I like mockingbirds. Some nest in the holly trees in our front yard. I also noticed that they nest in the trifoliate orange trees in the park. I think they like the thorns on those trees for protection. I have wanted to plant some of these wild orange trees, also known as flying dragon trees, in my back yard. I found some sprouts down by the woods where people around here burn stuff. I decided to walk down there to dig a few up for transplant late one starry night. As soon as I forced the shovel into the earth, I felt a presence behind me and heard, “Hello, Dan.”
It was the wise old man. He was camping in the shed behind the Brunson House and grew curious about my strange activity so late at night. I told him what I was doing and he said, “I grew up on my great uncle’s great big ranch 14 miles out from Dime Box, Texas. From the time I was four, my job was to ride my half Welch, half mustang pony into Dime Box twice a week to get whatever mail was there and any needed supplies. There were only five books at Uncle Derrell’s ranch: a Bible, a dictionary, a Hazlitt, an Emerson and a slim volume of poems by Sara Teasdale. By age 10, I knew the Bible, the poems and you could not stump me on spelling or definition of any word in Webster. I had a little tougher time with Emerson and Hazlitt.”
“Well, sir,” I said, “That accounts for your rich vocabulary.”
“I suppose so,” he said meditatively, looking up at the Milky Way “Dan, I know what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said stargazing made him feel alone, but I also identify with Teasdale’s feeling of personal honor in observing the stars. When I look up on a night like this I feel both alone like Emerson and special like Teasdale. I feel solitary because I am looking into the infinite otherness of the universe and I feel special because I was somehow chosen to be a part of it.”
I joined his philosophical tone by observing that our galaxy was just a speck in the infinite reaches of interstellar space. “Yes,” he said, “hurling through a universe full of similarly unfathomable systems. It is a miracle that we can reflect and comment upon what we see. Trying to explain the star spangled heavens is like trying to talk about time itself. The future, for example, is merely a present expectation based on the observed regularity of nature. The past is just a present memory and when you say “present” it is in the past. Time has nothing to do with clocks and calendars, which just measure the motions of our solar system.”
“Wow,” I said, “I just came to dig wild orange trees but I got something even better. “Yes, Dan,” he replied, “The bird of truth has flown through your tree. Let her make a nest there.”
“You are so cool,” I said.
“Good thing I brought my Army blanket,” he replied with a wink.