Tag Archive 'meaning'

Jan 02 2022

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The Existential Stick

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There’s a limb stuck in the upper branches of a large tree in our back yard. It bugs Judy. She asked me if there’s any way to bring that stick down, but it’s too high up for me to reach with any tool I possess. I told her it will come down eventually, in its own time, but she doesn’t find that very consoling.

Strong winds blow, taking down limbs all over our yard. I gather them up periodically. The pile of dead wood grows until I burn the smaller pieces and have the larger ones hauled away. Entire trees have fallen in our woody neighborhood. We have one in our front yard that’s a good candidate to do so. I’d bet that tree falls sometime soon… while the limb hung up our backyard remains there.

Nowadays Judy and I jokingly refer to that limb as the existential stick because it reminds us how powerless we are in the face of natural reality. We know the stick will come down eventually, but we have no more control over that than we do over nature itself. What do we really know about nature? What do we really know about anything? Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? Hmm… that’s an awful lot to garner from a stick, isn’t it?

The existential stick bugs Judy more than it bugs me. It offends her photographer’s eye whenever she gazes out the window, and this little bit of chaos reminds her of nature’s unpredictability. I, on the other hand, only sigh heavily when I see that stick. I’m somewhat resigned to it. My entire life’s work is an attempt to make sense of nature – to render meaning where there may not be any. The joke might very well be on me.

It’s just a stick, some would say, ignore it. Others would hire someone to come with the proper equipment to remove that eyesore. Judy and I rather impatiently await the wind to bring it down. But even when it’s gone, nature will remain what it is and has always been, both inscrutable and beyond our control. Is that a bad thing?

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Jul 19 2021

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Deep Woods Solitude

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A few days ago I hiked five and a half miles into Five Ponds Wilderness, located in the western Adirondacks, and set up camp at Cat Mountain Pond. I got there early in the afternoon, hoping to be the first person there. I was. In fact, I was the only person there well into the next day.

After a quick swim to wash away sweat, I settled into a rather pensive frame of mind. This is normal for me. As a philosopher of wildness, I often contemplate existence and meaning while sojourned in the woods. The wild seems to me like the best place to do so. The wilder, the better.

With no one to talk to, all my elaborate philosophical arguments seem rather moot. The wild isn’t interested in my version of reality. It is reality. I can babble all sorts of logical theorems to myself, but that’s pointless. I can scribble down my thoughts in a journal, but my thoughts are dominated by the wild. That is, if I’m paying any attention to my surroundings, all I can do is take dictation.

Are my journals the gospel according to the wild? Hardly. There’s a big difference between experiencing the reality of the wild and being able to articulate it. After forty-odd years of scribbling I’ve come close perhaps, but deserve no cigar. There remains some aspect of the natural world that eludes me. There remains some aspect of it that is beyond words.

All interpretations of the Real are sadly lacking. The wild teaches me this time and time again. It teaches me this when the sun sets, a barred owl hoots and the hum of insects fills the forest. It teaches me this as a great wild silence settles over a still pond. All I can do is listen, and this listening borders upon being a mystical experience, for that’s all that we mere mortals can do.

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Aug 27 2017

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The Promise of Another Day

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Morning sun breaks through the trees – the promise of another day. Forget the madness of civilization on full display throughout the media, and focus instead upon here and now. A calm, clear, azure sky. And you are alive. Cherish it. Your days will not go on forever. So whatever your troubles, however distressing the human condition may seem, there is this day. And you are alive.

It’s hard to believe that Nature has no agenda, that all this living and dying all around us isn’t to some good purpose. The sun burns brightly, suggesting divinity. Or am I just imagining it? Each and every one of us walks the fine line between reality and illusion. Only the truly mad amongst us think that they are completely sane.

The sun, moon and stars move across the sky, marking time. Together they hint at something eternal – something that we call the universe. But that’s of no consequence to us really. Our days are numbered. From the first hominid to the last there are only so many days. So we should make good use of them. What then should we do? More to the point, what should I do today?

The promise of another day. Each and every day is fraught with possibility. Perhaps I will do today what I couldn’t do yesterday. Perhaps the passage of time is all that’s needed to beat the long odds and accomplish something truly remarkable. Perhaps today I will truly understand the world and my place in it. Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?

 

 

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Jan 30 2012

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World Weary

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Thanks to my tech savvy wife, I now get my morning news from an electronic device. Now I can read newspapers from any point on the globe, and keep up with the latest developments everywhere. Talk about information overload! I have to limit myself to half an hour of browsing otherwise I’d be at it all day. There’s really no end to the images and words that are available. With a good internet connection, the world is indeed a small place.

Yeah, now I can read about local, national and international events until I am truly sick at heart. Better than sticking my head in the sand and ignoring it all, I suppose. All the same, I can’t help but wonder what good all this information does me.

Am I better off keeping up with the massacres in Africa, the latest court rulings on crumbling nuclear power plants, or the circus that we call the presidential primaries? How much more do I need to know about the lurid sex lives of the rich and powerful, or the horrific crimes committed by supposedly decent folk? I’m partial to scientific surveys, but the one I read tomorrow will contradict the one I read today. Is eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine good for me or not? I know how they taste. That’s all I can say for sure.

I am world weary. 99% of the so-called information I encounter during the course of a day is tainted with propaganda, and quite frankly, I am tired of sorting through it. I call myself a philosopher because I have an insatiable hunger for meaning, but such a desire is meaningless in the Age of Misinformation. Media buzz trumps reality. And the wider the gap grows between the average person and wild nature, the more this becomes true.

A day in the woods provides temporary relief, but a week or two off the grid only makes it harder to come back.  In the summer of ’92, I went into the Alaskan bush hoping to resolve this matter. I haven’t been the same since. I have directly experienced What-is and know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that it vanishes the moment I step out of a wild forest. So now I turn on an electronic device, searching for more information, substituting that for wisdom. Then I get dressed and go to work on a keyboard, either at home or elsewhere, wondering why I feel so empty inside.

I should be happy. I have my health, a great marriage, my literary work, family and friends, and so much more.  But I am weary in a way that Kierkegaard, Nietzsche or any other existentialist would understand all too well. The gap between the wild and the civilized is wide indeed. And the world we live in doesn’t make much sense.

 

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