It was an odd looking cloud formation and I thought to myself, “It looks like someone was trying to write with a dying pen, and they just dragged the tip of the pen back and forth, trying to heat the ball up, melt the ink back to liquid, so it would write again.” And that was what it looked like to me, at the time, but I was at work and it’s hard to have creative thoughts when someone is trying to explain something to you that has nothing to do with anything in your head.
Do you realize how weird it must be for the normal people in my life, those people who have no idea that I write, to suddenly find themselves interrupted midsentence, because that cloud formation just kicked off writing thoughts? Oh, screw what we’re paying you to do, just stop everything at get a shot of that cloud, yes, we’ll wait, no problem!
Yes, in fact you will, but that has nothing to do with this, begone work things!
Here’s the thought I had: so if this cloud, to me, looks like someone scribble with an ink pen, what would it look like to someone that lived three thousand years ago? Or even one hundred years ago? What will it look like to someone a thousand years from now? Surely ink pens will be extinct by then, don’t you think?
You never thought about that did you? Yet here you are, sitting here reading this on a form of writing that did not exist even twenty years ago, at least not to the general population. Now, it’s common, but for the greater part of my life most of what people wrote to one another was written in ink, using pens. There might well come a day when they’re rare and another day might find them gone. I once owned fifty or sixty eight track tapes and I know people who have never seen one.
Suppose you were a metalsmith in ancient Ugarit. You might look up at a cloud formation that looks exactly like the one I saw and think, “Damn, that looks like a_____” but right now that device or object has been lost forever in history. We will never know that the Ugarian metalsmith used that device or what she might have used it for.
The history of humankind is littered with discard objects; tools, instruments, toys, cooking utensils, and all sorts of things that no one remembers the usage for anymore, or for that matter, even that they existed at all. The clouds remember.
Over ten years ago we put a time capsule into the ground and I put one of my hats in there and a jump drive with a lot of stuff on it. Maybe no one will be able to read that jump in however many years it is that it stays down, but maybe they will. But suppose no one knows what the hat is all about? Well, damn, everyone wears a hat. But what if people stop wearing hats? It’s hard for us to imagine it but once upon a time everyone owned cows. Have you ever stopped to wonder what people had to have in order to have cows around all the time? Maybe a pitchfork? I own one but how many other people do?
Years ago I was working for the forestry department at a paper mill and I discovered an abandoned house in the woods. It was stripped of everything that someone might sell but the house was littered with the remains of the lives of the people that had once lived there. I found an object I had never seen before, a wooden tool looking thing, with wire between bracing and I left it where I found it. I never knew what it was but I keep hoping I will see another one. Maybe it was part of a door to a rabbit hutch or maybe it was something else. It could have been the only one ever made for a purpose unique.
When I read Moby Dick I had to have an old dictionary nearby to look up all the out of use words. So many words have fallen along the way and new ones have popped up. The names for long lost tools have gone with them and I wonder if there were some verbs that went extinct as well. Some survived like “milked” even though very few people have ever milked a cow they have seen someone who has milked something for all its worth. Yet there are words that lie in deep graves, along with the languages that harbored them, and the Ugarit metalsmith, if she were transported here today would never hear her native tongue spoken the way she loved it.
I watched the cloud formation drift across the sky, changing and dying slow. I knew it would die and I knew there would never be another quite exactly like it again, and I knew that somehow, that was meaningful to what I am trying to write now. Somehow, human things are like the clouds we love to watch. We see in them things we know, things we are accustomed to seeing, as if the clouds are verification that even the sky recognizes us. But the very opposite is true; even the sky knows we are impermanent.
The Ugarian metalsmith’s name will never be uttered again for it too fell out of use. But one day she used a tool, a pointer, to carve the space on the tip of an arrow where the metal arrowhead would go. She called it a pointer because her father called it that as did his father and so on. But she died without children and the pointer fell into a crack between the stones of her shop. It was buried in time and three thousand years later a young woman dug it up while tending a garden. She hung in on a string around her neck and wondered what it had once been, as she looked up at the clouds.