An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of September 7,  2003
written in the woods not far from Natchez, Mississippi, USA

COMPUTER, COMPOSTE,
BULLFROG & ART

This week I've had awful computer problems and I'm still not back to normal. For most of four solid days I've struggled to patch together parts from three old computers to make something that works. This Sunday morning I'm still having problems, needing to pound the table to get an image onto my screen.

Thursday I took a break from my computer woes by going to say hello to the compost heap. I found it happily cooking along at an interior temperature of 138° (59° C). For a while I just stood there reflecting on how my activities could be so disrupted by a few electrons inappropriately digitally distributed, yet simply by lying there, all along this compost heap had been accomplishing exactly what it wanted.

My first thought was that, by keeping things simple, that heap had managed to reach a kind of Buddhist perfection. Its high cooking temperature resulting from the breakdown of complex organic materials into basic soil-building nutrients and particles seemed to me a kind of biological equivalent to the path to nonexistence and Nirvana. But then I remembered that, actually, a compost heap is quite complex. Its proper function depends on the well-timed interaction of trillions of living individuals and thousands of kinds of individuals, from bacteria to millipedes.

In fact, it occurred to me that nothing is really completely simple. For example, This week Larry Butts up near Vicksburg sent me a picture of a bouquet he'd created for his wife. It was wonderful, containing thistles, honeysuckles, and lots of other "weeds" and wildflowers from along his gravel road. One might say, "Oh, it's so pretty because he's simply stuck a bunch of pretty things together," but a closer look reveals that the arrangement was successful largely because it adhered to certain laws of proportion based on complex geometry, and color esthetics that were actually quite subtle -- whether while creating the arrangement Larry knew that his choices were sophisticated or not.

Likewise, some would say that in terms of maturity and sophistication no human society has ever surpassed that of China's ancient T'ang Dynasty. Among the most treasured relics of that society are haiku by the great T'ang poets. And what, at first glance, is more simple than a haiku? Here is one I recently wrote while sitting next to our pond:

A silent bullfrog...
Of what good is such a thing
Just watching me sit... ?

At first glance, it's childishly simple, saying almost nothing. Yet, if you reflect on it awhile, maybe you can see that this poem invites questioning of the definition of "good," and one's own expectations. Maybe even it reveals something about me as I question these particular things in this particular manner... all in 17 syllables!

It's as if in life at first everything is simple, but then you see how complex it is, but if you live long enough and if you mature enough, eventually you find simplicity in that complexity, but expressing that simplicity is not simple at all, for that, maybe, is the domain of art...

Anyway, if during upcoming weeks I miss putting out a Newsletter or two, it's because my old homebrew computer has finally bitten the dust, and I'll be back online eventually -- unless I lose track of time while keeping my compost heap company. Facebook Icon