Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In Which We Pontoon Cruise Lightly Over Deep Waters

For reasons unknown my thoughts traveled philosophical paths lately as I drove to work this morning. This turn of thought may have been spurred by the general wintertime ennui that sets in around Michigan this time of year. The unending grey of the snow, the clouds, and the ice sets a young man's fancy towards thoughts of Ragnarok and a never-ending frozen doom of the gods.

Or perhaps the driving force was an interesting Science Friday podcast I heard yesterday on time and cosmology. (Time, Space, and Other Big Questions) Modern physics offers much to ponder about the "How" of the universe, but precious little about the "Why."

It may be that the turn of the new year and the new decade has made me a bit more aware of possible crossroads and options in the future. A man reviewing the road behind him and thinking about the road ahead will also give thought to his navigational tools.

A couple of recent pleasant stopovers by one of my old college roommates -- who drove from Portland, Maine, to Chicago and then back -- may have also inspired a bit of the philosophical mood. There's nothing like seeing one of your old friends from collegiate days to get you thinking about the path your life has taken, the surprises along the way, and the surprises that may be in store for the future.

Maybe the source of my philosophical ponderings was musical. I've come across the fabulous song lyric "What's it all about, Alfie?" several times in the last couple of weeks.

Alfie remains silent as to his answer.

Also on the musical front, the Grateful Dead channel played a long concert version of "Death Don't Have No Mercy" during this morning's drive. That's a song title that'll bring you up short.

Speaking of death and mercy, the morning paper may have put me on path of philosophical ponderance, too. I read an interesting article in this morning's New York Times about an obscure species of tiny African spray toads, Nectophrynoides asperginis, whose waterfall home in Tanzania had been wiped out by a dam. (Saving Tiny Toads Without a Home) These tiny golden toads are now extinct in the wild, though zoologists and conservationists are working to re-establish a natural environment in which they can survive.

The last 4,000 of them in all the world live in the Bronx and Toledo Zoos, and nobody knows if the effort to bring them back in the wild will succeed. The article ends with this question from the director of the Bronx Zoo, "What would be the point of maintaining these toads if there was no hope of restoring them to the wild?"

What point indeed in maintaining any of us if we can't be restored to the wild? I suspect a spray toad might wish to chime in on that topic.

But whatever the reason, my morning drive turned to the big philosophical questions today. In matters of philosophy my tastes have always tended toward the practical, and I have often guided myself with a simple six-word philosphy I honed back in my unemployed-and-homeless days:

High Goals.
Low Expectations.
Watch Sunsets.

... in other words, aim high, take pleasure in what you do manage to achieve, and be sure to enjoy the ride. Not, perhaps up there with "Je pense, donc je suis," in the pantheon of deep thoughts, but I find it to be a good practical traveling philosophy for the day-to-day on the road. However, it's not so hot in guiding you as to which road to choose.

In matters theological I've always tended to the practical, too, with my own slightly heretical preference for the Covenant of Works over the Covenant of Faith. I believe that what we do here on Earth and how we treat one another while we're here is the thing that matters most. But I also recognize that a Covenant of Works without the guidance and forgiveness of Faith is a hard bargain, indeed.

So yes, today's drive to work found me pondering the big questions and those sorts of philosophical concepts.

Then I arrived at work, parked the car, went to my cube, and started pondering the smaller questions of indexing, databases, requirements, and schedules that usually occupy me during the day.

In Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy terms, I suppose that means that this morning I pondered the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and progressed about this far:

ULTIMATE QUESTION: "What's it all about, Pontoon-ie?"

Nope, doesn't work. I reckon I'd better keep honing that Ultimate Question.

It's possible I need a considerably longer commute before I figure it all out.


  1. As to which road to choose, I suggest another song :

    "You take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in Scotland before ye..."

    Meet you in Scotsdale, Arizona maybe? Far, far from the Michigan gloom...

  2. The Ultimate Question is what exactly did John and Monique do to ruin Mom's dog so thoroughly. Reports from NY say you ruined my timeshare dog. Ruined.