"Cowslip," I keep hearing it like a ghost's whisper on a crosswind, "Cowslip." The word keeps coming to me at the odd moment, waiting in line, listening to the quiet life complaints of a companion, watching television late at night, it keeps creeping into my secondary thoughts, my cranial sub routines like something I want to say but know instinctively not to, "Cowslip, Cowslip, Cowslip."
I finally, in an idle moment, looked it up. There it was, something forgotten from my childhood and not the flowering plant Primula veris, native to my part of rural England. Cowslip is an antagonistic warren of rabbits that vexes the protagonists in Richard Adams' classic Watership Down.
In Wateship Down Cowslip's warren is a place of luxury, a fat, docile nation of rabbits who's lives are easy and leisurely. The burrow is beside a large and well tended garden from which the rabbits are assured a plentiful and unending source of food. Basic needs attended, they devote themselves to art and to fashion. They have poetry, courtly manners and all the trappings of civilized life, things alien to the rabbits from other, less well apportioned warrens.
I kept thinking this word whenever I would pass a fashion or gossip magazine. I thought of it whenever I overheard someone complain in strident tones about the preparation of their six dollar cup of coffee or that they had to work late the night that I much anticipated film was to be released. It came to me as I saw a girl, eighteen like I'm the pope, arguing loudly with her father over the injustice of him refusing to pay for her to get a breast augmentation. It scratched at the back of my understanding through days and days of twenty - four hour news obsession with a recently deceased stripper, gold digger and diet product spokeswoman who's life was only so notorious as the voyeur nation made it. I thought of it when I saw the bald man on daytime TV trying to solve the problems of people who have let themselves gorge until the were the size of automobiles. I thought it when I saw a man cry and scream over his wrecked BMW without stopping to ask if the other driver was injured. I thought "Cowslip." I did not think it when watching reports from Iraq. It did not come to mind when an ambulance passed me. I did not think it when I read that someone had been murdered not far from my neighborhood. I did not hear the whisper when I chatted with my friend with AIDS. I only thought it when emotions ran high over or when attentions were wasted on things of little consequence. Then, in those moments the back of my mind would fill with an echo, "Cowslip"
The problem with Cowslip's warren is that the farmer who tends the garden is well aware of the rabbits raiding his crops and tolerates their incursions so that he can set snares and other traps, using Cowslip's cohorts as a ready food source. The relationship is symbiotic, the farmer ignoring the incessant nibbling upon his vegetables and the rabbits sublimating their grief and anxiety over the all-too-often loss of a fellow in the form of cultural trifles.
Is that not what we, as a culture, are doing each and every day? We ignore, with such constance and such efficiency, the matters of import in our lives and in the world outside our warrens. We, Americans, maybe all of us in the industrialized west, have become so accustomed to easy, luxurious lives that we loose our most basic perspective on survival. We are fed, clothed, sheltered, defended, educated, heeded and catered to. The expectation of these things has become so axiomatic in our culture, so taken for granted, that we might not notice if we lost them.
Evidence: we have time to pay attention to the custody battle over a reality star's baby and feel the need to televise it through the night. We pay six dollars for a casual fix. Movies and award shows are some of the biggest events of our year. Our fellow humans eat themselves beyond the point at which they are ambulatory. We worry more about our vehicles than our own safety. Girls in high school think it reasonable to ask for a boob job. We have time to watch TV. I have the time to write this blog and you have time to read it, Cowslip.
Take a minute sometime today and step away from Cowslip's warren. Forget your office and your car. Ignore the news and the next episode of whatever. Don't think about your diet, your portfolio, your bills, your plans for the weekend or about fighting traffic. Be thankful that you will never have to hunt for your food and that you will never have to fight off predators. Remember that you will probably never be murdered. Remember these things because, in all likelihood, you will, one day, find yourself in an ambulance. Remember that, even if you don't, someone you know will fight in Iraq. Remember and cherish the time you spend with your friend with AIDS because you have one, even if you don't know it. Remember that whatever vexes you, troubles you or inconveniences you, whatever obstacle you face is a gentle rise in the land, a hillock, a down, not a mountain.
Most of all, be glad you live in Cowslip's warren and not in Efrafra.