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Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
The third week of October, 2016
Clear and windy during the days
Full moon at night.

SOCKS

It’s seven a.m. on Sunday morning – the 16th day of October, 2016.
As is my habit, I’ve opened access to the electronic incoming to view the news.

1. The far, deep distance is where I first begin.
Check The Big Cosmic Picture from links to Astronomical science.
Today, it is announced that the Universe contains 10 times more galaxies than we thought – the number now is well over a trillion.
That’s galaxies. . . . as many as we can conjecture now – but there will be more when we can look even further . . . and further . . . and further than that.
Our notion of the Universe just keeps expanding beyond what we thought the edge was. And meanwhile, the Universe keeps expanding – we’ll never catch up.
That realization puts a soft edge on my Things-I-Must-Do-Today List.

2. Next to Google News –
The middle distance of my morning view is dominated by politics.
Trump is a trash fire in a garbage barrel in a dark, dreary alley.
Giving off oily smoke, but little heat or light.
I can’t look away – but what I see is as hard to believe as the recent galaxy count.

3. Finally, refocusing on the nearby, immediate, local distance.
Just before I came down to my office to link to the web, I piled all my socks onto the kitchen table. As I will explain later on, they must be triaged.
They, too, are part of the news of my day. They are there waiting for action when I finish writing this.

My Sunday morning focus shifts from The Unimaginable to The Unbelievable to the Unmentionable.
But it’s less vexing to write about my socks, so . . .

Back story:  While I was away in Salt Lake, a lady house mouse took up residence in the basket where I keep all my socks. She had just settled in to construct her nest, when I discovered her presence – announced by a collection of seeds, corn kernels, and lint from my clothes dryer – in a tidy, semi-nest shape.
No baby mice yet – but soon, if I don’t intervene.
Thus the pile of socks dumped out on the kitchen table.

Hold the image.

Enter Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Baoalto.
Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who died in 1973.
Better known by his pen name as the Nobel-Prize-winning man of letters,
Senor Pablo Neruda.
(Czech readers of this journal will probably know that the Chilean took his pen-name from the Czech man of letters, Jan Neruda, who died in 1891.)
Why the use of his name? It’s not clear. Pablo just did.
So there’s a roundabout Czech connection to this essay.

In addition to the volumes of writing Pablo Neruda produced on great themes – life, death, love – he also wrote a series of odes in appreciation of the common aspects of his personal world.
He called them Odas Elemntals, in which he celebrated ordinary things like ironing, tomatoes, seagulls, onions, lizards, salt, his clothes, and, most surprising,
Ode To My Socks.

(FYI – He wrote his poems in green ink, which was his personal symbol for hope.)

In the spirit of a great poet’s vision, I shall now address the subject of my socks.
A prose ode.

When I poured them out on the kitchen table, there were 79 pairs, all nicely balled up into matching sets. Plus three single solitary un-mated socks.

Existential momentwhy do I have all these socks? How did this happen?

For the sake of eliminating any mouse-muck, I decided I needed to wash them all, and so I un-balled and examined each sock, tossing the ones with holes and harsh wear into the garbage. The rest were washed with Clorox bleach.
That may seem a little harsh, but mice may carry Hanta Virus, which is bad news.

Now there are 70 pairs of socks, tidily matched and re-balled – ready for storage.

Pause.

What a depressing collection, I think. So bland and colorless and utilitarian.
There’s no magic or imagination or art in these socks.
Eleven brown pairs, twenty-four black, four navy blue. And thirty-one blah colored ones – athletic grey – sixteen long and 15 short. Boring.
Moreover, many have not been worn for a long time because they are lower down in the sedimentary deposits of seldom-used socks at the bottom of the basket.
Each morning I take a pair off the top of the pile in the basket, wear them, wash them, put them back on top, and keep wearing them. I may have 70 pairs of socks, but I never stir or rotate them – I’m only using the six on the top – over and over.

This is the condition of much of the accoutrements of my daily existence.
I use what is on top of the pile, or in the front of the shelves and drawers and cupboards, while the sedimentary layers of the deposits of seldom-used and not-really-needed stuff accumulates underneath and in back.
Same condition in my closets and files and computer memory and basement.
But not true of my garage. Why not? I don’t have a garage.

This is too often true of the ideas in my mind – the ones on top or in front get used over and over, while the sedimentary layers pile up in the dark..

This stuff collecting is not an ultimate problem – I’ve no plan to purge my house.
When I die, my heirs will have to do the archeological dig and dispose of all the useless detritus’s.
They will have an existential moment – “Why did he have all these socks?”
I know.
I should feel guilty.
But the dead don’t have to deal with guilt.

In truth, I do not have sentimental feelings about my socks.
They are all machine-knitted, carefully constructed out of several kinds of threads of nylon and cotton – a practical and impersonal product.

Digressions and factoids:

Up until the 16th century, socks were knitted by hand – the oldest ones we know of come from Egyptian tombs of the 3rd– 6th century.

The first machine-knitted socks were a by-product of love.
William Lee, an English clergyman, invented and patented the machine in 1598, because the woman he was in love with rarely looked up from her task of knitting socks for the family. That’s what he said.

Drying damp socks in a toaster or a micro-wave is not a good idea.
Trust my experience.

Another dumb idea – putting your shoes on first and then putting your socks on.

A single sock in a dryer load is not a sign that the machine is eating your socks, but a sign that your socks are mating and multiplying. You’re ahead, not behind. Wait.
A mate for the single sock is coming.

Wisdom has been reached when you stop worrying about wearing matching socks – when you forego vanity in favor of comfort.

The Great Einstein decided that sorting and matching socks was a waste of time.
So he stopped wearing socks.

I wish I had an old sweet Aunty – one with a mind as wonky as mine – who, out of her love for me, would knit me a magnificent pair of socks every Christmas.
Ones of many colors and goofy designs, unlike my drab assortment.
Not for daily use. Socks I could wear around the house in Winter, feeling cozily loved and amused from my feet up.
Socks of contentment.

Enough of all that.

There’s one last player in this footwear fable.
Madame Mouse.
Her choice of warm and soft and comfy and dry was ill-advised.
I do admire her maternal instincts – nothing but the best for her babies.
I admire her courage in setting up camp in my nearby presence.
It’s tempting to set aside a basket of useless surplus socks in a dark end of my closet and see if she appreciates the offer – a sock sanctuary – a soft-hearted, sentimental gesture on my part.
Besides, obviously, I can spare the socks.
But can I spare the batch of mini-mice she will produce?
My sock sacrifice would only lead to murder and guilt, and the sense that sometime my inclinations are more worthy of pity than admiration.

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