The great thing about reaching middle age in our current society is that one does so, more or less, healthy. Until very recently in the history of civilizations, middle age did not exist for most people.
Of course, health includes mental health – the most important of all. In my case I am lucky to be able to review my past life, as most of my age do, and “inherit”, while still alive the knowledge I have learned. Due to our civilization’s excellent nutrition and medicine, masses of us can do this now. Should be interesting and it certainly makes life a very satisfying experience.
I mention this because, recently while I was cleaning out a closet, I picked up an old copy of a magazine which had an interview with Buckminster Fuller. At one point he was a cultural hero. The 1960s was his great moment. He was, and remains, a remarkable visionary. He makes today’s so-called futurists seem mediocre and trite.
In the interview he speculates that the ancient Polynesians, who were prodigious navigators on one hand and, by virtue of that, absolute geniuses at astronomical observation on the other hand, knew the stars like we know sports and television personalities. It is a sickening thought but there it is.
This cultural feature wasn’t religious or mythological, but purely scientific. They were, in a sense, astronauts. Even today a simple fisherman in a wooden sailboat from the South Pacific Islands can find his way back to his tiny island home after being blown off-course a hundred miles. Happens all the time. Our brains are too small to even imagine such an ability.
Fuller wondered about what had made the ancient Polynesians so unique. He wondered further what made everyone else so much less unique. He had trouble explaining to himself how it was that the Polynesians, who never went anywhere farther than 10 or 20 miles from home, could know astronomy so well. Better than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Vikings, and Chinese — the lot. But soon they all caught up with the Polynesians.
Might this Polynesian star knowledge have been shared? He guessed that bands of Polynesians sailed the world in a systematic manner. Somehow they determined that they had learned things that all others on earth had not. Since the ancient Polynesians knew “the earth” by an advanced and almost perfect understanding of the position of the night-time stars, they simply traveled the earth and told everyone who would listen. Fuller thought also that they may have been compensated in some way. Intriguing!
But it gets better: the primary reason the Polynesians knew the night skies so well is because, in effect, they never moved. They didn’t travel far or often for very long periods of time like others did. They studied the stars in minute detail, since small changes meant life or death in their island-hopping culture. They had islands like the skies had stars. Trade, war, treaties: all depended on making small voyages, not long ones. “Better get the angles right.” Then, when they accumulated a database of how the stars moved, they became accidental savants, so to speak. Fuller said no one came even remotely close to the Polynesians in celestial navigation, on the basis of his studies. They made a quantum leap.
A quantum leap in a collection of magazines in one of my mother’s old storage boxes. She liked to amass magazines. She’d read them all at once in marathons. Or not. I was in boarding school. What a great gift to me!
I did not so much reach late middle age as washed up on its shore. Honestly, I do not know sometimes why I am here. I like to tell people every once in a while that I have never lived before. It is, of course, literally true. But it is a kind of pun or play on words that never fails to startle people. Very enjoyable. I get to explain it. And explaining something is always amusing.
President Obama cribbed an old Hopi sacred proverb when he famously stated, “We are the people we have been waiting for.” Or words to that effect. It was more impressive as a political image than, “It takes a village to raise a child”, which I believe First Lady Hilary Clinton cribbed from a West African proverb. Plus, it does not hurt that President Obama has a great voice. But why can’t they come up with their own proverbs?
Personally, I think the Hopis were referring to the happiness and satisfaction of middle age. All that walking up and down ridges and river basins and up on to a mesa every once in a while. Keeps you fit. Many members of Native American tribes—so long as they stay on the reservations—live a very long and physically active time. Walking and swimming are the healthiest activities.
I am walking to Arizona someday! Or I shall swim to Polynesia. Rather like the young athletes do, with a boat behind them.
“This is the shore we have been swimming to.”