A few years ago I was in Van Dusen Botanical Gardens with my daughter. Despite the fact that it was a perfect Autumn day, bright and crisp, and I was immersed in a place of tranquility and beauty, my soul was troubled. I had just encountered what seemed at the time a calamitous upheaval in my life, and although I was sitting on a bench in the sunshine, my mind was drifting far away from me. I have a bad habit of doodling with a pencil in the margins of my textbooks, and I drew a strange picture of my brain as one of those antique bathyscaphe submarines, far below the surface of the sea but tethered by a thin air line to my physical body floating on the surface. I was so lost in my own thoughts and regrets about past and future that I was almost unaware of the information being provided by my senses. I didn’t notice the sunlight on my face, the cool, pungent smell of the trees, or the visual image of my daughter at the edge of the pond feeding clumps of grass to the enormous swan that had come swimming up to her.
A couple of hours later, my daughter wanted to find her way through the garden’s maze by herself, so I sat beneath a tree near the exit to wait for her. I was taking a Children’s Literature course, and had brought my textbook along. I casually flipped it open to a section discussing the role of the trickster figure, typically manifested as a raven or a coyote, in Native North American folktales. After a few pages, I found my mind too muddled to really concentrate, so I put the book away and took out a paperback mystery – P.D. James’s The Murder Room – that somebody had loaned me. One of the characters is interested in the history of the period between the First and Second World War, known as the Inter War Years. The character mentions a number of historical events that occurred in the year 1931, one of which was that a balloonist by the name of August Piccard became the first human being to reach the stratosphere. I’m not sure why, but something about that fact caught my attention. Just then I had a strange feeling that I was being watched. I looked up from my book and saw a coyote standing and watching me from the edge of a clump of trees about twenty five yards away. We stared at each other for maybe a minute before it nonchalantly turned and trotted down a path. Just then, my daughter emerged from the maze. On the way out of the gardens, I happened to run into an acquaintance who was heading into the gift shop. I told her about seeing the coyote, and she told me she had heard from one of the gardeners that a coyote had just killed a swan.
That night, suffering from insomnia, I got out of bed around midnight and sat down with a glass of milk in front of the television. I caught the tail end of a documentary about the psychologist Carl Jung. It discussed an event during Jung’s career when he had been listening to a patient describe a dream in which a scarab beetle had appeared. Jung, who believed that dreams are portals into the collective unconscious of the human race, was particularly intrigued by this patient’s story due to the sacred significance of the scarab beetle to the ancient Egyptians. Just then, though, the story was interrupted by a banging at the window, which proved to be a large scarab beetle hammering its wings against the glass. Jung’s office was in Zurich, Switzerland – a place where this insect is rarely seen, and incidentally the birthplace of August Piccard and of the woman who had told me of the killing of the swan.
After that, I was aimlessly flipping through the channels when I came across another documentary discussing the connection between left handedness and intelligence. The narrator talked about Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, etc. She also talked about the Swiss inventor August Piccard, the first man to reach the stratosphere. As it turns out, he was also the inventor, in 1953, of the bathyscaphe submarine – they very thing that I’d drawn a picture of in my textbook.
By now, you’re probably wondering what this is all about. What possible significance any of this has – the coyote, the balloonist, the psychologist, the drawing of the submarine. I wish I knew. Perhaps they were nothing more than random coincidences. Perhaps not even that remarkable, when you consider how many of these little synchronicities go unnoticed in the course of our busy days. I can’t help feeling, though, that oddities like those that I experienced that day somehow point to a mysterious order that lies behind our so-called real and rational world, a consciousness that directs the flow of the time and space. A consciousness, moreover, that has something of a quirky sense of humour. Oddly, I find that a comforting thought.