Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Western terrain had long stirred in me a fairly passionate impulse to witness. There were also abiding curiosities that had wanted satisfying. That meant going to look. In turn, that meant taking time which – or so my conscience kept hinting – should’ve been spent on less grandiose enterprises than trying to see what I was part of. On the other hand, a lifetime has always seemed too rare, too surreal an opportunity to throw away on success.
I’m here now [Colorado] perhaps because as a Midwestern boy I’d have loved it but couldn’t. Had no idea. By just hiking here I amaze him.
Heady pine-scent from trees leading the hardest of lives makes me wonder why so much of humanity’s smell is sorrow.
We admire wild places because their forests and mountains meet us as exactly what they meant to be; blessedly forlorn, among many strange ways in which the world keeps its promise.
Sharp as a blade, distant skyline meets the eye through miles of thin air. I listen. A soundlessness whose smallest effect is awe; hermetically pure, a speaking stillness. Like good composers, mountains never play the same silence twice.
Any “This, Here, Now” so entirely taken with being exactly itself can’t help arresting a lone skier, just as any mind that arrives there takes one look and stops mumbling. Stops cluttering itself with thoughts. Hasn’t a name, isn’t anyone. Becomes what it hears: mountain snowfall in which silence ripens.
Why should raw bigness summon the deepest, oldest feelings we life forms can have? Perhaps by the very size of indifference. Because mountains scorn the astonishments they give rise to, because they pretend to live entirely within the limits of the visible, because they despise our memories, we respect the hugeness of their refusal to confide. Which awes us.
Among fellow humans we’re merely superfluous at best; at worst, part of the competition. But winter mountains enlarge the needle’s eye of our tiny brains and their labyrinthine trivialities. Thanks to the rude unity of winter’s fourteen-thousand-foot peaks, we feel our insignificance expand like a strange prestige – which makes being alive a kind of magic, easy as being not quite real. Small wonder that wherever terrain permits, primitives go around filling their habits with mountain gods.
From juniper, as from many another life that water takes on in deserts, I learn the trick of surviving even technology: “Be a tree not worth cutting down.”
Meanwhile I tried very hard to learn every which way a Douglas fir might grow that a white fir couldn’t mimic. And vice versa. It was a process teaching me how much of what we call eyesight is wanting to see. Small wonder that, cytologically speaking, retinal tissue and brain tissue are cousins. Eyes seem to be the mind leaning forward.
… the truth: nature as one self-sufficient machine where anything that can die is called “life”, and ourselves the losses we agree to live out. It’s as if the atmosphere suddenly vanished. Without a vapor of illusion to absorb its lethal radiations, the sun pours down a ruthless clarity denying everything I’d like to be true.
Desert canyons at night are anything but voiceless. Yet peaceful, supremely. In such canyons your own presence can feel like the human race down to one person – which is to exist more actually than any other way I know.
… the more carefully I look at specific conifers, the less apt to their individualities become syllables like “spruce” or “pine” or “fir”.
Thus on a peak whose shattered granite is indeed blunt as ruin, I clamber around gazing off into all points of the compass, then lunch with no other company than the stones’ rude stares – their way of asking, “Why breathe? Why bother? Why come?” … Proud of their mindless immortalities – compared with anything married to oxygen – the massive slabs seem bored with human pretensions.
… that’s the High Southwest. Colored distances like nowhere else I know, unbroken by any made thing. And skies that change you to a person worth being there.
Our grand Western spaces are, instead, an empty plentitude. On the thoughtful person they confer depths beyond any thing humans can ever put there. The middle of nowhere is a power, a moving unity of spirit in us, one that habitation can only break up, never enhance.
It is an interesting approach to solving problems to go for a walk on the beach, perhaps with someone else to discuss the issues with. There is comforting background noise of the waves and perhaps wind, big expansive views so your eye lenses can relax a good bit, and the normal distractions of the office or study can be left behind. There is considerable soothing from walking on sand, whether barefoot or shod, and whether you stay dry or dip your toes in the edge of the waves. There is also a sense of expanded time in that there is no clock on the wall, and you can walk as far down the beach as you feel appropriate, before heading back. In fact, in reversing directions and heading back, you sort of indicate to yourself that you are through stating the problem, and are now ready to consider solutions on the way back, in hopes of having something of an action plan by the time you return. And you can walk as slowly as you like out and back.
But … this is NOT Wandering/Seeing. It is bringing your everyday troubles and issues along with you, and using the natural setting as a better locale for addressing them. Clearly a quite valuable approach to solving these problems, but not at all related to the intent of Wandering/Seeing.
Wandering/Seeing means to wander and to see. It means to fully engage your perceptive consciousness and to disengage your conscious judging and classifying. Issues and problems from your normal life, almost all of which are caused by judging, are to be shed along the way as quickly as possible. Until they are, your consciousness will be pre-occupied, and will not be free to wander wherever there is to go and to see what is there to be seen. In shedding your problems, you also shed a good measure of your self-concern and self-focus, which lead you to intensely and continuously judge, evaluate, and classify. These are largely habits you develop in dealing with the civilized world of work, family, and society – but are only habits, which can be set aside. To fully wander and to clearly see, these MUST be set aside.
A corporate retreat can have one of two emphases. In the first, business as usual is transferred from the office to the natural setting. The same relationships and issues are brought along to be addressed in a more comfortable and congenial setting. Team-building, issues clarification, and envisioning are typical objectives for such retreats.
In the second, all business is left behind and forbidden to intrude. Especially, all posturing, positioning, and other personal work-related habits are to be set aside. In their place, there is wandering and seeing. No scheduled and especially no competitive activities are “made available”. The participants instead have some minimal rules, such as meal times, and a few toys, such as hiking sticks, trail maps, and taxonomic guides. But they are encouraged to get out and about, just to look at things as they go by.
There are several concepts involved here.
· Getting back out into the real world is a matter of getting back to one’s roots, EVERYONE’s roots. From the earth we all sprang, and to the earth we will all return. No matter what facades we might erect in our civilized daily lives, these are the basic facts of life. Getting back to nature, in the REAL world where our food and water and energy and resources come from, is a profound reminder to us about from whence we came. Whether you believe we evolved on the plains of Africa or were created in the Garden of Eden, the natural world is our natural habitat. Compare the artificially landscaped urban habitats evident at the zoo and in neighborhoods – are there any significant differences?
· Getting back into the rhythm of the natural world, where, as diurnal animals, we wake at dawn and sleep at dusk, approximately, is to remind ourselves that there are other rhythms that can be adapted besides those typical of civilized culture. There are internal rhythms and clocks that can be re-set to function according to physiological rather than cultural or career needs. Many of us have forgotten about them, or chosen to ignore them. You get up whenever you wake up, eat whenever you feel hunger, relieve yourself whenever you feel the urge, nap whenever you feel sleepy and for as long as you stay asleep, huddle next to the fire or under wraps when you are cold, retire to shade and breeze whenever you are hot, wander and walk about whenever you feel energized and ready, stop and examine whatever strikes your fancy, and retire whenever you are ready to sleep for the night.
· There are as many sensory inputs available in the natural world as in the civilized world, but they do not scream and demand attention. In the civilized world, our consciousness ceaselessly struggles to filter out these inputs, to protect our attention from the hysterical media pressures (“I can’t hear myself think!”). In the natural world, our filtering can and must be set aside so that we can again see what there is to be seen, hear what there is to be heard, smell what there is to be smelled, touch what there is to be touched.
· In wandering and seeing, you wander according to what you find in front of you. There are no conceptual destinations laid out on maps for you to follow blindly, largely relegating the route to mere milestones and landmarks. What you find in front of you IS the destination.
· In wandering and seeing, you see what is in front of you, hear what is around, feel what comes in contact with your skin. There are no artificial realities provided by TV, iPods, and air conditioning.
· In wandering and seeing, you set aside instantaneous mental classification and learn to embrace childlike wonder again. Instead of declaring, “This IS such-and-such”, we pose, “What is this?” Instead of rapidly surveying the setting then acting and accomplishing, we let our eyes linger on what catches our attention, listen for a while to catch intermittent sounds and calls, stoop to pick up and examine, heft and caress with our finger tips, bring to our noses and inhale.
In short, the idea is to return to experiencing the world again, rather than defending ourselves against experiences and barricading ourselves behind artificial experience.
This is the ideal itinerant American life, I guess. Keep us moving, so that the only constants left in our lives is The System. Everywhere are McDonalds and Wal-Marts, so you can get a fair amount of your expectations addressed and mollified at any time – same uniforms, same behaviors, just different faces. But this isn’t the open road – it is just town life, every town just the same, another mile marker down the road.
The road is going somewhere – towards a big horizon. Deep forest is no help – going here is to essentially hide yourself away, which may suit some people well. No, it is the big open skies of the American Plains and West that beckons. From West Texas north and east to Minnesota, then west to Eastern Washington, down to Southern California, and back across Arizona and New Mexico. Big open spaces, some flat, some vertical, but just about everywhere, you can get out of your vehicle and look around you, and usually see for miles and miles in at least one direction.
All religions will pass, but this will remain: simply sitting in a chair and looking in the distance. - V.V. Rozanov
What is it about looking into the distance, at horizons, clouds, faraway mountains, from high across wide plains, out onto a featureless ocean? Is there some physiological comfort in letting the eye lenses relax into long-distance focus? Is it the transcendence of looking past your immediate surroundings off to some future location in time, represented by some distance point to be reached after simple, concentrated effort? Can we in this way escape the cares of ourselves, by looking beyond our small spheres of petty concerns? To lose focus on oneself is to forget oneself. To expand our focus to far distances is to take in all in between, and to expand ourselves out that far.
What is to be actually done out on the road? So many of us travel a distance each day to our jobs, but it is the same old route, the same old jostling for lanes and paths, the same old commanding intersections impeding our progress, the same old destination. Out on the road, the real new and, to us, unknown road, all is new. Some familiar landmarks perhaps, yet another Dairy Queen or Denny’s, but also new and unknown retail, different churches, different fronts but the same old liquor store adds for Budweiser and Bud Lite, odd shaped houses with unusual landscaping. Between towns, the same yellow and white stripes, concrete or asphalt or gravel, telephone and fence poles flashing by.
We don’t go anywhere. Going someplace is for squares. We just go. - Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones
This is a newly re-started blog for Wandering/Seeing: Nature, Travel, Spirit!
I will post new items here regularly, including commentary, book excerpts, some photos, and occasional links to other blogs and web sites.
Be sure to check back regularly to see what is new!
Cheers, Mike Childress