By Kyle Hayden, Columnist

The editorial staff and some of my readers (including my parents) have noted a tendency among my pieces to dwell on negative aspects of the goings-on in the country and in the world.

Often the scope of my writing takes on a scale too big for the limited space of a newspaper. I knew something was wrong with my writing when my mother cornered me in our kitchen a few months ago and asked with concern:
“Are you happy?”

I tried to describe myself as “happily melancholic,” or possessing a “different kind of happiness,” but this didn’t go over so well.

Because of their prodding, I’ve written an essay listing a few things I do like, with explanations that follow.

I like …

When (and if I have to) I go into a restaurant and there are
no televisions.

This pleases me because then people are forced to look at each other and talk, something I think has been lost in the screen-addicted culture today. No one can refute that conversation is a good thing.

When a heavy snow falls.

No one is driving and there are hardly any sounds outside — particularly during a snow emergency. All the cars are moved off the road, which is an “emergency route,” so when walking, I can imagine what the street might have been like before cars were everywhere in every possible space like they are today. This imagining makes me happy.

On this topic, when it is snowing, the moisture and flakes in the air block out most of the sound, creating an acoustic-isolating effect in the immediate region and some of the only sounds are (of my walking feet and) the whispering of snow.

When it’s possible to hear the snowflakes in mid-air, this makes winter my favorite season.

I grew up feeling vulnerable (I was bullied) and thin, so wearing lots of layers and thick fabrics makes me feel present and whole. Heavy snow blocks out the white noise of our industrialized landscape: the indiscriminate din of fans, electric transformers, motors, heaters, engines and ventilation systems that permeate our cities and towns today; most of it melts away when it snows heavily. My favorite is when it snows heavily without wind, which is rare but cherished.

When the power goes out.

Electricity as we know it has only been in use for about 100 years (since the 1920s). One of my last questions to my great-grandmother Norma Staley was about what it was like when they first got electric light in their home (she was born in 1908 and lived in rural Auglaize county, Ohio). People often accept or don’t think about how pervasive electricity or lights are in our day-to-day. I think about this almost constantly, so when I get to observe what the world may have been like pre-electricity, it tickles me a little, and I think of Norma.

I know most people don’t like power outages and some of my more perceptive readers minds’ might wander to hospital patients that might be in danger when the power goes out, but set aside this concern for a moment. When the power goes out — again, with sound — the perpetual screeching emitted from most electronic devices that I’ve noticed throughout my adult life additionally disappears. I have tinnitus so when things go dark, I’m left with my default ringing, which sometimes sounds like someone has fired a gun next to my head.

You might run an Internet search on tinnitus after you’ve finished reading and find that there is no definite cause and no viable treatments or cures for tinnitus.

When it rains and little streams form in mud or loose dirt. These little streams create almost infinitesimally small but perhaps accurate recreations of what the formation of the Nile or the Amazon rivers must have been like hundreds of thousands of years ago, and if these tiny streams were allowed to continue to carve into the geology, they might someday form a new stream or creek (this might not be an accurate statement, but I can imagine). Looking into these tiny rivers in areas of loose dirt, I can see how rivers meander, how oxbows of some of the worlds’ oldest rivers are shaped and reshaped.

I lean in close and try to imagine I’m looking down from space on the fast-forward highlights of the formation of a massive river.

I like acknowledging that all things are impermanent and temporary. This opens up new possibilities for enjoyment of the visual and spiritual qualities of our environment. Further, it makes arrogant attempts at permanence like concrete sports stadia, skyscrapers and the International Space Station look like cartoons.

Notice that moss doesn’t fret about growing on felled trees. Neither do the millions of micro biota converting the death of a tree into millions of smaller lives in the form of fungi or those little roly-poly bugs, who will eventually also die and feed the soil, where new trees will grow.

When people tell me tattoos are permanent I sort of do a half-smile and say, “No, not really.”

 

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