I love the beginning of this song. I don’t remember much from my month or two in Houston. The memories are encoded with emotional locks on them and I cannot simply call one up on a whim. It comes from an emotion, and during that time when I first moved toHouston there were a lot of emotions. Emotions, changes in faith, burying of beliefs, sacrifices of soul. “We’re beaten and blown by the wind, trampled to dust”. Such a tumultuous time for many. I think of it now only because the CD that was in my player was “The Joshua Tree” and the first song began to play. One night in Houston, while everyone was asleep, I alone sat at the table and wrote letters to friends. I do this often, though I never mail them. I’ll put their name on the header and write out to them, but they are there in spirit only. One night I played this song, the first couple seconds only, over and over and over and over…. feeling a sort of rapture in the chords. It was like church music. Church is, in short, hope. Hope.
What is it that makes man the eternal optimist? Even the most dour of personalities is stil an optimist is he not? To totally lose hope is to die. There are those who talk about performing suicide, such acts are calls for attention, intervention, help of some sort, vindication of one’s nobility of suffering, and more. But they are all hopeful. Who has gone off alone into the dark woods to die quietly without audience? This is a loss of hope, a willingness to simply die and be done with it. It isn’t a pleasant place to be. The depths are so far below the day to day world, the view is like looking up from the bottom of the pool. Images and sounds are distorted. And if you go down low enough you can start to discern the ghostly image of the bottom. It is a horrendous sight because you know you’ve got no further to go, nothing more to bemoan, it is nearly over.
Don’t touch bottom… look up. All around you is the impenetrable shadows of the depths around you. You can go forever sideways and never reach anything. The dark ocean is larger than one life. It isn’t the monsters of the deep that kill, it is exposure to the cold and the lack of warmth that painfully draws the life out of the body. Don’t look down, don’t look at the bottom. Look up. Nothing above is bright, it is all dark around you, but it is not the pitch black of below. It is a little less dark, move up into it. It is a matter of degrees, just keep looking up. Eventually you might be able to discern a bit of greyness. Then, maybe a bit of blue in the water and then on one glorious day shafts of light pierce the water.
I used to snorkel a lot while I lived in Hawaii and also during my trips to Japan. I used to snorkel all the time and became a good swimmer. My favorite activity was to speed swim with my fins as fast as I could go. Arms along the sides, head straight, and legs pumping in a rhythym of speed. I had some powerful fins with a cup design on them. The dealer said that they had such power in them that if you weren’t used to them you would get leg cramps. While going at a high speed I’d roll upside down to where I was facing the under-surface of the water. The brightness of it was beautiful under that blue Pacific sky. Glassy and beautiful I’d poke a hand through it and watch the V shaped break from my hand as I cleaved the surface, speeding along.
My roommate and friend in the Marines was a diver and he tried talking me into getting my cert. It just didn’t interest me. I watched the divers. They lugged their heavy gear around and once underwater they moved like great sea turtles. Not me. I wanted to move like the dolphin, darting from spot to spot, up and down, frolicking in the water. I could easily go from top to bottom in 40′ water, and I wasn’t too bound by the shoreline, several times swimming out past the reef, past the break waves, out into the arms of the ocean. Let them dive into the darkness if they wanted to. I wanted to play in the blue.
It has been years since I’ve gone past the break in the ocean. I took several road trips to Galveston while I lived in Houston. But these were trips to listen to the waves break upon the sand, to look out onto the horizon, to watch the seagulls follow the fishing boats. But the gulf doesn’t have the power that the Pacific does. That power was well shown by program on public television tonight. “Condition Black” was about the 50′ waves the hit North Shore, Oahu January 28, 1998. I can appreciate what the surfers do. The dance with the universe that they do out on the waves. I never learned to surf while living in Oahu. It never appealed to me at the time and I never tried. There great sense of humility and awe that is gained by the surfers while they are riding the big waves. While hiking out in the wilderness I like to go where there are no cars, no people. I like to leave the trail as much as possible. Moving down ridges, crossing high places by using a fallen log, moving seemingly at random through the mazework of ridges in an area. It is my belief that if a person gets lost out in the wilds then he/she had no business out there in the first place. But getting lost is not the danger. The places that I go are areas where one could yell, even set off flares in the sky and nobody would ever see them. Some of the places I’ve crawled over are places that if you lost your grip you’d tumble quite a ways. If you lived you would definitely have a broken leg or two. And how would you get out? It is when I get out to a spot that took a lot of energy, a lot of careful moving about, that I finally feel it. I know that here is the edge of my humanity. Out here I am nothing more than an animal and should I fall and die then the crows would feast on my remains. Out here one can really and truly listen to the wind in the trees, the water in the brook, the heart in the chest. This watershed is the beginnings for more than the river flowing by the city. It is also the beginnings of who we are as a species. “I’ll show you a place high on a desert plain, where the streets have no name”.
Before turning off the t.v. I passed by Malcolm in the Middle. He was dealing with an existential crisis about the meaning of life, that there was no meaning in anything, that life mattered nothing, and he had no answer for it. That is until he landed in the tiger pit. Suddenly faced with the possibility of a quick and painful end to that which had no meaning he wanted more life. Going out into the wilderness, with no weapons, maps, compass, first aid, radio, blankets, food, or shelter and going out beyond the beaten path is my own way of landing in the tiger’s pit to stare at the tiger.
Out in this wildness there is hope. Thoreau said “In Wildness is the hope of civilization” and the english types have debated this question over and over. Check out the introduction by Sessions in “Deep Ecology for the 21st Century”. What did Thoreau mean by this statement. What could wildness have to offer us? To answer this I would say that each person to leave his cubicle for a day, leave his cell phone behind, and go out there. Park his car and go out until he cannot go further. It isn’t a physical place, it is a psychological one for the point that I walk to may be shorter or farther than the point that another walks to. Find a seat and sit still and listen to the nature around you. Listen to that beautiful music…. it is like church… it is in short, hope.