for not sufficiently embracing collectivizing by starving them to death. In one of the most productive parts of Europe close to ten million ordinary farmers were driven to starvation in the name of “the people.” It’s a sure thing words will most often belie reality. It’s a good bet that an ideal can be seen as peaceful whereas its execution will be anything but. Wars, after all, are usually preceded by promises of peace to follow.

Being humans we can’t control when the leaves will fall or stay on a tree. Our thing, if that’s the way to put it, is to listen for whatever evidence we can and then try to hear what it says. We’re all capable of looking a thing in the eye but not catch its meaning. Being willing to examine what facts we can find and then ask what they could mean is a far more usefully human activity than that of putting an opinion as a valid conclusion. In a whirling media world this isn’t an easy task. Being shelled from all sides it’s an easy relief to make the assumptions we’re often steered into making. A recent commercial I’ve seen tells the viewer that in the first few seconds of seeing the person in the commercial they should not reach a position about that person. True enough, but can’t as much be said of a person in a commercial deciding what viewers will think even before the viewer has seen a thing? A moral judgement about the behavior of others is only good as the basis behind it. Reacting to others based on their appearance isn’t the best practice, but when the individual has words tattooed on their forehead I suspect that’s what they want us to do.