Once when I was in my teens I was exploring out in the woods. I went further than I had ever explored. I loved exploring and learning new things as well as finding new places. I was heading toward a far northern corner of the club that my parents belonged to where there were no roads or marked trails. I got up into a thick area of woods at a bend in the creek surrounded by muddy swamp that I had to sludge knee deep through to get to the place where I stood.
It was a beautiful summer day with blue sky speckled only with a few, sparse, whispy clouds. The air was clear and full of nature smells. The breeze was light and the temperature mild. I could hear the birds chirping and the sound of the muted gurgles of the river bending around me in stereo. The thought suddenly occurred to me that my efforts could well be awarded by the distinct possibility that I was very likely one of the few if not one of the first humans to ever head to this backwards corner of the property and stand on this spot.
Then I looked down and saw the deteriorating remains of a plastic grocery bag a few feet ahead of me laying on the ground…
That was a long time ago and a great many epiphanies struck me in that moment. One of the epiphanies was revisited again tonight in a manner of fashion when I was reading some quotes from Henry David Thoreau. One of the quotes in particular reminded me of that event:
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
— Henry David Thoreau (Walden: Or, Life in the Woods)
I have always loved and craved the outdoors. Nothing will change that. But in recent years I’ve gained a love for things such as the works of Ayn Rand. I remember reading something at one time that she wasn’t particularly fascinated with things ‘wild’, likely due to their randomness. She was far more fascinated by things shaped and hewed by the hands and ultimately the mind of men. I can see merit in that, yet I’m still drawn to the wilderness.
This confused me a bit, not because I particularly needed a specific justification to love the woods, but because I generally try to find the ‘why’ behind things that compel me and my interests. I too find things created by men to be fascinating. But I am equally fascinated by the manner that randomness of nature tempered by the requirements of survival lead to smatterings of ‘natural order’ in random wilderness.
What it comes down to is the same thing that I have discovered in other areas when it comes to my joy of things made by the hands (and ultimately the minds) of men. I can appreciate things built by the mind. But when building things myself, I don’t really get a particularly overwhelming thrill when I build things that have already been built before.
When I looked up at the sky on that day, I saw myself as ‘treading new ground’. When I looked down, I realized that someone had in fact been there before. It was still a beautiful summer day, but it was not longer special and my efforts not as rewarded.
Yeah, I like the wilderness. I like to figure things out for myself whenever possible. I didn’t read Rand until I’d figured out a great many things that she wrote about already for myself. Perhaps part of that can be summed up by something else attributed to Thoreau:
“We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.” – HDT
But more than anything, I crave the frontier…
Out on the border
of a changing skyline
We put hope in front of fear.
And all the heroes
have gone east of eden.
We all need new frontiers.