The Other 99%

December 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

A couple of nights ago we ate an early dinner, strapped on our skis, and headed out across the hayfield above our house. It was the night after the full moon, and there was barely enough snow for skiing – three inches, maybe less – but our neighbor had let his milkers graze the field after second cut, so the surface was shorn low and smooth. The only obstacles were of the bovine fecal nature, and because these deposits were frozen, we could glide over them without breaking stride. Did I just say that we skied on cow shit? Why, yes, I did.

The idea had been to ski under the nearly-full moon, but we were too early, and for a while I had everyone convinced that the idea of a waning moon is a myth, that the lunar cycle goes from full start to full stop in just one day. At first, I thought I was joking, but after another moonless half-hour, I started to wonder if perhaps I was onto something. Such is my hubris.

Then we saw it begin to rise, emerging from behind the northeastern horizon first as a preceding glow, and then by inches as itself. We stopped and watched, and even the boys – especially the boys – were transfixed. It happened so fast, we could actually see it rising, as if it had been catapulted from somewhere deep in the earth’s core. Within minutes, the entire landscape was brushed in a warm, almost intoxicating glow. After a while, we skied on.

At Thanksgiving, friend of ours told me that humans can perceive only 1% of what’s out there. In other words, there is another 99% of sights and sounds, smells, tastes, textures and feelings that we know nothing about. I’m not sure how she knows this or if I should even believe it. Still, for whatever reason, I decided to. At first, I found it mildly unsettling, if only because I am at times already overwhelmed by how much I do not know.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the closer I’ve come to feeling comforted that so much could exist beyond the realm of common human understanding. The older I get, the more important it feels to me to believe that we are only consequential within the context of our humanness, that all the havoc our species has wrought upon the natural world only matters in the very narrow and specific perspective of that single percent. To think that there might be another 99% that could be as ignorant of us, as we are of it, is immensely appealing, if for no other reason than it grants me a complicated (and arguably naive) form of absolution.

There’s another reason it appeals to me, and it’s the same reason I stood still for a dozen minutes in a hayfield on a freezing night in early December watching the moon climb into the sky: A sheer, unadulterated sense of wonder at forces so profoundly beyond my control and with it, the simple gift of the knowledge that I’m not nearly as important as I think I am.




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