I get to walk to work. It’s about eight minutes, according to my quick-striding husband, or fifteen at my leisurely amble; fifteen minutes spent on a quiet road with mossy banks, pine trees, a pond, and overhanging forsythia and willow fronds.
I stop at the pond this morning, looking for the ducks. We theorize that three of them are nesting here this spring, because usually we only see them briefly – the pond a ‘filling station’ on the fly routes from north to south on the Korean peninsula – and they have been hanging out here since before all the ice was off the water. No ducks visible this morning, but with my nose against the fence, I can see the fingerling fish in the shallows, where the rocky lining of the pond drops off into its deep bowl. They often leap in the evenings, silver flashes against the stillness, making ripples that meet and intersect and pattern the water like a Foucaultian pendulum’s trail…pattern punctuated by chaos. This morning they are languid, moving through the morning rays of light. I watch them drift, rise to the surface to strike at debris they hope edible, sink again to flicker in and out of the rocks in their never-ending quest for food.
Feeding, I murmur to myself; don’t I do the same? Off to work, not for its own sake, but to feed myself and my family? Isn’t my constant swimming back and forth, up and down, endlessly circling my own small pond, only looking for food?
Sure, there’s shelter and clothing as the other basic necessities, but let’s face it: clothing wears out faster than the roof over your head, all other things being equal, and even a cheap shirt can be worn repeatedly. Where is the plate of food that can be eaten more than once? What plant produces three square meals a day, outside of the Land of Oz, where full lunchboxes grow on trees like steampunked coconuts? A lot of my salary, I know, goes straight into groceries…and a lot of my time into preparing those groceries, too. Swimming, swimming, feeding, feeding…
There’s more than that, of course. I’m not a fish, with a reputed five-second memory, to make every circuit of the pond a fresh new experience. I’m not an animal driven by instinct and hunger – or rather, I am more than that animal, more than my instincts and hungers. I do not merely float in my world; I move through it with purpose and passion and intent, with a memory of the past, an awareness of my present, a longing for the future. I know my Mazlow’s Hierarchy of needs and am climbing its ladder with an eagerness for every foothold.
So what am I feeding on, feeding myself with, feeding into, feeding off? I keep walking as I ask myself, the moss-decked retaining wall funneling me towards my destination; the campus, my office and classroom. The willows murmur overhead, the fish keep circling.