Sunday, November 05, 2006

A fable of interdiscipline

A forest lies beside a sea. The forest is filled with rich foliage, new growth and old, some burnt, from fires long since past, mushrooms and ferns grow in the leaf mold of the forest floor. Paths lead in all directions, some large and well-established, some tributaries, others marked simply by a bent twig, or a stray footprint on the ground.

The woods are inhabited by forest people, walking the paths, both large and small, established and newly formed. They pause to look up at the trees, or study the bark with magnifying glasses. Some bend down to turn up a bit of soil with a fork or trowel, gathering evidence in plastic bags for later examination; some study the roots of the trees, how they reach into the ground, or protrude above its surface. Some dwell in the middle of the forest, some by its edge. There are those who focus on old growth, and others who find fascination only in the sprouts and seedlings; still others who compare old to new.

Above the forest hover helicopters and small aircraft. On board are aerial photographers and mapmakers, looking at the forest and sea from above, noting their shape and changes in the landscape. Some observe the different colors and textures the forest growth makes, its density or gaps. They mark out the edges of the woods, marsh or field on one side, sea and shore on the other. Boats traverse the sea beside. Sailors and fishers inhabit the craft, working diligently at their tasks.

But where am I in this view? I used to walk among the forest people, stepping paths from large to small, turning soil, observing ferns and flowers, enjoying the leaves. But one day, I climbed a tree, and looked out toward the sea. The helicopters above distracted me, and I watched them hover, looking back below to see what they captured on film and paper. The sail boats were beautiful to me, crossing slowly back and forth, their sails calm or aflutter, as the winds would have them. I saw fish jump.

Then, I watched the birds who flew between the woods and the sea, up to the aircraft and down to the ground, capturing worms from the soil, and fish from the sea. How fascinating was their traveling. I climbed down and grabbed binoculars, to watch their passage more closely. I saw things from this vantage of the sea, that fishers and sailors have missed. Watching birds became a delight. I longed to meet the boat people. So I climbed down once again, and headed to the sea.

They welcomed me aboard their ships, though I was no expert at sailing or fishing. I watched and learned, gaining knowledge and insight into some aspects of their craft. In spare moments, I took out my binoculars, and watched the helicopters hover above, the trees in the distance, and the birds who flew freely between.

I've been on the aircraft too, watching the photographers and mappers engage in their tasks. I've learned bits from them, and gained facility in changing the film, or finding the right utensils and tools for the mapmakers to draw. I've looked through the lenses, even taken a few shots.

I am no expert in photography or map making. Nor am I a master sailor or fisher. I love to dwell in the woods, but find I'm more inclined to climb than to walk among the people on the ground. My tools differ from theirs. The birds are more often my guide, though they flit from one world to another. I am no ornithologist either, simply inspired by their movements.

And so, I wander back and forth, neither as good as any in their native domains. I am welcome among them all, though in ways an outsider everywhere... everywhere except when I climb the trees, or onboard a ship, or fly in the sky, peering through binoculars at the flights of the birds. I am comfortable being me in this way.

The trick is finding a way to make birdwatching through binoculars relevant to my friends in the woods, on the sea, in the air. That is the task at hand.

1 comment:

Lilian said...

Very interesting metaphoric images...