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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Do You Ever Feel Trapped?

Do You Ever Feel Trapped?

Author: Reilly Capps/Thursday, July 24, 2014/Categories: adventure

Sitting here. Trying to write an essay on wilderness. Staring blankly, seeing both my desk and, on the movie screen in my brain, some of the Earth I've seen in the last few weeks as I've taken some short vacations ... 

The Maroon Bells ... 

The deserts of Utah ... 

The Pacific ocean ... 

And trying to say something about those places, about what they mean, about the difficult-to-describe joy they give me, the profound love I feel for open spaces ... when a blinking light catches my eye.

It's the notification light on the top of my cell phone, which is sitting on my desk. Blinking, blinking, blinking. Like a messenger tugging on the hem of my jacket, like a whining child repeating, endlessly, "daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy." I feel an odd impulse to take care of this blinking light, in a fatherly sense. To answer its call -- why else would it blink at me, if it wasn't important? If it didn't need me? It could be important. The blinking light could mean a number of things ... new text from a loved one, new email from my boss, new result on one of my Craigslist searches ("Used Prius," "cheap tablet") ... and my brain is torn between letting my finger do what it wants to do what it thinks I ought to do. 

My life is on my phone. All my documents, my contacts, my photos, my songs. I spend every minute with it. I wonder, if I ever have a child, if I'll understand her as thoroughly as my phone. 

This tug-of-war inside my own head is especially ironic because I have just finished reading an excellent interview with mountain guide and author Jack Turner in the forthcoming issue of "The Sun," about the destructive influence of all these gadgets. Turner says nature is the only antidote. He says attention is the key. Attention to the wild -- time spent in the wilderness, weeks spent by a mountain lake, weeks "gone fishing" -- can bring us back to the here and now, can nourish us in a way that things like civilization, phones, cars, concrete, environmental non-profits never can ... and I think he's on to something ...

So few of us, Turner points out, see the natural world. In Japan they have a name for people who never leave their house: hikikomori. Young people want to see nature -- as a screensaver on their phone. (SWP Media can help with that, actually.) Most visitors to natural sights barely leave their cars. "Nature is a movie that goes by outside the car window," Turner says. He says we can't stand the wilderness because we can't stand the loneliness. This makes sense. People cannot sit and do nothing anymore, science shows. Pascal says this is where all our trouble comes from. Louis C.K. says that it means that we aren't people anymore

... and he's right and I want to elaborate and tell of my own experience backpacking ... but ... still ... there's that blinking light on my little cell phone child, going "Really? (Blinky blinky.) You're not going check me? (Blinky blinky.) What if it's important? (Blinky blinky.) You're a bad father." 

The Internet has changed our brains. No generation in human history has undergone such a radical transformation in communication and community. Even the printing press, revolutionary as it was, affected only the small segment of society that could read and afford books, and even then it took time to roll out. For us, the Internet came into widespread use only 20 years ago, and now it's all around us, it consumes us, it is the dominant force in the lives of many of us. This is both good and bad... blah blah. (You've heard the arguments: on the one hand it allows us to find dates easily and buy cheap plastic crap from China; on the other hand it destroys personality and ruins families and relationships.) 

And here I am in the middle of it, trying to figure out whether I'm going to let my finger flick over to my cell phone to see what the notice is. I feel like a rat in a cage who doesn't want to push the pleasure lever, who knows he should push the food lever ... but it's hard to stop. 

This is how Turner felt as a young professor living in Chicago. Looking at the snow leopards in cages in the Lincoln Park Zoo one day, he thought, "I'm as trapped as these wild cats." That's about when he moved to Wyoming. 

The interviewer, Leath Tonino, references Lew Welch's "Chicago Poem," which laments the crushing monstrosity of all metropolises, gives you small hope (though Jack Turner says hope is a myth):

Driving back I saw Chicago rising in its gases and I
       knew again that never will the
Man be made to stand against this pitiless, unparalleled 
       monstrocity. It
Snuffles on the beach of its Great Lake like a 
       blind, red, rhinoceros.
It's already running us down.

You can't fix it. You can't make it go away.
       I don't know what you're going to do about it, 
But I know what I'm going to do about it. I'm just 
       going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I'm not around
       feeding it anymore.


It's a great poem. It's wise, and so is Jack Turner ... and I want to be in nature, to really make contact with it. And I thought of going outside and jogging to the nearby lake ...

... of course, I checked my phone. 

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