Sunday, April 12, 2009
White Sands Monument, NM: Thoughts on the Day
Miles since last blog: 20.0
Miles Total: 2944.5
It's easy to see how things could be missed in a car. Coming out of the mountains and seeing another range ahead, you might be tempted to disregard the area between Alamogordo and Las Cruces which wasn't the brilliant white sand. In a car, trapped inside a box that turns the outside world into just another television show, the basin would seem dead, vapid, a wasteland of dirt and dried grass. For me though, after a day of rest in body and mind, it was a fertile valley of thought and philosophy.
While an SUV ran down the highway hitting a tumbleweed, I could almost see the driver inside shirking and cursing the godforsaken desert. As I watched the tumbleweed burst over the bumper it was like a desert firework exploding into the wind and I felt lucky to see it. In the distance the white sand blew up and in places blotted out the purple mountains behind them and connected the earth and sky and clouds into one living organism. Even when the wind died down the mountains seemed to float in the air on a small cloud of white, behind me the clouds and light of a dropping sun painted the Sacramento mountain range in a way I could never have appreciated through pains of glass.
On the road, aside from night and day, time ceases to exist somewhat. The boundaries that work in the standard world blur. While people in their cars are eminently aware of what day it is, to me it is a place and people and a thought process and experience. While I forget the names of the days of the week slowly, the weeks give unnatural breaks in time to the lives of others, showing them sheared and fractured portions of their lives, small portions from which you can't make out the entire picture clearly. Without these, time is like a stream or the road I travel, easier to view as a whole and take and mix any part with any other for something new. Your life is easier to see and thus it is clearer to understand and make decisions about.
Walking the highways alone, at times you become an engine of kinetic thought. There are times were an idea so pure or great or fleeting is so powerful that I actually make a noise, a shriek or a grunt, when it comes into my head and I understand it. The noise whether from the power of the idea or the knowledge that it will be lost in part, I do not know. The thoughts are like runny eggs, partially formed and unable to be grasped and held onto completely until they have been talked over, whether to discuss or simply put into memorable words. At the end of the day my arm looks as if I have some sort of compulsive writing disorder which left words scrawled all over it and most of the round thought behind them blows away in the wind like an exploded tumbleweed.
My thoughts turn back to exploring and the inherent excitement that comes with the idea. It seems partly ridiculous. Yes, you can go somewhere that no one has ever been and be the first human eyes to see a sight, but practically this doesn't really matter much. Practicality can be overrated though. It seems it isn't the land itself that is so inspiring, sure a mountain range is beautiful, but it is beautiful whether you see it or not or whether you are the first or the 5000th to see it. It is the new experience and possibilities that lie within them.
To explore the land physically is to understand it. I could tell you that that Mt. Everest is 29.035 ft tall and give you a scale model, I could get topographical maps and find the slope and composite at each step, but without going there and experiencing it, walking its trails and feeling its cold, you or I can never really understand it. It reminded me of a conversation I had once with Free.
"I can't explain some of the ideas I have to you Free," I said to my buddy as we drove ceaselessly through the city of Montgomery, Alabama in search of a McDonald's. "I could tell you them but you wouldn't understand them, not because of any lack of intelligence but simply because there is a process you have to go through to really get them. I need to explain what I mean by understanding first I guess."
"Okay," Free said with a reserve of doubt at the sense that despite my disclaimer he might be being insulted. It was a tricky subject altogether and I had to tread slow and carefully.
"I think there is a big difference between understanding something is true, understanding why something is true and understanding how something is true."
"Okay, what do you mean?" I had his attention now and the defense was starting to release.
"I'll go back to math because I was a mathematician and it's the easiest explanation I know. To start with, there's different kinds of infinity, that's not so hard so i'll step it up a bit. As far as Real Numbers go, there are rationals and irrationals. Rationals are any numbers that can be expressed as a ratio like x over y (x/y) and irrationals are like Pi, they go on as a decimal forever with no pattern or repetition, if they repeat, they are rational too."
"Uh huh," he said.
"Well, it's proven that between any two rationals you can find an irrrational, and between any two irrationals you can find a rational number. So you get this picture in your head of something like a picket fence, rational irrational, rational, irrational, but that isn't the way it is at all."
"No, in fact, the infinite amount of irrationals is far bigger than the infinite amount of rationals. You wouldn't think it was possible with what I said about finding one of the other in between any two of the same, but it's true."
"Okay," he said trusting in my mathematical background more than anything else.
"See right now, you understand that it is true. You don't know why, but you know it's true. I could show you the proof and you would understand why it was true. This is pretty easy so far, right?"
"The trouble is, even as a mathematician, who knew the proof well, who knew it was undoubtably true, I could never quite grasp it. It didn't sit right with my picket fence view even though I knew it was right. Finally, now, after a long time, I understand how it is true. It's something that you can't explain because it is beyond our words, it's experience and time and thought but once you know how something is true you can feel it. That knowledge is a part of you and you can strum it like the fibers of the universe."
"Okay, I get it," he said understandingly and we drove on in silence for a while and thought. We had been talking about religion, spirituality and mysticism but it is a conversation for another time.
As I said, I thought a lot today. My mind ranged like the mountains behind and ahead of me, but these are the last snippets I remember from the runny eggs that ran through my fingers. As I walked on I realized that with every stage of my journey the previous step seemed tame and silly by the standards of the next. I realize that I have just been wading into the adventures that are ahead of me. My route has taken on the semblance of training wheels that I can sometimes coast for sometime without using as long as it goes where I want it to.
Now like a petulant child I have come not to need my training wheels most of the time and at times resent that they still remain even though there are times I still need them. While I started this walk to set me free from many things, I now find it the last shackle that binds me to something. The Santa Monica Pier awaits to set me free like the click of a cell door on the last day of a prison sentence. The click is anticlimactic, unimportant, simply a symbol of larger mechanisms and decisions whose function has long since past, all that is left is predesignated time and event that one must just wait for and endure. Still the wait, and the process, is what it is all about. I enjoyed today, and all the web of thought that ran through it, the sights I saw, I would love it unconditionally if only I were free to do it by choice and not because it is on my route.
My mind is set precariously between the present and the future balancing being in the here and now and wishing for the new and as yet unexplored. 834