I feel uncommon, running in the woods.
Well, the word “running” applies less and less, these days. But I blame that on Time, as it seems like every month or so I lose one more spring out of the once bouncy mattress of my step. But I do what I can.
As I was saying. Uncommon.
I don’t follow paths. In moments, that bores me. It’s “the road less traveled” and all that, even though when you leave the path altogether, you’re no longer on ANY kind of road, and the path you tread, taken as a whole, has NEVER been traveled. The heart of true creativity has a lot to do with it. I find it easy to create, and find myself fearless in it, and I’m not someone who doesn’t see connections between similar aspects of the self.
Do I hunger to try new things in writing? Yes. In baking? Yes. And does that relate to a hunger to try new paths in life generally? I think so.
The other day, my father and I talked about the prospect of visiting national parks. He’s only ever been to Acadia, in Maine. I’ve never been to any at all, but after watching the below-pictured PBS documentary series…
…I have a craving to see more.
My father and talked about what people usually do at such places. See all the sights in the usual way. Take the tours. Join the crowds. Buy the souvenirs. Snap the photographs, while standing erect and smiling at the camera, to prove to others you were there.
And we both talked about how that’s not for us.
“Let me wander off somewhere wild,” I said.
Of course, you’re often alone when you don’t follow the path. You see what no one else sees because you go where no one else goes. And then you find yourself more isolated, even when you return, because less and less does your experience match up with the experience of others. You cut yourself off from the ordinary, to mix with the true dynamism of things, only to lose frames of reference with Humanity.
I shouldn’t say “only.” There are benefits. In particular I like seeing how Nature does just fine all on its own. It’ doesn’t need to be “redeemed,” as the US Census Service used to call the tumbling westward acres of land once the frontier swallowed them up.
A garden, you see, for all its grandeur, can instill a kind of god complex in a person. You partake, but you don’t feel insignificant.
This life exists because I planted it.
This life continues because I weed out the encroaching wilderness of weeds.
This life ends because I need flowers and flour.
One of the most clear things to me about Humanity’s relationship with Nature is that… we have to deflate and move aside our sense of tremendous centrality in it. All of our stories sing to us, over and over, from birth, that only Humanity matters. And stories build us. Of course, we can use logic to push back against the song that is everywhere, but how many people, when push comes to shove, operate on rationality? Rationality, for all but a tiny minority in this massive democracy, is an armchair warrior’s game.
Just look at what happened to people after 9/11.
Does seeing that image, again, remind you how many people (as a friend of mine once put it), “want to build a wall around Afghanistan and fill it with water”?
And, now that things have calmed down, how many people still feel that way?
We, we Americans, put Japanese citizens in a concentration camp, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And many wanted to do that to anyone that looked like a “towel head” in the wake of 9/11.
Why take the risk? They MIGHT be anxious to kill our loved ones….
They might even destroy our national parks.
The Grand Canyon.
And so, perhaps, preemptive strikes are the best thing….
Being able to… step out of the emotional tide at such times is, I think, partly contingent on having practice stepping out of the tide generally. How often do you yearn to not “go with the flow”? How often do you put yourself in a position to feel that, at the moment, you are not partaking of this grand communal civilization? How often do you step off the path in the woods and remember that, for 99.999% percent of the history of the Earth, life did just fine. And, in fact, we would not exist if that were not the case.
And then there’s the fact that this is, as John Muir put it while defending the lands of Yosemite in California, “the morning of creation.” Creation is not done. It is not completed, ready for us to take the reins at last and to reign at last.
What kind of sentient life might evolve from other life forms, were we not creating the 6th great global extinction in Earth’s history? What might Humanity become? How might it further be polished, in the forge of Evolution?
Are there pictures beyond this? Are there more to be drawn?
And is it even a progression from “worse” to “better”? Is it just “change” and “experimentation” in the forge of life?
Sometimes when I run in the woods, I feel uncommon.
I often crouch on top of a rock, watching the distant path when people run by, in that monotonous, jogging way that makes certain the exercise of no more than the minimum muscles. The exact same pace. The exact same course. No change. No dynamism. No creativity.
No partaking of what exists off the path, other than the occasional “what a nice view” glances at the background scenery.
No communion WITH the scenery.
I sometimes feel like that method of exercise is the perfect symbol for Humanity’s manner of interacting with the natural World. It is safe. It is comfortable. And it seems profoundly limiting.
Sometimes I wish I had others to run my exact route with me, the way I run, or rather the way I aggressively wander. Over rocks and under branches. Around bushes and through ravines. And beneath the canopy that dwarfs me. The green leaves the color of money, but as yet not transformed into it. The music of the wind in the trees where the birds, out of sight, add their un-monied notes.
Yes. Sometimes I wish I were not the only human being, seeing what I see in the way and order I do.
And, then, sometimes I do not.