November 25, 2012
Hiking is exhilarating … it’s beautiful … it is being "one with nature". All well and good. For me, however, it is more than that. When I am not gasping for the last breath of air I shall ever breathe, hiking is also a great time to think. Today, was such a day.
My hike today wandered aimlessly up the Black Mountain Trail from the trail head on the West River. The operative word in this case is "up". The trail is of medium difficulty, but honestly, it gets harder every year for me. Pounds and years taking their toll. On the bright side … more stops to rest … more time to think.
To start, I had a difficult time getting motivated. It was nippy outside with a crisp wind blowing. The sun teased me unmercifully, popping in and out from behind gathering, menacing clouds. Once you got on the trail, the conditions would be great. Once you got there … not when you look out of the window. Eventually, I convinced myself to go.
Understand what hiking means to me. Dictionary definition: Walking along a trail, usually up the side of a sheer precipice, carrying a pack strapped to your back containing a variety of survival paraphernalia with a combined weight slightly less than two times the body weight of the person wearing the pack and excluding water (that would be left behind). To this, I would add at least one hanging stone. Normally this means a small stone sculpture … two pounds max. However, recently, I have been moving the Book Club to new locations. Years ago, I made a piece that I called the Book Club which represented my wife’s actual book club. It was composed of six “large” hanging stone sculptures, each representing one of the book club members and weighing ten to twenty pounds. I had decided to move these sculptures to new locations on nearby trails. There is no truth in the speculation that this symbolic dissolution of the Book Club has anything to do with my exclusion from the group because I am male. I would need to carry one of the hanging stones with me on my hike.
One might speculate that, given its weight, the placement of the large hanging stone would be in close proximity to the trail head. One would be right. But, one would still have to find the right place … not too public – it needs to be “found” … not just any tree – one needs a horizontal limb, substantial enough to support twenty pounds of rock … not just any trail – stone hangers, like serial killers, like to revisit the scene of the crime, relive the event, speculate on its discovery. When I return to a spot where I had previously hung a stone and find it to be gone, I spend hours wondering why it was moved, where it went, and what the finder imagined about how it got there. Yes, I have a very sad life.
In addition to hanging rocks in trees, I also enjoy stacking stones along the trail. First of all, the vertical aspects of the stacked stones is very appealing to me. If it was good enough for the ancients, it is good enough for me. I fully understand the Hikers’ Code … “ leave no trace”, “pack it in .. pack it out” “ don’t put that crap here you lazy, perverted asshole”. To that I say, “Pretty Pretty Pretty”. I leave what I find … rearranged of course.
On many of the trails that I hike, I have left stackings. I just hiked a trail a couple of days ago that meanders along a small mountain stream. The stream is a jumble of angled stones (great for stacking) of varied sizes and with lots of flat slabs of stone (the Holy Grail of stacking stones). I have done three different stacking along that stream, of which two of the three are still standing. I love to revisit a stacking to find that it has survived. For these two, it has been about two years. They somehow managed to remain standing regardless of the winter snows, spring floods, falling branches, and the hands of other hikers. I find them to be comforting … familiar. Here is the difficult part to understand. I equally love to arrive at a spot and find a stacking gone. Crazy, don’t you think? Stackings have a life of their own. They exit until they no longer exist. We rearrange and reorder natural objects. We may alter their condition, but ultimately, they are natural objects and subject to the laws of nature. Their nature is to follow the laws of nature (kinda Goldworthyque don’t you think). Man, as far as we know, is the only creature with the ability to visualize his future, his demise and beyond. He has the ability to create objects … tributes to himself … to survive long after his demise. Man, however, cannot imagine infinity … for himself, nor his inventions. Our creations are but mortar and stone … slaves to the laws of nature.
Maybe the closest we will come to infinity are our words. Maybe the real thing that sets Man apart is his ability to manipulate symbols (written language) to describe his creations … his imaginings. Just maybe, our words will outlive both Man and his monuments.
So it seemed to me