Rain for Sale
“The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.” Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable
I’m painting the Fox River, but at it’s nearest the Fox is a half-hour drive from home – too far to travel when only a few minutes are available for an encounter with nature. So sometimes I go to Lincoln Marsh, just a short walk from my house. I was there a few days ago late in the afternoon. Light was concentrated, filtered through the dense lens of early winter. The punkie cattails were aglow. Sunlight streamed through their fuzzy heads and created a million completely unnecessary torches held up to a shining sky.
In that light I was staring at the silhouette of a muskrat house. On its top three muskrats were curled. The fringes of the muskrats’ fur, like cattail fuzz, burned but with a subtler glow. And these three muskrats sat as I’ve seen people on Key West sit and watch the sunset. Whatever the daily work of a muskrat is, it had been set aside. They were ready to loaf in the waning warmth and waxing beauty of that day’s last light.
I’ve been warned of the danger of anthropomorphizing, but they also tell us that we humans share an overwhelming percentage of DNA with all mammals, if not all living things. So I’m not going to apologize for imagining that I can intuit the mindset of those three muskrats. These sentient creatures were basking in the sunlight, winding down at the end of a day.
Merton would probably guess that the biggest difference between those muskrats and us is that we would try to figure out a way to sell their seats. We’d create a real-estate business to take advantage of this natural phenomenon – these undeveloped seats in the sun.
All day, all night, in all seasons, the Fox River flows. Beside its extravagant economy we create one of scarcity. We translate its abundant energy into a series of smaller and smaller packages, each in limited edition to guarantee that demand will exceed supply until the whole resource is spent. But the river is nothing if not an extravagant return on the investment of free rain. Here our sense of economy staggers. Perhaps we should turn for insight – to the muskrats.