Friday, February 24, 2017

Camping in the Redwoods with Hawthorne and Miller

(Brian Hartenstein on a Giant Redwood Stump)

Have you ever had an argument with someone on the internet?  You ever tried that nonsense?  It's a bit like debating a smoker.  They're going to win, it just takes the duration of that cigarette to burn for them to turn you to ashes.  They hear your side, they take a drag, exhale whatever inane and absurd argument back in your face, snub out the butt and walk away.  Discussion, Fin!
(Massive Sequoias at Redwood National Park)

Arguing with an anonymous person on the internet and then having them suddenly block you, is equally strange and cruel and has become a weird rite of passage in the social media age.  You're conversing, trying to connect with or convince someone about an issue near and dear to you while trapped inside an inhuman medium that doesn't account for nuance or subtlety or body language or facial humor... simply a typed chat.  When suddenly: They Extinguish a Lit Cigarette in Your Face with a RED EXCLAMATION POINT! and are gone.  You've been blocked. Your compete profile existence wiped from someone's cyber reality.  It's totally absurd, but for some reason, the pain is actually physically real.  Has this ever happened to you? How is it possible to connect with someone on an emotional and intellectual level with just typed words on a screen?
(Campsite, Redwoods National Park)

These are questions I posed to my daughters as we were strolling through the Redwoods National Park.  It is a very real place that is impossibly dreamlike. A place of wonder that appeals aesthetically to both the intellect (mind) and emotions (soul), and as we walked, we tried to connect this to two stories we finished recently: The Scarlet Letter, and The Crucible.
(Ranger Station, Main Entrance, Redwood National Park)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, is a book about very deep and emotional people who imprison themselves in very intellectual punishments and rules.  The public shame of Hester Prynne, the private flagellation of Arthur Dimmesdale, the inability of the town's people to comprehend the child, Pearl.  It's a book that puts the whole puritanical religion on trial.  My kids read this book (an abridged version for kids, mind you.  The vocabulary of the actual narrative is college level... even though I read it in high school, today's emoji powered young adults wouldn't make it past the first page) and were fascinated how Hester came to own her Scarlet Letter as a badge of pride.  They understood the reasoning of owning a tribulation so that it doesn't define you.  I was kind of impressed.  
(Rogue River Smokey the Bear)

Conversely, Arthur Miller's The Crucible is about sound and sober people losing their minds emotionally.  Sure, it is about Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials and how this awful brat (Forget the insipid 'Cash Me Outside' girl) Abigail Williams tears entire lives, families, and a town apart.  But when students are finally illuminated to the Joseph McCarthy Communism aspect, the brilliance of this work of art dawns on the intellect in remarkable ways.
(Massive Redwoods, Northern California)

Seeing the forest for the trees... that's what these two works have in common.  As we continue to walk through the park, rubbing our hands on the massive Sequoias, the rough bark, the soft moss, feeling the realness of this ancient natural cathedral... we fill our senses. Our souls and minds connect.  No words. No texts.  No emails.  No screens. Just nature as it was meant to be experienced. 
At night we pitch our tents, and hang our food away from the bears, and gaze through these towering heights at the stars, the great LED screen above, and hope that perspective always comes to us, that it takes root, and grows mighty from within.  

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