I apologize if it sounds at all like I’m in a weird way—maybe spending extended time with the Transcendentalists is getting to me.
That’s an excuse, of course; I’ve been told before by a friend that, “Romanticism runs through my veins,” and there have been more than a few occasions where I’ve adopted Wordsworthian personality traits and habits: I have access to woods, I go to them, I feel oneness.
Or maybe not “oneness”, because that’s corny, but I can’t think of another way to put it. I’m not a transparent eyeball, as Emerson puts it, though sometimes it’s a really nice image to have: seeing everything, feeling everything, knowing it to be true. Wordsworth would take walks every day, and it’s a habit I’m trying to force myself back into, since it’s one that’s easier to keep up when it’s nice out. Overall, I’ve made a decision to make better choices regarding my own body, partially because of some experiences I’ve had in bars lately, but mostly because I’m remembering what Thoreau had to say about only drinking water, and other than the bronchitis he died from, I think he was mostly healthy in mind and body. If I’m going to engage in excess at all, I think it’s going to be excess of the senses.
A feeling comes over me whenever I go to a club, even if I’m not drinking, and the sensation of people moving in synch to music and bodies beside each other becomes otherworldly, sublime, even. When everything feels like it’s too much and not enough all at once—I think I like that experience more than any other.
It’s not just in clubs, though, and let’s remember that I’m something of a Romanticist by nature, and I’ve found the feeling overcome me while out in the woods.
The journal prompt my students had today had to do with a special place in nature, and I guess if I’m making them answer it, I should answer it myself.
As much as I enjoy solitude in nature, there’s something to be said about enjoying it with other people. I could talk about the enjoyment I got hiking a mountain, the overwhelming feeling that overcame me when we reached the peak and was able to see the shadows of clouds on the trees below us—but I don’t hike mountains on a regular basis, and part of what Emerson tries to do in “Nature” is to get people to find the sublime in the obvious. Not all things in nature are mountains, and why shouldn’t I regard a dandelion with the same amount of wonder a child does?
So this: My friends and I frequently go on what we call “Spooky Walks,” or walks in the woods while it’s night. You can’t observe the same things, but occasionally you run into other people looking for quick scares, and you wind up walking with them in search of an animal skull. Maybe this sounds like a horror movie scenario—we do like to tell scary stories, once we’ve found the Right place to sit—but it should sound like a moment of exploration, too. In telling scary stories, we reveal something of ourselves.
In October, there was a full moon that coincided with an eclipse, and we chose a different venue for our walk this time—Carver Pond, which isn’t too far from where we normally “saunter,” if I’m going to borrow another description from Thoreau—but it was unfamiliar enough to cause some hesitation. The moon itself started as a guiding light, but we watched the process of the eclipse, watched it sink from the white light it usually shines when full to a deep red. You can understand the process of an eclipse and still feel something leap in your gut at seeing it. Nature, even when we understand pieces of it, is still something incomprehensible in full. Geese screamed at each other and some stoners sat on the park benches at the opening of the lake while listening to Nirvana.
There are other times when the moon is the source of the sublime as I experience it: it’s an everyday thing, the moon, but it’s still enormous, distant, awe inspiring. I like it most when it sits fat and red and heavy on the horizon line, during those moments on the highway when you’re getting home too late but too early, still, and it demands the attention of anyone gliding down 495 (when, of course, trees do not obstruct the view).
There was a tree hut in the woods where we told the bulk of our scary stories, and it was a nice place to go during the day, where you’d have to cross a tiny stream that would frequently dry up. Sit, think, stare and be amazed. Recently, the hut was downed thanks to a snowstorm, or maybe drunks who were looking for something easy to destroy. Better it than us, I guess, but still feels like some kind of loss.