Catskill Mountains

31 Jul

All right, so let’s wait another week before we get into the modern: I’ve got some good skyscrapers in mind.  But for now I’d rather go way back here, as far back as we’ve ever been.  Because there’s something about the onset of spring that really makes me feel like time’s beginning – like inside all of us we carry something of the sentiment of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; like you can wake up each and any given morning and say, “Shit, today I’m going to create the world.”  Water lapping slowly towards the shoreline, helped by the breeze, the mountains uplifting.  It’s gorgeous out.  You know all my talk during the winter, about trying to enjoy it and everything, finding the beauty of the season specific moment – well you know that was all bullshit right?  I mean, I had to say something!  But the good weather is why we really stay alive I think, to draw our names upon reality.

The Catskill Mountains take their name from the Dutch, who called them the Kaatskils – kils being the old Dutch word for creek, of which the Catskills have plenty.  Early English settlers referred to them as the Blue Mountains, along the vein of Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White.  Geologically speaking the Catskills aren’t mountains at all but are instead an ancient plateau that’s been eroded throughout the years into the relief we see today.  And before that even the whole area was a giant river delta, standing at the edge of an inland sea, collecting all the deposits that ran off of the large and now extinct Acadian Mountains (around where the Taconic Mountains stand today).  How do people actually know this stuff?  I don’t know.  It’s the springtime and they’re feeling confident.

I was in the Catskills this past weekend and they’re as beautiful as ever, cut through by ravines and waterfalls of varying size.  To me, this is the prototype of wilderness, this is what I think of first when I hear the word “nature.”  It makes sense that the Hudson River school of painting, considered America’s first native art movement, took this area as its inspiration.  It speaks on both the large and small level, whatever parameters you want to set your canvas to you’re sure to find something that’s rewarding.  It’s a nice little lesson: I mean isn’t life all about scale?

The French philosopher Ernest Renan says it better: “Be ready for anything – that perhaps is wisdom.  Give ourselves up, according to the hour, to confidence, to skepticism, to optimism, to irony, and we may be sure that at certain moments at least we shall be with the truth…Good humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us…Saint Augustine’s phrase: Lord, if we are deceived, it is by thee! remains a fine one, well suited to our modern feeling.  Only we wish the Eternal to know that if we accept the fraud, we accept it knowingly and willingly.  We are resigned in advance to losing the interest on our investments of virtue, but we wish not to appear ridiculous by having counted on them too securely.”

But we still try, that’s the important thing.  And it’s fun!  Here’s the same side of the coin, or maybe the opposite side, from Emerson: “If you love and serve men, you cannot by any hiding or stratagem escape the remuneration.  Secret retributions are always restoring the level, when disturbed, of the divine justice.  It is impossible to tilt the beam.  All the tyrants and proprietors and monopolists of the world in vain set their shoulders to heave the bar.  Settles forevermore the ponderous equator to its line, and man and mote, and star and sun, must range to it, or be pulverized by the recoil.”

So to put the two together: it all comes back to you, but who’s to say when?  Maybe by the time it does you’ll be long gone.  Maybe you’re not gonna get it in this life, but whatever, you still gotta try right?  Because we are alive right now, that’s the one certainty.  We look at these rivers, creeks and streams and waterfalls, and they get us riled up, maybe they tell us something.  A thousand years ago would you have jumped into this pond?  Of course you would have!  So why not today?  There’s so damn much to celebrate.  There’s so damn much to learn about.  And still, they tell us that we’re supposed to worry about how to make a living!

(Originally posted Apr. 9th, 2010 on Takethehandle.com)

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