[An excerpt from my journal on 08/31/2015, Badlands NP, SD. Before our wonderful experiences on The Good Earth Farm.]
The tension between equanimity and perturbation can be oddly challenging for me at times. As I’ve traveled on this journey I can’t help but note the increasing gulf between “normal” for me and “normal” for other people. That sensation of “stranger in a strange land” is growing day by day and it’s not due to living in environments I’ve never been in before. Little things underscore this sense of a widening gap in various approaches to modern existence…
Quietude is one that was prominent today. Wherever we go, people seem to yammer. Perhaps it’s because Dani and I spend so much time together, but we more often silent in each others’ company than not. When we have something to say or discuss, we say it. Quipping an silliness still occur freely. But when it comes to eating meals, or taking in a landscape, listening to music or whiling away the miles in the car, we are very often quiet. Yet when we eat in a restaurant, it seems that any other couple around us is wrapped up in inane chatter. Today we were exploring the Badlands in South Dakota. We came to a remarkable collection of short trails near the Cedar Pass area; it was breathtaking. Yet except for one couple, all the others we saw prattled on endlessly (and loudly) about nothing of import, all the while failing to even notice the true magnificence and grandeur enveloping us. Today we got the closest to a big horn ram that I’ve ever been; enchanting. One couple walking by, unsure of what the beast was, felt the need to express their uncertainty in exceedingly loud voices while others kept trying to get its attention by making all kinds of odd noises so it would turn its head for a more photogenic angle. If you don’t know what an animal is, why vocalize that? Simply wonder. Look. Remember. Then research it later. Or approach another person and quietly ask if they know what it is. Why try to manipulate an animal to give you the picture you want and fill the air with unnatural sound? Why not simply appreciate its beauty and autonomy; take pictures, certainly. But let it be and simply wait and see what it does. We walked on a very short but shockingly beautiful trail called the Door trail. Most couples seemed to be inclined to walk among the alien environment and talk endlessly about what was going on with the Joneses – again at a volume far louder than necessary – and occasionally punctuate the conversation with a “hey look at that!” type of comment.
Why do people fear silence and sincere appreciation for the moment? It’s as if they feel that unless they audibly acknowledge their existence continuously, then they will, in fact, cease to exist.
Words are a very poor substitute for existence. I’m a writer and I can see the cheap facade that language constructs in lieu of actual life. It’s a necessary tool at times. It’s often a terribly enjoyable enterprise as well. But it is not anywhere near approaching “real life” any more than scribbling the word “pizza” on a piece of paper and eating that would yield the satisfaction of savoring a slice of your favorite pie. But to then throw immaterial babble on top of such an experience is tantamount to travesty. To quote Mia Wallace in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction “…you know you’ve found somebody really special when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence.”
Tonight I witnessed the most glorious sunset I have ever seen. Moment to moment the entire sky shifted in prismatic colors; from the striking golds and deep oranges, to neon and ruby reds in the waning light. The sun’s disc slowly settled behind the most jagged of the Badlands’ peaks in the western sky. Crepuscular rays emanated from behind the titanic clouds on the horizon. I had to pause dinner and even uproot Dani while she was still eating to move our chairs into a position where we could watch the whole event unfold. I was spellbound. Yet I couldn’t help but notice, apart from four people nearby who paused briefly to take pictures, no one else paid any attention. Granted the majority were trying to set up their camps in the failing light. But for those who were settled and just sitting around, I saw only one who even turned their head to look. Again – this was the most glorious sunset of my life. I watched it from start to finish while completely entranced. As the oblivious hustle and bustle in camp continued during the celestial dance of light, I again was struck by a profound sense of disconnect from my fellow citizens.
I don’t want be disparaging; but that’s how I feel. I want to cry out: “What’s wrong with you people?!” But the staggering numbers in the “other camp” make me wonder, is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I be content the way they are? Yet I truly believe I am, in fact, far more content than the teeming masses; yet what contents me is anathema to the common modes of modern existence. I can hardly believe that I have never read Walden until this summer. But at least in its pages, if I do not find a contemporary kindred spirit, I at least know my malady has struck greater men than me:
“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise until noon, rapt in revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some travellers’ wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.”
As I have just passed my thirty-ninth birthday. I can’t help but pondering over how Thoreau died at forty four. But before that happened he wrote these words:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And to see if I could learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
He died young, but he had lived, and lived to the best of his ability. It takes a lot of courage to do that. So in that spirit I am trying to find my way as well. And for all my faults and missteps, I’m doing the best I can.
And the moonrise tonight was a regal procession I don’t believe anyone else in the campground was lucky enough to witness.