Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Inside and Out

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My house has a roof and many solid, sturdy walls. When I am inside, I see little of the outside, in any direction. This roof above me serves marvelously well to protect me from the rain and heat, and the walls protect me from wind and cold. I feel the change of the atmosphere inside my house, compared to the outside- the "wide open" feeling of the wind and air outside changes to a quiet, still kind of atmosphere when I go inside- a "contained" feeling.

The colors outside are different because of the natural light of the world. That light, more enormous than I can conceive of, dwarfs the tiny shards of glass light that illuminate the inside of my house. The light of the world is a living light, compared to tiny little bulbs slowly burning out, which can be too yellow or too white, too dim or too bright. Even when the sun seems garish or penetrating, my eyes adjust. Sometimes, they don't adjust to the low wattage that holds back the night inside.

When I step back out-of-doors, the world suddenly becomes expansive. New sounds instantly appear. It feels like coming out of a deep, dense womb or cave, and into a windy, bright space without boundaries. The air is almost always more humid, hotter, or much colder. The sort of relaxation I can find inside is not to be found outside- but the sort of alertness I can achieve outside can never be found inside. I really feel like two people when I pass to and fro indoors to out.

My thoughts inside of my house are different from my thoughts outside. Inside, I think about the things on the walls, on the tables, on shelves. I think about finances, family on the phone, news on this screen or that. I think about my life as a civilized, house-dwelling man. I think about what we'll need to do to keep the house around us. I think about the time I'll be parted from my family- which is normally the best part of any day- before I can return to the house, safe in the knowledge that we can hold on to it for at least a month longer.

When I go outside, I think about what lies over the horizon east or north, about the inexhaustible possibilities that the world represents to me. There's nothing stable outside my house; nothing calcified. I think about the other living features of the environment around me- trees, birds flying, wind moving, cats hunting, deer jumping fences. I think about how I am part of their great family, too. I have a family inside my house, as well as out. It's really one family, but this house has been built, which cuts everything in two, and pulls me away from the other half.

When I'm outside, the wind and the sky brings the best news of all: rain is coming; cold is coming; the heat is breaking; birds are migrating. It sounds so banal to some, but for me, the news the sky has brought me has never made me depressed or cynical.

The sky above me is the roof of my soul. My spirit has no walls; it needs none. It only has a neverending expanse of more and more living beings and sacred topography, spreading out to a world's edge that never comes. The roof of my house, and its flat ceiling just out of reach of my hands, is the covering of a civilized man's mind, a hoodwink, along with the walls, for a mind that thinks of numbers and practicality. I am a stranger to myself when I am inside, most of the time.

Late in the year, I tend to go camping a lot. Long ago, myself and a group of friends built tents, and we take our tents and set them up. They are wood and canvas, and they look very primal, standing with their tall, earth and wood-toned peaks, their cotton-spun cloth drifting in the wind, almost like they are breathing. When we are away in those tents, wherever we are, we have the same sorts of homes that the ancients had. And there is a difference, I find, in those homes than in the solid foundations of my house.

Even inside my tent, I don't feel like I am inside at all. When we set up our tents, we spend most of our time away from them, out walking, talking to one another, sitting around fires, hiking, socializing with others we meet, and eating under the sky. I'm never more social than when I leave my house far behind, and have only this light shelter, this movable, tiny hut of canvas, maple, and walnut with me. I am social with other human beings, but also with my non-human family. Something changes; I can talk to the oak near my tent-door in a way that I can't talk to the oak near my house-door.

The tent is there, a comfort for us should we need to take shelter from an especially hard rain or sleet, but we don't go there often. We really just sleep there, and even then, some of us don't sleep inside all the time. One of us sleeps under the sky on nearly every occasion- he's bear-like in every way but one: he can't hibernate in an enclosed space. He has to have the open.

My real home is outside. My second home is that building, but I prefer the tent to the building because the tent doesn't trap you inside. It doesn't create a new, deeper atmosphere that makes you forget about the outdoors. It's not too quiet in a tent; the most enclosed rooms of a house get too quiet. The tent doesn't stop the sound of the rest of my family's singing; birdsong cuts through it. The tent does not come with rent, or a worry that someone will take it from you or force you to leave; no one taxes the tent.

The tent may not shield me from a raging bear or a robber, but then, the shield of my house makes me feel distant from myself, in the midst of its security. What value is safety to me, if the best part of me, the part I love, the part that I value, doesn't even seem to be there while I am protected and secure?

I might suddenly change my mind if a bear tore my tent open and mauled me one night. But I must question the relationship between "safety" and my house- I know, as others have known, that too much safety creates its own sort of danger. Too much safety has an element of dullness and passivity which is poison to the spirit of any creature. People who live in houses like mine wonder at this talk, but then, dullness and passivity has a way of silencing the love of the wild.

The dullness has a way of redefining life, into parameters that life was never meant to have. Life is not "safety first, safety only"- life is safety often, and acceptable risks to allow for growth and enjoyment at other times. Life is not simply rational; it is reasoned out at times, and gone far beyond the rational at others. The human in us has a pause to think, but the animal in us has to run and leap. I've lived in houses all my life, and I know that I've committed some sort of crime against the wild spaces in my heart.

Sometimes we die while taking risks- but the spirit in us accepts that. It's better to have lived that way- an open sail in the wind- than to have sat in shallow water, bobbing there, waiting for something to happen. I shouldn't feel that secure in my house; after all, it is a huge bonfire piled and waiting to ignite; it even has wires all throughout its walls, carrying a current of fire near some very flammable sheets of insulation- and a dozen things may send the first flame licking away. Escaping my tent would be an easy matter, compared to escaping my house.

A robber can easily penetrate my house, and he could do it in such a way that I never heard him- if death is going to find me at the hands of a robber, I think it could happen just as easily behind walls as it could behind canvas. But death is not my main concern. Living happily is my main concern. When death finally catches up to me, I'll have new concerns.

I am surrounded daily by dullards who either hate the weather or fear it. They hate animals, or they fear them; they hate or fear anything that they can't control with a knob or a switch. For them, the pinnacle of human life lies in how far they can control the air temperature inside, and how hot the water in the shower will run. They smooth their skin out with every sort of soap and oil, and wash their hands all day long.

Any spot of mud or dirt, any blade of grass on their clean floors, and they shout, complain, get angry, get upset. Any bit of dust on their shirts, or a stain of earth, and they tear off the garment, hurling it into a washing machine, using quite a bit of water and bizarre chemical cleaners to get the garment right again.

These dullards would say that my earthy, sweaty smell offends them. I must say, their overly-clean, chemical sweet smell offends me. They disapprove of my dirty jacket or jeans; I disapprove of their clinically dead living spaces, where I am terrified to walk across a floor or carpet, or touch anything, for fear of setting off their whining. I don't want to be in such a place. I don't care if I have to sweat or shiver more. I don't care if I have to bathe every few days instead of once a day, along with countless hand and hair washings per day. My humanity is not in a tiny, enclosed shower or under an air-conditioning unit. My humanity isn't dependent on hospital-like standards of cleanliness. I like comfort, but I wont’ be a slave to it.

I don't care about the dull insistence that everything be spotless. Nothing in my true home is spotless, and my soul is an unwashed savage. Sometimes, my body is, too. How odd that these very clean dullards are always coughing and sick, while I seem to never get ill. Maybe the spirits in the wild that cause disease can't tell me apart from the other dirty animals and the dusty trees and rocks, so they leave me alone. I don't know.

When I sit in my tent, I have dirt and grass under my feet. I've walked across that floor many times, and never gotten it dirty.

My tent never takes me away from what's most real to me, the place where I feel best. I feel exposed, uncertain about the sounds cracking or snapping in the dark around me at night, more alert; I feel more uncomfortable in the tent when the cold rain pounds it and some leaks in, and I feel hotter inside it when the sun becomes baleful and dries the world out. I am comfortable in my very cool, dark shelter of a house. But I also feel human in my tent, in a way that I don't feel in my house.

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