Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Get thou behind me

Anxious to know when he would see his mistress once more, Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his autobiography that he went to the deserted ruins of the Colosseum late at night with a friend, to consult the spirits of the dead on the happy event. The spirits apparently manifested themselves in such a frightful way that Benvenuto, beside himself with fear, confessed that he made "the noise of a thousand flatulent trumpetings." The sonnet that opens his interesting book reminds us that "the wind, it beareth man's thoughts away," but unfortunately it faces a tall order in disposing of the methane of cattle—it seems that the average cow emits 500 liters of methane every day—and since methane has 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, we may have Clarabell to blame if the time comes when Miami can only be viewed from above, through glass-bottomed excursion boats. The government is considering the possibility of a tax on cow emissions, a measure that might be aptly named "Cork and trade," and of course farmers are very displeased.

Perhaps it was solicitousness for public opinion on that proposed measure that has caused our Memphis Pink Palace Museum to offer an educational exhibit on animal waste (I'm not kidding). The flyer I received last night invited me to a members-only preview to "Get the Scoop on Poop: learn the science of what animals leave behind." Actually, I feel I have sufficient education in that already from my neighbors' two unsupervised dogs; indeed, one evening, having stepped unaware in their leavings while walking to my car to go to a movie, I spent much of the show wondering why the dolt sitting a few seats away couldn't practice basic hygiene before going out in public and actually considered moving to another seat to evade it, which just goes to prove the adage, "Wherever you go, there you are."

As to the exhibit, yes, I know that important scientific knowledge may be gleaned from feces, and I have listened to jokes about what bears do in the woods, but I never expected to be invited to ponder such matters in a museum. To ensure that members would find the prospect sufficiently attractive, the flyer helpfully noted, "Light refreshments will be served" which, for sheer tone-deafness, reminds me of the honest comment made by a courageous young model once, who said "When you're in Playboy, you really get a lot of exposure."

The sights, though fortunately not the smells, of nature were on silent and austere display this afternoon when my son and I drove to the William B. Clark Nature Preserve near Rossville, Tennessee. Several hundred acres of river bottomland are protected from development and may be viewed by walking a third of a mile along a sturdy boardwalk that takes you into the heart of the swamp. But for the gentle swaying of the trees, bare in winter and standing like unlit candles in the afternoon sun, the only movement we saw was a solitary hawk wheeling overhead. No planes, no wires, no voices. At first, I wondered why Mark kept taking out his cell phone, but I now realize it was to photograph the quiet beauty of the scene.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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