The Presence of Life

When is life not present? I know, this might be an incredibly tough question to ponder for someone who’s just lost a loved one; but the answer is a positive one, I think. Microorganisms were recently found in sediment a half mile beneath the surface of an ice-covered lake down in Antarctica. And in the latter part of the last century, chemical-harvesting microorganisms were found to be giving rise to teaming ecosystems in the vicinity of hydrothermal vents deep undersea where tectonic plates meet. It also appears possible that the precursors to life are regularly slung around the galaxy by comets on their celestial rounds. Might it be the case then that life, rather than being a rarity, is actually an eventuality?


It was a humble shrub that prompted me to consider such things once again the other day. You see, late last summer I pruned back an overgrown and tangled cluster of bushes at the side of the house. Part of what I found was a scraggly forsythia trying to reach its way out from underneath an overbearing spirea that had all but smothered it. I decided to transplant what I could to more hospitable areas, but it was far from a surgical procedure. Though I did manage to extract a couple of specimens with fairly robust and intact root balls, a half dozen or so others didn’t leave me with a huge amount of confidence that they would ever bloom again. The last of my charges, however, was in especially pitiful condition. It was little more than broomstick with a stringy little root hanging off of one end! I was so close to simply throwing it on the burn pile and moving on, but something prompted me to put forth the effort in order to give it another chance. I used a post hole digger to quickly excavate a narrow shaft that could accommodate the motley broomstick and its modest little root, and then I went about my ways.

There is a life force ever striving to remain and blossom forth.

It got hot and dry last summer and early autumn. I tried to keep the faith, though, offering up a bucket of water to each of the transplants from time to time – thinking to myself whenever I came to that last one that there really wasn’t much hope for it to rebound come next spring. On top of that we had a long, long winter before spring finally did arrive, and one far colder than I’d ever experienced. And so, as the weather warmed I’d stroll the grounds looking for tentative signs of life beginning to sprout. Sure enough, those two robust specimens bounced back with gusto. Yes, and those half-dozen others subsequently began to show signs of life as well. I’d likely have to trim some of their dead branches away before they would look really healthy once again, but they were definitely going to make it! That broomstick, on the other hand, didn’t surprise me in the least. It looked as dry and lifeless as I thought it was. But it cost me nothing to simply let it be. The spring rains had taken over where my buckets left off. Que sera, sera!

Imagine my delight last week, then, when I strolled the grounds yet again and spied a sprig of life on the end of that broomstick! Who can say when life has taken leave for good? Who can say when there’s no longer any hope? There is something very mysterious going on all around us and deep within. There is a life force ever striving to remain and blossom forth. There might be times when it appears to have disappeared for good, but that little forsythia bush has made me much less certain that that is so.


Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.

Flyover Country

Approaching Rain Storm with name

Many people think of contemplation in much the same way that they think of flyover country…

fly·o·ver coun·try

/flīˌōvər kəntrē/


“Parts of the United States which many people only see when they fly over them on journeys to the other coast, but which they would never visit.” Cambridge Dictionary

Perhaps it goes without saying that no two people think of flyover country in precisely the same way – being so charged with subjectivity, as it is. I’m also pretty certain that the oft-true warning about within-group variance being greater than between-group variance applies in this case as well. For instance, I used to live in a multimillion person metropolitan area in the middle of flyover country, but I now live just outside of a 15,000 person town in the middle of same. Clearly those are two very different experiences – as are the differences between a big coastal metropolis and one of its tiny satellite villages somewhere between it and the hinterlands. Notwithstanding that reality, however, there will always be the possibility (if not the likelihood) that someone from one of the coasts will fly over the whole vast area in between the east and west coasts whispering the lyrics of Talking Heads’ Big Country under their breath:

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.

I couldn’t live like that, no siree!

I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.

I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.

Why is that, anyway? What’s so appealing about the hustle and bustle, the endlessly trending cultural developments, the multitude of options for recreation and employment, the wide array of new dining experiences, and the seemingly unlimited opportunities to meet like-minded individuals? Okay, never mind! I really had no intention of convincing you otherwise. But you don’t go to a place full of distractions when you want to devote yourself to contemplation, do you?

It occurred to me recently that many people think of contemplation in much the same way that they think of flyover country, and for many of the same reasons. Contemplation is boring, austere, isolating and confining, to the point of being claustrophobic. Ask someone to be still for a time, without the benefit of their smart phone or something else to distract them, and you just might get the same response as David Byrne’s character singing in Big Country:

I couldn’t meditate if you paid me.

I can’t be still like that, no siree!

I’ve got no time for things that the sages used to do.

I couldn’t meditate if you paid me to.

And so I’d like to introduce you to Heartland Contemplative – a means by which I hope to bring a little of the beauty of flyover country to a broader audience than might otherwise be the case. Perhaps I can encourage you to visit from time to time! Look for Heartland Contemplative on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well. Thank you!


Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.