Publication date: 13 March 2020
For a good long while, weekends had been a time for Ferguson Blatt to go out into the wild. As each Saturday approached, his office colleagues would speak with an increasing fervor of shopping malls, barbecues, and TV football; but Ferguson would be quietly anticipating his next camping trip as he pushed a cursor aimlessly round his screen. It got him away from the construction work on the lot across from his apartment block. It kept his calves tight and his lungs pumping freely. And it nourished him with bursts of euphoria.
Then something started to change. On his forest hikes, Ferguson began to notice the leaf litter less and human litter more. And the pleasure that he would derive from the delicate beauty of a flower standing proud above the soil would be increasingly offset by a distaste for fresh bark-inscribed initials and a loathing of shotgun cartridges. He was not sure if the balance had shifted because carelessness, carving, and killing were on the rise or because he was beginning to abhor humanity. What he did know for certain was that his foreboding of doom for the wild was intensifying. The media's perpetual spewing of growth propaganda did not help in this regard.
There came a time when Ferguson could not go hiking without developing a nauseating rage. He found that even the most remote places bore the scars of disrespect; that a crushed soda vessel a hundred miles from civilization was worse for him than a thousand cans in a town park.
Ferguson tried to coach himself into a position of rational acceptance. The trash and the vandalism was at most one percent of what he saw. The other ninety-nine percent was still, for now at least, that same beautiful manifestation of nature's wild forces. For all this coaching, though, his distress only continued to worsen.
Looking for a valve through which he could release his anguish, Ferguson dabbled in nihilism. But worshiping at the altar of nothingness removed the necessity of going out at all, and, after getting fired, his funk began to mine a shade of blue that it had never found before. Ferguson was not sure if nihilism meant that the pain he was feeling so sharply and unceasingly was not real or that it did not matter. Then again, maybe he wasn't doing it right.
One June day, as Ferguson sat in his second-floor apartment staring into the black surface of a cold coffee, he noticed a thin strip of light coming in through the topmost pane of his kitchen window. When the apartments had been constructed to the south of his block, he had presumed that he would never again see the sun through this opening, and so its appearance came as a surprise to him.
He was not sure how long he spent staring at that sliver of yellow fire. In reality, it had slipped away almost as soon as it had appeared.
After it had gone, Ferguson, who had lost track of time's passage, turned on his digital radio in order to check the date. It was the summer solstice, the day when the sun reached its maximum elevation. The sky had been clear the day before and Ferguson had not noticed it then. That meant—he reasoned, with an assumption of symmetry—that it would not be there tomorrow. It would not appear again, in fact, for another year, when it would creep above that roofline for one more timeless moment.
As Ferguson tipped the cup of coffee into the sink, he experienced the surfacing of a buried memory of light and warmth, and with it a faint pang of nostalgia. He decided that he would like to see more of the sun. It was the first time that he had really wanted to do anything in months.
Out on the street, on the other side of the apartment block in whose shadow he now lived, Ferguson found a bench to sit on that faced the early-afternoon sun. Studying the scene around him, he noticed a native fleabane pushing impudently upward through a crack in the concrete, with several iridescent beetles perching on its flower heads. Nearby, in the tiniest of gaps between two paving stones, Ferguson spotted that most ubiquitous of weeds, shepherd's purse, thriving despite the city's best efforts to seal off the soil in which its buildings were rooted.
A stranger walked past Ferguson's bench and smiled at him. This confused Ferguson until he realized that the expression was being offered in reciprocation of one that he bore on his own face.
He spent all afternoon walking the streets, stopping to admire the mosses that had taken hold in the damp cracks of otherwise uniform walls; the trees that were slowly rewilding abandoned lots; and all the insects that feasted on the obstinate bounty.
Ferguson's new world was ninety-nine percent steel, bricks, and concrete, but the one percent that was alive was exquisite and beguiling. He could not help but bask in nature's glorious defiance. ■
All content © Joe Gray