After one has hiked several distinct areas of the western United States deserts, they all begin to feel the same once you’re deep onto the trail, encumbered by cliff sheers, powdery monoliths, and the confetti geology indicative of an ecological churn which molded the general routes humans would later heuristically overstep. It’s one of the key features to hiking, actually: dependability.
On a recent hike to the Calcite Mines inside California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a trail through a sea of slot canyons and wide washes, trenches of death mosaicked with the previous evening’s flash-flood fatalities — elderly ocotillos, mostly — milky white briquettes and chips of flashy mica sun-speckled a dipping and rising path to a World War II resource depot. On this trail, like all the others, nature’s aesthetic and function, a renewal of life through the renewal of death, is so apparent. It is, for me, the reconnection with this dependability that so often calls me out into the middle of nowhere to meander and wander and do nothing but walk and breathe.
The basic premise of all philosophy is really an observation of nature in order to explicate the phenomena we call time and space, hopefully stoking communication and understanding with others; derivations of this exist as the philosophies of a subject matter — the philosophy of language or the philosophy of art, religion, science, whatever. But language, art, religion, and so on, are all derivations of nature and its cycles, syntheses of accumulative, explicated observations of nature: the burning of forests, the reticence of the rains, starved flowers, skies of color, the way a stone chips, and the constant winds editing our paths. Moreover, however we observe and describe any experience, field or linoleum floor, both the experience and the observation are inextricable from the heretofore indisputable law of certain death.
When you stop on your path to consider all the why that sprouts around us, one might be able to see that every effort in which we partake is also one of disorientation. Namely, to even describe on the internet a California desert, for an anonymous someone thousands of miles away, is to disorient yourself, yet for a brief period of time, from the direct and present nature surrounding you, inasmuch as the description imparts the same temporal extraction for an unknown reader. To describe crestfallen ocotillos hammered and lain dead by a storm paints a knowledge image while it similarly defines natural action. Much of the troubling why of existence is human-created, war for instance, but mirrored from nature, the compulsive thirst for resources and those shadowy lurking hungers and starvations. The drive of the technological age seems to be the repeated self-conviction that a centralization of knowledge imagery will somehow positively change a growing humanity that rapidly encroaches more corners of the natural world, though the present temperatures of society (and climate) suggest we’re quite slow to elaborate how more technology will propagate, or more importantly inspire, an improved participation with natural forces. But, like the circularity of a child philosopher, no dialogue, technologically mitigated or otherwise, will ever breach the terminal why of nature’s terminability. Perhaps for our own good, and certainly for nature’s sake.
In any case, the creations of language, art, religion, science — the action of philosophy itself; thought, really — is a blindside to the human dilemma of perpetual disorientation: All soundless pause leads to an absence of direction. No matter all the commas and descriptors lining our path, whatever our war colors in society, the answers are evanescent at best, true and complete knowing is implausible given the scope and force of the natural world and the scope and force of the creatures hungry inside it. And what we individually know is quantitatively closer to nothing than some things.
It is the believing we undertake, however, that we could describe a dead ocotillo to another and by that orient ourselves toward each other which lays down a continued path for many of us to undertake. Deities or no, the mere human synthesis of belief shields us briefly enough from the loud natural forces which will inevitably shatter us like revealed facets of calcite.
But still, though, that pure feeling of laying upside-down atop a calcite mine ledge to observe nature askew, its dizzying disorientation, and the force of that moment as it reorients us alone to our self, and to the spaces between us and through sky.
I would know nothing so to hinge that way forever.