A Hole

A while back I went trailrunning with an old friend. We went off trail at one point and cut through the woods toward nowhere in particular, toward wherever we would end up. We came across a hole in the ground. Holes are inherently interesting – something missing, a ready-made mystery, and you can fill them up with whatever stories you want.

We hauled up a long branch and eased it down the hole ’til we hit bottom. We marked the spot at surface level and drew it up again, like we were checking the oil. We stretched out on the ground next to the branch to measure it out. Six feet plus five-and-a-half plus, oh, maybe three-and-half. We had ourselves a fifteen foot hole, maybe two feet wide, and no explanation. Didn’t need one.

We dropped a pine cone down and listened for it to hit bottom. It took a while. I thought about dropping in, just to scare myself a little. I think I could have gotten back out. Pretty sure. Probably. As long as the mossy sides weren’t too slick. I wondered what reception was like down there.

Seeing What Is There

This past Saturday, I woke up early and went hiking. The day started gloomy like the photo above, then misty, then drizzly, and the weather got worse and worse as the morning went on.

Toward mid-day, the rain was coming down pretty steady. I came around a bend on the trail, walking up to a lookout point. A man and woman were standing there with their ponchos on, looking out at the wall of rain and fog and the dark fuzzy outlines of the ridge beyond.

I started a little small talk. “Not much of a view today!”

The guy smiled and laughed and gently corrected me: “Well… it’s different.”

Green

I spent a few hours at my favorite nearby park today. Heavy rains had the creek running high in the banks. Chilly air still had some snap to it, a different damp, one that makes your cheeks flush but makes you more eager to set out rather than bundle up. Walk along the creek, look out into the forest, and see the flora feeling the same way – branches blushing green, let’s get started, stretching out from the greys and browns of the last few months. Buds to unlayer and blossom soon enough. Just you wait. A few weeks ago I spent a week volunteering in Saguaro National Park, which was mostly grey and brown. I learned all about the cactus, succulents, flowers, trees, and more than I thought there was to know about grasses. It rained a bit before my arrival there, and there too I got to the first greens of the season peeking out. It was a preview of a preview, a hint of spring before spring. I came back home craving the first greens and what comes after. And out today, I think I see the plants craving it, too. Following through on their own promise. Just you wait. We’ll make it through the grey and brown and step out again.

Mother Nature’s Sons

I loved this Robert Moor essay on environmentalism and masculinity.

Even as progressive men renounce the traditional notion of subordinated femininity, many still harbor conflicted notions about manhood. They want to feel individually reckless, but not socially irresponsible. They want to minimize carbon emissions, but not to scold, scrimp, or carry tote bags. They want to be pure of deed but wild at heart. So they dig ever deeper into the past, searching for a way of life that existed before “real” men and their ecological consciences parted ways.

His book On Trails was one of my faves of 2017.

Orion Magazine | Landspeak

A new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voice-mail.

Orion Magazine | Landspeak

At twilight nature becomes a wonderfully suggestive effect, and is not without loveliness, though perhaps its chief use is to illustrate quotations from the poets.

The Decay of Lying – Oscar Wilde

Dang, this is a great essay. If you only know it from the famous “Life imitates Art” bit out of context, you’re missing out on a world of goodness. There’s a million quotable parts. Here’s a few…

I first got sucked in with this (tongue-in-cheek?) bit on Nature.

If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture, and I prefer houses to the open air. In a house we all feel of the proper proportions. Everything is subordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure. Egotism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense of human dignity, is entirely the result of indoor life. Out of doors one becomes abstract and impersonal. One’s individuality absolutely leaves one.

I wonder about this one:

The more abstract, the more ideal an art is, the more it reveals to us the temper of its age. If we wish to understand a nation by means of its art, let us look at its architecture or its music.

On the change from old-school fiction vs. fiction in Wilde’s time, when novels were really taking off. Still true today?

The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction.

And finally to that “Life imitates Art” thing.

Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence. At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects.

Along the same lines…

A great artist invents a type, and Life tries to copy it, to reproduce it in a popular form, like an enterprising publisher.

We see lilypads and think of Monet, we see Western landscapes as perfect replicas of an Ansel Adams, we experience love through filters we borrowed from Romeo & Juliet or Casablanca. Reminds me of a bit I quoted from The Age of the Infovore, when Tyler Cowen acknowledges that many of his dreams, fantasies, experiences are borrowed:

I treasure those thoughts and feelings so much but in reality I pull a lot of them from a social context and I pull them from points that are socially salient. That means I pull them from celebrities, from ads, from popular culture, and most generally from ideas that are easy to communicate and disseminate to large numbers of people. We all dream in pop culture language to some degree.

The Decay of Lying – Oscar Wilde