Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Step Away from the Fridge

I've never shot my refrigerator with a .357 magnum. Or any other caliber revolver for that matter. But I think we've all reached the level of frustration in life that Henry Lightcap/Edward Abbey outlines to begin "The Fool's Progress," (I love that the NY Times review is titled, "Beer, Guns, and Neitzsche") his autobiographical novel. The hope is that we don't get to the refrigerator-shooting point in our lives, or, that having been there, we know how to avoid finding ourselves there again.

We've got a habit we try to keep of around the dinner table, before we eat, saying some of the things we are thankful for in our lives. Not just at Thanksgiving, but any night we sit around the dining table (which isn't every night). For me it can be that I'm thankful for a great day; I'm thankful for a roof over my head and food on the table; I'm thankful for the girls' being healthy and making honor roll; I'm thankful to have a job where I look forward to going to work every day; I'm thankful to be outside in cool, fall weather that reminds me I am alive.

I'm thankful for books, movies, art, that transports my mind and opens my soul to the Universe. I'm thankful to be reading at present a couple heroes of mine in John Muir and Edward Abbey. Heroes not just in what they thought or wrote, but of living their lives outdoors, on their own terms, even if/when those terms weren't shared by others.

I recently watched "Into the Wild," the film version of the John Krakauer's telling of the life and story of Chris McCandless. It's freeing to see Alexander Supertramp slough off the conventions of modern life and live his life his way. But I got to the end and felt, no, where McCandless went wrong, someone like Muir had a handle on it. I'm an introvert, but not a hermit or a recluse. Life, love, adventures are meant to be shared. And Muir found something, being out in Nature, that he felt so passionate about that he had to communicate it to others. Muir wandered the country on his own terms more than McCandless, but still found ways to connect and make sense of it all without having to die alone in his 20s. This is not a knock on McCandless, per se, it's just seeing other paths to live life on my own terms, with deep meaning and connections to Nature, people, place, community.

"Into the Wild," sent me back to my bookshelves for Muir and Abbey; for Gary Snyder, and also for David Abram. And this is where the me that was going to be a philosophy professor loops back onto the scene. Abram's book, "The Spell of the Sensuous" has been calling me for a challenge for some time. Over the course of trail and ultra running, I came across Abram and the concept of ecophenomenology. Phenomenology (what I was going to get my PhD studying) sets itself the task of looking at how we find and make meaning in the world. If you add "eco" to that, you get the idea. It's a way of combining the natural world and our experience of it, and the value of being out in it, with philosophy. From Abram

As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land's wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.

There is a reason that Muir, Abbey, McCandless got the fu** out of Dodge and went their own way. Abram wrestles philosophically with that need and our need to be in contact with, connected to, the natural world around us.

Studying our surroundings. For me, that yokes together trail running, bird watching, paddleboarding, the various ways I dig exploring outside. It's a framework for examining life and the world around me.

It makes "outside" part of my reading list. It creates a space where reading sends me outside, and my experience outside informs my reading and writing. In the words of George Peppard's Hannibal on the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together." Creating existential reasons to avoid shooting the refrigerator.

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