November 23, 2017

Mark Shea: Something astonishing happened to me this weekend

PHOTO: Benny Jackson

I found myself on the surface of a planet inhabited by creatures who looked just like me! One of them, a stunningly beautiful creature with silver hair, creamy white skin like that of a young girl, yet of my age and able to speak the same complex language I do, looked at me with green eyes and, to my lasting astonishment, told me that she loved me. She was dressed in a cloth garment decked with a lovely arrangement of images representing some of the plant life on her world. “Flowers” they are called, marvellous things that seem to be every colour in the universe. They grow, entirely un-engineered by the hand of man, and are constructed of “petals” with an arrangement of pollen-bearing organs as well as a pollen-receiving organ. Some of them give off fragrances that smell like heaven and attract something even stranger: “insects”.

PHOTO: Alyssa Kibiloski

These strange beings have six legs in all and are capable of flying in the atmosphere of that planet, vibrating their diaphanous wings so fast that the wings become invisible. Somehow, without noses, they can still smell the scent of the flower and they climb inside to get at a sweet liquid in it. As they do so, the pollen rubs on to their bodies and thence on to the “stamen” or pollen-receiving organ and, by some astonishing coincidence which the plant (lacking a brain or mind of any kind) certainly cannot itself have designed, commences a process whereby the plant’s deoxyribonucleic acid, containing the complete plan for making more such plants, begins a slow process of sealing itself into a small pellet which, buried in the soil, will then split and the pellet will grow into an entire new plant! All by itself!

PHOTO: Jeremy Bishop

And this was but one of the kinds of plants I encountered. There were also immense plants called “trees” weighing many tons. Some had flat “leaves” containing something called “chlorophyll” which somehow, under the activating principle of light, enables the plant to literally build itself up out of water and air, like a crystal slowly growing before your eyes (if your eyes watch for many days, months, or years). The sages in that world have discovered that these leaves have tiny holes in them through which the tree breathes and pulls in an invisible gas called “carbon dioxide” (which, oddly, we exhale). Through some astonishing alchemy, the tree (and all other plants) take this gas, along with water they suck up from the ground, and turn it into solid plant, sometimes so solid as to make something called “wood”.

PHOTO: Hanson Lu

There were many hundreds of these trees in the place to which the beautiful creature conducted me, an extraordinary place. Imagine if you can a small blade, like a sword, no longer than the last knuckle on your little finger, thin as a piece of paper, and wide as perhaps ten pieces of paper, again all in green. And within each of them a chemistry set more unimaginably complex than a gigantic factory performing quadrillions of operations each second and covering several football fields. Now imagine millions and millions of these blades carpeting a gently sloping hill. It’s strange, I know. But that is what grows all by itself in that country.

Don’t misunderstand, the blades, though pointed are soft and not sharp. We walked on them in our bare feet and took no harm. How they got there and where they came from, I don’t know. I only know that they gave off a green, earthy smell and that they were dotted here and there by what I took to be another kind of plant with long, flat leaves pressed close to the ground and brilliant yellow flowers the size of a coin, made of hundreds of thin strips radiating from the centre. Some of the inhabitants of that world make a drink called “Dandelion Wine” from those flowers. They say it “tastes like summer”. I have never tasted it but the phrase sticks in my mind like music.

I walked down this slope with my hand in the hand of the silver-haired being’s. She looked up in the sky and said it was a beautiful day and I noticed a light glittering in her glass-green eyes. Turning my attention to where her gaze was drawn, I was astonished to discover that over that entire world a huge blue vault was stretched from east to west and north to south. Great white masses of something swam in the vault and in the very midst of it was an immense white light too brilliant to look at directly. I could see nothing supporting it. It simply hung there in the midst of the air, silently shedding light and heat on everything in every direction. I have no explanation for it.

Somebody told me that they “understood” what it was and how it worked. It is called “the sun” and it generates heat by fusing something called “hydrogen atoms” into something called “helium” releasing something called “energy”. They also said that atoms were just energy in a different form and that energy was just matter (like hydrogen) in a different form. But when I asked where matter and energy came from they mumbled something about a “Big Bang” and then stopped saying they understood. So I remained amazed and full of wonder at the thing, which still seemed easier to grasp as a miracle than as something understandable.

The silver-haired being, still professing her love for me and occasionally kissing me led me down the slope to an even more incredible sight. Suddenly, the sloping land ended in a kind of flat sheet of silver that stretched away to perhaps a quarter of a mile. It was roughly round and reflected the brightness of the sun. But it was not made of metal! Rather, it was a cool, clear liquid that, upon examination, was revealed to be transparent. The being with the silver hair and green eyes stepped into it and her feet pierced the surface and went right down onto the earth that was still there beneath it. The green stuff that covered the dry earth vanished at the edge of this liquid (it is called “water” by the locals) and was replaced by a soft sort of soil called “sand” made of billions of tiny rocks.

I followed her in and was amazed by the contrast of hot summer sun and cool water on my skin. It was exhilarating! And as she led me deeper into this astonishing stuff she showed me that by a sort of circular motion of my limbs I could actually support myself in it and not sink! It felt exactly as if I was able to do what the creatures soaring over us (“birds” the natives call them) were able to do. By kicking in a sort of scissor fashion I was able to propel myself several hundred yards up the lake, past more extraordinary plants called “lily pads” that were home to countless more insects of various kinds, as well as more birds.

The astonishing being who accompanied me only became more beautiful as she swam. The light from the sun both penetrated the water in dancing shafts and also glittered and reflected on her face, which maintained an amazing smile of what she called “love” as she looked at me. I do not understand what I have done to deserve such royal treatment from one so wonderful, but I am grateful for it and want only to reflect it back to her and take it in—like the lake under the sun.

We found a long, heavy object protruding from the surface of the water called a “log” and took turns climbing on it. As my weight reached the end of the log it would sink and attract the attention of some tiny creatures, all silver and black with eyes very large for their tiny bodies (about two inches long). The silver-haired being who was guiding me through these wonders called them “fish”. Incredibly, they breathe water as we breathe air and are completely built for survival under the surface. They were curious about me, and a couple of them even harmlessly nibbled on me as I lay watching them.

I could go on and on about my experience on that world, but I will return to this one only to observe that some people may have only seen a portly middle-aged man go swimming with his wife the other evening, but that’s not what I saw.

G K Chesterton was perfectly right when he said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

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