Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ed Zahniser: Let Sleeping Cabins Lie

Wilderness around Fulton Chain from Castle Rock above Blue Mountain LakeIn the soul’s delicious fog between our sleep and full wakefulness, consciousness emerges like a sly ventriloquist. Moving freely about the stage, it takes full advantage of the blurry atmospherics. These mornings on the cabin porch, when my sons emerge from their cabin sleep, I try to blend my voice with this ventriloquism. It’s a parent’s only hope of revising the coding errors of our contributions to their DNA.

How often we know far better than we manage to do. If wisdom were a basketball hoop it would be 15 feet off the ground, not the standard 10 feet. I probe my sons’ inner fogs: “Wisdom is knowledge lived over time,” I say.

Nothing. Like a weak headlight beam I have just discounted my own wisdom penetrating our early morning consciousness. Poor timing.

The boys sit transfixed, staring at the mountain. One nice thing about this interlude of awareness is how the act of disrespect otherwise implied by ignoring a parent’s direct address is necessarily suspended. I imagine we may not see this particular suspension of the dogma of respect again until they visit me in the nursing home some day.

You will visit me, won’t you?

Fog, mist, and cloudiness attend our borders and transitions. Out near Crane Mountain morning clouds nestle like lakes in low-lying valleys. When ancient Greeks boarded Charon’s ferry to cross the River Lethe’s waters of forgetfulness, don’t you imagine something other than a sunny, blue-sky day?

Maybe post-night sleep’s inner fog is what some call the Alpha state. My sons do seem caught up in meditative bliss. So much for spiritual effort. Early on, even the Bible gives only simplest instruction: “See, I have put before you today life and death. Choose life.”

How arduous is that, as instruction, I mean?

Or: “Sleepers awake!” How’s that for a two-word manual for the religious life? It’s as easy as One, Two, Alpha State. Two words hardly less fraught with complex meaning. Or Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”

If God played straight with Moses on the mountain before Godself sent Moses back to Egypt, that verse might better be punctuated: “Be still and know that I Am, God.”

What I like about this time of day is how you can get away with asking your kids the really tough, deep questions of life: “If there’s an Alpha state, what is the Omega state?”

Nothing. The guys are still tight-rope walking on their own fixed gazes somewhere between the cabin porch and Crane Mountain. Mind over Matter is kid’s stuff compared to No-mind over Matter. The quality of the fog is such that you can’t tell whether the one emerging is an adult or a young person.

(Later today, out of the supposed blue, Justin answers that “Alpha state-Omega state” question: “The nursing home.” Blank minds record best.)

In the Galapagos Islands, night-feeding white gulls often follow boats. Boats produce food scraps, and they churn up seawater, bringing natural food close to the surface. These land-based birds emerge from near darkness like flitting ghosts. Local lore prizes the gulls as good luck charms. At early morning they fly back to land, and a lost boat could follow them. Open ocean horizons are featureless, like inner fog or the mind at utter rest.

Abjectly different circumstances can work the clear mind like fog does. Witness Darwin in the Galapagos Islands recasting life’s unfolding. Three years on a boat away from home and you go crazy. That or you focus, focus, focus. From a different island but what looks like the same bird, only with more curve to its beak— suddenly what everyone so long ignored about the good monk Gregor Mendel’s genetic theory makes stone-cold sense to Darwin.

“The only one who cannot be awakened,” I tell my sons, “is the one who only pretends to sleep.”

They still struggle for balance on their own gazes out across to Crane Mountain. What you depart from is not the way. Balance, balance.

Today’s cyberized wisdom is advertised as an easy nut to crack, Cosmic Egg as shell game, wisdom as knowledge over-easy. There’s chicken soup for your soul and a mere half of the truth of Hinduism plunked into western consumer culture by a former baggage handler from India. Think positive: if anything bad happens, it’s your own fault. You weren’t thinking positive.

But . . . here’s some chicken soup for your soul. Will that be for here or to go?

The soup or my soul?

A small cloud mass differentiates itself to the cabin’s port side, just off the bow. It looks like a white gull, headed toward the mountain. Off their tightropes now, my sons watch the gull, too. Another day is auspiciously launched on the edge of wilderness.

Photo by John Warren.

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Edward Zahniser

Ed Zahniser retired as the senior writer and editor with the National Park Service Publications Group in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He writes and lectures frequently about wilderness, wildlands, and conservation history topics. He is the youngest child of Alice (1918-2014) and Howard Zahniser (1906–1964). Ed’s father was the principal author and chief lobbyist for the National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964. Ed edited his father’s Adirondack writings in Where Wilderness Preservation Began: Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser, and also edited Daisy Mavis Dalaba Allen’s Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack farmer - a memoir of Hillmount Farms (Bakers Mills).


3 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    worth reading & pondering.

  2. Mike says:

    Nice writing Ed. Thanks.

  3. Kim Cissel says:

    Great work. I’m Eileen Cissels’ Youngest brother-we hiked together on the C&O Canal with her when I was a Kid.I have Never Forgotten that.
    I turned into a Composer And Also a Writer; maybe Even a Human Being…..
    I’ll contact you again.
    My Very Best to You!
    Kim Allan Cissel

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