Notes on the Misuse of the Word ‘Obscure’

Notes on the Misuse of the Word ‘Obscure’


Last night Operation Palm was an unmitigated success. On the public islands of greenery between sidewalk and street in front of my apartment there are tall fan palms that drop seeds to the ground and several hardy specimens shoot up a leaf or two before the communal trimmers come and stomp them in service of rose plants and lavender scrub. Occasionally one is positioned to survives longer, long enough to grow a tiny trunk and shoot out a trifecta leaf or two, fans like in the name. It was one of those we were after. We: I cajoled my son into taking part. It was a two man job. Two men and two dogs. I needed to look as if I had stepped into the green space with purpose, as if following my dog to clean up his dreck. My son hanging back with the other dog would also distract attention. I found the palm and with a small spade successfully extracted it from the earth, bulb and most roots intact. Back inside I planted it. The palm is stout, tall as a midget’s knee, with five shoots, two trifectas.

This morning I noticed that it seemed to have rotated in the night—I had planted a stick near it to mark its growth, but I didn’t count on it rotating. Naturally I felt that it was mocking me in some obscure way. It is mocking me in some obscure way, I thought to myself several times before an upwelling of a profound need for clarity urged me to think the matter through. Yes, I still felt it was mocking me, but why do I need to call it’s manner obscure. Sure, it is obscure to me. But that in no way describes the intentions of the plant, or the fact of it having rotated. There is another plant in the same pot: I assured myself that that plant had not rotated. But what did that tell me? Only that I was using the word obscure as a defensive measure, so that I could lay the entire incident aside with minimal discomfiture.

Riding, wobbly, yet in full confidence of ultimate balance, this cresting wave of intellectual honesty, I sought a metaphor. I once engaged in fencing, I can say immodestly that I was no slouch, losing only to Viking marauders with no technique. Obscure…it is like a fencer building a brick wall between him and his opponent as a defense and calling the unseen feints and lunges obscure. Naturally I have no means of communicating with the plant world—perhaps some day—but that hardly makes the behavior, the feelings, the betrayals of its creatures obscure.

These notes taken I returned to the plant and sat beside it, remaining still, observing. The session did not last long. The plant had rotated sometime overnight; so far today, it has remained still, but for that oft undetectable trembling that I detected, that accounts for my obscure discomfort, which sent me scurtling back here where I feel if not safe, perhaps it is best said ‘safe for now,’ surrounded by my knowns.

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