The sky, like a brilliant opal of periwinkle and luminescent, shifting blues, reminds me insistently as I inch along through the maze of metal, cement, frustration and fumes, that beyond the texts of history books, there was a time when grass fields and open lakes dominated the landscapes of humanity. No one would ever think to watch the sun set so spectacularly from an enclosed, stinking little pod, forced along a paved road leading to a determinate, fixed destination; being driven from here to there and taking little notice of what lies between.
Longing to be sitting undisturbed and undistracted, I peer out my windshield at the glowing cotton clouds and shimmering, ethereal pastels overhead, when I am struck to see off to my right a bright shaft or leg of a rainbow, the rest of it swallowed up by the mists and moving vapors of the evening sky. There it shown intensely, almost supernaturally beautiful among the buildings, warehouses, gas stations and cars, like the staff of some giant, angelic being. As I try to gaze at it, I veer dangerously. I am forced to keep my eyes ahead, though I steal a glance when I can.
The sound of the city turns to a peaceful whisper in this particularly lovely nightfall; even the honks of cars are welcome and benevolently familiar voices. These, to me, are the sights and sounds of home. I grew up here, in Los Angeles. I am more accustomed to the whoosh of passing cars and distant shouts than I am to silence. As a matter of fact, I am vaguely disturbed by silence. I am a child of urban life; my natural environment is made up of streetlights and storefronts, and someone always around somewhere.
This is a vastly different scenario than the early life of someone like my father, who grew up far away in time, location and circumstance. A member of the Great Depression/World War II generation, he spent his childhood on an isolated farm in Jersey, where the nearest neighbors lived more than two miles away and his closest friend was his pet cow, Bessie. For him, life was silence; as he walked Bessie along whatever routes he wandered, he would look up at the moon and talk to both animal and heavenly body, a stranger to loneliness.
It is likely that I will never fully grasp the simplicity of my father’s early life; a life from a bygone era. I am too accustomed to having communication, information, entertainment, music, and just about anything else literally at my fingertips. Though far from rich, there is always food in my cabinets; survival these days means something different than it once did.
Yet with all the technical advancement and supposed improvements in the quality of life, here I am, virtually trapped in my car with my back aching, unable to do something as simple as watch the sky set aglow by the sinking sun.
I may not have to go out to the barn to get my own milk, or to the chicken coop to get my eggs, but maybe all that means is that I lack appreciation for the origins of such things; the living, breathing, feeling creatures from which they come.
I have no personal connection or notion of the cow or cows that my last carton of milk came from. I have no knowledge as to what the actual act of getting milk from a cow entails. I can bounce into the grocery store and leave in 10 minutes with everything I need. I don’t have to till soil or pull weeds for there to be strawberries or carrots in my fridge, and I don’t have an immediate need to worry about what kind of lives animals lead in distant, impersonal, warehouse-like farms; in a sense, they are not real to me. My time is thus freed up to have absolutely no time to complete everything that I am obligated to, while never actually, physically producing anything upon which to actually sustain myself.
When we talk about life in general terms, we often refer to it as “modernized,” or “technically advanced.” But I wonder at what cost this advancement has come. We have lost our organic, direct connection with the earth, and we have had the luxury of forgetting our vulnerability and dependence on its bounty.
My father tells a story from his childhood: a friend from the inner city came to visit him on his farm, and on a whim drove a nail into a tree. This was a tree that my father, in his solitude, had befriended. He wept to see one of his friends so callously injured.
This story serves as a reminder to me; a reminder as to what is so easily forgotten and potentially lost in the merciless momentum of the post-industrial age.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.