Monday, April 25, 2011

Walden Weekends: Boulder and bolder

First, a few notes on last weekend. On Saturday, I went hiking again at Castle Rock, and went farther than I usually do… which, unfortunately, means I had to hike farther on my way back. I found the back-packing camp that’s out there, and kept going further still.
Sunday, I took Silas up to the rocks for which Castle Rock park is named. Let me tell you (or don’t, I don’t care. I’m mostly doing this for my own sake anyway), if I thought hiking with a three year old was difficult, I had obviously never taken one rock climbing. He was a bit scared at first to go up on top of some of the smaller rocks (roughly the size of a VW Bug stacked on top of another), but gradually I got him up on top of rocks that were more than 35 feet tall. Granted, most of the time I would climb to somewhere stable, grab him, and stick him higher up, then climb ahead and repeat the process. It was difficult, and tiring, but totally worth it. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere but I don’t really care to root it out at the moment. You may do so if you choose.

This weekend:

As I stood atop a small tree stump, at the outset of my hike, I was reminded of the Lorax, as he climbed out of a hole in a freshly chopped trufula stump. I thought how adorable it would be to dress my kid up as the Lorax for Halloween some day. This, by the way, is just about the only kind of planning for the future I ever do. Then I thought, “What if the kid doesn’t want to dress as the Lorax? Eh, who cares what the kid wants? I’ll be the parent, they’ll dress as what I tell them to dress as because I’m in charge, gosh darn it!”.
I thought about environmentalists, and all manner of extremists, who force their children to do things the child doesn’t understand, or teach them what to think instead of how to use logic and reasoning. It is, I believe, a desire common to all people throughout history (if not every person) to impose their own will. We seek to subjugate, to form the world around us into a shape that fits our use for it. We try to force others to view things the way we do, to believe as we believe. I’m speaking of the human race in general… You may feel free to say to me, “I don’t seek to impose my will on anyone or anything.”, but it would obviously be your will that I believe it, and arguing your point would prove it invalid. We put roads where there once were prairies, train tunnels where mountains had been living for a thousand years before. This is not a condemnation, but a statement: Humans attempt to rule. And, in fact, why shouldn’t we? God gave us dominion over all the animals. He told us that it would be our duty to work the land. We are the middle-management of Earth. In creating us, He placed us at the top of the hierarchy of the material world. It is not only our duty, but our divine right to hold power over the world. (I know this because the lady of the lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite told me so)

But what does that mean, power? Power can mean a lot of things, and have a lot of implications, depending on who you ask. What I mean by power is not control, but the ability to cause action, to inflict a result… but I believe it comes with the responsibility to do so with wisdom and prudence. Somewhat like Peter Parker’s uncle Ben said, power and responsibility are directly relational. If a person is placed in a position of power, like the President of the United States, they have a much greater responsibility to the people than someone who is elected treasurer of the homecoming committee. But that power doesn’t mean domination. He’s called the leader of the free world, not the ruler. His job is not to tell people what to do, or make them do what he wants them to, but to influence people’s thinking, and act based on their demands.

And so it is with the relationship between every person and the world around them. We, as humans, have the power to impact the world greatly, but the responsibility to do what is right, and to do it in the right way. It seems we have always had this idea that there is an eternal struggle between man and nature. It’s one of the great themes of fiction. One small person battling against the elements, straining for victory over the wild. We aim to conquer the wilderness, and bring it under our control. We’ve done a decent job of it too in most places. Huge expanses of paved roads stretching from coast to coast protect us from the perils and inconveniences of trying to make our way on foot; we have structures built to keep the sun, wind, rain, animals, and dirt out, and insulate ourselves from even the mildest displeasure this big scary planet of ours might be waiting to unleash on us… but, as anyone who’s ever tried to take a decent picture of a small lizard will tell you (I know, there are thousands of such people. Small lizard photography is very popular), nature doesn’t do what you want it to… it merely lets you do what you want until it’s tired of you. We can build walls to keep the ocean back, but nature doesn’t pay attention to “keep out” signs. We put in sidewalks, but weeds break through. We put up manicured hedgerows and a squirrel plants an oak tree in the middle of them. We plant a lawn, and a mole builds a subway. Our control is only an illusion. The world is wild, and can’t be held back forever. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life finds a way”.

This is God’s wild kingdom, we’re just looking after it.

This leads me to a question which, perhaps, one of you out there can answer for me. Who owns the state and national parks? Who says I’m not allowed to go off the trails, or stay there after sunset? Whose land is this? Because it seems to me that if these parks belong to “the government”, and this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people… the people have a right to use their communal property whenever they want. Right? Honestly, correct me if I’m wrong. I’d like to hear your take on this. The people in power have the responsibility to make sure we (the people) use it responsibly, but it doesn’t seem they have the right to tell us when we can be there, or where we can go. They’re not the President’s parks, Congress’s parks, the government’s parks, or the ranger’s parks. They are the National and State parks, and belong to the people of the nation and the state, to use and care for.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a theme running through human history… real change is not usually accomplished by force. Sure, there are a great number of times when force in the form of violence has been and is necessary, and used to accomplish a goal of ridding the world of one villain or another, but nobody ever says, “well, you are obviously stronger than I am, I now understand that what I was doing was wrong.”, they say, “You beat me, I’ll do what you want me to do.”. My point is that we have the power to cause change… to impact the future of this world and this planet, but we need to be smart about how we use that power. We cannot force people to change. In my experience, the more you force something, the more likely it is to break. To cause change we cannot use might, but our minds.

Now, if you’re thinking that I’m going to go join the Sierra Club, I’m a little offended. If I was going to join a conservation society, it would not be the Sierra Club, but the NRA. I don’t exactly ascribe to the “Take only memories, leave only footprints” philosophy. I don’t think that every rock, stick, and plant is a leaveitright (as they called it at the science camp I went to in elementary school. “You find a stick, rock, or plant, leaveitright where you found it”). If you’re out in the wild and find a flower you want to press, or put in a vase, go ahead. More will still grow. Just don’t pick all of them because I want to see them too. But I think everyone could benefit from a little more nature in their lives.
Still, anyone can enjoy the beauty of God’s green earth on a screen in their living room, but that’s not good enough for me. For me… this is my living room. This is my church, my library, my theater. This is life, and it’s being stamped out by progress. I wish every person would take advantage of it and fill themselves with it’s beauty… as long as they don’t try to do it at the same time, and in the same place that I am. It amazes me how hard it is to hear the voice of the almighty God over the voices of those created in His image. (there’s another lesson there which I’ll let you find for yourself)

It strikes me that life as a flower would be much easier. Every little flower, as it opens up and turns it’s face toward the sun every day, is fulfilling it’s God-given calling. It is doing exactly what it’s Creator asks of it, and every remote little one of them would keep on doing so for all of its days even if no human eye ever noticed… Nature relentlessly serves and glorifies God just by being what it is, and we should consider ourselves blessed to be part of that worship service. But how much easier it is for flowers, to not have to wonder if they’re doing what they’re supposed to… to not ask God what His greater plan for them is… They simply exist, and that’s enough. But, I suppose there is some consolation in knowing that responsibility and reward are directly relational like power and responsibility are. The greater your responsibility, the greater your reward will be if you live up to what is required of you. While a butterfly fulfills it’s calling by drinking from any flower it chooses, it also doesn’t gain much by doing so.

Perhaps our calling as God’s children isn’t so different from that of flowers. Turn your face toward the light, and Glorify God every day of your life.
I wish everyone prayed in this chapel of mine.

This is me trying to impose my will.

Post Script: I’m sorry for this being so disjointed. These were the thoughts going through my head while I hiked. I had a brilliant essay written in my head, but when I got to the camp ground and sat down to write it, I found I had neglected to pack a note pad… by the time I got to my computer, I had forgotten how it went.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Walden Weekends: Busier Than Usual and My Philosophy of Hiking.

The first weekend was hard, not using the internet, not checking facebook… I found myself having to make conscious efforts to stay disconnected. I kept wanting to know what the people I know were up to, if anyone had commented on my status, or left a comment on my wall. But, in an effort to be present, I resisted. I decided that every time I thought about going online, I would instead pray for guidance, or for a job in San Diego, and that distracted me well enough until the desire passed for the time. That was last weekend. This is week two.

Yesterday I drove Benjamin and Jaason to the airport, drove to south San Jose in search of a free barbecue smoker I’d seen an ad for on Craigslist on Friday (without an exact address). I found the place, but no barbecue. “Someone else got that this morning. We’ve sold a bunch of stuff for really good prices… and then somebody stole our money box.” “Wow, I’m sorry about that. That really sucks.” I said, secretly cursing them for putting “12 to 3” on their ad when they obviously intended on opening things up much earlier. So I went home, sad about not having a smoker that I would not have any space for when I move anyway, and continued working on my pipe. The pipe has turned out well so far… though it’s a little rough. You can see some places where the chisel gouged into it, so I might go back over it with a sander and smooth it out. It should look really nice if the warmth from the bowl, and the oils from my hand, give the wood a slight red tint like I believe they will. It was a lengthy process though. If I were selling it, and only charging for it what my normal hourly wage would be, the pipe would cost roughly $130… but it was a Saturday, so I’d be charging time and a half.

Today was hiking up at Castle Rock, and helping Joseph and Laurel get a new couch (which I learned after I got home was located between here and Castle Rock).

There are a few things about hiking (and, I suppose, the wilderness in general) which I’m less than happy about… but there is one thing, especially problematic in spring and summer, which is enough of a problem that it causes me to question whether I want to go out anymore. More than the possibility of sunburn, insect bites, poison oak rashes, pain, injury, animal attack, and getting lost (which are, at best, irritating and inconvenient, and at worst… deadly, in the case of animal attacks. Though… death is really only a mild inconvenience for the person it comes to), people are the one thing that makes me consider not hiking. During spring and summer, there are entirely too many other people hiking. I imagine this will only be the case until I fall and hurt myself, and need help… then there will not be a person for a hundred miles of course.

My philosophy (if we’re using the word in the typical sense, where “philosophy” is not the art of thinking, or the method by which we come to a conclusion, but rather the conclusion which that thinking has lead us to) on hiking is two-fold. First: Show some respect. Second: Eyes and ears open, mouth shut. I wonder what it is that causes a person to go hiking when they have so little respect for nature that they just drop their garbage wherever they lost use for it. Why, if you don’t care about any of the beautiful things around you, would you deign to be there?

I wonder what causes a person with so little reverence for this great open cathedral that they would spoil it with their complaintive and selfish conversations to choose this out of all the peaceful places to disturb.

On the way, I passed a couple of young women who had stopped to take a picture. As it is my custom when hiking to not say hello unless someone else has said it (because I know that, for many people, hiking is meditative, and I don’t want to break someone else’s concentration), they said hello and I replied as I passed by. I increased my pace to make sure I had enough space to stop occasionally without being overtaken, because I want to be able to look around and observe the beauty before me without interruption. But it seemed that every time I stopped they were behind me, complaining about colleagues, or classes, or God knows what... in reality, they were a hundred feet or more behind me, but that’s the nature of open places and shrill voices. I came to a fork in the road. One way said “ridge trail” the other “to camp grounds”. Guessing that the ridge trail would offer more scenic views, I bet my pursuers would take that, and I opted for the camp trail. I chose poorly. After about twenty more minutes of trying in vain to get out of ear shot, I decided that it was close enough to the time I would need to turn back, and stopped and waited for them to pass. I was tempted to stop them as they went by, to ask if they had noticed the hawks soaring a couple hundred feet above the tree tops and a hundred feet below us, or if they’d seen what an amazing living patchwork quilt the world is in places like this where groves of madrone and oak and pine and redwood wrap around and through one another… but they were far too busy talking about coworkers and Stanford to be bothered, so I let them go by in peace.

In the fall and winter these trails are much like the thick grove in the Degoba swamp (I know you nerds know what I’m talking about). Luke asks, “What’s in there?”, and Yoda replies, “Only what you bring with you.”. But now that it’s warming up, it’s hard to find ten seconds where you can’t hear another person, or see a discarded bag of sunflower seeds. What is drawing these people out here instead of to a public park, or coffee shop, or any number of places with trash cans and conversational atmosphere provided? Why, when I try to escape from the aggravations of what is allegedly the civilized world does all the worst of it insist on following me? I’m considering making a patch to put on my backpack (and would have stickers made if putting them on trail signs wasn’t considered defacing public property) that say “Eyes and ears open. Mouth shut.”… also, I’ll be looking for less populous trails.