The classical Greek conception of the afterlife was not a particularly attractive one.
In Homer’s universe, the vast majority of the dead — those not singled out by the gods for special treatment — did not wake up in some bright city of jasper and chalcedony. There were no beautiful houris, no songs, no drinking with old comrades, no dancing in fields of asphodel. Death meant a transition from the daylight world to a gray twilight, a cavern of ashes and dust, populated by muttering shadows. The Homeric dead retained their identities only through the living, sustained in the memories of those left behind. As those memories faded, or the people who had known them in life themselves died off, the dead reflected that loss, becoming more and more vague, insubstantial, losing all individual selfhood. The one thing that could provide a moment’s respite in this slide into oblivion was blood. The blood of the living, freely given, would restore a shade’s identity and memory, at least for a short time.
Pretty grim, right? We are talking about death, after all, the big D, the final darkness, the end of life, so to expect sunshine and roses and platoons of beautiful virgins does seem a bit naive.
If you’re one of those folks who believes that you will, upon the death of your body, rise up to enjoy dancing and singing and partying for all eternity with your ancestors back to Adam and Eve, I’m not here to rain on your parade. We all look for consolation where we can. What I really want you to think about, looking out at those gray multitudes in the Greek afterlife vibrating to the last fading echoes of selfhood, is the concept of identity.
Of all the obnoxious and unpopular universals we have to deal with – gravity, conservation of momentum, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, the speed of light in a vacuum, the way coffee never tastes as good as it smells – the one that seems to be the hardest for most of us to accept is entropy.
Just when we think we’ve gotten a handle on things, figured out how to survive, how to be happy, how to get through the day, we discover that the universe has marched on and the situation has changed. Suddenly all the systems and workarounds that we rely upon to keep us sane no longer work the way we expect them to. The rules have changed on us. Loved ones die, things break down, the places that are important to us become strange and different. “For no reason!” we insist, red-faced and frustrated, but in fact there is a reason: simple entropy.
Let’s suppose you’re doing last Sunday’s crossword puzzle.
You’re stumped on seven down: a five-letter word for “indistinct”. There are a couple of possibilities here, but the one that pops into your mind first is “fuzzy”, so you drop that in, very faintly, in pencil.
Okay, now what? Fifteen across, a six-letter word for “mystery”, is now coming up “enizma”, which is obviously wrong. A moment’s thought gives us a 99.9% certainty that we should be seeing “enigma” in that slot, but that gives us “fugzy” for seven down, our original problem clue: once again, it’s safe to assume that something’s not clicking.
Yes, it’s that time again. Winter is finally over, Ice Season is melting into slushy, gritty memories, and we’re moving into that other half of the year: Tick season.
Here in the Ozarks, tick season runs from about the first week in April through the end of December, with occasional outbreaks in January, February, and March. By mid-May roving hordes of the little monsters will be moving through the underbrush like piranhas with legs, armored specks of concentrated evil seeking whom they may devour.
We’re all becoming pretty current on the latest tick-borne diseases in humans, and the toll on pets is equally terrifying. Repellants, foggers and sprays fill the air like morning mist; gatherings of the beautiful people are aromatic with eau de permethrin, and the rest of us bathe in Deet as if were Chanel No. 5.
My best friend Sebastian died this afternoon, snuggled up in my arms, whimpering and snuffling, trying to purr as I scratched the back of his neck. He had been suffering for several days from a very high fever that evolved into a rampaging anemia that turned his skin yellow and robbed his blood of the ability to transport enough oxygen to keep him alive, no matter how hard he struggled to breathe. He was frightened, and in pain, and he knew that, just like always, I was there to make it all better. Instead, I held him while the veterinarian injected him with a quick, silent poison that ended his life within seconds of my giving her my assent.
When I was a child in Montgomery, Alabama, during the very early sixties, I can remember certain areas around town that spent much of the year buried under a green and hairy shroud that covered telephone poles, buildings, billboards, trees, parked cars, slow-moving pedestrians: the dreaded kudzu.
Years ago, while living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, my partner and I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who was considered throughout the neighborhood to be a gardener of some skill. When we finally received an invitation to venture past the ten-foot privacy fencing into his little slice of paradise, we jumped at the chance to see what a Florida garden was supposed to look like.
It’s hard to believe something that doesn’t come from the fifth planet of Arcturus could make such a strange assortment of noises. Rattling, choking, yipping, barking, whining, screeching — It’s like my family at dinner when I was fifteen.
I like to consider myself tolerant of other living things, even those I find a bit unpleasant, like houseflies and pomeranians, but there are limits to my generosity. Ticks fall somewhere on the far side of those limits.
Ticks are arachnids, related to mites (and very distantly to my friends, the spiders). There are actually three distinct families of ticks, but only one, the “hard ticks” or Ixodidae (from a Greek word meaning “sticky”), feed on humans and their animals.
It has been pointed out to me that I seem to take a lot of pictures of flowers. Although there is no shortage of more active wildlife here in Winslow, I just don’t have the reflexes to get that perfect shot of a group of deer galloping away at thirty miles an hour, or a pileated woodpecker darting from tree to tree, or a fox or barred owl crossing my path an hour after sunset. So, yes, I photograph a lot of flowers. They don’t run away, they don’t bite, and they’re not likely to kick me in the head.