To Be a Better Human, Drop Out of the Race for a While

ImageHow many people in this country ever escape the relentless, unopposable, din of humanity? How many people in this country have spent a day without electricity, running water, a TV, or phone? How many have spent a day without seeing another person?

I think that quite a few people in my generation, the Boomers, have experienced this human-free state at one time or another. The generations who came before us are even more familiar with it, and if you go back far enough you find our ancestors who were probably desperate to escape it. But I suspect that people today are getting further and further removed from the world that exists outside the daily noise of man; and I think that many are unaware that such a thing exists at all.

Years ago when I was younger, kidless and had not succumbed so fully to the exigencies of modern life, I used to pack my truck and head into the Mojave Desert. In my four-wheel drive Conestoga I would roam for days or weeks, often seeing no other humans during that time. I carried everything I needed, and discovered that sometimes you need less than you think.

The first time was a total accident. Half a day into a full day’s drive to Death Valley National Park, it suddenly dawned on me that the park was closed. Newt Gingrich, intoxicated by his own power, had shut down the government. I tossed a mental coin at a highway rest stop and it fell on the side of forging on into the unknown. It was not until much later that I realized that chance decision had changed my life.

At the end of that day, after an 11+ hour drive, I rolled to a stop around midnight, bleary-eyed and punchy, on the edge of a sandy cliff beyond which stretched a vast expanse of desert which could be felt more than seen in the moonless night. The last few notes of Pink Floyd’s Animals faded into the perfect stillness as I killed the engine; and then there was nothing. A momentary wave of panic flowed over me and it took a conscious effort to open the door and leave the tiny island of the dome light and step into that infinite, warm, darkness.

The greatest journeys start with the smallest step, and that was a great step I took that night. I learned to love those forays, even though there was always that momentary flash of self-doubt, that annoying inner voice that whispered, “Oops, This was a mistake,” when the key was turned off and the sound of the engine disappeared so completely that for a second you wondered if it had ever really existed.

It takes about a day, I found, for the jangling, atonal, cacophony of the modern world to clear from the brain. That day is a little rough, like a junky kicking the habit, but the time afterward is sublime. There is a peace there, a contentment, a deep connection to the natural world that can’t be felt during normal life.

Nowadays I don’t get the chance to escape like that, but I do jealously guard my right to head into the hills and away from humans for an hour or two at a time. Not going out with a friend, not going out for a hike, not going out with some purpose or goal to achieve; just exiting the human world for a while.

To be a part of the landscape, a member of the natural world; that is the thing. For a few brief moments to cease our frenzied efforts to control the planet, and instead let it guide us.

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