It’s not often I write heady, serious stuff utterly lacking in smiles, but now and again I can’t help myself. No chuckles this time…

If you travel the country as I have, through the Great Plains, the prairies and the West, horizons are far off but seemingly graspable. You think: we’ll get there! But you won’t – because (of course) as you travel on, the edges of what you see ahead speed far beyond you, unreachable.

Southern New Mexico. (Dollarphoto club license)

Sailors and fishermen know this: there is no horizon at sea, only the visual illusion of one. Ignore it. Pay attention to the water around you, read the water. Watching waves is what experienced mariners do. Horizons are for dreamers, seekers, and you aren’t like them – your pursuits are closer at hand. Read the water.

And listen for that bell buoy! We have auditory horizons as well as visual – we can hear a shotgun blast miles away on a still night, and at sea we understand why foghorns are tuned to a low frequency: because we hear low tones much farther away than high ones, sometimes so pitched as to reverberate in our chests.

Mind horizons occupy a different level of understanding. I chanced upon a 1997 VH1 TV interview with George Harrison – his very last TV appearance before his death in 2001 – and at the time he knew he had some early cancer. It was never like George to shrink back from the nobility of his own truth, and he said then in the interview –

The whole of creation is perfect. There is nothing that goes wrong with nature – only what man does, then it goes wrong. But we are made of that thing, the very essence of our being, every atom of our body, is made from this perfect knowledge, this perfect consciousness.

We’re getting really transcendental here, but our physical being is on a very very subtle level – it’s just like the sap in a tree, it’s the sap and it runs through all the parts of the tree, it’s like our bodies are manifesting into physical bodies, but the cause, the sap, is pure consciousness. And that is perfect knowledge. But we have to tap into that to understand it.

He died in November 2001 at age 58 and my younger brother died four months later in 2002 at age 53, also of cancer, and I spent enough time with my brother in his last hours to marvel at the intrigue of transition between being and nonbeing – a foggy horizon if there ever was one. It has been said by those who study it that this is not a simple transition, there is no single hard line to cross, and of course it provokes wonder at the extent of the fog that goes beyond the time of clinical death. We will all know, in our own time, and be utterly unable to pass along what happened to us.

Personal horizons

And what of the clarity of a first memory? Some may recall probing for their mother’s breast, others with fingers curled around crib bars wanting to free themselves, still others a first day of kindergarten. I remember fragments of my 4th birthday, and possibly hands around crib bars, but the air doesn’t fully clear until about first grade. This retro-horizon may change, shift slightly as we age, and we may add color and detail to the memory to lock it into the sanctuary of our own “truth,” but we can’t know if it really was how we remember it. Memory is tricky stuff – the retro-horizon is far more gauzy than any distant edge of prairie on the Great Plains.

Humans are social animals with their own range of boundaries that may, if probed, bend or yield to another person. What is the far edge of a person? Horizons change, retreat, evaporate as soon as we move. Or talk, or ask, or offer a certain look in our eyes. Throughout my whole life, having connected with several thousands of people, I’m amazed that so many had such wide-open horizons (“ask me, I’ll tell you!”) and almost as many others were tightly armored, unreachable. But each of us has that far edge – that long horizon that we wake up with every day and may keep curtained from view until the right time suits us. It’s our choice.

It’s good that nature made horizons unclear, and it’s also good that humans want to clarify them. We now know what happens at the event horizon of a black hole, and it’s also good that we have instruments to indicate exactly where a physical horizon lies. But for the rest of us – who aren’t physicists or navigators – we drift between our retro-horizon and our last one, whatever and whenever that may be, and keep our focus (mostly) close-in on the business at hand, on those near to us, on the next few trees on the path, on the next hundred yards down the road.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.