I am standing at the edge of a field. It is early spring in central Maryland. I’m looking west across the open expanse, as the light slants away from me. The sun is still behind the hill to the east and a shadow covers everything that is close to me, but at the far edge, rays of latedawn sun illuminate the trees. This field—and this moment—are a specific point in space and time, which I am witnessing. This event, the present moment, is unique, and uniquely connected to other people, places, and times.
The liberal arts give me the perspective to attempt to understand, and to participate in, the present moment and to make those connections. Through the web of subjects and methods of expression and inquiry, I am free and equipped to explore.
I envision the coming and going of humans across this field over thousands of years—or standing where I now stand. I picture some, like the Susquehannock, staying for generations and learning the seasons of this place—and others crossing this way just once, like the Confederates retreating in long trains from Gettysburg. I can see how humans have been changing the surrounding land, from forest to farm to lawn and street, at an accelerating, if erratic, pace.
I consider the people who move across this landscape now. They have planted hay in this field, while the short grass that covers the adjacent pasture is evidence of grazing cows. Food is produced here, people are employed, and taxes are paid. Trees reinforce property lines. People drive tractors over the field or walk through it, speaking and listening to each other, and to radios broadcasting in English and Spanish.
The humming of a bee brings my attention to the details of the field. There is wind in the grass. Wings flutter. I observe signs of life on an obvious scale; the scent of earth and pollen remind me of life processes on a smaller scale. The dew and mist are part of the water cycle that ties this place to the Chesapeake Bay, and beyond to distant oceans. I think of this field, transforming the energy from our sun into carefully arranged structures of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other atoms. Some of these structures will stay here and cycle through life with the seasons; some will be harvested and transported and processed through a chain of organisms, plant to cow to human to bacteria, dispersing across a state or a continent.
It is a pretty field and a pretty moment. I try to capture it somehow, but I am a physicist, not an artist. The memory may come back to me during some other sunrise in some other place. It may help me to explain how I think a liberal arts education can enrich a person’s experience of the singular gifts of life.