Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reptiles and Reincarnations

One of the major reasons I have grown to love Florida is its amazing variety of animals and plants. There is one particular type of lizard (iguana? anole?) which grows to be about one-and-a-half feet long, orange-colored, with dinosaur plates on top like a stegosaurus, long claws, and a dragon's snout-- sort of a 1956 Buick with legs. For weeks, I had been admiring one of these big fellows-- "Grandpa" we called him-- who lived in a white plastic drainpipe on the canal near our housing development. He would scuttle inside during bad weather or for protection, but sunny days found him sunning himself on the canal bank, or even up on top of one of the bushes, lord of all he surveyed. We developed a fondness for this bold lizard, and got into the habit of pulling over to admire him when we drove by.
A couple of days ago, driving by in a hurry, I could only catch a glance at a gang of four high school boys who had trapped something under a net near that same drainpipe-- the kids around here all seem to have nets-- and one of them was wielding a hammer. It chilled me to think that they were hurting, killing even, a helpless lizard who had never done them any harm. It almost brought me to tears to think that we would never see him again-- he was no more than a lizard, one of thousands down here, but he, in the poet's words, "held himself most dear," and was now gone. I prayed that he hadn't suffered much.
But then, the next time we passed, I saw a snowy egret in that same place. Remembering the Kabbalistic notion of gilgul nefashote-- metempsychosis, or reincarnation-- the Hebrew literally translates as the "recycling of souls," I decided that perhaps God had taken the lizard's soul and implanted it into the body of a bird-- a higher life form, and better able to protect itself from predators. A small sort of cosmic justice, but it made me happier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And So We Begin, in Winter's Chill

Dec. 22, 2009

It seems strange to be celebrating the winter holidays-- Chanukah over, and Christmas fast approaching-- here in Florida, with not a drop of snow on the ground. We lived for many years in New Hampshire, where, as I write, the land is locked in snow. The stuff is deceptive: it looks fluffy and fairy-tale-like while it descends, covering all in a blanket of white, but it's the very devil to shovel. When we moved down here, I left three snow shovels in the garage, and never looked back.
In Florida, we mark the wintertime with inflatable displays of Santa in all of his guises: riding a motorcycle, a train, or in his familiar sleigh. No chimney-descents for the Jolly Old Elf here: there's nary a fireplace to be found in our homes. When the temperature dips below seventy degrees, the natives don heavy coats. It's all a process of adjustment for a former Northerner like myself.
Overall, there is the last-minute-rush to the shopping malls, the flea markets, all in search of the perfect gift. Can there be such a thing?
When I was young, the center of my holiday attention was my Lionel electric train-- no dreidel-play for me: indeed, I never learned the rules for that time-honored Chanukah top until I began to teach Hebrew School. December was the only time of year I was allowed to clutter up the livingroom floor with my train tracks, cars, and Plasticville buildings, from station to semaphore to junction house, and all inhabited by tiny beige plastic people, one inch tall. My only desire, year after year, was adding to my collection, whether it was another car for my train or another house or street lamp for my village. One year, I was gifted with a flatcar carrying a helicopter which, when the plastic launcher was wound up, would fly high up into the air.
Alas, our living room ceiling was low, and the copter would invariably crash into it, landing huddled and broken on the carpet. The Lionel Company was true to its word: they sent a replacement copter-- a disappointing blue, since the original one had been red. It was my introduction to Kohelet/Ecclesiastes's dictum that, "The eye is never full of seeing, nor the ear of hearing." In other words, material things don't ever quite cut it in this world-- not plastic helicopters, nor Ugg boots, nor even Ferrari cars.
What counts is our love for our family and friends, and the good we perform for others. A lesson from a broken toy helicopter.
Wishing all of my new readers-- are you out there?--a happy and healthy holiday season, and a wonderful secular New Year 2010.