living in suspension

Look closely. Take your time and let your eyes explore the image. Try observing as follows: part to part; part to whole; whole to parts.

Suspend the need for any answers about what you're doing here until you've fully recognized what you're looking at. If it helps, imagine you are kneeling in a north-Pacific coastal rainforest on an April afternoon, as I was when I took the photo. You're awash in oxygen-rich, salty air from the ocean just a couple miles away. Wind surges through the virgin forest of Douglass Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western Cedar, some of them 200' tall giants in motion over your shoulder. The soggy hummus wets your knees, its earthen scent so strong as to be nearly a flavor. All this sensory imagery adds a complexity of phenomena to the purely visual, even though it's only present in this moment in the form of language—an incredibly complex symbol set that we use to represent phenomena, even if it isn't entirely adequate for the task.


The challenge here is to absorb all that complexity until your mind grows quieter, ideas turning from competitive to cooperative. This is counter-intuitive; shouldn't my mind positively buzz if I'm considering complexity? Well, maybe not if you're doing it right—synthesizing understanding out of complexity, distilling observation down to insight. This is difficult work but necessary if you are deeply curious about your experience in the world. Stay curious and this process goes on all the time in your mind. Sometimes it will culminate in a powerful insight, rare but worth all the work, a moment of striking clarity. Call it an epiphany— from the Greek "to manifest," to literally to have in hand.

The value of any epiphany, the real joy and payoff of it, is the release to act, resolve an issue, or otherwise apply knowledge that has previously been accreting. Epiphanies precede many of the best actions, and sadly some of the terrible ones, that people take. 

Back to the photo, where there's a lot going on. Observing closely takes practice and I don't think we can ever be perfect at it, only proficient. In my own case, it requires me to slow down my mind enough for it to open and receive deep information. I know how to do this but I don't necessarily find it easy. Fortunately, I have a metaphor for that right at hand. This flower contains all the necessary components to open. There are long skeins of time and evolution woven into the shape, color, function, inter-functionality, and efficiency of this living thing. It has full readiness. The kinetic tension is palpable. Yet a lot of things have had to go right for this potential to be so clearly realized. A vastly complex system is at work here, similar to the way it takes a lot of things going right at the same time for clarity to happen and bloom into an epiphany. Your mind is, finally, an ecosystem, embedded in the matrix of a larger one. 

Epiphanies are by their nature ephemeral. The state of mind we occupy during an epiphany is as temporary as a flower. Once it occurs, the elevated moment subsides. You're left with the germ of an idea, a creative inspiration, an action plan, a way to grow. You can't stay thrilled but you can hope to experience it again if you keep cycling, observing, opening, transforming.

I'm straining the chlorophyll right out of this metaphor in an effort to show how I find value in close observation and why I pursue the practice—a way of living in suspension. I try to carry myself into each day by paying attention to things but not expecting answers, which I've learned may be the best way to get them. I proceed ready to open up, receptive to what a moment of clarity offers, should it happen. I don't always succeed; Tuesday afternoons seem to be a low point for epiphanies. I don't tend to have epiphanies—not good ones, anyway—when I'm in traffic. I sometimes have to interact with people who choke off the clarity of an experience. I've also learned that striving for answers is less effective than, say, raking leaves or just walking on a winter beach; the body in motion tends to open and amplify the mind. 

Intrusions, confusions, and interruptions happen. All you can do is try to pay attention—it's the starting point for clarity and it gives you a fighting chance to understand the parts-to-whole-to-parts of any experience. Pay more attention more often. Get better at paying attention to what matters and particularly not to what doesn't.

Let's return once more, and finally, to the photo. It gets more beautiful to me, and by that I mean more meaningful, when I note the rain on the coiled petals, proof of the flower itself as intersubjective with a larger whole. Notice the elegant insect that appears—at least in the photo—to be reaching out to touch the swirled purple and white bloom. Does its touch register and cause the bloom to sway imperceptibly? This is not a first date—these living things are not merely acquainted, they are adapted to each other, possibly to the degree of being symbiotic or at least inter-dependent. A biologist could confirm or discount this but my point is that they utterly belong together, intersubjective yet distinct from each other. This connection extends outward to the whole they inhabit and inward to microscopic realms invisible to the eye.

And it serves to also note that as I knelt to take this photo and observed all that was around me, I was myself observed. I'll think I'll live in the suspension of that for a while and hope for clarity, as always.


think inside the box

It didn't actually come to me in a dream. It was more like an idea slowly coming into focus one early morning as I lay in bed and watched the autumn light bring into relief the varied forms of sitka, fir, hemlock, and alder rising on all sides. It's a canyon, I thought to myself.  

This was not a brilliant epiphany, I admit. I've lived here for a year so you'd expect me to be clear by now that I wake each morning in a coastal rainforest glen in the Pacific Northwest. It takes a good long time after dawn for the sunlight to actually strike the earth on my patch—and by this I mean that bright liquid sunlight that warms your skin, that fires the chlorophyll engines in the leaves of plants, that is finally the source of everything that sustains us. 


I've spent this year tracking the sun around the perimeter of our place until I've come to the conclusion that to grow vegetables here, especially in shoulder seasons, I'm going to need a way for those plants to chase that sun around. This is a quandary; plants are rooted. Again, not a notable epiphany. But what if they weren't? What if they were mobile and could be relocated to diverse places around the property to make best use of changing patterns of light? 

Lying there as morning coalesced, it came to me that what I needed to do was build a mobile garden—certainly not for my main plantings, which will be decidedly seasonal since they will occupy the large, existing beds I inherited from the previous homeowner. Those are located in the spots that clearly get maximum sun exposure during the growing season of April—October. What I needed was to build planter boxes that would hold enough soil to grow cool season crops and yet are moveable. 

There are plenty of places where one can buy such things, prefabricated. Websites and catalogs display various options, the cheap ones flimsy and the sturdy ones spendy. I was imagining a series of boxes, maybe 6-8, which would give me enough square footage for a ready supply of greens and other vegetables for most of the year—kale, chard, lettuce, scallions, spinach, and other delicious food. The boxes would also be high enough off the ground that our flock of free-ranging hens wouldn't decimate the plants. Buying that kind of material pre-made would run up quite a bill. Why not design and build the boxes myself?

Why not? Because I am a lousy carpenter. Maybe it's simply a failure of skill with tools, not to mention a lack of the tools themselves. I've certainly made things from wood before. I will show you none of those things. They list to one side. Their joints have gaps. I tend to use the wrong wood, wrong screws, wrong angles. I make cuts that veer off line. I have only a passing familiarity with the concept of "squared." Give me a spade and wheelbarrow and I'll transform your landscape. Give me a table saw and a bin of lumber and I'll give you back something tilted and squeaky, very possibly delivered in a clumsy manner because by then I'll be missing a couple fingers.  

Enter my friend, Jeff.


Jeff knows what he's doing with wood. Jeff has a whole workshop in his home dedicated to making things with wood. See those hands? They belong to a man who plays viola in a orchestra and can make sweet music on just about any other stringed instrument you could throw at him. They are important hands, which is why Jeff begins and ends with safety around the shop, as he is doing in this photo—from the apron to the ear and eye protection to the lesson he's giving me here on how to properly make a cut.

Over a couple beers the night before, Jeff had patiently listened to my ideas about the size of planter box I wanted and he made recommendations on design and materials before making a sketch and a purchase list. We hit the lumber store the next morning and for about $60 we came home with all we needed to make it happen. He noted that since we were designing this thing from scratch (referencing one solid source for guidance), we could expect to make adjustments as we went along. It dawned on me that this is the very point where I come up short—I lack the woodworking experience and confidence to effectively adapt a build as I go along, something I've seen is necessary on virtually every woodworking project. But I'm learning, and I may get there some day.

We set to work on a Wednesday afternoon, cutting most of the wood to the necessary dimensions and making the first moves that would bring the planter box frame into being. Everything was made square. Jeff repeatedly offered the dictum "Measure twice, cut once," and put it into practice. My own offering, "Looks close enough to me," was met with a  blank stare from my friend and was not repeated.  


Time flew by in the workshop, a sure sign that one is paying deep attention to the task at hand. For a carpentry klutz like me, the process of building something correctly feels alchemical, though of course it is not magic at all, just a careful process. I suspect those with woodworking skills are getting a chuckle out of this but really, I came to learn and so found myself adopting the mindset of sho shin sha no kokoro, or beginner's mind, a Zen Buddhist concept that describes an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject. This approach is tremendously rewarding since it helps the practitioner to absorb as much as possible in a way that can be put to use later.


The finished box was so beautiful to me. Call me easily pleased if you will but I loved this humble thing. Best of all, it was light enough to lift and slide it into the back of my truck for the drive home. 

Let's pause and deal with something obvious. This planter is made of pine. It's a relatively cheap and soft wood, easy to work with, lightweight. All of these things were perfect for my project but pine, as Jeff warned me, simply isn't durable in the climate of the Oregon coast. Well, of course not. So once I got this home, the next job was to apply a good coat of exterior primer, followed by a coat of exterior paint. It won't last forever but it I hope to get more than a few seasons out of it.


Things were accelerating quickly here. I was through the experience of building and was ready to prepare for planting. Here's how it went: a layer of landscape fabric in the bottom, 2" of coconut coir as a permeable layer, 2" of leaves and grass for nutrient value, and then a 3-part mix of soil from the forest floor, compost from my bin, and a commercial potting soil. Et voila! In situ and ready for planting.


It's hard to express how satisfying this project has been. Ideation was not the first step; rather, it was observation. I had to figure out the dynamic patterns of sunlight that fuel the microclimates around my place. It took exactly a year of observation for the planter box idea to pop up in my dawn-bleary brain. From there is was a matter of acting directly—the whole thing came together in a week's time, thanks to Jeff.

That's the good news. The bad news: the planter box is too heavy, when fully loaded, for me to move easily on my own. But there's more good news. As Jeff pointed out to me during the build, this is a prototype and can be scaled down if I want to make another box. It won't be hard now to redesign for a truly mobile planter box. That is the ultimate goal, so I plan to literally go back to the drawing board. Now I have the basic know-how to take the project from idea to design to build, all on my own. That can be married to my area of expertise—sunlight, water, and growing things. Developing knowledge and skills is productive; connecting them is synergetic and exciting. 

Before I move on to the next design and build, I plan to create a cloche covering so this planter box can yield greens even during the winter. We're likely to get temps that dip into the high 20s in coming months but I plan to experiment with a handful of things that may grow, if tended correctly. It is possible to produce delicious things for our table all year round and that always was the original motivation. I just had to think inside the box.  

complicate your life

In 2006 I was interviewed for this short piece by filmmaker Alan Wartes. I hope you enjoy this short take from the past on a real present and a possible future. 

sweeping with Harrison

Sometimes you open a book and realize you have to put it down. Right away.

I’m not talking about those cases where you understand it’s not worth your time. We all know what that’s about. I mean those cases where it’s just too good.

It’s National Poetry Month, which is both awful and wonderful. Awful because every day of my life is Poetry Day, because I know no other way to be so alive and connected to the world. I cringe when I hear the phrase meant to cue our collective appreciation in April, ostensibly to banish it again on May 1. There are a lot of things I’d like to banish on that date, and poetry is not on the list.  

But I admit it’s also wonderful because it unleashes poetry festivals, performances, reading, and internet chatter about poets and poems in greater supply than usual. The nation remembers we are here, and that we matter. Somewhere right now, the phrase “Poetry Month” is sparking an acute, half-remembered sensation in some poor media-addled person that he or she once did love a particular poem, that for a few brilliant moments his or her mindbody unified and hummed with the electricity of an elusive truth, a searing joy, a mystery, a primal music. 

I loved that poem, the lost reader says. I felt so alive.

If only readers could stay in that space a while longer, or summon it at will. Maybe poetry month will liberate a few of them from their respective prisons of zombie movies, professional sports, pop music, and social media, and if so, then it’s worth it. I have my own ritual during this time: when poetry month rolls around, I always treat myself and purchase a few poetry collections I’ve been meaning to read. Among those I selected this time around was Jim Harrison’s Songs of Unreason. I had read a few poems from this 2011 book, and meanwhile have been on a fierce Harrison jag, reading five of his novels and a collection of his essays, along with assorted reviews and interviews. It was time to venture into the poems, which is where he started his writing career.

I like to read poetry after breakfast, so the other day I picked up my recently arrived Songs of Unreason and sat down to enjoy what I thought would be a couple hours of uninterrupted pleasure. The opening poem, "Broom," so disarmed me that I had to put the book down; in fact, it may have been the opening lines of the opening poem that did it.


To remember you’re alive

visit the cemetery of your father

at noon after you’ve made love

and are still wrapped in a mammalian

odor that you are forced to cherish.

To be sure, I felt an immediate thrill here. If this poem doesn’t make you shiver with pleasure, I cannot help you and you should quickly return to your video game console or Facebook rant or the vapid Romcom paused mid-scene on the tiny screen of your phone. This is not a candied variety of pleasure; you cannot mistake it for that once you reach the end of the first “sentence,” five lines that open the book as well as any I’ve read. The pleasure Harrison offers here is characteristic—earthen, carnal, complex, and requiring a surrender. I can read and re-read it, and each time feel the distinct clank of my chains falling off behind me. 

Harrison, whether in prose or poetry, is a master of conflating the sensuous with memento mori. It’s not enough that his speaker decides to visit his father’s grave after lovemaking; the aroma of that coupling on his body overlies, by implication, that of the grave, the contents of which engendered his own physical body through the very act whose remains he carries on him. I could say more, but it’s at this point in any exercise of criticism that I figure you either get this or you do not get this, and we’ll leave it at that. 

Harrison, however, has more to say in the poem, and turns from one surrender we are “forced to cherish” to yet another we might have a more difficult time learning to love. 

Under each stone is someone’s inevitable

surprise, the unexpected death

of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.

Now to home without looking back,

enough is enough.

That death should surprise any of us is rather ironic, but of course it sometimes happens, as it did in the case of the author’s father and sister, who died suddenly in a car accident. This is not to say the poem is strictly autobiographical, though some critics have acknowledged Harrison’s fiction and poetry often hew very closely to his life. Ultimately, any of us could be thus surprised, and this is the point I made earlier—the poem connects me, with an electrical surge, to the fact of my biology that struggles hard, as it must, but which can be extinguished in an instant. This is an invaluable insight to receive just after breakfast, when the last sip of coffee in the mug is cold and the sun rises too high to deny the insistent tug of my list-of-things-to-do. Enough is enough, as Harrison writes flatly. Morbid thoughts, wallowing in loss, and even the precedent lovemaking, are all delimited by necessity.

Or not, and this is what poetry does for us. The best of it sets us free. Witness the speaker of the poem who refutes the merely practical by taking it in hand and alchemically, through language, turning it metaphysical—a moment of genius from Harrison. He’s sweeping us back and forth over the line we imagine separates such spheres of experience, fortified with good wine—the activity an assertion of aliveness, the wine a balm for the ache, and the sum of it all is to unleash us from reality. 

En route buy the best wine

you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.

Have a few swallows then throw the furniture

out the window and begin sweeping.

Sweep until the walls are

bare of paint and at your feet sweep

until the floor disappears. Finish the wine

in this field of air, return to the cemetery

in evening and wind through the stones

a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

That he returns to the cemetery is not merely a return to reality. This second visit can take place only in the unified, transcendent “field of air,” where the quotidian chore of sweeping has blended with a metaphorical cleansing of self, and where the stilled body of the father echoes in the live consciousness of the son, clean and terrible and beautiful because it is entirely earthly, freed of sentimental lies about an afterlife, witnessed only by our fellow mortals, the birds. I don't go back to the cemetery with the speaker, I actually go forward, changed.

So that’s why I put the book down. Maybe now you understand. I don’t mean I will never pick it up again; on the contrary, I will read this book with great relish. I will enjoy it deeply and thoroughly and very likely, repeatedly. But this first poem in the collection filled me up in a way that will take a long time to settle. Once Poetry Month is over and May spills its gold and green everywhere, I’ll pick it back up and go slowly and with gratitude through every word.

Happy National Poetry Month to you, and remember the little secret that you can have Poetry Day every day, if you want it and have the will to reach for it.

waiting for Godot and good dirt


I was 18, fueled daily by remarkable impatience, when I read Beckett's masterful play. The professor, a kind woman with dark red hair and a great deal of patience, recommended only this about the presentation I was to give to class: make it original.

Critical commentary on the play tended in one main direction—toward the absurd,  meaningless life shared by these the two men, which is then torn open by the ferocious and pathetic howl of Lucky, man on a leash. Then life subsides back into, well, waiting. Accurate, all of that, but missing a certain point. For me, it was all about the the staging of the bare tree, the main prop in the original set design; its one remaining leaf may symbolize, as much as any other interpretation, what cannot be overlooked—the friendship of Vladimir and Estragon.

This is an admittedly far fetched interpretation of the play (that thumping you hear is Beckett's forehead banging the casket). So what does it have to do with good dirt? Not much, I admit, except for the barest associative leap. I make compost. Yards of the stuff. The three-bin system I built many years ago still efficiently provides great heaps of loose, nutrient rich organic hummus that smells remarkably sweet.

The plants love it. You'll see.

I am engaged in making good dirt every day. Daily, I use the familiar guidelines and set aside chopped veggie material, coffee grounds, etc. I regularly add thin layers of grass clippings (summer), leaves (fall and spring), chopped garden refuse, and more kitchen trimmings. Every month I add high nitrogen chicken droppings and in early spring, I turn it all together with horse manure. Moisten, wait, turn; repeat every 5 days while the heap gets hotter, every 2 weeks after the heat slows down. Done right in a 5'x'5' mesh enclosure and you can make good dirt within 6-8 weeks.


This is how you burn your way to good dirt. It requires daily attentiveness, resources, and some heavy lifting, which includes a willingness to occasionally shovel horseshit. That's a kind of fidelity, and it is richly rewarded. I enjoy the process itself as demonstrative and significant sustainability. I enjoy, on a more physical and sensuous level, the great flavors and nutrition of the garden. This is healthy food. Organic vegetable gardens make sense in every way.

All those years ago, I gave my presentation on Waiting for Godot  and argued for the play's veiled optimism. Now that was original. Let's just say I went out on a limb—and in fact I did, insisting that the remaining leaf on the tree represents aliveness. As long as it's there, we can see these two wretches beneath it as having at least  their friendship while they wait.

So they wait, and so do we. Meanwhile, I make good dirt, which is where the leaf begins. I've been waiting for spring.


of blizzards and baby greens


If I tilt my head just right, I can get the sideways blown snow to pour into the gap above my scarf and melt against my neck. A chilly rivulet runs into the hollow above my collarbone. I spent countless hours as a kid trudging through heavy snows and odd as it seems, I feel at home amid the smell of snow, the feel of it against skin, even the flavor of a good blizzard

I've been out three times already this morning to knock the heavy spring fall off my greenhouse roof. It's coming down hard and I need to prevent a collapse. I'll head back out again as soon as I finish writing this.


This spring marks the third season for the modest greenhouse we erected. At the time, the dog thought it was a doghouse. I suspect he has never completely disabused himself of that notion, as he follows me inside every time I visit and seems vaguely perturbed to find the shelves and floor space crowded with trays and plants in various stages of growth.

On the Front Range of Colorado, we've had a warm, dry winter. Disturbingly warm and dry. So there's reason to be cheerful after two snowstorms in the last five days have brought welcome moisture to the region. Even so, there's a strong sense among fellow gardeners that warm temperatures will arrive early this spring, which has led me to push my seed starting ahead a couple weeks. I use a redundant pattern—I start small quantities of all seeds on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule so that if predictions of early spring are correct, I'll have things ready; if frost wipes out the first line of transplants, I can follow with the next wave, and the next if necessary, assuring the earliest garden start possible. A combination of an indoor light table and a greenhouse facilitates this approach.


This year, I'm experimenting with a system for growing baby salad greens, one I've seen in several different places. I visited my local hardware store and purchased two ten-foot lengths of vinyl gutter, along with eight end-caps. Cheap, cheap. I cut the gutters in half, drilled a few drainage holes in the base of each, and end-capped all the sections. Et voila! Four mobile, five-foot long, shallow troughs for planting lettuce and spinach.


I like to dream, but even more, I like to seize an appropriately sized dream by the scruff and wrestle it down into the real. In this case, I dream of tender, delicious baby greens on my plate early this year, maybe even by the end of March when there are still falling snowflakes and killing night frosts. If my experiment goes well, I might just live that dream. I'll be able to harvest baby greens easily and keep the plants producing for a long time. When the greenhouse gets too warm, I can carry these trays to shady places in the garden, extending the yield.

Subsequently, I'll plant a regular salad garden in the soil of my outdoor beds as soon as it seems reasonable to do so. Typically, that can be done in mid-March, providing a second blast of salad greens and radishes into and through April-May. A third wave is also possible if I can use these troughs for a late season planting that can be moved to the greenhouse after the fall frosts, giving me yet more greens into Nov-Dec.


The greenhouse is, as noted, a modest affair, and not insulated. However, I've found that an inexpensive space heater can keep the temperature as high as 60 degrees through a cold night. The thermometer read 32 degrees this morning as the snow flew; I trekked down to the local hardware store (yes, a bracing mile-long walk—wonderful in the snow!) and got a new unit to replace the one that died last year. Within a few minutes of plugging it in, the temperature began to rise.

Cold weather crops like a chill, so for now I'll keep things a bit cool at night and let  daytime sun run temps up to 80 degrees, as was the case yesterday and will be the case again soon. It's never snowy for long here on the Front Range. I expect good daytime sun and heat to return within days.


Kokopelli has his work cut out for him today. He's the mythic flute player of southwestern Native Americans whose music chases away winter and ushers in spring. There he is now, piping his tune as the wind blows the snow into drifts around him. It may seem like a lot to expect of this spirit but you know, I've never known him to fail.



Aion is the Stoic term for the indefinite and noncorporeal sum of a past that no longer exists and a future that does not yet exist, separated by an instant without duration.

Hence time is our perception of the present moment continuing.

The apparent simplicity of this reasoning belies a depth that will provoke any decent mind for a lifetime. The apparent irony is that a lifetime is aion, perceived and inhabited, fully and temporarily. The tragedy is how hard this is to learn, and the comfort for that journey includes things like good red wine, snow in sunlight, a true friend's laughter. Make your own list. It will only take an aion.

Time is a word symbol for a human perception, one that necessarily fascinates us. It lies at the core of human consciousness, and our self concept is founded on it. You might start with "Why am I here" and end comfortably, if with resignation, at "You have but a moment, inhabit it fully." The best people inhabit time in ways that enhance their experience and that of others—but here we shade into the moral argument. Aion is an old idea, pondered by many for thousands of years, elusive and rarely perfected. 


Winter is a good time to work on it. The light gets low before I'm ready for it to go. Late January sun surges yellow and just as quickly softens white-to-grey behind a thick shock of clouds, cycle repeating down to dusk. Brisk wind has swept the street, but not the grass, of light snow. Yesterday, not a great day, does not exist, nor does tomorrow, which I hope will be terrific.

I've drawn charts all afternoon and now I have a garden designed and a list of seeds written on a yellow tablet. That's a good aionic afternoon. I based my charts on past year's plantings, alternating beds and creating new arrangements that will bring both high yield and a pleasing aesthetic. I'm creating a bounty of food we enjoy at tables all year, things that bring good cheer to the autumn we imagine and fill next winter's bowls with bright flavors. Today's nexus in the aion facilitates the imagined midsummer, the future that does not exist. I spend my afternoon in this moment without duration and by living it fully I affect the next directly. Or plan to. See Robbie Burns on plans.


And the sun flashes bright again, falling on the charts. On an important turning of the year that too often goes overlooked, I'm aware of light stretching the day at both ends. This measuring of time is one a gardener marks differently than someone who never grows a thing. So we select our moments, as far as we are able, train our perception to the things that draw us naturally, or inevitably.  

Spring draws me, and this crossing from winter to spring—yes, it's here and no I'm not early—has to do with light, not heat, though they may be the same thing in different forms. Planetary idiosyncrasies fairly guarantee we will yet get our asses kicked by cold and storms—and in fact, Colorado is terribly droughted and needs moisture badly. You see, it's impossible not to look to the future we imagine. The optimist hopes, the pessimist worries, and the aionic thinker makes his moment count most.

Kapuściński​ on Herodotus, memory, and existence

Herodotus admits that he was obsessed with memory, fearful on its behalf. He felt that memory is something defective, fragile, impermanent—illusory, even. That whatever it contains, whatever it is storing, can evaporate, simply vanish without a trace. His whole generation, everyone living on earth at that time [5th century B.C.E.], was possessed by that same fear. Without memory, one cannot live, for it is what elevates man above beasts, determines the contours of the human soul; and yet it is at the same time so unreliable, elusive, treacherous. It is precisely what makes man so unsure of himself . . . . We do not know, and stretching beyond that "we do not know" is the vast realm of ignorance; in other words—of nonexistence.

—Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus