Tag Archive 'civilization'

Jan 23 2009

Profile Image of Walt

A Phony Woodsman

Filed under Blog Post

Yesterday was chock full of electronic frustrations.  I began the day in the rat maze that Bowker calls a web site, managing those ISBNs sacred to every book publisher, and finished with a phone call to my tech savvy stepson, Matt, regarding coming changes to my email account.  Plenty of other frustrations between those two: altered passwords, new online fees, and assorted glitches.  By mid-morning, I was ready to toss my computer in a snow bank and go live in a cabin in the woods, completely off grid.  By mid-afternoon, I was slogging through calf-deep snow in nearby woods, trying to sweat out my frustrations.  That helped a little.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that I’m a phony woodsman.  Most of my troubles stem from the fact that I have a foot in two entirely different worlds.  On one foot, I’m a writer and small-scale publisher, deeply engaged in high civilization.  On the other I’m a woods wanderer, tramping around roadless areas like a wild animal.  In other words, I keep a line of communication open to society therefore I’m a phony.  If I were a real woodsman, I’d step into the forest and never be heard from again.

I often catch myself fantasizing about disappearing.  My greatest reservation is that I’d lose my wife in the process, along with cherished ties to family and friends.  Then there’s the whole matter of where and how to live, along with the money necessary to set myself up, so the fantasy doesn’t last long.  Making a complete break with society isn’t easy.  Even mountain men had to trap beaver and sell pelts to traders in order to supply themselves with essentials.  Truth is, any retreat into the forest is only a half measure, unless one is utterly misanthropic and independently wealthy.

“No one lives in the woods,” the rather caustic French philosopher Alain once wrote, “Life in the woods is a fiction; the man of the woods is a fugitive.”  When I first read this, I wanted to sling his book across the room.  “Bullshit!” was my gut response.  Then I thought it through and tempered my judgment.  When I’m deep in a wilderness for days on end, I am very much a man of the woods.  In such circumstances, the wild defines me.  But I start missing my family and friends.  Eventually, time and food run out.  Then I return to the world of words, dollars and other abstractions.  Yeah, I’m a phony.  Alain called it.

Yet nothing Alain or any other cafe philosopher says can change what I feel in my heart.  My connection to the wild is profound.  I can’t imagine going too long without a good dose of it.  If ever the day comes when dropping off the grid isn’t possible, then woods wanderers like me will no longer exist.  Yeah, I may be a phony when I call myself a woodsman, but I still must have my regular infusion of the wild, if only for a day or two here and there.  This utterly electronic world can’t sustain me.

Comments Off on A Phony Woodsman

Nov 06 2008

Profile Image of Walt

A Seismic Shift

Filed under Blog Post

Like most people living in America these days, I am deeply concerned about the state of the economy and have been closely following the presidential election as a consequence.  A seismic shift in the political landscape occurred two days ago – there’s no doubt about that.  But it remains to be seen whether or not this shift signals a real change in the way we do things in this country.  Maybe it’s just another swing of the pendulum.

Partisan fighting has been the standard operating procedure in Washington for as long as I can remember.  I worry about terrorism, war, climate change, the mass extinction of plants and animals, a failing social net, and economic collapse, but what I fear most is the kind of left/right squabbling that has paralyzed our country for decades.  If we do not snap out of it soon, we are doomed as a civilization.  I sincerely hope that the current regime change will lead to a major shift in the way we do business.

The whole world is watching.  It begs for leadership worthy of the name.  It hopes that we can overcome our self-righteous, self-absorbed, bullying tendencies and get the global economy moving in the right direction again while addressing planetary matters that touch us all.  There will always be terrorists and tyrants among us, but they can’t get very far until all hell breaks loose.  It is up to us to minimize their impact by making both our country and the world a place where every man, woman and child has a chance, at least, to live a long, happy and healthy life.

I am just a woods wanderer.  I amble about the forests and fields while pondering the human condition, then sit down at this desk to verbalize my take on things.  I am not a voice from the wilderness, a religious or political leader, or an expert of any kind.  But this much I do know:  Either we go to the bargaining table with our foes and work up some kind of deal acceptable to all parties involved, or we fight them to the bitter end.  So what will it be then – conflict or cooperation?  I suspect that more can be accomplished by the latter than the former.  But not everyone shares this view.  Time will tell what those in our new government think.

One response so far

Oct 17 2008

Profile Image of Walt

Surrendering Wilderness

Filed under Blog Post

I read a musing on wilderness the other day that really got me going.  It was written by the award-winning essayist, Marilynne Robinson, who has a way with words but clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She started out addressing the idea of wilderness in the most general terms, then discussed various environmental woes, then argued that every environmental problem is fundamentally a human one.  Maybe so, but getting from there to her conclusion was quite the stretch.

“I think we must surrender the idea of wilderness,” she concluded, “Accept the fact that the consequences of human presence in the world are universal and ineluctable, and invest our care an hope in civilization…”  Hmm…  Did I miss something?  I went back and reread the first part of the essay to make sure her idea of wilderness and mine are roughly the same.  They aren’t.  She was thinking of the wide-open, relatively uninhabited landscape of the American West; I was thinking of wild country, as close to being pristine as it can be in this day and age.  There’s a big difference between the two.  You can site a nuclear waste dump in the former, but not in the latter.

Maybe I should cut Ms. Robinson some slack.  After all, the best essays aren’t rigorously argued discourses.  But that phrase, “surrender the idea of wilderness,” buzzes around my head like a pesky fly.  The last thing in the world I intend to surrender is the idea of wilderness.  I will surrender the idea of civilization first, though I don’t believe for a second that the two are mutually exclusive.

Again I’m thinking I should cut Ms. Robinson some slack.  Perhaps she doesn’t see the difference between wilderness and the idea of wilderness.  I don’t know how to show her the difference without dropping her in the middle of the Alaskan bush for a couple weeks with nothing more than a little food, gear, and her own wits to stave off oblivion.  The idea of wilderness is a gross misrepresentation of the wild, I’ll grant her that.  But to write off the wild altogether in favor of the civilized – I’m not buying it. There’s more to being civilized, I think, than living in a gilded cage.  Much more.

Ever since people have been able to throw up walls and declare themselves civilized (i.e. better than barbarians), there has been this prejudice against the wild.  I suspect that Ms. Robinson, along with many, many others living in this day and age, consider themselves intellectually and morally superior to our distant ancestors who scratched out a living towards the end of the last Ice Age.  If highly civilized people such as Ms. Robinson ever tried to chip a spearhead, attach it to a shaft, and get their lunch with it, they might see the fundamental error built into their preconceptions.

As for me, well, I spend a lot of time nurturing my philosophical abstractions but could just as easily be a fur-clad shaman fifteen thousand years ago trying to explain the world.  Reason is a handy tool but not the be-all and end-all of understanding.  I am human and wild, first and foremost.  I have sojourned in the wilderness on many occasions, however brief, and know the difference between what it is and any mere idea of it.  Civilization is optional.  The wild is not.

4 responses so far

« Newer Posts