We tried to squeeze as much fun into my last day, plus pack, and then attend a charity dinner. It’s your standard “ten pounds of crap” in a “five pound bag” issue: trying to jam in everything you can before you go, but there isn’t enough time in the end.
Family and friends want to say goodbye, your to-do list inevitably left off some critical tasks that now fall upon your spouse (and hopefully the help of friends). You’re up late no matter how well you plan (in our case, we got back from the late dinner and discovered the dog had a deep gash in her paw, which put the house from sleep-mode into medical-mode).
If you have a cat, you can imagine what it will do to help: it will sense something is going on because of all the packing and will start meowing loudly outside the bedroom door at 3am, just as you are getting your first quality zzz’s of the night after patching up the dog and worrying about the items you forgot to put on the to-do list.
Of course, when you grouchily get up at 4am to make coffee, the same cat will stretch and yawn from its favorite chair and act as though it had the most wonderful night’s rest and will then give you that "feed me now you walking food dispenser" look.
I write this from a fold-down seat at the back of a C-17. My buzzed head is covered in a warm beanie and my jacket is zipped tight up to my neck because like most cargo planes, it’s cold in the back of the plane. But that’s the way I like it.
I just read that in June of 1890, he was dropped off by a steamer near the Muir Glacier in Alaska for a few months of exploring the remote area. “Suffering, from bronchitis, he was coughing up globs of phlegm and eating little. Disregarding medical advice to stay home and stay warm, he began to recover. The cough disappeared, his lungs cleared, and his appetite came roaring back. As ever, his body as well as mind thrived on cold temperatures.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of Muir. This guy is awesome. His fervent love for nature and an outdoor life is off the charts! A wiry Scotsman who grew up in an ultra conservative Christian family, he soon asked himself: If God created nature... the trees, animals, weather, plants, mountains, rivers, oceans, and everything else in the outdoors, isn’t that the clearest, most direct word of God?
The bible was central to his life, but he began to question the many interpretations and potential fallacies of a book written by humans who were doing their best to write about their personal experiences with God. Why not just go right to the source: nature, and glean God’s wisdom and power directly- without the “middle- man” or interpretations in the form of books or rituals.
That strikes a chord with me. I often say the outdoors is my church. Man may create beautiful cathedrals, mosques, and temples, but none of them compare to the overwhelming beauty and inspiration drawn from a shaft of light illuminating the high Himalaya as clouds and fog roll across valleys carved by ice flows thousands of feet deep. Or what about a trout rising to sip a mayfly? The colors on the back of a wild brown trout?! The intricacies of a spider web dotted with fresh dew? The gentle breaking waves of your favorite beach and the limitless designs of shells tossed back and forth across the sand? Otters holding hands as they sleep? The terrifying power of a mudslide or forest fire?
Yea. Muir is the man.
I’m just getting into the latter half of the book where he takes his skill for writing and his many adventures and combines them into a powerful tool in the nascent American conservation movement. What’s wild is that Muir and Americans in the 1890s were facing many of the same critical issues we face 120 years later. They have just changed disguises.
Muir saw the wealthy elite grabbing wild lands and resources as quickly as possible, without worry for the long-term health or sustainability of the land. And they certainly didn't plan on sharing that land with everyone else. Muir wasn’t simply worried about protecting the trees, watersheds, and natural balance of the land. He was also acutely worried for America’s moral health.
Well, I’m kinda worried about America’s moral health. I’m worried about the entire human race!! Aren’t you? Integrity, goodwill, compassion, and tolerance seem to be losing ground to intolerance, entitlement, materialism, fear, and me-first attitudes. Do we abandon ship and all just drink the Kool-Aid? Call it quits on moral progress? Build a space ship and head for the stars in hope of a better life?
Not me. And I don’t think you are ready for that either. So then what do we do?
Well, Muir would say what he did back in the 1890s when America was facing the same dilemma. “Spend time engaged with nature!” Leave your work and Internet behind, at least for a little bit (because one day you will leave it permanently), and get reacquainted with the healing, inspiring, humbling, loving, life-giving outdoors. It is there the lessons of balanced taking and giving, of no waste, of life’s cycles of creating, destroying, and then resurrecting can be seen.
It makes me wonder if the people of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan had more opportunity to establish a healthy relationship with nature, as Muir did, if any of us would be on this plane headed there to fight? And don’t go saying, “They have all the opportunity to experience nature and it didn’t do shit.”
When you are starving, oppressed, uneducated, brainwashed, afraid your neighbor is going to blow you up because you’re the wrong sect of a religion and you also live in a region where climate change has made it mostly a desolate, hard-clay or sandy dust bowl... well, that’s not opportunity. To be honest, if I had those issues listed above, I’d be really pissed off as well.
Anyway, so much for a simple blog post. That was a world-class ramble. But reading Muir’s biography makes me want to jump up and down waving my arms saying, “we’ve got something here!!”
As Muir says several different times and ways, we’ve all got mountains and the great outdoors in our souls! I believe there has been no greater need for nature-based experiences in our species’ history than the present moment. Video games, internet, TV, sprawl, and the labor- free life millions of people have thanks to modern agriculture and construction mean it’s a rare occasion to be anywhere more wild than a city park or swimming pool.
That has to play some part in the decay of morals, health, and environment... and perhaps this thing called war, right?
[“Thud” of landing gear bearing the weight of the C-17 returning to the land... just reached Washington, DC. Guess that’s a good time to tie this hodgepodge of thought off and get ready to run to another plane. Don't worry, future posts will likely be shorter and more to the point... but the back of a plane leads to lots of thinking!] --RMM
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." -John Muir, 1901