"Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle said that or something like that in the original ancient Greek, observing that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air or house guests.
The flip side of this observation is that empty spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics. So kindly fill your chairs, sofas and beds with people whose company is compatible. You don’t want the science police knocking on your door and inquiring about unfilled spaces.
Outside your door, however, everywhere on this Island you look or listen or smell, there’s nature, or that which definitely isn’t the legacy of the industrial revolution. One of the lures for moving to the Vineyard for full-time living was the natural one. I was about to say “nature called,” but that sounds more in tune with restrooms than restfulness. I’m referring to the striking beauty, harmony and tranquility offered by the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world showcased in this environment.
I now find myself living among flora and fauna that’s new to me. Before moving here, I really did not pay that much attention to my natural surroundings. Safe to say, if I heard the words flora and fauna, my first instinct would be to think they were the sisters of Homer Simpson. Now I know differently.
Let’s focus on summer. The salt air, the lush greenery, the profusion of color, the ceremonial birdsong all fill up my senses and buoy my spirits. I’m not only glad I moved here, I’m grateful to be alive.
At the same time, what’s pleasing to the senses is also calming. Hibiscus, hydrangea, orange trumpet vines, lavender bushes, honeysuckle, rhododendrons popping their purples, pinks and whites just as they do at each bend of the road in most of Ireland. The brilliant star lilies stand tall in the summer heat of our garden. They only seem to wilt when we do. Actually, after we do.
Or we can go up State Road to West Tisbury and take a stroll through the landscape of a horticultural heaven — the Polly Hill Arboretum. It has been said if you don’t see it in her garden, it doesn’t grow here. A wonderful Island asset, this landmark spread was developed by the late Polly Hill, a legend in horticulture who lived to be 100, which tells you something about the value of vegetation and surrounding yourself with it. In 2008, the year after she died, they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first seed sown at what eventually became this nonprofit institution where rare trees and shrubs mix with hardy azaleas and dogwoods that Polly grew from seed. A perfect place to make you forget concrete and steel.
Another way to have nature nurture you is to have the right furniture at home. In short, what goes best on the grass beside the plant life? Something that allows you to stop in your tracks and take it all in. How about a hammock, an Adirondack chair or a chaise lounge? Pick one, become one with it and then you can drink in the sounds, the natural sounds.
What I thought of as simply quiet turns out to be far more complex. Island birds create a lyrical, curative soundtrack. If I concentrate, I can be lulled by a chirp-filled pastorale. Sometimes I only hear a fluttered breeze, one made by a hummingbird or two. The hummingbird has now been officially lured to our home and can be experienced even from inside, thanks to a friend who set us up with the makings of a hummingbird diner — a sugar water dispenser dangling from a tree in front of our largest window: Bird TV.
Sometimes, of course, there is an affront — the unpleasant sound. Nature, you see, also abhors a vacuum cleaner, not to mention a power mower, a pitted truck muffler or an early morning chain saw. It’s like undefined or unwanted music. Wait, I hear an example as haiku!
Un-neighborly noise —
Is he practicing bagpipes
Or vacuuming cats?
Or like the occasional ear-budded walker who is oblivious that he or she is singing along to whatever is being pumped into their ears — loudly and off-key. The kind of sound that scares wildlife.
Speaking of wildlife, danger lurks when the sounds are not there, or at best, minimal. As a dog lover, I’d have to say that my three least favorite representatives of the animal kingdom are mosquitoes, ticks and skunks. Which brings us to smells.
On the one hand, there’s the fresh fragrance of sea, air and vegetation; on the other hand, there’s the pungent perfume of Eau de Skunk: the sniff that keeps on giving. Just ask Floyd, my yellow lab. A few days ago he became a testament to Abe Lincoln’s quote. “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
A little chase, a little roll, a little trip to the hose. Soon Floyd was bathed in new smells: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, dishwashing liquid, papaya-based shampoo. Now he smells like a skunk who works in Vegas. Of course, this is all meaningless to him. As far as he’s concerned, all he’s doing is acting naturally. Not exactly the definition of “naturally” I had in mind at the start.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.