Garden Road Art

Jason Selby's writing and Jasmine Selby's art.

I write this column in a notebook scribbled upon by my four-year-old daughter Jasmine. My wife Jennifer normally uses these yellow pages for her grocery lists, but one time, Jasmine grabbed it from the counter and swirled her abstract art, and Jennifer did not have the heart to use the paper again. One day, it might be worth something.

Often, when I was a child, a pencil and clipboard was all I needed to occupy an afternoon during Christmas break. I created more than one inner world on typing paper.

However, if the sun had not set, the colder and snowier the weather, the more I needed to be outside in a very real and perilous world. Winter was my favorite time of year. Neighbors gathered with sleds and stocking caps, and the ceremony did not cease until nightfall. Shane Hill was notorious for its steep slopes and timber, and our land to the north had ruts from the Mormon Trail and frozen Medicine Creek as a warning track—by the time my cousin Roger reached it, he had already gone too far.

Meanwhile, in warmer climes, some civilizations have not forgotten the difference between a nightmare and something more prescient. A person knew if he had a Big Dream, and all the tribe would be called together as an audience. It was a man’s duty to describe his visions. It could guide the people from disaster or to a deeper level of understanding.

Yet these dreamers were often caught between borders, cut off by survey equipment or simpler marks of territory. Only when those who awoke from a Big Dream saw beyond the welfare of his own tribe or nation did they become more than just prophets.

Humans share empathy with rats. In laboratory studies, if a rat is given food, but sees another rat drowning, he will stall this instinct to feast in order to save the other. However, a white rat raised with only other white rats will not save a black rat, and vice versa. As well, a black rat raised with only white rats will not save another black rat, and vice versa. Mirrors might change the latter dynamic for humans, but in short, empathy alone is not morality.

If we imagine only white rats or black rats while we slumber, the possibility of the Big Dream is cut off—we become no more than an animal that will cease and decay, and one rat hero to another potential victim of the same color only delays the onset of death.

The solution in the laboratory (satisfactory for small mammals) is raising white and black rats together. When this happens, the subject will empathize without regard to color. While this is mainly true of humans as well, there are complications. For example, there is the danger of only following your gut, which closes the gap between a trained rat and a human to almost nil.

Intuition is another matter, hanging highest in the branches of hickory nut trees along the forks of the Medicine, incapable of exclusion. It is not simply the gut or rat mind, or even simply the human mind, though that is certainly part of the process. It connects my daughter’s scribbles to my own, both literally on those yellow pages and figuratively, the difference between direct knowledge and merely copying the past in a sort of sentimental cruelty—remaining open to possibilities beyond common sense or opinion. A good sign of true intuition is it teaches alleviation of suffering, though suffering might be necessary to reach this state.

It grows in stages from empathy to morality to purpose. There are only so many words that can take a rat beyond this point. It requires more effort for a child to haul a sled to the top of a hill, but more effort for an adult to live beyond the barriers of training. Even with an energy that betrays reason, though she might miss her nap, Jasmine eventually rests from exhaustion of all other possibilities in the quiet faith of sleep.