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Aesthetics Bend Under Strain

Some types of outdoor enjoyments are easier than others. Getting a kick out of desert poppies takes little effort. But experiences of that type don't stick with you very long either.

Appreciating geology is far more difficult. Geology is huge and fundamental. Despite being able to see it raw and exposed in arid lands, such as the American West, it is difficult to actually enjoy it in the normal sense of the word. For one thing it doesn't move, except in the case of active volcanoes. It is also hard to pronounce all the scientific terminology. The whole thing can be off-putting because it seems cold and technical.

Go for a hike or a mountain bike ride through the mountains and you will occasionally see some impressive folds. Sometimes they're just little guys at road cuts. And yet something keeps you from doing backflips about them. How could hard, strong, brittle rocks be permanently deformed? Bent into arcs.

When possible, I try to anthropomorphize "uninteresting" things in nature. It doesn't matter if it is scientifically unrespectable.  

That's not the only possible technique. How about wallowing in any imagery that grabs you, wherever it be from? Don't be proud, politically correct, or anything else. Outside of Leadville CO, I once had great fun wallowing in imagery that should be quite alien to an atheist with a Protestant background: a large group of backpackers -- probably Baptists from Texas! -- resembled pilgrims in the high Pyrenees on their way to Santiago. Rocks aren't the only thing that can bend and deform under heat and pressure; so too can your aesthetic sensibilities.

The other day I was having a rematch with a rough road that goes up to a saddle at the north end of the Santa Rita mountains, south of Tucson. The mountain bike has to be pushed most of the last mile. (Fortunately I had remembered to wear regular trail sneakers, rather than cycling shoes.) But I had forgotten to wear a helmet. I only had a sombrero, and was quite conscious of it, since a helmet would be necessary to protect me from an "end-over" on the way down.

I will lose readers by talking about the rest of this experience, since secularists can be such prigs (and hypocrites), but here it goes anyway: halfway up the final push I stepped away from myself and grinned at what I saw: a fellow pushing his mountain bike up the hill like Christ carrying his cross up Calvary. Even the sombrero, that I was worried about, had become a crown of thorns. I was actually milking the act by bending the back and altering the stride, as if to glory in the suffering. 

But, at the same time, the experience was completely real and serious. Those are great moments when you experience something as if 100% of you is focused right there and then. You remember such moments for a long time.

Of course at the top was the usual bliss that comes at a saddle. I could see the viewscape to the east, all the way across the San Rafael grasslands. 

I do feel sorry for rigid atheists who won't allow their imaginations to run. Religious imagery should be seen as part of a continuum that includes mythological, poetic, sentimental, or romantic imagery of all kinds. If nothing else, surrendering my usual anti-religious prejudices honored the occasion. I bent to a special setting; in an indirect sense it was at least a partial success in appreciating those geological folds at the beginning of this post.


XXXXX said…
I have come to the conclusion that this is what love really is, this ability you described, basically it is being able and willing to get outside yourself and put yourself in the shoes or place of something or someone else....that is what I am calling love. It is not easy to maintain this since it doesn't attempt to defend one's ego as is usually the goal in all our actions. I am guessing that this is why you see a strong religious/athiest difference and I would agree as long as you don't really mean a belief in God but rather an opening to this ability to love as it's being described.
After all, if I wanted to get more particular here, real love is synonymous with the ability to walk in someone else's shoes, to feel as they feel, etc. and this is really the Jesus message, a message of compassion and love. This is actually at the heart of all religions before they get bastardized. Love is more a state of one's own mind than a feeling directed at one particular object.
You could carve out a career for yourself just leaving comments on blogs. Bloggers would be willing to pay for your comments.
Anonymous said…
I recognize that mountain's profile :))