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The Big and the Small in the Outdoors

I sat on my rocky ridge and looked down on the main dirt road coming into the recreation area. There was a half dozen runners coming uphill. Tall, tan, and quite fast. Why wasn't it easier to admire them? After all, I had done a little bit of running in my life. That should have made it easier to appreciate these runners.

A raven glided by, just about at my altitude. He was playing with ridge lift, to parallel the rocky ridge, without much effort. The human runners were completely forgotten, but I couldn't get my eye off the ridge-running raven. The muscles in my chest started to feel tired.

Sometimes inanimate objects grab the eye, such as the rocky islands set amidst the 'sagebrush sea,' around here. Yes, I know: the land use agency needs a new prose stylist. 'Sagebrush sea' has become a cliche.

But the cliche starts to inspire when I look at the little rocky islands, so forlorn and lonely, set in the middle of that 'sagebrush sea,'  and then let the imagination run towards a sea kayaker, exploring the rocky skerries off the coast of the British Isles. Now you can look at what used to be just a cliche and feel your shoulder muscles getting tired from all the paddling against the waves and high winds.
Camping nearby, a couple years ago.

Both of these examples are outdoor life success stories for me because they affected me, to a strange degree. And isn't that what this lifestyle is all about? Do the two examples have something in common?

Probably so. They illustrate countervailing principles. The ordinary lacks the ability to inspire us. Most tourists and RV newbies would say, "Well of course. That is why we need to chase spectacular and freakish scenery, like at the national parks. And something new every day."

But the Ordinary can be visualized in a context that makes the overall image approach the Noble, or even the Infinite. (Ahh dear, there is a good quote from Samuel Johnson to Boswell about never using a metaphor unless it approaches the Infinite. But I can't find the quote!)

On the other hand, we humans are small critters -- sometimes the Infinite is off-putting, cold, and abstract. We need to bring it down, rather than up.

Consider the smallish tribal god, YHWH, that ancient Palestine worshiped with rather ordinary animal sacrifices and such. He wasn't very inspiring. All he was good for was exterminating rival neighboring tribes.

But he went through quite a career change when the Jews were exposed to more exalted notions of a universal, creator god in Babylon.

But universality makes a god vague and cold. This created a market for the traditional notion of a half-god, played by Jesus. As the Catholic Church puffed him up into a full god, that created a market for a menagerie of saints.

The Enlightenment of the 1700s emphasized universal ideas in physics, mathematics, and political science. But the reaction of the 1800s, called Romanticism, emphasized more particular and limited sciences. Romanticism deified the particularism of ethnic groups, as well.

I suppose we could look at the modern secular religions of Democracy, Marxism, and Environmentalism from this point of view and come up with something similar. Or maybe the analogy would wash out?


Anonymous said…

An excellent book, if you can get your hands on it, is "The Power of Limits" by Gyorgy Doczi. There is also an excellent article called "Dinergy: The Primordial Meta-Pattern in Nature" by Richard Ott.
You'll never look at ANYTHING again as ordinary.
Here's a quote from the article: If we look carefully and sympathetically at nature, we see that she is a process with one main overlying meta-pattern. All stable patterns in nature contain a balance of forces, a kind of reconciliation of opposites. This is true from the formation of hydrogen soon after the Big Bang, through the process of star formation and in the biological functions of living systems.
Meaning and design always run alongside one another. These patterns are a manifestation of process and emergence.
Reality is not about things but rather about essences. These essences are fields that contain processes that are constantly changing. Physicists understand that there is no place at the quantum level for field and matter, for the field is the only ultimate reality.

All the above are quotes. Anyone who looks at nature or their own self in this way could never be bored or feel that they have to go out chasing scenery or whatever.

Do agree with "We need to bring it down, not up". You are referring to the infinite....I call it reality. I do like how you capitalized "Ordinary." No such thing as ordinary being Ordinary.

I believe the Catholic Church has always viewed JC as both God and man. This concept, I believe, was inherited from Greek and Roman mythology....plenty of half god/half man folks there. Early Christianity hooked a lot of the new way of thinking onto the old in order to sell it better to the masses. I don't think it has anything to do with the idea of God becoming vague and cold. I don't know the relationship between the Jewish God/Babylonian God and God, the Father (Christian) but I do think they were all patriarchal, no-nonsense gods who punished severely for disobedience. To me they always seem very sadistic. JC brought in the idea of compassion and forgiveness. (I am not religious, just so you know.)

I hope you can get a hold of the article. It has a Jungian slant but is so much more than that. Interesting post today. Very Big Topic.

Anonymous said…

If you have any interest in the article, you can access it for free through this site:

It asks some questions but you will eventually be able to click on it and get it for free. I certainly didn't pay anything for it.

George, I would give the article the benefit of the doubt, based on your recommendation. But you know I'm not much of a metaphysician. The other day, I ran into a place that tried to make me sign in before I could read something. Growl. But I guess they have their reasons.
Anonymous said…

Touche'. However, you DO express the underlying principles in how you experience the world. Just sayin'.........