Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tunnels and Rivers

Well above the water.
My 2 ½ year old nephew is at the point where I can see his imagination developing. Presenting him with half a dozen toy dinosaurs on my recent visit illustrated just how much the mind can do with very little. And while most of his imagined activity between the creatures had to do with them fighting each other, I found two consistent elements in the landscape of his mind: tunnels and water. For him, normally the space underneath the couch was the most frequently a tunnel, but my out stretched legs or the area under the patio table could serve as a tunnel. And water, with the exception of when we had to remind him not to play in the dog dish, was any surface below his current level. If he was standing on the patio couch, then the surface of the deck was the water, and his frantic laps back and forth were often punctuated by excitement when he came perilously close to falling into the drink. I got so caught up in his imagined landmarks that I was a little disappointed when we drove into Baltimore and didn't need to drive through the harbor tunnel.

Seeing a developing mind glorify the monotonous was inspiring. My imaginative faculties are still with me, but it's difficult to keep the skill honed when I live in an age where phones double as virtual reality devices. While I still haven't gone to the extent of strapping my Samsung to my forehead, I find it simultaneously beneficial and detrimental that technology can "take us there". Could it be that we can really supplant reality and imagination with technology. Recently I saw the President take a virtual tour of the National Parks. With the devastation that hordes of tourists are inflicting on our parks, maybe I should embrace the applications of VR? We are constantly being given new ways to stimulate our senses. And that makes me wonder what is left? What will happen in a few years when my nephew's younger brother needs tunnels and water for his dinosaur landscape? Will he simply look into his phone?

The Wild
I contend that developments like this speak even louder to the need of wilderness. Wilderness is one thing we can't replicate because it is so much more than a place. Wilderness is often imagined before visited and when the imagination confronts reality, reality almost always wins. You can see pictures of wilderness, read books about the wilderness, but until you are in it, truly a part of it, you don't know what it means.


Wilderness seems to be a concept that requires a developed mind. Or maybe it counteracts the negative aspects of the developed mind. It fills the void of the lost imagination that accompanies our maturation process. Wilderness is a concept that seems to gain appreciation with age as the experience of life dulls our inner wilderness.  

There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than "you" can keep track of – thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where the bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionist plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They both are wild.
            Gary Snyder, Practice of the Wild


For my nephew, it may not be an inner bobcat, but an inner dinosaur. Or more specifically, an inner T-Rex. I just hope that when he gets to the age where imagining tunnels and water isn't enough for him, I can take him to some of the rich wilderness areas of Utah where they are still discovering evidence of dinosaurs. I have so many places in this world that stimulate my sense with their wild nature, and I hope that we don't lose sight of their value, even if we can see them through a ridiculous pair of VR goggles.

No comments: