Spirit of Nature

WindInWillowsThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic, was a book I first read during my doctoral studies. In the UK professors are likely to be able to cite A. A. Milne and the fictional bits of C. S. Lewis as well as the current academic stars. Of course I’m over-generalizing. In my experience, however, I met many wonderfully rounded professors and I tried, during my too-brief stint in academia, to emulate them. My wife recently read The Wind in the Willows to our college-aged daughter and me. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had an accord for all our married life that I will wash dishes if she will read to me, and we have read well over a hundred books this way, from children’s titles to scholarly tomes. From my perspective, listening to a book read adds a layer of meaning to the text. The cadences, the intonations, and the editorial remarks all lend texture to the experience. I had quite forgotten, as it has been years since I’ve read the book myself, about the mysterious theophany in chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.”

In a passage that is almost overwritten for today’s youth, Rat and Mole, in search of Otter’s lost son, encounter Him out on the river. The language is reverent, and languid. The two animals come upon a horned deity who is not named, and fall in worship. The fact that he has pan-pipes makes Pan an obvious candidate, but the description also reminds me on this autumnal equinox of Cernunnos, the horned god. The spirit of nature. I feel myself trapped in a world of cubicles and drywall and money. Who wouldn’t fall at the feet of even a pagan deity offering release from such shackles? We have allowed ourselves to be trapped here. We have bought into the system that enslaves us. “There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing than simply messing about in boats.” Rat is my preacher; I am his acolyte.

Nature reminds us that we are evolved creatures and that civilization comes at a great cost. I never feel so alive as when I’m walking in the woods. I don’t pretend that I could survive alone, but having a position that requires growing heavier at a desk day-by-day feels out of sync with what I grew these feet to do and these eyes to see. Manhattan is a wonder, to be sure, but it too comes at great cost. Nashotah House was not a problem-free place, by any stretch, but it was in the woods. The trails on and near campus could restore a soul in the way chapel could never nearly approximate. So it seems appropriate to slip The Wind in the Willows onto my bookshelf next to my Bible, and to slip outdoors for one last untrammeled moment of summer before autumn begins.

Confessions of a Luddite

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a techie. I learned my computer skills on a Mac, and I have been an adoring follower of Apple ever since. Every time I see Windows at work, I sneer at how they try to emulate the real thing: the Mac operating environment. Only clunkier. It is like watching hand-drawn cartoons in high-definition. Regular readers of this blog expect a daily post, but my valiant laptop, alas, had what is akin to a religious experience and I’m losing it. I’ve done my blog posts from that laptop for nearly two years. I sometimes work on them during the long commute to New York City. When my Mac Book encountered the plethora of signals from a Manhattan office building, it froze up. At home it no longer recognizes my base-station router. With my limited technical knowledge I’ve tried every trick on the Internet that doesn’t involve some Geek God going off into jargon that a humble reader of ancient languages can’t understand. I am grieving.

Yesterday, thinking about my plight, I saw the parallels with religious experience. My laptop in my eighth-floor office is like Moses climbing Mount Sinai, but less robust than the 80-year-old prophet. Having encountered a higher being—signals from the heavens, hundreds of them—it has bowed in acquiescence. It has received an epiphany that I missed while going about my daily editing duties. When it returned home, it was not able to recognize the one signal that has been its lord and master since it was first booted up. Nothing from restarting the router to reinstalling the entire factory-set system to clearing and restricting the access to the one true network has helped. My computer, to borrow a phrase from Atwood, has gone into a fallow state. That is a kind way of saying it is a mere paperweight or doorstop.

According to the standard interpretation, that is similar to an encounter with the divine. It leaves you marked, transformed. Sometimes incapacitated. Or perhaps the correct analogy is that of idolatry. My computer has gone on after foreign gods and no longer recognizes the one who gave it birth. I have suffered through two sleepless nights because of it. I even visited the local Apple store where they suggest I clear the AirPort history. Like I know what that means. Perhaps I have the analogy all wrong. Maybe my computer is the deity and I am the acolyte. It is mysterious and powerful and I am left in tears after an encounter with it. But really, it feels like a friend has died. I haven’t been able to post my quirky observations. I have to borrow a friend’s computer. Am I a prophet or just another Luddite awaiting my own theophany?