A marsh hawk swoops swift and graceful over the damp meadow and then with a shrill cry falls like a broken dream precipitously to the earth only to rise again triumphant in the hunt, its prey grasped firmly in its talons.
For that suspended moment we witness without words, filled with rich textured sensory knowledge, confirmed in our identification with living things. We are for this brief passage of time close to our non-human companion species. Our eyes focus with precision, capturing and savoring the grace, speed and precision of the falcon, our ears tune themselves to the sounds of the desperate movements of the prey's futile attempt at escape and the last wisps of the morning sea fog giving way before the rising sun cools our face and hands even as we silently and smoothly shift position to follow the unfolding drama before us. We are alive; we are present. We witness without emotion, without judgment
" Did you notice the way he turned on his wing to fall upon the
asks our companion and the moment vanishes along with the coastal fog and we are again human, for better or for worse.
Whether we respond to the question or simply nod, the web is rent; the identification passes on the wind. The query throws open the gates to a gust of images, sounds and feelings triggered by the words, generated without effort, indeed, without choice. The images of the specific way in which the harrier completes the drama are now replayed, not for appreciation but for comparison and analysis.
Did he pivot on his right wing or his left?
You remember seeing clearly the flash of the white band across his tail during the pivot and now examining your images, you realize that he actually turned on his right wing before falling upon his mark. The word rabbit drags a long sequence of sounds, images and feelings ranging from an incredible launch by a jackrabbit you once saw out in the high chaparral through the warm furry sensations of the first time you, as a child held a small rabbit.
But wherever the words take you, they most assuredly take you out of the moment: the marsh hawk and the rabbit, the morning's mists and the rising sun, and all the experiences of those suspended moments are lost in a maelstrom of associations that rush through your awareness dimly, converting this unique experience into another entry in the associated files within your neurology. Through language, the specific has transformed itself into the general.
Later that day, you will hesitate, only partially aware of the difficulty, as you relate the story to a friend and attempt to remember whether the last squeal you remember hearing occurred before the hawk dropped out of sight or immediately afterwards, whether the wind rose from your left or right, whether this marsh hawk was larger or smaller than the one you saw last week or whether the rabbit was fully grown Sensory impressions sink into memory as you reconstruct that moment.
But did that moment actually happen? Did the mist cool your face or did a complex heat and moisture driven interchange occur between skin and air that reduced the temperature of your face and hand? Did you see the marsh hawk out there in the meadow or in the area known as V-1 on your occipital lobe?
Why, of course, that moment happened as surely as the sun rises. There is, of course, the problem of finding an educated person who will agree that the sun did actually rise as opposed to the earth having turned on its axis to reveal the sun precisely where it always was with respect to the earth.
Neurology and language - those two great sets of transforms that both separate us from, and connect us to, the world around us. Thus do neurology and language make fools of us all, each and every one of us!