Macbeth figures himself upon a 'bank and shoal of time', questioning his readiness to 'jump the life to come'.
I thought about the various meanings of this as I watched the dog nose its way along the edge of the tall grass, causing crickets to burst briefly into flight. Many of them have startlingly coloured wings that disappear as soon as they are stationary. Before they make the leap it's as if they're not there, and when they land again, somewhere else in the undergrowth, they might as well be anywhere, or nowhere at all.
'Bank' and 'shoal' are commonly understood to mean different forms of sandbar, though some scholars have also noted a potential double-meaning, one in which 'bank' can refer to a 'bench' and 'shoal' to a 'school', images soon to be echoed by the teaching of 'bloody instruction' a few lines on.
In terms of marine geology, I discovered that a shoal is a sandbar that has yet to rise above the water's surface, one that remains hidden and is therefore more dangerous to unsuspecting sailors.
I am walking the dog on a gravel track that circles an affluent, almost perfectly manicured housing complex. Many properties here have space for private basketball courts, jacuzzis, extensive rock gardens, and multi-vehicle garages. All the fences are low enough for you to see into everyone's front and backyards. I suspect there is some form of neighbourhood agreement prohibiting one from constructing walls that restict your neighbours' view, so uniformly low and transparent are the borders.
The gravel track neatly circumscribes this residential block. On the side of the path that the dog continually pulls towards, attempts at rewilding have taken place. Reeds and rushes and wildflowers climb from the irrigation canals, attracting butterflies and invisible snakes that the locals warn you of with a hint of pride. This thin border of uncut vegetation can give the impression that the outer edge of this suburb is a frontier, beyond which lies only feral grassland and untamed prairie stretching all the way to the foothills of the Rockies. In fact, these blossoming ditches merely give way to other suburban enclaves, as manicured and as sharply defined as this one.
Instead of small patches of housing development rising from the otherwise natural plains, small veins of partially untamed undergrowth thread their way through an overwhelmingly tarmaced and turfed-over jungle. The effect is impressive. You feel ringed in by nature, charmed by the occasional hummingbird and the promise of venomous snakes, surrounded by green even though nothing here has been left untouched. We have fenced and handled everything.
I am enjoying it all, even as I criticise it, because Macbeth has me thinking about the submerged, perilous, and vital present. He has me thinking about where I'm standing now, elevated and buried at the same time by everything that's gone before and all that's left to occur. I'm not convinced he's talking simply about the after-life when he talks about jumping 'the life to come'. This isn't just about giving up his eternal soul for the sake of earthly bliss and power. The life to come is also the murky, choppy water beyond the bank, the stuff we're forever surrounded by, with shapes swimming in it that you can't yet see or feel. It's the wild border that has always been wild, not planned or planted.
I keep watching as the crickets leap, each one sudden and panicked, instinct triggered then suspended, surely not knowing where they're going to land.