The Disinterested World

February blooms

Spring is starting in Austin, Texas.  The native Mexican plum trees, an understory plant, are flowering white under the bare branches of the taller trees.  This non-native shrub in my yard is flowering pink already, and its sibling shrub is thinking about blooming sometime this next week.  Since Spring moves north at the rate of about 100 miles per week, the stage we are living through here now will reach the northern continental U.S. in 10 to 12 weeks.

Early this afternoon, my husband and I decided to take advantage of a perfect day and walk down to our local city park, rent a canoe on Barton Creek, and paddle ourselves out into the lake.  The likelihood of capsizing was slim, but I did not want to take a camera in the boat and risk wetting it, or worse, sinking it in the ‘soup’, so I took my sketchbook and pen with me.  Much cheaper to replace!  Each time I decided to stop and sketch, my patient husband maneuvered the canoe into position and did his best to keep it there against the waves and wind, so that I could have a consistent view for my work.  I have learned to sketch quickly, not being too concerned with looks, but being very concerned with capturing either a mood, or a relevant detail, or a particular observation that I want to remember later.  Also, when sketching, my mind is forced to select quickly as my hand is busy taking its orders, and I cannot be too picky about wanting the world around me to remain stationary while I draw.

Here are the ducks paddling under the branches near the mouth of the creek:

These ducks are mostly the dark-black ones with white bills.  However, there are a few mallards mixed into the group.

I love seeing the turtles sunning themselves on half-submerged trees at the edges of the creek and the lake.

Not all the turtles piled together and leaning on each other appear to be the same species.  Perhaps their little reptilian brains don’t need to be communing with exactly their same kind.  If we get too close, they slide off into the drink, so we do our best not to disturb the wildlife as we pass.

There is an amazingly grand cypress standing quite a way out in the water of the lake.  We easily paddle between the tree and the shore.  It has an enormous girth at the bottom, then tapers very quickly to slim trunk and branches.  The bottom of its cypress knees are covered with green moss.

The tops of several cypress trees were filled with rather large water birds resting and looking down from their chosen viewing platforms.

We decided that one hour and twenty minutes of paddling and sketching would be long enough to make our muscles sore tomorrow, so we returned our craft and walked further into the park.  We went to visit my favorite statue, the one of the three ‘philosophers’ who used to enjoy the cold waters of Barton Springs while they argued and discussed important points of life in central Texas and the world.  Here is a quote from Walter Prescott Webb, b. 1888, d. 1963, one of the philosophers in the group:

“Civilization shouts, gives orders, writes rules, puts man in institutions, and intimidates him with a thousand irritating directives.  In return, it offers him protection, soul salvation, and a living if he can find it.  Nature looks down on him and broods in silence.  Its noises of running streams and wind in the trees are its own, not directed at but soothing to him because he heard them before he heard the noises of civilization.

I thought that his words were apt for our experience today.  Those water birds will go right on living their lives whether I’m here or not.  That cypress tree will keep growing until it dies, no matter my wishes.  The turtles only care about my existence in the sense that their friend-or-foe and food-or-not-food meters tell them something about my presence.  Other than that, I simply don’t matter or figure into their calculations about life.  It is rather consoling to find that I’m not really in charge and I’m not really all that important in the natural scheme of things.  There are plenty more like me as far as those turtles are concerned!

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