Monday morning I awakened groggy and annoyed because the Eastern Woodrats introduced in the December 9 Newsletter had thumped and bumped all night beneath the trailer. This was unusual because the rats have done this all winter and usually I find their presence good company. Often I have to laugh, imagining what shenanigans must be going on below for such unlikely noises to be produced.

"Pickle juice," I concluded.

Kathy the plantation manager periodically cleans out her refrigerator and sometimes I am the beneficiary when she sends my way her sour milk (good in cornbread batter), fungusy cheese, and delicacies such as pickleless pickle juice (also good in cornbread batter). Well, the day before the woodrats, Kathy had set next to the garden gate a jar with pickle juice in it and I had used it.

Like so much in the American diet, this pickle juice contained outrageous concentrations of salt. Just a little salt causes me to retain water so that within an hour or two I get blurry-eyed, my ears ring, I can't think or sleep well, and later feel grumpy. One day all's right with the world, then some salt slips into my diet, and the next day the world is wretched and insidious.

This is worth thinking about.

For, is the real "me" the one with or without pickle juice? What are the implications when we discover that we think and feel basically what the chemistry in our bodies at that particular moment determines that we think and feel? And if what we think and feel isn't at the root of what we "are," then just what is the definition of what we "are"?

Actually, I can shrug off that question, but only because a larger one nudges it aside. That is, is "reality" like Chopin's gauzy, dreamy etudes, the way I experienced it on Sunday, or more like Schönberg's angry, disjointed, atonal piano pieces, the way I experienced it on Monday after taking into my body the pickle juice?

Thoughts like these have led me to distrust all my assumptions about life no matter how obviously "right" or "wrong" they appear at the moment. I have long noted how huge blocks of my behavior appear to depend exactly on how much testosterone happens to flow in my blood. An acquaintance's tendency to weepiness corresponds precisely to whether he's taken his blood pressure medicine and another's whole personality depends on her remembering to take her lithium pills.

In the end, however, you have to accept certain assumptions just to get through the day, even if you don't quite trust them. I have chosen two insights in particular to serve as bedrock on which all my other assumptions about life and living rest.

One insight arises from meditating upon the grandness, the complexity, the beauty and majesty of nature -- the Universe at large -- and thus I recognize that the Universe has a Creator worth contemplating. (This has absolutely nothing to do with religiosity, by the way, for religions are manmade institutions.)

The other insight is that love in whatever context is worth seeking and sharing.

This latter insight is the one that keeps me hanging around in this quaint biological entity, my body, with or without pickle juice.