by Sean Bailey
In 1668 Francesco Redi first disproved the theory of spontaneous generation. He screened off a jar of rotting meat and proved that maggots were Oy larvae; they didn’t just magically appear in rank pork chops. If he had been given enough time to contemplate the implications of his study, I would hope Redi would have reconsidered
He cast the mold. It didn’t happen all at once, but the program
took, and now there are millions of little Redis running around
the Western world thinking the same way. When we ask important
questions in the aftermath of Redi’s experiment we get dull and
boring answers. For example, one of the great mysteries of all time is,
Where does belly button lint come from? Instead of inventing creative
answers like gravity wells or spontaneous growth, we get The Straight
Dope: “Your navel is one of the few places on your body where
perspiration has a chance to accumulate before evaporating. Lint from
your clothing, cottons especially, adheres to the wet area and remains
after the moisture departs.”* I don’t know about anyone else, but for
me, that just takes the magic out of everything.
Now don’t get me wrong, science isn’t bad; in fact, sometimes
science has done more to jump-start the world’s imagination than any
other source. Take Albert Einstein for example.
When he introduced the theory of relativity, multitudes of new
possibilities entered the world. Slow clocks. Shrinking rods. If you
got moving fast enough, weird things started happening. Einstein
supplied wonder for a century to come, not to mention ideas to line the
pocketbooks of sci-fi writers everywhere. Even with these new and
wondrous possibilities, being forced into the modern era of science
was a painful experience for most nineteenth-century scientists, like
children dragged out of bed to shift their feet irritably and rub their
eyes in the garish light of day.
My mom used to be a receptionist for a chiropractor. The office
was only a few blocks from Edison Elementary School, so after class
my brothers and I would meander over to the building and try to find
something to occupy ourselves while we waited for Mom to get done
with work. She really didn’t mind what we did as long as it fit two
criteria: ( 1) It wasn’t destructive, and (2) It didn’t bother the customers.
This severely limited our options. We usually ended up in the
vacant lot behind the building, and there we would be superheroes or
ninjas or some sort of wild animal friends. 1 found a bowling ball there
I think I was alone that day, but I have no clear recollection. Why
I would be alone, I don’t know, but neither of my brothers show up in
the story. I was squatting in the corner of an old building foundation
playing with the grass that grew up between the cracks when I first
Only the edge of it was above ground, and it looked so intriguing.
The otherwise smooth black surface was pocked with imperfections
and streaked through with a textured brown marble. I reached out to
touch it, but stopped.
Why would there be a bowling ball buried in this vacant lot?
Had it dropped out of the sky and buried itself? How could that
Maybe it had slipped out of someone’s luggage as they flew over-
head. Maybe someone had built a catapult in their backyard. Maybe it was a murder weapon someone was trying to hide. Maybe it wasn’t
a bowling ball at all, but a beautiful rock that was forcing its way
slowly to the surface.
I contemplated the rock.
At this point, I would like to point out that my parents thought I
was retarded up until 1 was about age six, principally because I did things like stare at rocks. I was always five steps behind the rest of the
family when we went someplace. “Come on, Sean. Hurry up, Sean, or
we’re going to leave you. ” Sometimes my dad would grab my arm and
drag me up with the rest of them.
While my parents drove to whatever place I happened to be
lagging behind at, I would stare vacantly out into the world, not really
present. My vacancy “worried my parents, but they also took advantage
of it. They’d put me between my two brothers so they wouldn’t fight.
I was a buffer; I wasn’t there.
They conceded my intelligence the day I read a billboard and
asked in all innocence what smo1gasbord meant. While still unsure about
my normal absentee status, they decided that it was not due to being
slow. The staring off into space, they decided, just came as part of a package deal. I have found that it is one of the better parts of the pack-
age. Being able to meditate with the rest of the world tuned out gave me ample opportunity to think about interesting ideas, like what would
be the best way to burn my school down. I thought about that a lot
actually, until Columbine. Then I felt guilty. And scared.
When you are not really looking, you see the world differently.
Not always better~ just differently. While driving with my mom on a
cold winter’s day, my eyes glazed, and I noticed that the leafless trees
were so beautiful. The normal ugliness of the winter gray Oklahoma
countryside was quite remarkable through unfocused eyes. The grays
and blacks and whites blended together as the hills rolled by. A
mottled ocean of gray lashed against the highway. I had found beauty
in something once so dreary.
At college, some friends invited me to come with them and sing at a mental institute. The people there scared me so much in the beginning. Most of them were completely incoherent. I sat by a lady who couldn’t speak. She could only make vague clicking noises as she smiled and randomly pointed at words in the newspaper on her lap.
Her skin was parchment dry and looked as if, poking it too hard,
your finger would go right through. l sat by her because there was no
danger of her saying something I would have to respond to. Out of
randomness, I asked for her name. She looked at me and held up a
bracelet with Diane H . written on it. I hadn’t seen her
On a different tangent, kayaks are cool. My family and I went on
a float trip this past summe1~ and since my grandparents came along
as well, we had to compromise on the river craft we chose. The older people ended up in a raft with the coolers, while my brother, cousin,
and I ended up in kayaks.
Yaks, to use our guide’s terminology, are powerful. I’m used to
canoes, which aren’t exactly the most maneuverable craft on the river.
You can get enough power behind a kayak to paddle against the
current and even make decent progress uprive1~ conditions favoring.
When we got in the river I started playing with my new toy, seeing
what it could do. I would paddle downstream, stop, and then paddle
back upstream just testing it out.
Once we got underway, we discovered that our vehicles were
We zipped downstream while the raft moved horribly slow. As we
reached the first bend in the rive1~ I realized I was getting too far ahead
of the raft. There was a little inlet where I could wait for them, so I made
for it. The current was moving pretty quick in the area so I paddled as
fast as I could, but when I got within a few feet of the inlet, the current
grabbed my yak and pushed me past it. There were two trees downed
in the river just ahead, the roots facing me, and I was going to be
pushed right into them.
This was annoying. I put my paddle out to brace against the
impact and then got shoved into the gap between one of the tree ‘s root
systems and the bank. Not five minutes into the trip and I was stuck. I
paddled back along the two massive root bunches to try and get back into the river, but anytime I got next to the second set of roots the cur-
rent would push me into it and I couldn’t get past. I paddled forward; I paddled backward. I pushed against the roots with my paddle.
Nothing worked. My once powerful yak was now impotent. By
now my brother had stopped his canoe on the other side of the river
and was watching me; everyone else had stopped further downstream.
After rocking back and forth like this for a few moments, I decided
to try a new tactic. I got close to the bank and started paddling as far
upriver as I could in the relatively calm water. I could get only about
fifteen feet and when I did I turned the kayak back into the river and
started paddling as fast as I could. I didn’t make it clear. I could see out
of the corner of my eye I was going to hit the second root mass again,
but I kept on paddling, trying to build momentum.
I hit the roots again, but much faster this time, and as the edge of
my kayak started to slide up the roots, I had a brief moment of panic. A dozen euphemisms tried to make it from my brain to my mouth, but I got dumped into the river before any of them could make an
It’s amazing what we can’t see. Think about it. There are marvelous and terrible things happening all around, but there is usually never someone around to see it. Most of the world goes by unseen by
human eyes. What I didn’t see was the undertow.
The current quickly plastered my kayak against the roots, and then
violently pulled my legs underneath the logs with enough force to suck
off one of my shoes. I barely managed to grab a handful of roots
before I went completely under the logs. This part gets a bit hazy. I can
remember looking up at the surface and seeing the greenish tinge to
the light shining through the water.
When I couldn’t make it to the surface immediately, I remember
being concerned because I knew my brother would be freaking out. I
don’t think at any point I worried about dying, which would probably
have been the sensible thing to do.
It was over pretty quickly. I used the handful of roots to lift myself
so that I could grab the top of the yak. It took all the strength I could
muster, but I managed to haul my head up above the water again.
The world was brighter than I had ever seen it before, and the air
smelled sweeter. I had been under for only about three or four seconds,
but it seemed much longer.
My brother was out of his canoe and heading my direction. I yelled at him, “Don’t come over here! Stay over there!” He didn’t listen. I don’t blame him because I wouldn’t have listened either.
As far as he could see, I was still drowning. He was intelligent
enough not to swim in front of the trees, but instead climbed on top of
the roots from the back. I don’t think he did it that way on purpose,
though. He had a hard time crossing and got to the trees only after he
had passed me. By the time he arrived, my dad was on his way to do
the same thing. My brother and I were now both yelling at him to stay
on the other side of the rivet~ but once again, it had no effect.
It seems that the more you tell someone not to do something, the
more they tend to do it.
My dad made it across okay, but with a lot more difficulty than my
brother had. I can’t imagine the guilt I would have felt if my brother
or my dad had drowned trying to save me from my own stupid
mistake. That was all I could think about as I watched them try to
swim the river.
My cousin came running up the bank I was stuck on, and between
the four of us, we managed to get the yak and myself out of the rive1~
My paddle was gone. So were my sunglasses. Since one shoe is pretty
much useless, I left the other one there on the bank as ‘Nell. I was kind
of shaken up, but other than a few scratches, I was ok. After the trip
was ove1~ I was more sore from skipping rocks sidearm than from
anything that happened in the crash.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I had to use a regular canoe
paddle, which was a little annoying, and I probably would have
complained about it a lot if the day’s events had played out differently.
I enjoyed the trip. It’s amazing how something so drastic is so fleeting.
It seems like it should affect everything for the rest of the clay, but it
doesn’t. You still splash around. You still enjoy yourself. It’s almost like
it didn’t happen, except I think I’ll always have the image of green
light filtering through the river silt, a shining beacon just out of reach;
that will always be with me. But I digress. I need to tell you about the
After staring at it, thinking about it, and wondering at its origins, I finally scuffed at it with the heel of my foot, and to my great disappointment, it was just a slice of the globe, a broken shard, a piece of trash. The magic was gone; the world was mundane again.
Sean Bailey was born and raised in Oklahoma. His hobbies include
reading, writing, swimming, and volleyball. Sean graduated with honors
from BYU as an English major with a minor in physics. He is currently
attending the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at BYU and hopes to
make the word “lawyer” a little less heinous. Maybe.