Monday, April 21, 2008

the little shepherd

The fog lay thick over the waves, defying the sun of the mid afternoon. In such inauspicious weather did I set out for a walk down to the sandy shore, intent upon exercise for my stiff body and rest for my weary mind. Arriving in due coarse at the shore, I descended a long and steep stairway to the sand below. A casual inspection from the foot of the stair revealed two people to my left and a couple more to the right. Behind me, a woman came down the steps following an excited little brown dog. With no direction to be alone with my thoughts, I flipped a mental coin and turned to my right.

Everything that day was dull and commonplace. The day was middling cool; the sun was fairish dim. The sand was an unremarkable yellow-gray and the water an unexceptional gray-green. The waves were stunted tumbles of water nibbling at the shoreline, and by their frequency showed no enthusiasm for the project. They had been raised by the wind in far places, given a gift of kinetic energy to send them reluctantly on their way. They traveled tens or hundreds of miles across the deeps, and as their life came to an end against the colorless sands on a foggy day, it seemed that they had nothing much to say about it. Even the air was heavy and morose. Weighted with fog, it blew half-hearted gusts and seemed to deaden the crash of the sullen waves.

Whether my mood fit the world or the world fit my mood I cannot say, but well in tune we were. I trudged along the beach with as little enthusiasm as the waves --heavy as the air and colorless as the sand. My thoughts were turned inward to the problems that beset me on that dreary afternoon.

It seemed that my mood was shared by others on that spiritless spit of sand. One man trudged past me going in the opposite direction, his face vacant. He had had enough of the drab outdoors and was heading back to the stair. Ahead was a fisherman who drew in his line from the waves and tossed it half-heartedly back to them. He reminded me of Sisyphus who was cursed by the gods forever to push a stone up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again. Did the fisherman not see the futility of his endless cycle of activity --draw it out and throw it back? But his occupation was no more futile than the duties which beset my own thoughts.

The animals seemed to share in the moroseness of the day. A long-billed, long-legged sandpiper picked wearily at the sand at the fringe of the wash. On normal days, there would be a family of twenty or so of these brown birds, energetically chasing the water as it flowed down the beach, probing quickly into the sand, and then fleeing the next incoming wave. When I walked near them, they would rise up smartly and fly ahead until I had driven them beyond the good feeding, then they would fly around me to get back.

This lone creature didn't even bother to take wing. It was as if she knew that even if I were a predator that I had no more enthusiasm for dinner than she did. Perhaps she was only out on the beach to get away from the squawking kids for a few minutes. Perhaps she had no urgent desire to catch their dinner and be back to them. I could empathize. Rather than taking flight, she walked lazily up the beach ahead of me.

There was a sharp bark to my right and a little Australian shepherd was suddenly charging the sandpiper. The dog was brown and white and looked like a diminutive Lassie. The bird took off mere feet from the charging dog, flying straight out over the ocean and the Australian shepherd charged heedlessly into the waves, retreating just barely in time to avoid being deluged. Even then she stopped in the cold swirling water --near up to her belly, prancing and barking at the sky where the bird had vanished. She again chased the water out to get closer to the escaped sandpiper and again retreated reluctantly before the next wave, unwilling to admit defeat in the chase.

Eventually something else caught the excited dog's eye and she went charging off on another micro adventure. On her way she circled the fisherman twice, laughing up at him. She brought a bit of purpose back to his activity as he tried to keep her from his hook and shooed her away.

The little shepherd was like a sparkling diamond on a dirty gray cloth, the only sign of joy on that bleak shore, a perpetual excitement machine bubbling over with the sort of unfocused enthusiasm that is characteristic of children and of the mentally imbalanced.

Such enthusiasm, with no proper focus, tends to be randomly contagious, and I found myself smiling at her antics, my own step quickening a bit. No creature was safe on that beach, bird, squirrel, or fisherman. Ahead of me, she drove another solitary sandpiper from its bored pecking.

I followed the little shepherd and her person down the beach for perhaps half a mile. When they turned back, I kept on for a bit and then turned back as well. Following in the wake of that little brown and white bundle of excitement the sun shown a bit brighter; the wave roared a bit louder. The fisherman was walking up and down the beach now, and casting more forcefully than before and the sandpipers rose smartly at my approach, displaying a renewed enthusiasm for life.

Dullness and ennui require unanimous consent. A single dissenting individual can change the scenery entirely.

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