by David Bastin

In his writings, Ken Wilber talks about integrating "the Big Three"—the value spheres of art, morals, and science, aka the Beautiful, the Good, and the True. The Glass Islands of the Okavango aims to exemplify how doing this might be accomplished. 

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The first of the Okavango Delta’s glass islands was constructed in 2024. It was an architectural wonder,“designed by giants and finished by jewelers.” It was in many ways like a living thing: it was like some magical, magnificent temple that had materialized like some beautiful statement of the region’s essential identity.
The islands were intended to serve as architectural “pointing-out instructions”: they blended scientific truth and social utility, manifesting in graceful curves and elegant shapes that aimed to demonstrate how a transition from fragmented, deteriorating industrial civilizations to something both beautiful and sustainable might be accomplished.

Water …:

Water comes to the Okavango Delta in the driest time of the year.

The water comes slowly. The Delta is very flat and it takes the water three months to completely fill it.

The annual flood originates months earlier and hundreds of miles away in rains that fall in African highlands. These waters never find their way to the sea. Instead, they empty into this flat place where they create an oasis-like garden, contrasting powerfully with Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, which surrounds it.

All kinds of plants and animals live in the Okavango Delta.

Some people regard the Okavango as a dangerous and terrible place; some say it is among the most perfect, beautiful places in the world.  

“Look at the sunset,” said the woman. “Did you ever see such a sunset as that?”
The man was not interested in the sunset. He had seen the sunset on the previous day and on the day before that. And each of those sunsets had been glorious, as sunsets always seemed to be in this part of Africa.

“Anyway,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” said the woman. “It isn’t your fault.”
He sat in thoughtful silence.
Slowly, darkness extinguished the sun.
“Did you ever see such colors?” she said.

Slowly and ponderously, a huge moon rose.
The woman watched, transfixed by the sight of it.
“Did you ever see such a moon?” she said. “Did you ever see such a moon as that?”
In the outer darkness, a hyena made a plaintive, wailing sound. To the man, it sounded like the animal was crying. He wondered if hyenas wept like people do.

“Fix me a whiskey,” said the man.
“You shouldn’t drink whiskey,” said the woman. “It isn’t good for you.”
The man wanted to laugh. He wanted to tell her it didn’t matter any more. He wanted to tell her that nothing mattered any more. But he wasn’t really sure whether anything mattered or not.
And finally, he didn’t laugh and he didn’t say anything at all.

“What would he do,” wondered the man, “if he had more time?”
"He would write,” he thought to himself. “He would paint.”
He had always wanted to do something beautiful and significant. And he had always felt that he ‘could’ do something like that if he put his mind to it. And now if he had the time, he ‘would’ do something like that.
But time had run out. He would never do it now.
There was no more time.

He thought about philosophy.
He recalled a conversation in a bar in Upstate New York, a long time before he had come to Africa:
“Philosophy,” a Mohawk Indian had told him, “can be reduced to the following questions: Is a zebra white with black stripes; black with white stripes; neither; or both? And why?”

It had been her idea to come to the Okavango.
She had helped design the original island.
"The 'Green Revolution' was a failure," she said. "Farmers were forced off their land,” she said. She called them ‘oakies.’ She said the Green Revolution created millions and billions of oakies."They live in houses made out of cardboard and tin, and they don't have clean water,” she said.
She believed in her islands like other people believed in their religions. She thought the islands were nothing less than the world’s salvation.
“Frankly,” he thought, “’reverence for living things’ can be overdone.”

She talked endlessly about technology—water-purification systems; solar power; pumps and filters; “intelligent” glass; “passive” this; and “biomimetic” that.
 He seldom understood anything she said, and she often talked at him rather than to him. 
But what did any of that matter now?
He had lived his life and now it was over.
He thought about his life, and he thought about the woman.
And he thought about the glass islands—these strange glass islands.
“What,” he wondered, “was he doing here?”

He sat for a long time in the darkness with moonlight reflecting in his eyes, and he thought about everything.
And then, he wept.

Postscript: Many Years Later ...
There Isn’t Any Air There

A boy and a girl sat under a tree.
Pretty soon an apple fell.
“That reminds me of gravity,” said the boy.
“Why?” asked the girl.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t remember.”
“Apples are to eat,” said the girl.

“The moon makes gravity,” said the boy. “That’s what turns it yellow.”
The girl stared at the moon. She munched the apple.
“Once people wanted to go to the moon,” said the boy. “They tried to build a tower.”
“Why?” asked the girl.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t remember.”
She briefly studied the core and then threw it away.
“The moon is to look at,” she said.

“The world is full of gravity,” said the boy. “That’s why it never tips over.”
She studied the tree.
The boy breathed deep. He circled the world with his arms.
“Gravity sticks the whole world together,” he announced.
“Shake down more apples,” she said.





Copyright © 2011 David Bastin

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

David Bastin worked as an editor from the mid-1970s until 2004, mostly on online materials having to do with computers and telecommunications. He is now retired.

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