Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Climb Ev'ry Large Rock

Denzil Pugh is climbing a mountain. Why is he climbing a mountain? I've been walking trails for a year or so now, through the forests, through spider webs and around snakes and across rivers. The trails have taken me towards granite boulders that sit on the sides of hills, growing moss, collecting leaves. I've climbed hills and looked out over the next horizon and seen Stone Mountain in the distance. And the roads have curved through and exited Rockdale County into Dekalb, until my next walk took me to the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve The experience I had there, at the foot of the monadnocks (large, single rocks, like Stone Mountain), was similar to the beginning of my travels at the South Rockdale Community Park.  Coming out of the forest, following the path, I saw massive power lines stretching to the horizon.  Constructs of steel, electricity, power... how awesome it was, to see what man had built to run every aspects of our lives.  Reaching the end of the forest around Bradley Mountain (I parked at the southern end of the area, near the AWARE wildlife area, and followed the rock cairns), I saw a vast expanse of rock sloping upwards, many feet high, with those cairns like pimples spotting the landscape.  In the same way that man created the power lines, so did God create these monoliths of granite, providing evidence of His power, as well as his generosity.  The rock here, called Tidal Grey, is sought after for building countertops...etc...  It becomes the rock, the clay, as it were, that man creates his own world.  In a sense, he is emulating his Creator.  

So I climbed up Bradley Mountain, following the cairns, stopping frequently to catch my breath, as I'm not in the best of shape, but eventually, I reached the last cairn, and the top of the massive rock.  Having never been on top of a mountain before, it was a totally new experience.  Out across the horizon, I could see the tops of the skyscrapers in Atlanta, and Water Towers as reservoirs for the communities hidden in the trees.  The wind blew, and high above me, hawks or buzzards circled in currents high above the rock, looking for an easy meal.  I felt much like the Traveller in Caspar David Friedrich's  "A Traveller Upon a Sea of Mist." It gave me satisfaction, confidence.  I think climbing this mountain, or one like it, is something everyone should do, just to have the experience.  I will most definitely do it again. 

I tied two references to this blog at the top.  First, Mother Superior singing "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music, which combines the actual mountains of the Alps with the metaphors of life as a mountain.  And while I could go on for pages looking at this very obvious image, used by most every author that had a mountain in their works, I won't.  Because William Shatner did it so much better.  In his interview for Star Trek V, Shatner describes the second scene of the movie, which has Captain Kirk climbing a mountain in Yosemite National Park. He attempts a rationalization of the scene, using the mountain as metaphor, and does a great job of it, no
matter what the other people commenting on the Youtube video say.  It is man conquering nature, God, if you want to go that far (which, obviously, is the theme of that movie, with Kirk going to a world that housed "God," which turns out to be a malicious alien, which the Enterprise fires upon.)

However, I don't think the idea of climbing Bradley Mountain is analogous to destroying God. Rather, I think seeing nature in its full beauty at the top, in all its fragile wonderment, along with the sharp cuts of quarry work, carving out the stone to make the buildings we live in everyday, is a fitting relationship. We both use the stone and then let it stand.  I find the paradox in what I find beautiful about the mountain.  I've seen many pictures of the area--pictures of wildflowers, of the red moss that is unique to the rocks, of the pine trees growing strong and bold from cracks in the rocks themselves--and yes, that is all wonderful.  What I find aesthetically pleasing is the rock itself and what we have done to it and with it.  The cuts, the creations, the water carving out pools and snakes of black upon
slabs of gray.  Probably what I spent most time looking at was the square slab structure made at the far north side of Bradley Mountain on my latest walk around the trails.  Next to the fence that denotes still private property, there is a square structure of granite, solid, held together by metal bolts. Atop it, people have set smaller granite rocks, and on the back, a metal door, which I did not open.  I don't know what it was for, but it was probably made for quarry storage.  What would people, some tens of thousands of years from now, think of it when they find it in a probably now barren planet?  A shrine, a religious construct, an altar? To thank God for the rocks?  Who knows?

If you want to get more information about Arabian Mountain, especially the wildlife and plants, go to Kay's blog here.   She has walked the trails for much longer than I have, and has more knowledge of the ecology there.

I tried, before I left the top of that mountain, to stand as Friedrich's Traveller did, and feel as Howard Roark did at the beginning of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, seeing the hill he was standing on as both itself, the grand beauty of it, and as potential, what he could make of this beauty with his own hands.  We've been given this world by God to construct to glorify Him, but also to make Him proud, to emulate Him, to become creators ourselves.  Let us use this world in that manner, respectfully, adding beauty while preserving it. With reverence as we cut into the stone, with wonder that we are even here to see it.  Let us climb more mountains.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sticks and Swords

There is nothing like an "L" shaped stick. Any type of tree will do, with the branch at a right angle to the other, or perhaps two. The idea of a boy playing with a stick-gun would make some people now cringe and report them to the school authorities or worse, to the police, but there was a time when a stick was a boy's trusty companion.  Even just a plain one would make an excellent sword, one that would rival Excalibur, or the Sword of Omens (for those that lived in the 80's.)  The trees became bases, the thickets a shelter which could withstand any storm, be it real or mental.  A well placed chair, or a blanket, and you have a place to think, or read, or to plan attacks on the neighboring base across the yard.  Even better, a couple of well nailed planks of wood became a treehouse, and the adventures were glorious. Would that every child have a favorite stick to play with. I've always had a walking stick that I used as a staff, as something to twirl around like Donatello would do (TMNT reference), and as a trusty companion on my walks.

And after it rains, there's a rainbow, but all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there, it's just imagination they lack...
~Paul Simon "My Little Town" 
I remember walking around the neighborhood in the early 90's. Rolling Green, our little microcosm of people... such amazing times... but that is for another time. Anyway, we would make up games. One, I remember, was a collection of street hockey, football, and ultimate frisbee. Or something like that. That was fun!! But anyway, I would walk around the neighborhood in the summer, with school out and not a thing to do but watch old reruns of Lost in Space, and I would try to find someone that would want to play something. I'd even settle for watching them play basketball (I didn't play very well. I was a wall. It wasn't fun.), but everyone was out at their respective Soccer camps. Organized sports, in whatever form, is an attempt by adults to bring structure and rules into a child's world. Sure, it is a chance for bonding, lessons to be learned, rules to be followed, the social hierarchy to be introduced. But it doesn't allow children to be what they are... children. It doesn't allow for the growth of the imagination, for the boundaries of creativity to be stretched beyond the goal lines.
Remember when... we were a'chasin' after Wooden Airplanes...
Yes I believe that was, the finest time.
~Art Garfunkel "Wooden Planes"
I believe that this lack of imagination is what will eventually kill the movie industry. The imagination of directors, to use props, fantastic new camera technologies, inventive sound effects mixing the rain forest with factory sounds (or something like that...) I've said before, I would much rather see the potato disguised as an asteroid than realize that everything I'm seeing is a computer generated image. It's what made (among other things) the Star Wars Prequels so bad. It's what makes most of the summer blockbuster movies ones that have a sequel number after them or ones adapted from movies made only a few years prior. I have had it with dozens of superhero movies every summer. I won't go see them... I will barely go see any other summer blockbuster movie. Too many explosions and useless scenes made for sensationalism instead of intelligent thought. I get the feeling that some directors use no imagination, not to mention thought at all. Speaking of science-fiction... I was having a conversation with a friend of mind, Steven, who was lamenting the fact that Legos have developed more into specific lines of toy brands, with mythologies and characters all their own, instead of giving children general blocks and instructions and waiting for them to do something with them. He said this, in Italics: 

"When Lego first started introducing their themed kits, the idea was that a child could be encouraged to use their imagination to build something completely different with the blocks provided, but they don't do that anymore. Pieces are custom designed to fit together in a specific way now to recreate some licensed product. They even have moving parts and "firing" missiles and "mini-figures". There's room for imaginative play, but no room for personal creativity. With the same set of Legos I built spaceships and magical swords and seagoing submersibles and all kinds of wacky things. The Lego sets represent an ongoing trend in "interactive" toys that seem to play with themselves. Nerf guns that work better than real firearms, action figures that talk and practically move on their own, and video games. Know what I had in my toy box when I was a kid, besides a collection of mismatched Legos? Sticks. Sticks that I found in the back yard (pine sticks can make very good "swords"). Sure, I had a huge collection of G.I. Joes at one point, and I had some pretty imaginative campaigns against the less well equipped Cobra forces, but give me a stick and some privacy in the woods behind the house, I was Conan the Space Marine. 

We must return the gift of imagination to our children. I see kids now walking around with their faces buried in tablets of glass and metal, as if worshiping this device, concentrating more on the game at hand and not on the world around them. Course, I sometimes think that the kids are simply afraid of nothingness, of what their brains might say or think or do if they didn't have the soccer camp, the cell phone, the constant stimuli. Might they find themselves growing up into adults, and find out that they had truly never lived? I sometimes think of myself as that Pedestrian in Ray Bradbury's short story of that name. In the world so consumed by technology that no one ever goes outside, a lone person walks, and, upon being stopped by the police, they find him crazy that he is not involved in the addictive stimuli provided at great length by society, and is carted off to some mental institution. (If you want to experience the story in an interesting fashion... with distractions of light, sound, and rhythm, what we would experience in the real world, try this Youtube Video of Ray Bradbury's story.)

I could just as easily used Gene Wilder's singing of "Pure Imagination," or the idea that The Neverending Story is a parallel of people losing their imagination to this world, resulting in the ominous cloud called The Nothing, but I think I'll leave you with a song, one that I bought originally on my High School Graduation night, on Peter, Paul, and Mary's Lifelines album. A song written by Buddy Mondlock, and in this video, sung by him, Art Garfunkel, and Maia Sharp:  "The Kid."