Archive for December, 2018

Dec 26 2018

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End Year Ramble

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After lounging around the house all day yesterday, I awoke this morning with a tremendous urge to get out and make tracks. Didn’t have to talk my old dog Matika into it. She was right on my heels the moment I put on my boots.

Clearly I wasn’t the only one needing to walk off the holiday feast. The trail at Niquette Bay had plenty of boot prints in it. All the same, I had the place pretty much to myself late in the morning.

With so little snow on the ground, I didn’t bother bringing my Microspikes with me. That was a mistake. Icy patches caught me off guard a couple times and down I went. Other than that it felt good to ramble – to stretch my legs, keep a leisurely pace, and breathe in the frigid air. Hiking can be just as pleasant in December as it is in June.

The sun burned halfheartedly through the clouds. At midday it felt distant and the surrounding trees casted long shadows. There’s no doubt in my mind as to what time of year it is. Not that I’m complaining. As long as I can get out and walk every once in a while, I’m okay with it.

Back home now, I’m surprised by how quickly dusk has come around. Surprised once again, I should say. Still I wrap up the year’s business and make plans for the near future. Soon the calendar will turn and I’ll be back to my literary work with gusto. All the same, I’m daydreaming about a rigorous trek on the Cohos Trail – something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. This coming summer I’m going to make that happen. Every walk between now and then anticipates it.

 

 

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Dec 19 2018

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Winter Sunrise

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It’s that time of year again. Half of our hours awake take place in the darkness or twilight, and there’s all this talk about being merry. I just roll with it. A friend of mine told me that he thrives on the darkness, so we toasted to that the other day. But I must admit, I don’t quite relate.

I’ve already done a couple hours work in my study by the time the sun comes up. Over breakfast, the eastern sky reddens towards dawn. I visit my favorite weather website to verify what I already know: sunrise just shy of 7:30 and sunset around 4:15. The Winter Solstice is still two days away but we’re pretty much there. Already we’ve seen the earliest sunset, thanks to Earth’s elliptical orbit and other astronomical technicalities. Soon the days will start getting longer again. The latest sunrise takes place shortly after that.

Being neither pagan nor Judeo-Christian, the holidays always feel a little strange to me. That said, I’ve put up a fir tree in my living room and hung some lights outside. The darkest day of the year is about to pass, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Now comes what another friend of mine calls The Long White. We’re already well into it, but there’s a lot more winter ahead. The deep cold comes in January, and we get plenty of snow after that. A good time of year for doing literary work, that’s the upside. All the same, I go for a long walk every other day. It’s important to get outdoors no matter what.

 

 

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Dec 10 2018

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The Human Condition

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Several years ago, when I first started thinking about wildness and being human, I looked for a way to sync what I feel while tramping alone in a wild place with something that can be said about humankind in general. In my naiveté I thought I could do this without delving too deeply into the human condition. I was dead wrong about that.

We are inherently wild, I believe, because our prehistoric ancestors were wild and the only things that separates us from them are the trappings of civilization. But civilization doesn’t change who/what we are. It is merely a way of life different from how we lived for tens of thousands of years, namely hunting and gathering.

What exactly is civilization? It is the promise of a better world based upon collective action. Agriculture was the first great success in that regard. We work in concert with each other and we all prosper as a consequence. That’s the intention, anyhow. But somewhere along the line, things have gone wrong, terribly wrong.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that pre-civilized life was “poor, nasty, brutish and short.” That seems to me more like a commentary about how things are now than the way things were. Not for you and me, of course, because we are the Haves. But the Have Nots are acutely aware of civilization’s broken promise.

In all the world’s biggest cities, there are slums. In the newly industrialized countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, some of these slums run upwards to a million people. A few places even more. Orangi Town of Karachi, Pakistan is currently considered the biggest slum at 2.4 million, bumping out Dharavi in Mumbai, India. By some estimates, over a billion people live in these “informal settlements” without adequate means to support themselves, sufficient food, health care, sanitation, or clean drinking water. And the numbers are growing. Habitat for Humanity claims that by 2030 a quarter of humanity will be living in squalor.

When Mahatma Gandhi heard someone call him a friend of the poor, he felt humiliated. “My friendship for them should be a sorry affair,” he said, “if I could be satisfied with a large part of humanity reduced to beggary.” Yet that seems to be what most of us are willing to accept: the unintended consequences of our industrializing, globalizing civilization. Collectively speaking, are we really better off than we were fifteen thousand years ago? Wealthy people think so, but they’re in the minority. The rest of us are just glad we don’t live in the slums. Not yet, anyhow.

 

 

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