Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grokking the Toad

Coming home from work on June 10th, I encountered a toad at the bottom of the stairs, as if waiting for me. I ran in to get my camera before the toad disappeared and came back to find it still peacefully sunning. I took several shots, very close, amazed that the toad didn't leap away. I sat on the stairs, enjoying the late light and watching the toad, checking out the wild designs on its back, its topaz eyes.

Surprisingly, the toad jumped toward me, positioning itself between my feet, then turning around to face west with me. We watched the sky and trees, thinking our thoughts. This companionable silence seemed to go on for quite a while. It was probably no more than five or ten minutes of stillness and complete ease, that shared, comfortable space illuminated by the gold evening sun of June. Time got nice and slow. I felt I "got" the toad, that I "grokked" the toad. Do you recognize that Martian word from Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction classic, Stranger in a Strange Land? Here is Heinlein's definition of grok:

"Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed -- to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience."

To my delight, the word was also listed in The American Heritage Dictionary:

Grok -- slang -- To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy.

And, here, from the Oxford English Dictionary:

"To understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with" and "to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment."

From Heinlein again, grok is "associated with literal meanings such as 'water', 'to drink', 'life', or 'to live'."

Good word. Those Martians are deep. Here are more good words, from Marianne Moore (forgive the formatting):

.... One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination" -- above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

-- Marianne Moore, from the last two stanzas of "Poetry"

To enlarge the photo, click on the image.

10 comments:

Joy Palakkal said...

Nice Post!!!
Really interesting...
With All Best Wishes..

Vesper de Vil said...

I'd never heard of the term "grok" before, but I love it!

Christine said...

Thanks for visiting!

Christine said...

Hi, Vesper -- yes, it's a good word, one that resurfaces from the past from time to time, beckoned by circumstances.

C.M. Mayo said...

Funny, that word "grok." I don't know if it's true, but I heard it was first used by Ingo Swann.

Christine said...

Hello, Ms. Mayo -- I will have to look into that! Happy summer days ...

Deborah Batterman said...

Do I dare even mention the bewitched prince? For every poet who reads and responds to your wonderful blog, there's also the story teller. Yes, there are half poets and those who cherish every nuance of language, there are martians and gremlins, and there are those of us who leap at moments of great, shared insight.

Christine said...

So kind -- thank you, Deborah. Yes, it's always a boost when you share a leap to an insight!

Michael said...

The toad thing. . . I absolutely know this type of experience with the wild things. If everyone could be gifted in this way AND be sensitive to it, the world would be more peaceful, I think.

Perhaps we should send toads to Washington?

Christine said...

Hi, Michael. There was a well of serenity in those moments. Peace and toads in Washington, such a lovely thought! Thanks for the kind and insightful words.