Western Plains

Coming over a rise on the Western Plains, Jimmy Little singing Cattle and Cane. The clouds go on forever.

Nature Boy

The first time I heard Nature Boy was in a taxi. I was visiting a girl I used to know and her new boyfriend. It had been a long time and I was curious how she’d wound up. None of my business but I wanted to check she was doing alright. Earlier in the afternoon soon after I showed up I’d shared a smoke with her boyfriend. She’d raised an eyebrow at me when he offered as if to ask me not to, because she knew what I was like and what he was like, but I wanted to get his measure so became complicit with him. He was limping around with a walking stick so I asked him what happened.

He explained that he had arthritis, that it normally is an old person’s disease but there’s an unusual kind of arthritis that young people get. This kind, that he had, works quickly, it’s very debilitating and he’d end up in a wheelchair soon, maybe about a year or so. He asked at what point in your life, as you slowly disintegrated, would you kill yourself? When you couldn’t run? When you couldn’t walk? When you couldn’t move at all? When you were blind or lost all your senses?

Maybe I could have answered if it were a hypothetical question. At that time I fancied myself something of a thinker, a reader. If someone called me a philosopher and a poet, and once in a while some poor fool did, I blushed. But sometimes, face to face with someone, all philosophies fail.

Later, at night, after a few drinks, in the taxi, just before it dropped me where I was staying and we went our seperate ways, Nat King Cole started singing,

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

In my state, each unhurried line that came out was pure and universal, like a folktale, simply and perfectly following the last. Everything was in those few simple words about the child who wandered through the world and through ages, ancient experience and childish innocence, there was Shakespeare and there was Krishna. Sitting in that taxi with mortality and love lost and gained, that final most basic and most transcendent line was devastating. I turned to them in the backseat in disbelief, to see if it was just me or if that were not the most perfect song ever sung. The girl shook her head slightly. She knew me too well. With the slightest gesture she saw and showed me the secret I didn’t want to admit to myself. She understood the other reason I loved the song was because I thought it was about me. She knew my vanity and had learned the hard way to have as much contempt for it as I did, so she laid it bare. The boy saw something was in that look but he couldn’t know what it was. That taxi stopped on cue with the last refrains. I gave a $10 note to the driver and got out, leaving him with questions and her with something to explain away, at least for a little while. They’d forget me soon enough. “Jealousy is for the living.” I said and thought it a good line.