Posts Tagged ‘Walking’

A meerkat on the eve of election

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I’m back in Boulder Co. One thing I’ve learned about coming up to this altitude is that physical exertion (and daily Emergen-C) is the best way to acclimatize. To me, the most attractive physical exertion available round these parts, is hiking in the front range of the Rocky Mountains. So I’ve been going out almost every day for extended sojourns into the almost stereotypically beautiful woods.

There is an astounding degree of horticultural and geological variation in the few square miles of public lands just outside of Boulder, and the well groomed and well used trail system is a testament to a community that knows what’s it got here and doesn’t take it for granted. Aside from serving as a large scale dog-run and non-threatening casual date spot for the E-conscious CU gang, it is also a training ground for a wide variety of athletes. There’s a good number of olympians and other serious performance junkies who live up here specifically to train at this altitude, and there’s nothing in the world like the feeling when you’re picking your way up a steep rocky trail in all your hiking gear, and a guy in shorts tee-shirt and running shoes (no water) bounds past you up the slope faster than you can run on a flat surface at sea level.

Near the end of the time that I was here in March I hiked to the summit of Green Mountain (8144’). This suddenly connected the hiking that I was doing here to the “mountain climbing” that I used to do in Japan as a teenager. The difference here was that I was doing it alone, whereas in Japan I always went with other people. Now that I’m back here I find that I’m drawn to summits. I’ve already been up on Bear Peak (8461’), and South Boulder Peak (8549’). Although these are far from serious mountains on the scale of mountains in the world, these climbs are significantly more strenuous than the flatter trails people are walking their dogs on. They require a modicum of planning and preparation, and I find that, at my current level, I need recuperation after them.

So I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I’m so drawn to these peaks. Getting to the top of a mountain is a singular thing. Tibetan monks prescribe it as a cure for depression. It is literally elevating and suspiciously spiritual. But in my experience a sense of conquest is not a part of it. I’m acutely aware that I’m not climbing these things cause I’m a boy. Part of how I know this is that back in the day in Japan, the sense of conquering the mountain was more a part of it. Now it’s coming from something else.

I think it’s the meerkat in me. Walking around in the woods, I want to get up above the trees to look around. Not to command. To locate. I want to know where I am. To experience where I am. Turn my head and see Denver, a mile high below me. Turn my head and see the Nazca lines of Aspen, telling the space aliens where we ski.

Green Mountain is very present when you’re in Boulder it looms above the Flatirons like a theatrical backdrop. But when you actually walk to it, it’s much further back in the range than it seems. The Front Range is actually deeper than it is high, which is hard to feel in the foreshortened perspective from the Whole Foods parking lot. Maps hint at this, but a map is not the territory. I “know” that I’m on the surface of a sphere, but when I look across the sweep of the Rockies at peaks I know are higher than the mountain I’m standing on, and they’re “below” me, I’m actually experiencing the curvature of the earth with my senses.

The map is not the territory and a picture is not the scenery. There is no way to climb a mountain except by climbing it. Putting one foot in front of the next. One at a time. This is catnip to my current philosophical obsession with the idea that the really important truths about reality are not only obvious, but self evident and right in front of our noses. We have used our massive cerebral cortex to invent confusion and ignorance.

But the reason the meerkat stands up is because it’s scared. And it’s scared because there are things threatening it’s survival which seek to exploit limitations in it’s sphere of awareness. If it ignores a slice of it’s sensory pie, thats the angle the predator will use to come in.

It’s possible to see the woods as a Disneyscape of benign peace. But it’s also a corpse strewn deathscape filled with nervous animals desperately scratching out their survival between the crush of last winter and the next, amongst the cadavers of trees, shattered and rotting. The other day, there was a fly buzzing around me and I thought to it “What are you doing?” And it answered, “Checking to see if you’re dead so I can lay my eggs in you. What are YOU doing?” “Touche!”

It has been found that if you were to translate into human emotional terms, the experience of being almost any animal on the planet, the default state is one of fear, bordering on terror. Yet, when I look at the birds, squirrels and deer along the trails, I see them not as scared, but alert. It is clear that this fear they live in is not a negative thing. It is an essential component of their vitality. When they lose it (in a zoo for example) they are in a way similar to many humans; dead.

There is something deeply compelling about walking into a place where a misstep could result in serious injury, and a mountain lion or bear, could in an instant remind me where I actually am on the food chain. And as beautiful as it is, when I’m out there, part of the experience is that I’m afraid. I think that’s normal. I think that’s healthy.

I’m going to go to the top of the mountain and look around. See what’s coming to get me.

Walking Broadway

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

I’ve always had this conception about Manhattan that an important part of it’s dynamism, arises from basic design characteristics. On the most basic level, this comes down to, the compression of being an island, balanced by the big hole in the middle (Central Park). But moving one level closer, the most interesting characteristic to me is that the grid that forms most of the island is sliced diagonally on it’s long axis by the avenue known as Broadway. The places where the diagonal crosses other North – South avenues become complex intersections with a park (Washington Square) or a high concentration of activity (Times Square). Also given that the rough history of the city begins on the southern tip of the island and moves north, Broadway traces time as well as space.

I’ve always had this idea about making this observation experiential by walking the entire length of Manhattan island along Broadway. From Battery Park to the Harlem river. So yesterday, I did it.

It took five hours to cover the thirteen miles, with occasional stops. I stayed on the East side of Broadway the whole way.

I know that one of the reasons why I did this now is that I was just in Boulder Co. for five weeks and I did a lot of hiking there. The primary feature that I was hiking on and around in the Front Range of the Rockies outside of Boulder was the three big rock cathedrals known as “The Flatirons.” It didn’t hit me till I was right there, but at one point yesterday I looked up and started laughing. I was looking at the Flatiron Building.

Comparing hiking in Manhatten to hiking in the Front Range, one notes a sharp up tick in the number of restaurants and other commercial establishments. Not to mention people. For a good part of the walk, I was basically walking through a crowd. But the amazing thing is how in five hours I walked through a countless number of micro-cultures. It was like taking a core sample of, not just New York, but America. And if the universal is in the specific then it was like looking at the tree-rings of humanity. Something important in the patterns, revealing a different view of the universe itself. These are the things that pass through the mind.

One observation, that stunned me, was how obviously Manhattan is bisected on it’s short axis as well as it’s long. Manhattan below 120th street and Manhattan above it are TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS! I’ve always known this, but it was so clearly and unambiguously palpable. There is a good deal of variety of experience between Wall St, and Morningside Heights, but none of it is as drastic as the shift when you hit Harlem.

I want to try to go the other direction some time (and walk the West side of the street), but five hours pounding concrete has left me feeling like someone has been working me over with a ball-peen hammer.

I need some time to recover.