On the other hand

The wind had blown hard out of the east throughout the late-morning snow squall, plastering a half-inch of snow on the east side of every tree trunk. From the driveway at 1:00 p.m. the western ridge shone white, while all the woods on the other side appeared brown.

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I think of this the following morning, around 6:15. I’m coming down through the field after a long, rambling walk in the moonlight. The full moon is still well above the trees, but shadows are beginning to fade. The eastern sky has just begun to lighten beyond the spreading crown of an old white oak at the woods’ edge. I think to myself: a crow or two right now would be nice. But of course it’s too early for that – the owls are still out. Besides, the universe has better things to do than satisfy one man’s dilettantish craving for an aesthetic experience. Which makes me love it all the more, that it continually so confounds my expectations and challenges me to accept whatever happens. I think of all the creatures whose lives are hidden from me, except for the occasional glimpse or a rustle in the walls. I think of brief moments of joy and eternities of needless suffering. These thoughts pass through my mind on well-worn trails, much more quickly than it takes to tell it. Then comes their shadow: But what if it really isn’t like that at all?

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Conditioned by the love of order or an aesthetic impulse, our minds rarely make room for more than one source of light at a time. As I watch the eastern horizon grow slowly more distinct, enough stars remain visible overhead to remind me that, regardless of where the spark originally came from, every being shines for a while on its own. I look around at the weeds and tufts of grass, each with its shadow. But what if it really isn’t like this at all? And I feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck, a moving forest.

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