Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Crazy Elements of Life

Frederic Gros didn’t grow up in Kentucky; I doubt he’s ever been lost in the woods. After a few snake bites, spider bites, chigger infestations, ticks, bears, skunks, angry bulls, and broken ankles, maybe he would adjust his prose. (Who needs a map? I’ve got this rod and staff to guide me.) This sounds like the philosophical version of “Jesus take the wheel.”

 “Just below the useful, there is the necessary.* Whatever is irreplaceable, indispensable, un-substitutable, anything whose absence will promptly be rewarded with some blockage, an involuntary halt, physical discomfort. Strong shoes, weatherproof or spare garments, provisions, first aid kit, maps … For the merely useful there are nearly always natural equivalents: branches (for stakes, staffs, walking sticks), grasses (towels, bedding) (pp. 190-191).

If you’ve ever spend much time in a forest or the wilderness, the idea of abandoning yourself to the elements or jaunting around nature with just the necessary sounds romantic on paper—reading about it in the comfort of a well-lighted, air conditioned library with a carbonated soda nearby—but out there in the real world, the romance fades away quickly. The universe may be indifferent to our existence, but nature: not so much. Re-insert yourself into the food chain and you’ll quickly find out how quickly nature is hostile to our existence. The hunter quickly becomes the hunted.

But as humans, we do try to cheat death—or at least try to get a quick glimpse of its ever-present face. Mountain climbing, rock climbing, NASCAR, snake handling, skydiving, Trump rallies—all those things involve a heightened chance of death. I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s like we get bored with just living. We’re the only animals on the planet where suicide is an option. Every other living being on earth is trying to survive, and we take chances with the only life we have.

When's the last time you saw a bear riding a bicycle on its own volition? 

We flirt with the absence of the necessary to cheat oblivion.

Then again, death is inevitable. I guess that what makes life interesting.

DQ: Why do you think we take chances with our very existence?


  1. "Why do you think we take chances with our very existence?"
    -What do you mean 'we'?

    Snake handlers and NASCAR drivers surely deserve their own category of self-abandon, the former in the name of fait and the latter... beats me.

    Haven't genetics researchers claimed to identify genetic markers that predispose some to risk-taking and general recklessness? From an evolutionary standpoint that would seem an unfortunate mutation, from the individual perspective, but perhaps it's a species gain that some of us are driven to "boldly go" etc. Think of the first astronauts, or more recently Scott Kelly, incurring extraordinary personal risk in order to expand the realm of the humanly possible.

  2. Nature is scary, no doubt. Being prepared for it, makes it less so. Which brings to recollection the Boy Scout Motto, "Always prepared". I imagine being dropped from a helicopter into a random location and then expecting to survive in a hostile environment such as the Amazon or the Serengetti of Africa, i.e.
    "Survivor Man" or "Bear Grylls" is probably horrifying. But "Thoreaun", "Rousseaun", or "Nietzchean" walks are a bit more enlightening. From personal experiences of extending times in nature, in the comfortable, deciduous, mostly domesticated locations of the South, you understand exactly what it is you need to survive and after your pilgrimage, you are much more grateful for the luxuries of life. You leave with a preparedness mindset. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs becomes much more real, and you leave much more grateful for the cold soda, air conditioning, and romantic idea of nature. It's an experience in and of itself. Everyday is a risk, from health risks, to the "caution- wet floor" signs, some actions have a higher potential for injury or death than others. The more one knows, the more one is better able to survive, and furthermore able to help someone else live longer. I'll leave Space Exploration or NASCAR driving to the professionals and just enjoy being a spectator.