Should they work harder to empathize with other manifestations of life, and see a falling leaf, buried acorn, or gentle squirrel as but fortunate extensions of themselves— as representative of both where they began and where they will go, hurtling along on a cosmic speck through an endless, rippling ocean. But this again percolates for only a fleeting moment— or a solitary leaf flicking away.
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For the church bells hail the hour, the students spread like caffeinated wildfire, and the young man shoulders his schoolpack, takes a deep breath of the fall-infused present, and continues on to class. A quiet thud cascades a puff of sediment into the crispening air. With an audible groan of relief the young man smiles, stretches, and takes a few liberated steps away from his hefty backpack into camp.
Staunch, solid, and road-worn, the pack feels great satisfaction as it rests its frame on a thick tree stump. With wonderfully sore legs, campfire-scented clothing, and a tinge of melancholy they will soon lug themselves and their belongings down the back stretch of a September weekend well spent. Willing oneself from the warm, accessible confines of home into the bitterly chilly, variable vastness of a Michigan State Park in autumn is one kind of challenge, but that which is presented by the sudden, civilizing return to everyday existence is quite another.
The backpack feels a twinge of regret, or perhaps longing, too. It is but a liaison for the young man between day-to-day life and those brief forays out of it. What is a backcountry camper without his backpack? What is a backpack without a backcountry camper?
For a loaded pack carries many things, yes, but not simply cookware, squished granola bars, and extra long underwear. It has stuffed and strapped within memories, feelings, moments; times of great movement across the land, times of awed stillness. It holds bitingly windy nights huddled four-wide under flimsy nylon like sardines. It holds batterings by freak hailstorms, late hours of wonderment stretched out under starry canvasses, and reels upon reels of conversation, riddles, and laughter.
It holds these things, and it holds them tight, feeling great pride in being such a middleman between humans and the non-human world. Therefore, as the young man gathers the group in preparation of making camp, his pack sits quietly, waiting. It cannot help but ponder the brevity of this expedition, and hope simply that it has fulfilled its duty, helping to foster a time of appreciation and presence over these few days.
But this again lingers for only a fleeting moment— or an auburn disk dipping rapidly below the horizon. For the twilight hour is short, the campers disperse, and the man returns to the stump, re-hoists his pack, and heads over to pitch tents for the night. A footfall sounds on the frequented step. It does not rest for long.
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A stairwell is exited, keys jingle, and an apartment door creaks open. No roommates appear to be home, which, for the moment, suits the young man just fine. The man crosses wearily, somewhat trance-like, to the adjacent bedroom. He leans his newly-gained walking stick against the bedpost, disentangles the ever-more crumpled map from his pocket, and, for one last time, relegates his backpack to the ground with a quiet, dirt-less thud.
A chesty sigh echoes, one of contentment… but not entirely. He should know by now to expect this feeling of pensive nostalgia, the young man. Each time, though, each time that he pines for the sanctity of the pine, yearns for cool wades into crystalline rivers, and feels a deep regret for the wastefulness of man in endangering these innocent places… it seems telling. We may think like the wild, or we may think like the tamed. We humans, products, beneficiaries, and dependents of the web of life from which we were spun, can continue our collective course on this tangential path from the natural processes, limits, and communities of this planet.
We can pinwheel further and further away from these things— constraints heeded by wolf, by squirrel, by pre-industrial hominid— and justify it as our destiny, divine will, or inalienable right. We may peer from our most-civilized perch and see wilderness as destitute, chaotic, unrestrained— which, in fact, holds a kernel of truth. Survival is not a given, nor an entitlement, for other actors in this evolving, ecological drama.
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Yet, within this chaos nestles a forgotten order. Such order gives each his chance to survive— to live, grow, howl at the moon, glide through the sea, or poke a shoot through the soil. But this does not sit well with modern Homo sapiens. We are productive, ever-connected, globalized, and diverse, yet more fragmented than ever before.
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We fear change, loathe discomfort; fence away our neighbors, purge our homes of darkness and creepy-crawly nuisance; crave ease, surplus, and constant entertainment. We over-impose unnatural, mechanized order on our lives, hijacking and turbocharging our minds with stimuli for which we were not evolved. We tame ourselves into complacence, taking our bread, enjoying our circuses, and becoming ever-less present to the simpler joys of life all around.
And, through all of this, the voice of the wild dims. Stress, unhappiness, and discontent balloon throughout human society. Few wonder if there may be a connection between the two. Soon, a footfall will again sound. The unfrequented trail is a persistent one, and will never cease its call. Maps will be smoothed, backpacks strapped, and boots lifted from dusty shelves.
Somewhere not too far, a squirrel returns home, proud father with nut in tow, to infant squeals of longing and relief. A tree gives a great shiver of wintery anticipation, deploying showers of multi-hued prophets. Her eyes between are still of stedfast blue,. To freshen on the sunburnt hills, and lave.
Shudders the wasted grass, and shrieketh shrill,. Their solid sides, enrobed in rains ye bear. From thy long sleep arise! From North, from East and West;. From East, and South, and North;. From North, from West, and East,. And let each soul rejoice,. Old things have passed away—. One hope, one joy, one light,.
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And far and wide proclaim,. N O more I go to worship with the crowd. I GAVE to thee at parting, dear, a rose,. Which veiled the purer treasures of thy breast,. The hues of life and death in red and white—. Upon the brightness of the cloudless hours,. But dreams awoke Desire whose torturing flame. T HE air grows faint within the shrine of Love,. Which shakes my soul as with a tempest strong,. Now lifted light upon melodious wave,. That near unto the gates of bliss me bring;. He falls upon the ground, and weeps and moans—. Which, ending, leaves me yet to hunger more,. And each fair day, where memory shows thy sign,.
Love sought for flowers to make a wreath for thee,. Which, since the sun was gone, he scarce might see. But with remorseless hand still prunes away,. And still his scythe he sharpeneth every day;. Made sapphire with the eyes of flowers Love knew,. As though from heavenly seed their harvest grew,. Throughout its troubled region, day by day,. Still as the breaking fire upclimbs its way. From scarlet dawn, through fervent noon to range;.
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Swoons in the arms of close embracing night. That putteth forth her spells of dreamful might,. Ascending new with all his glittering train. To bring me peace, or strange tempestuous pain;. That keeps thy shrine, and where I talk with Love,. J OY, like the flashes of a fitful sun,. Falls on my storm-worn heart, and kindling, dies.
In wandering gleams about the changeful skies,. Wild on my path that climbs a bleak green hill,. Among the writhen thorns, oft traversed, chill.
As range mine eyes the saddened landscape round,.
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