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Over the weekend a person who’d booked my guest cabin for a week next summer asked for a cancellation when they decided they could not endure five nights without connection to the internet. I didn’t balk and in fact found it sadly familiar, reminding me of my decades as a guide. Back then I did my best to get people on a canoe trip to leave their world behind and get into one where nature and basic activity was the reality. In that era a portable radio was the main thing some could not do without because they had to know the news or a particular score. I thought it sad that so many were unable to step free of civilization baggage and not feel relieved and happy about it. I felt an obligation as a guide to help urban visitors be and experience where they were when they were there. This usually took three days, half the canoe trip, before they’d begin to get into an outdoor rhythm, a pattern easier to get into when you’re not hanging onto a need for news, weather, and sports scores. I think most did reach an appreciation for the immediate reality of a fish caught, sunlight on small waves, wind hissing songs in the pine needles, and many another of the elements that make a wilderness excursion an intensely humanizing time. At least I thought it a good thing to feel and live our place in nature.
On the simplest level I’d try to tell people it’s not much of a getaway if you insist on bringing too much interfering baggage. That was very true on a canoe trip where dressing for dinner and multiple pairs of footwear were totally unnecessary. (As an aside, footwear was an issue. I was constantly being asked “What will I wear if my boots get wet?” My answer was “Wear wet boots.” They’d look unhappy until I’d explain the logic that if boots were wet it was likely raining so putting on dry footwear would only result in a second pair wet when one pair was certainly enough.) Society and civilization are constructs. Even the most ardent and intense wilderness travel does not remove us entirely from the forces of civilization, but it can lessen them so we’re able to see the trees in the forest and begin to glimpse all that goes along with the uncounted connections between tree, water, sun, soil, insect, weather, and etc. I think there is current concern for what some call “nature deficit disorder.”
There is concern that more and more people have less and less appreciation for the natural world on which all else rests. The most ascetic saint and greediest entrepreneur rely on the same soil microbes and processes. A person can believe the Almighty can fix anything but when their sink breaks they call a plumber as much more reliable than Heaven or a wizard’s magic wand. In an earlier era a version of this split between concept and reality was often expressed by workmen given engineering plans that didn’t necessarily correspond to what was practical or even when could be accomplished with existing material and tools. The gap between vision and what is achievable can be huge. How we gain or hang onto a base of fact and solid experience is a challenge for the individual and for the overall health of a society. Good management and wise practice is not based on faulty premises.
A cancellation of a cabin booking is not a big deal, but I’m bothered by the way technology (not the only construct to do so) has a way of being treated as more essential than a person. A recent example of this came from a young salesperson who smilingly told me I could get some piece of information by adding an app to my device. I struggled not to laugh. You see, I have the very strong feeling that once a person is passed Grade Three or Four they should have outgrown use of expressions that sound like burping. Burps and farts can be hysterically funny when you’re ten but the charm should have faded clean away by the time you’re twenty when some rather more compelling and entertaining things will have replaced belch noises. When I’m directed to an App Store I can’t help picturing a large retail space where orangutans, gorillas, gibbons, and chimps are all hooty-howling en masse for my attention. It is not an image of charming delight. I have not the words to deal with ardent ones who assure me some particular gadget will hold 10,000 of my favorite selections. Well, I don’t have (or want) that many, and in any case I’m only looking for one piece based on its beauty which has nothing to do with a large volume of other noise options. The mixing of 10,000 wheat and chaff together is neither flour nor flower.
I feel rather fortunate living in a place where not being connected is the norm and I’m not stuck trying to translate life onto or from a tiny screen. It can be seen as a limitation on my part to not embrace the wide world of the web making me smaller and less involved. But yet, the reality of living in the moment is really quite huge but not as full of drama as can be packed into an image impression with rapid shifts and changes. The difference between the moment and the web might be seen as the difference between real excitement from an actual experience and accomplishment or faux excitement from a concoction or the second hand. A violent English noble in the time of Henry VIII lived so in the moment he was able to give us a memorable line “The quiet mind; wisdom joined with simplicity.” He was separated from his head for misdeeds and left a history that is far more complex and rich than can be contained in any app. In Henry’s age heads were cut off or tongues cut out for uttering offense. These days we silence people by supplying faux excitement; easier than breaking their thumbs.