Monday, May 21, 2007

Awake Among the Mountains

Last weekend, I managed to get up into the mountains. Spring was just coming to them. The peaks were still snow capped, but the days were warm and bright, and some tiny wildflowers were in bloom. I would have liked to stay for a week or two, because it can take me that long to get into the rhythms of the wilderness.

You don't notice it too much when you're in the city, but your senses go to sleep in the city.

You notice it when you're in the mountains for a few days -- then your senses wake up again, sharpen, become more alert than you had imagined they could be.

I figure your senses go to sleep in the city to protect you from all the noise, odors, confused movement, and subtle chaos that are the nature of cities. If your senses were really awake in the city, you'd be overwhelmed.

When I have spent a long time with nature -- enough time to feel a part of it, rather than just feel myself a visitor -- I often have found in myself a sense that the pace, the rhythm, the sights, the sounds of nature are what we are really born to understand. Deeply understand. It seems so much easier, up there in the mountains, to understand life, to accept it for what it is, to want nothing more than what it offers.

I don't mean to trivialize nature. A life lived in nature is hard, difficult, often short, frequently pained. Yet, for all that, our species did not evolve for cities, but for the wilderness. And part of us shall always be asleep in the city.


decrepitoldfool said...

Amazing - just this morning I read in The Economist 05may07 "special report on cities"...

"When the current rush to the cities ends and this great episode in the history of urbanization is over, which will probably be when 80% of the the world's population live in cities, the true effects of urban life may be clearer. In their book, "Mismatch: why our world no longer fits our bodies", peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson argue that the big changes in human history, most of which have happened rather recently in humans' evolutionary history, have not been matched by changes in human biology. Cities may be the epitome of modernity, but they are inhabited by a creature designed for a pre-agriculture existence. The supermarket is no substitute for the steppes, plains and savannahs of the hunter-gatherer. The office chair is no place for the descendants of Homo erectus. No wonder there is a tension between habitat and inhabitant.

Paul said...

Hi George!

I guess my timing was pretty good for once. Thanks for telling me about Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson! Their book sounds like one that should be on my list of reads.

I'm not even close to being an evolutionary biologist, but my hunch is that many, many of our contemporary problems are enhanced or even in some cases caused by the simple fact most of us live in environments we are not perfectly adapted to live in.