Archive for December 1st, 2019

Nature Is The Ultimate Teacher

December 1, 2019

WILDERNESS IS NOT JUST NICE, IT’S REAL. A TEACHER. GET LOST TO FIND HOME.

Nothing beats being lost in the wilderness as a formative experience. John Muir did this a lot. He loved a good storm shaking the tree where he elected to reside at night, just to experience the power of nature. Who needs the god of books, when the goddess of reality shakes your tree? (Muir, and several of his friends and followers, including the hyper plutocrat rail magnate Harriman, father of the Democratic Party controlling Harriman brothers, proceeded to save enormous swathes of US wilderness, from Alaska to Florida…)

I have practiced that exquisite, most captivating activity myself, getting lost in the wilderness, on 5 continents, since early childhood. In my search for truth and wisdom, I was attracted by that teacher, reality in full. As found in nature, from nature, by nature. It’s not just a question of allure, or thrill, or adrenaline, or of the hyper concentration it requires to not sprain an ankle, not crash into a tree, not catch a root, not go fly head first, not falling into a hole…

It’s not a question just of keeping a sense of orientation. It’s not just a question of listening to the sounds of possible predators, or looking scary enough to keep them at bay, even if one doesn’t see them, and have only a vague idea of where they potentially lurk. It’s not just a question of continually analyzing the ominous silence indicative of predators, bears, lions, hungry canids, and the discrete high pitch sound signaling wasps or African bees… while keeping an eye for snakes, spiders, thorns and pointed branches.

I used to worry about panthers in Africa (one visited me at night when I was ten years old, sleeping in a national park in a tent, leaving a definitive impression)… Now I worry about mountain lions (once I saw tow at dusk in half an hour, and I was running…) Leopards may have evolved to attack not just primates, but specifically, humans.

Baboons have canines to help lions think. We have stones, to help all beasts think, and learn how to measure distance. As a human child, I fought stone battles with full grown baboons. So much about pacifist beasts. Because we are superior tree climbers (more than even baboons), the human shoulder can throw stones more powerfully and further than baboons.

Getting lost in the wilderness and surviving it is not just a question of exerting judgment to choose in a timely manner whether to turn left or right, go up or down, or which direction to bushwhack. It’s not just a question of finding strength when has not had water, food, or rest for hours, or ignoring pain in one’s feet, and general exhaustion, or of seeing in the dark, or surviving hail, or of continually moving enough to fight the otherwise paralysing, deadly cold, not just a question of judging the depth and nature of the snow, or of the swift water, or of navigating by the stars.

Bears know stones, and they fear and hate them (because they have been injured by them). So, when bears and other beasts meet a stone master, a human, they are instilled with respect, especially if they are reminded of reality with a little stone play. The stone master can make a demonstration, for this wild audience, and, if that’s not enough, can actually connect with the recalcitrant ursid… (Something I have done, because I had to do it; law enforcement killed that particular bear, three weeks later… After he injured gravely a grandmother…)

Getting lost in the wilderness is all this, and more, all of it in one day, especially when crossing mountain ranges. This is when we get lost in the universe, in which our astounding brains can be all they are, and love to become wiser for it by visiting what is inaccessible otherwise: nature itself, raw, greatest trip of all, astounding in power, awesome beyond anything human…

Nature, embracing the wilds, reveal how humanity shines the most, finding its real home, which is not just its comfort range, but the entire universe we need to make us whole.

We need to get lost, to find where home is.

Patrice Ayme

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P/S: The preceding essay was inspired by Lost and Found in Hemingway’s Spain
Of fear and thankfulness. The white elephants of eternity are always out there.” by Roger Cohen, NYT, Nov 30, 2019 (he published my comment). Roger got lost in a national park in central Spain, and was helicoptered out… (I myself was the object of 3 mountain rescues I neither asked for, not needed… But I have been in dire straights, many times… As I generally engage best when the epic factor is significant and  potentially dramatic… Nietzsche used to do solo climbing on a glaciated mountain, with crampons, a mountain I have skied on, of course… Nietzsche had guessed much of what was above, and that’s easy to do, as, if one tries to get lost in the wilderness, the subsequent enlightenment and drugging aspect is so strong, one will be back… if one can…)

Here is from Cohen’s essay, as it’s pretty typical of the lost-by-accident syndrome:

“Earlier this year, I got lost while hiking in the Sierra de Guadarrama, which rises to almost 8,000 feet in central Spain. It had been a grueling day under the September sun. The trail, scattered with boulders, was longer and steeper than expected. What had been described as a gentle glide along a ridge after a tough initial ascent proved unrelenting.

About seven hours in, I fell behind my two friends. I was following stone mounds, or cairns, not the clearest indicators in this case. False guides, they pulled me deeper into the mountains.

This was not a sudden realization but a growing unease that culminated in an admission: lost. Lost as in every human being has vanished. Lost as in I have to slow my heartbeat. Lost as in there are perhaps two more hours of daylight, my lips are dry and I’m out of water. Lost and small in a sierra suddenly vast and threatening.

The stupidest decisions can seem natural enough. For the three of us to separate, for our remaining water to be with my friends, even to undertake this trail without adequate information, was lunacy. Yet it seemed like harmless lunacy — until the mountains rebuked me with their immensity.

I had no water but did have a faint bar of reception on my dying cellphone. All I managed to communicate to my friend was two words — “I’m lost” — before we lost each other again.”

Saved by technology unthinkable three decades ago…

“I looked around. I’d been descending, several hundred feet. I needed to climb again, get around the rocky outcrop above me, to be more visible. In the direction I’d been heading lay only wild terrain and jagged peaks.

Adrenalin is the most exhausting form of energy. Fear is a survival instinct as long as panic does not supplant it. I climbed without feeling the effort, leaping from boulder to boulder, but growing more parched. Far below me the switchbacks of a forest track appeared. No visible way to reach it.

Don’t fall or twist an ankle. Don’t trust that rock with your weight, misjudge the depth of the juniper thicket, or turn in circles. How and at what point does extreme thirst affect the mind? Don’t panic. Think.

This is the paradox of Getting Lost In the Wilderness: contrarily to repute from stuffed academics and drugged out pseudo-philosophers, the wilderness is a place to learn to THINK and CONTROL emotions (because one doesn’t want to move in haphazard directions… That could mean death, and right away…)  One should even say that the wilderness is THE place to learn to think and emote correctly, because, not only it contains the universe in full, but it’s the ultimate disciplinarian… And Roger to have a bird experience. The bird experience is indicative of the ripe state of an epic. It happened to me even in California with two condors, at the night was coming (the only time I ever saw California condors).

“Then I saw the birds, two of them. They were looking at me. Hulking and black, they were perched side by side on a rock like bloated chess pieces. No, they were not looking at me, they were eyeing me.”

Europe has Black Vultures. The Black Vulture, not just a vulture, is the largest bird of prey. It will attack wounded hiker. A French woman with an injured leg in the Pyrenees was left by her companion who went for rescue (there are no phone coverage in most mountain range yet, this side of Elon Musk…). When the rescuers came back, Black Vultures, who had killed her, were disposing of her remains. They will attack cows. Europe has also the magnificent Gypaete, the only bird known to have killed a (Greek) philosopher. Last year I was doing a high altitude rock climb, off season, the snow was everywhere, the sun was getting low, and these four Gypaeti came to study us very carefully, to see if we were going to make it. They used the updraft of the formidable, slightly overhanging limestone peak to make alluring acrobatics, eyeing us with yellow eyes… When they decided we were too vigorous, they left…

But dogs can be the worst: like leopards, they can be hard to impress: A pregnant woman was killed by dogs in a forest in France as a hunt took place nearby, investigators have said.

“The body of the 29-year-old woman, who was walking her own dogs at the time of the attack, was found in the forest of Retz outside the northeastern village of Saint-Pierre Aigle on Saturday.
An autopsy revealed that the woman had died of “bleeding from several dog bites to the upper and lower limbs as well as to the head,” prosecutor Frederic Trinh said in a statement Wednesday.”
https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/20/europe/woman-killed-dogs-hunt-france-intl-scli/index.html
Once French geologists in Iran (a place where I confronted an angry bear), were attacked by five wild dogs, intent to eat them. So persistent were the ferocious animals, they had to kill every single dog with their geological hammers (the story, which is old, will not be on the Internet, I knew them…)
Nature is not nice. It’s real. A teacher.