Monday, July 31, 2006

Blogging from A Mountain

You can blog just about anywhere, but blogging from a mountain is just....cooler. It's weird looking out the window and going "wow, a forest." Houses are spaced relatively far apart, the backyard drops off into the forest, into which you could climbe even farther up the mountain, and like I said, you look out the window and see trees hundreds of feet tall. Truly, this is how Thoreau should have done it. Okay, so he said "Simplify, simplify, simplify." And although I'm Buddhist, I'm not an ascetic--I just don't know how to do that. While I've spent a week in Yosemite sans electricity, shower, laptop (aaahhh), etc., I remember thinking bemusedly each night "Wow, when it gets dark stays dark." As in, no pre-bed reading (flashlights are poor light, don't bring a lantern inside a tent), no TV, no...light. So you go to bed at 9 pm, after the fire's burned down. go to sleep at that way too Godly hour. True, that was good for me to do. I liked camping and hiking and "returning to nature" (not that I was ever there before, but people say it as if that's where we modern citizens were incubated or something). But it's not really a Belle thing to do.

This is though. Housesitting a beautiful house on a mountain in the middle of a forest. I get to go hiking for a few hours a day (with a handy compass, since I'm going alone), but then I get to come back to a really comfortable house with electricity, DSL, cable TV, DVD players, and a hot shower. So I can hike, come back and do some work (I take working vacations), feed the dog, feed my news and blog addiction, and read a novel (I brought up Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and The Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot to choose from). It's going to be a good week. And truly, this is how Thoreau should have done it. While I like some transcendentalist philosophy, I've always been a bit bothered by how misanthropic it can be ("are they my poor?") and how morally superior it can be. I admire Thoreau for what he did, and I admire his commitment to his personal philosophy and how well he lived it. But it is not my philosophy. It's the same tension of being an Asian Buddhist. While I have learned about the Buddha's solitary path to enlightenment (leaving behind his family, his home, for years until he reached enlightenment under a tree), I have always wondered how to reconcile that to the very communal and family-centric values expressed in most Asian cultures. It's the tension between Confucian filial piety and Buddhist self-discovery. I like being part of human society. I like being of and in this world.

Moreover, it's the tension between living in modern society and the weird yuppie yearning for something primeval, Eden-esque, and "uncomplicated." There are plenty of granola-eating nature enthusiasts in law school. But we're also all really bourgie. While I love "going back to nature," I also can't wait at the end of the hike to "go back to civilization." It's like I'm Huck Finn's prissy and effete yuppie brother. I wonder if I can ever truly give up the World Wide Web, that though it keeps me in my pajamas at home (a truly atomized disease of modernity), it also connects me to the web of humanity. I do like disappearing for a while in nature. That's why I go hiking, and no, I don't bring along my Ipod the way I do when I walk through Liberal College Town. I like to experience the sound of the trees (rustling, crinkling) and various fauna. But I also like to read about the what's going in the world, so that I am not merely in it, but of it.

Being too much in the world exhausts you. That's why I'm here, and why I'm glad to not be waking to the sounds of cars honking, the firetruck (from the firestation just down the street) blaring, and the possibly crazy homeless people shouting. But being here, alone, with no one to talk to and no one to interact with (remember: Belle. Forest. Alone.) reminds me of what I like about living in a city, on top of a coffee shop and around the corner from a great bookstore. I feel alive in the city, and I feel like I'm truly a part of society. I feel rested and relaxed (not an easy feat, if you have met my hyperkinetic, Type A self) on the mountain, and I feel my humanity dwarfed by nature. I wish there was a way to feel both, and I wish the two impulses weren't in competition with each other. When Thoreau went to Walden Pond, I wonder if he got lonely. I wonder if he ever missed being of and in the world. Taking a vacation from the modern world is nice. It makes you appreciate it more when you go back.

In any case, the sound of the trees reminds me of yet another poem. Sorry, poetry haters, go read something else:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Oh, and this poem, also by Hopkins:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.