Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Return To Nature

     Lest there be any doubts, lest anyone think me unwilling, I wish all of you headed to the mountains this winter forty centimeters of clean, fresh powder, fantastic downhill runs and everything else pertaining to the matter. May it be so.

     But when I see this movement of nations over the holidays and weekends, these processions of young men and women with skis on their shoulders, the jumbled and feverish flight to the white majesty of the mountains, at first I think that all these pilgrims are just headed out to experience telemark, Nordic skiing and whatever else these disciplines are called as they tumble out, pack together and enthuse rabidly like dogs. Not all of us is given that measure of grace which is necessary to do it everything there is. I am also certain that a burning need to give oneself to the white majesty of the mountains and venerate its divine cleanliness drives all of these devotees into the foggy distance; for if ever there were such a powerful mass movement towards beauty, majesty and cleanliness we would see more of it in our cities, or even in our customs and institutions. Grumpy and obstinate people would say that this wintry pull of the mountains is not the one thing or the other, but just fashion. As far as it concerns me, I think that it is something blinder than fashion. That it is something like an instinct. An atavism. It is a return to nature.

     Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.1 Drive nature out the door and it will come back in the window. Drive it from the city and chase it to the mountains. It had to come to this. Since the snow on our streets was blocking traffic we have to find circumstances in which snow can just be snow or even the snowiest snow of all. The more we advance the less we live in the forest primeval, and so we make pilgrimages to camp in the woods. We chase the sun and the water because we are no longer farmers or fishermen. We even rediscover the sun and the water in some way with an inexhaustible and unaccustomed excitement. By sitting for so long we have discovered our own legs and begun to use them in fantastic ways which we call sports. This discovery is an appreciation, first and foremost. We appreciated the snow and the water, the sun and the air and the movement, we rendered the world more beautiful and valuable. Subjugating natural forces is very advantageous; but so too is appreciating them. The child who goes sledding and makes snowmen and licks icicles has a greater connection with the cosmic phenomenon of winter than the office in charge of snow removal. I’m not saying that such an office isn’t useful or necessary, but I am happy that kids are going sledding.

     We still are not ready for all discoveries. Perhaps we will yet discover and appreciate the moon and the stars, maybe we’ll get a taste for the rain (building little streams or something) and discover something good in the rain, something like children and their kites—and plants and animals yet remain. Maybe then the time will come when we discover our own roads and cities as a piece of the universe and discover people to be an old and good part of nature, and begin to cultivate them with communal desire and passionate excitement. May it be so.



1 [Glossed anyway in the next sentence; a more literal translation is "You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but it will come running back." (Horace, Epistles 1.10.24)]

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