Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wish I Was There

Having one of those dreary "I wish I was anywhere but here" days. it's cold and rainy, blustery and damp, here in southern Wisconsin today. We need the rain, and the claps of thunder and flashes of lightning at dawn were welcome for their drama. I've been having bouts of serious cabin fever, having lost most of this summer just past to illness, then spending the last few weeks recovering, trying not to overexert myself into relapse. Which meant spending a lot more time sitting around not doing much. The coyote is starting to gnaw on his leg, trying to get free of the bear-trap. The eagle (or is it a reborn dragon?) wants to try his still-damp wings. I need a roadtrip, soon, to clear my mind. Anywhere will do.

So I am drawn back to the Pacific Ocean shore, to the mountains, to the icons of place that speak to my spirit and mind, as clearings of stillness, of places where I am as real as the earth, where there is no doubt of the beauty of life.

This photo is one of my personal favorites, taken at oceanside on a stormy late winter day, at high tide, at a location sacred to me. I was standing in the high winds on the cliff overlooking Pescadero State Beach in central California. Something about high sea winds clears the mind, as it simultaneously clears out the mouth and lungs.

Pescadero State Beach, CA
(Click on image for larger view)

Note the seagulls on the rocks in the foreground, sheltering from the wind. The coastal hills march north towards San Gregorio, and in the far distance, towards Half Moon Bay. The clouds whipped into froth. The heavy surf. The beach itself, the sandy strand, lost in the wild storm's aftermath.

winter storm in the Grand Canyon, AZ

Cabin fever makes me crave being out in the wild places. Where even the weather is a challenge, but the mountain air is so clean and clear that its very chill is crisp and refreshing. I need to be at mountain altitudes, overlooking a precipice, toes on the edge of a canyon in a high wind, only the pressure of air keeping me aloft. Cabin fever makes you want to go out and test your limits, see how close you can approach the edge of the abyss and still return. I'm no adrenaline junkie to seek out extreme sports or put myself deliberately in harm's way for no good reason, and yet I've had plenty of ordinary heart-racing moments. Being close to the edge really focuses the attention. It clears out the mental clutter, renews your priorities, makes you aware of what really matters, and that most everything else doesn't. Most of everyday life is a series of pointless, purposeless distractions: things we think we have to do in order to keep the wheels moving in their mundane tracks. But for what? To keep the gears of civilization smoothly turning? Why? Is there a point? That is, beyond the bare minimum social contract required in order for predatory humans to live together in relative peace and freedom? H.L. Mencken, no fan of pointless civility, said it well: Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

clearing storm, Grand Canyon, AZ
(Click on image for larger view)

The storm blows itself out, leaving the mind clear and refreshed. It's possible to settle into the clear mind in the mountains, with nothing cluttering your thoughts. The monkey mind tends to stay at home, at the lower altitudes, spinning on the hamster-wheel of social expectations. In the mountains, the stillness of clear glacial run-off pools reflect the perfect sky in serene stillness. The ancient Buddhist aphorism says: Is it the wind that moves the prayer flag, or the prayer flag that moves the wind? Neither: it is the mind that moves.

snow at sunset, Grand Tetons, WY
(Click on image for larger view)

And so I must go. To the mountains, to the ocean. In mind, in memory, if not today in actual body. In these few photographs, among my personal favorites of all my years of travel, made through the grace of being in the right place at just the right moment, lie many memories that renew and refresh me. That transport me. That take me away. Almost as good as being there, when I can't actually be there, right now.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hoist the black flag" - would work as a good song or album title.

Thanks + Best regards

Thomas Simon

4:38 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Which of course leads one to think of the LA classic punk band, Black Flag, and the ensuing career of its lead vocalist, Henry Rollins.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

What’s the opposite of cabin fever? I think I have that. Yes, the photos are very pretty but I do find outside such a chore. It doesn’t revitalise. It drains.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Nature fever? Agoraphobia? The bear likes his cave?

10:22 AM  

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