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The Forest, the Moon, and the Last Time

March 25, 2022

A stoic meditation I have been practicing is called The Last Time. The idea behind this meditation is straightforward: there will be a last time for anything you do, and because you can’t really know when that is, reflecting upon this fact while doing something you love heightens your appreciation of the moment.

I wasn’t aware of The Last Time technique until recently, but I recall doing a version of it when leaving New Caledonia back in 2003, and also Peru. My job as a research scientist was ending, and my grant dollars were gone. Was this the last time I would walk through a tropical montane forest? Would I remember the smells and intricate details of the flora and fauna in these diverse habitats?

Spring of 2022 has me going through each day in a “last time” state of mind. At home in western Oregon there are bald eagles roosting in the trees in the yard and northern harriers swooping over the fields. Buttercups are blooming on the lawn. If I am lucky I will get to see more, as camas and larkspur flowers are about to blossom in a stunning display of purple. Hummingbirds visit larkspurs and so do giant bumble bees. Bats, having awoken from hibernation, are flittering across the evening sky, but the swallows have not yet migrated in.

It is different now because it may not just be the last spring for me, but the last spring for everyone. Nuclear winter takes 25 to 50 bombs to create.

Yesterday I was making a trail in the forest on our farm. The Indian plums are in bloom, the first woody plant to leaf out. In a swale dozens of ducks of three species performed mating rituals: American widgeon, mallard, and green-winged teal.

Later that evening I laid in bed, on my left side, and looked across the whole expanse of the farm toward the forest and river. The forest would die completely, I imagined. There would be a flush of rot and fungal spores for many years. Eventually seeds would germinate and it would regrow. Plants have these dormant babies hidden in the soil. What resilience! But what would it be like without animals? I don’t know how they would survive. Maybe recolonize from the southern hemisphere? How long would that take?

In grade school we practiced some duck-and-cover exercises. There were two reasons why. The main one was earthquakes. But there was also the shadow of nuclear war. It was downplayed, I think, so we wouldn’t be too afraid, but we were terrified. Reagan was throwing around ideas for the neutron bomb and the “Star Wars” defense system, and Carl Sagan was explaining nuclear winter to the world. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sweaty from bad dreams.

Last night was fretful. At 1:20 am, lying again on my left side and looking to the east, I saw an orange glow on the horizon. Was it a firestorm? No, just the rising moon. I got up, grabbed my binoculars, and went outside to look at it: a half moon that I could examine with clarity against the edge of the mountains and outlines of trees, all compressed in perspective.

Oh my, how lovely the moon is. My eyes well up. The Last Time meditation. Now lie back down, next to Kristin. Feel each breath, I tell myself. Nothing more to think about, and maybe sleep will find me again.


Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash