It is a mind blowing concept that, over the time humans have existed, they have created so many “things”, and allowed these “things” to define them. While that is an incredibly broad statement, because the word “thing” could mean a variety of materials, it provides room for vast interpretation. Specifically, I want to talk about what is on the surface, or what people use to define their own personal existence. “Things” such as technologies, brand clothing, makeup, jewelry. I am limiting this to modern materialism, but it is important to recognize that themes of materialism have been patterned throughout human existence; they are just more recognizable in this fashion, since I conveniently exist in this time period. The significance I want to point out regarding materialism is not the simple fact that people acquire “things” but that these items distort how the surrounding world views these individuals. Simply put, walking down the street I could make assumptions (emphasis on assumptions) about an individual’s life (interests, family life, economic status, education level etc.) just by observing how they physically present themselves. Conversely, if it was a social norm for people to be naked everywhere, all the time, it would not be as easy for me to infer characteristics about an individual. Materialism is increasingly defining individuals, not necessarily negatively, but nonetheless construing perceptions.
“Reflection is looking in so you can look out with a broader, bigger, and more accurate perspective.”
— Mick Ukleja and Robert Lorber
I have always been fascinated with perspective. Society can say what they want about it, but ultimately, it is individualized. What I find particularly interesting about this quote from Ukleja and Lorber is that they talk about perspective in relation to reflection. They essentially say that we reflect upon ourselves, and look to our own insight to formulate our unique perspectives. I like this point of view because they are saying we don’t need to rely on the influences of the world to formulate our own outlooks. Perspective is something we already possess and create, we just need to look to ourselves to further develop it. I like their understanding that once we look in we can in a way release our perspective into the world. I guess that is why there is so much diversity, in a broader sense than what we’re used to, because of the billion of perspectives that fill the space.
During a recent visit to the Galileo exhibit on the 5th floor of Bizell, my eyes were truly opened. I had the pleasure of observing works from Galileo, Plato, Aristotle and other influential past thinkers.
It is difficult for me to imagine a period of time when the Milky Way and the truth about our planet was essentially a mystery. Today, there are scientists who are solving unimaginable puzzles, and people such as Galileo and Copernicus were the equivalence for their time.
One aspect of this visit in particular that stuck out to me was something that our tour guide, Dr. Palmeri mentioned:
“When you find a place where you can see the Milky Way, you can see why they were so pre-occupied with it.”
From experience regarding these views, she is absolutely right. Even in the cities with the lowest populations, we are lucky if we get to see a handful of stars, because the brightness and bustle of our sleepless world is distracting from it. In my experiences in the few places that offer a view of the Milky Way, I have been overwhelmed by what is going on above me. It is so immense and vast that my eyes are unable to focus on the entire image, rather I have to put it together piece by piece to even attempt to make sense of it.
In Galileo’s time, there wasn’t electricity, neon lights, football stadiums, or sky-scrapers to blind them from the rest of the universe. We as humans have created a literal and figurative wall between us and something that is infinitely bigger than our existence. A wall of such great magnitude that we have to search for the few places left on this earth, uninhabited, that we can go to view what we can of the universe with our naked eyes.
When you experience this sight, and really experience it, you can understand as best you can why people like Galileo devoted their entire lives to pursing an answer. He was successful because he wanted to know more and he wanted to make sense of something that did not have a clear enough answer to him.
It makes me wonder if we didn’t live this way, isolated and separate from what’s beyond the blue, would our civilization be different? Wouldn’t we be more curious and sleepless over the unanswered questions that still exist? Maybe we can learn more from Galileo that just what he saw through his telescope.
I have found my happy place here at OU. I am sure that it will look the same in twenty years because I am sure that it hasn’t changed in the last twenty years. The fourth floor of the Bizell Memorial Library, the south side facing the south oval. There are six slim windows that pour in the mid afternoon light onto the two study tables. The shadows move across the tables and chairs in shifting geometric shapes the longer I stay. The chairs are barely held together and shake every time I shift positions. The wooden tables give off a mid 70’s feel and it smells of old books and musty air. Despite the aged carpet, and tearing fabric on the chairs, there is a unique charm. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s usually empty or I feel like I’ve transported to a different place in time at OU. Whatever the vibe, it is prevalent and in a way, comforting. The little corner I frequent isn’t necessarily special or appealing to the eye, rather it is quiet and open. It somehow reverses the effects that mundane schoolwork seems to have on me. To a point to which I almost don’t mind or even enjoy it. This is where I now come on a daily basis. I don’t want to share it or invite others because I don’t want to “decrease the peace”. I cherish this 4th floor: the windows, the views, the light, the smell, the outdated furniture, the “vibe”, it’s a good place.
Tonight, I was able to go to a special dance performance put on by the students of the dance program at OU. What was unique about this particular event was the fact that all of the performances were choreographed by the students who were sophomores, juniors and seniors. The dance that I have always been exposed to is ballet, and this was more of a mix of contemporary and modern dance. I was absolutely amazed by all ten of the pieces, and even though I’m not a dancer myself, I have developed a new insight and appreciation. One word came to mind when I was thinking back on the evening, emotion. From the first piece to the last, it was filling the room and from my observation, every group participating in the event felt something different.
The dancers: from what I could see the dancers felt had a unique emotion. I could tell that they felt something as they are the performers, they rehearse these movements day in and day out. They may or may not put their own meaning behind it. They are passionate about this form of art and strive to show it with every breath and movement. Their facial expressions are also convincing. They are telling a story, they are unveiling a piece of art whether they were trying to move the audience, the choreographer, or themselves.
The choreographer: possibly the only person in the room who knows the absolute purpose and meaning behind the piece. They are the artist, watching their dancers as brushes, paint the canvas. They had a vision of what this would look like and now get to sit back and watch it be created for all to see. What’s special about their role is that they understand the piece and their position in it. The audience can only take away what their minds create of it, as they are seeing the final product.
The audience: unlike the dancers and choreographers, this group of people takes a whole new meaning out of the performance. They have complete agency over what they take away from the piece. This could also be because their is their first and only time to see the dancers perform in this way, in this time. They see the perfected version, the final piece, what has been prepared, while the dancers and choreographers have been with it since day one, when it wasn’t anything at all, just an idea. There are three different perspective and sets of emotion in the room, colliding with one another. I can only say this from one of those perspectives so is it entirely accurate? Probably not, but that’s the wonderful thing about perspective, it’s your own and what you make of it.
If there is any author who has a knack for observation, it is Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is more than just the man who wrote painfully long works. He wrote with a vocabulary and intense description of what he saw on a day to day basis. He is an ideal example of someone who can look at the world around him and deeply recognize and admire his sense of place. He can take something as simple as a walk and turn it into a profound representation of place and create a meaning that anyone else wouldn’t have normally picked out. I admire his writing and only wish I could share his books cover to cover, but I cannot. Instead I have picked out though some of my favorite quotes. Words that have inspired me and shown me a new and unique perspective of the world around me.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-Henry David Thoreau
“What lies behind us, and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” -Henry David Thoreau
“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
This quote from Thoreau is seemingly simple but has more meaning behind it. I think he wants his readers to understand that there is profound meaning behind what we see. Often times we go about our daily routines and our eyes are open but we aren’t really taking in, and observing our surroundings. I think this quote is significant towards observation and establishing a sense of place in the day-to-day.
Listening to my grandmother talk, the creases in the wrinkles around her mouth, the glisten in her eyes. The conductor like movement of her aged and worn hands as she tells her stories. Her thick accent that is slowly fading with those of her generation. There’s so much knowledge and experience and wisdom to offer me. I latch onto every single word that comes out of her mouth because I know time is limited. For me, hopefully there are many days ahead. For her, she believes truly that any day of the week could be her last. It’s important to me to observe, to pay attention, and to cherish every single second. Most of my days are entirely mundane and repetitive. My daily to-dos are more along the lines of chores. To look at the world through my grandmother’s eyes. Through the eyes of someone who has a terminal illness, each day is a blessing.
Senses of the Backcountry
The emotions that I feel in the backcountry are so great in magnitude, they define the person I am and strive to be. No man-made experience or worldly materialistic pleasure can substitute the bliss of nature in my mind. The majority of these feelings are internalized inside me because they are for the most part in-expressible and would only make sense in my own brain. The best that I can do is attempt to explain what happens to me when I embark on a trip, but nothing written down can do this experience justice.
For me to soak in everything the backcountry has to offer means to fully embrace all of my senses at work. I close my eyes and listen. I listen to the whispering winds move through the trees, up the valley, on my tent, test my campfire, make me shiver. I listen to the birds sing and the conversation they have with each other from dawn until dusk. I listen to the crack of twigs which causes me to peak in fear of an unwanted, four legged visitor. I listen to the lack of conversation. I listen to my breathing, to my heartbeat, to the song stuck in my head. I listen to nothing at all. Complete silence is something I have yet to find in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I listen to the sounds of nature because I can.
Keeping my eyes closed, I enjoy the variety of smells. I smell the crisp, non-polluted mountain air. The collection of pine; each one distinct and no where near the “candle equivalence”. I smell moisture after a rain or snow. I can distinguish the life that inhabits the busy forest. I smell the wood burn in my campfire, and the meal I’ve chosen to eat. I am pleasantly surprised at the smell of the absence of what fills my lungs in the “real world”.
Eyes still closed I begin to embrace what I touch but more importantly what I feel. I feel the cold earth beneath my feet and bum. I notice the season: warm sun, cool breeze, chill of snow, and rain. I feel it all, to its full extent whether I realize it or not. I feel the ache and soreness of my body’s muscles. My legs from hiking, shoulders back and hips from the weight of my pack, and weary lungs from the thin mountain air. I feel the warmth of the fire and the warmth of the tea in my chest. I feel anxious, eager, satisfied, scared, safe, alone, invigorated, warm, cold, exhausted, energized, joyful, thankful, humbled, lost, found, and most of all observant. All feelings with their own story and meaning. I feel a hundred emotions at once and separately, something that isn’t possible anywhere else.
Now I can open my eyes. What I can visually observe is the most significant out of the senses in comprehending the backcountry. I see what’s close to me and what is far. My aching hands, tired feet, wilting trees and all of my equipment. In the distance I see the deep canyons and streams, the sheer cliffs and intimidating peaks. I see the eternally green meadows and rolling hills. These serene landscapes effortlessly prove their beauty and worth in living up to their titles.
What’s important to me is seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling all that isn’t there and how it is such a blessing to escape those things and experience the new ones. These aspects are what make the backcountry a spectacular place for me. As said previously it is impossible to write down everything as this is just scratching the surface. When I’m not there I can easily close my eyes and imagine the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings that embody this entire experience. This is what backpacking means to me, and these are my observations.