About ten years ago, in what must have been a previous life, the actual time is of no consequence, I made an effort to escape a world that had become to me intolerable with its mindless and constant babbling, noise, its useless and frenetic activity. There was some notion of escaping to wilderness in a visit to Calais Maine; the thought of living there away from traffic jams, noise, air that was always visible and stank of car exhaust, was appealing.
After a brief period of being there that Spring, it became clear that I was internally terrified of the actuality, and returned to megalopolis of New York City. I'm not speaking of what was my beloved Manhattan where I spent a great amount of time as a teenager. I am speaking of urban-suburban sprawl, where towns and cities don't seem to have any boundaries. They are just amorphous blobs that make up the sprawl. I wanted to be near Manhattan. There was part of me there, I thought. It is the center. Museums, the opera, symphony, chamber music, recitals, restaurants.
After five years of living within a half hour drive of Manhattan, I realized that I'd not been there once in all that time. Why? I spent my youth at the museums, the Hayden Planetarium, the book stores, record shops, music shops, art galleries. It was the place that I loved best, that I held in highest esteem, and now it was like Antarctica. I know where it is, but I'm not about to visit tomorrow thank you.
Why go back? I guess it's very much like the behavior of an abused child. They later on choose abusive relations and situations because at least it's familiar: it's what they were trained for. Strange yes, but it does have a certain logic. It often takes a truly forceful event to cause people to change. The fact that cars were regularly running off the road and into people's houses on the street where I lived wasn't forceful enough.
Graham is like Switzerland, fenced on all sides by mountains that act in my head like a barrier between me and the outside world. I had already begun erecting that barrier a number of years ago: after having dubbed the evening television news as the "Nightly Non-news", I ceased watching it; after seeing printed as fact in the New York Times, things I knew were not fact, I ceased reading newspapers altogether. News magazines, and magazines in general were discarded next. The only thing I was missing is annoyance at stupidity, faulty data, and data that had a 50/50 chance of being true. I figured, and as it turned out, rightly, that should anything both true and important happened, someone would tell me.
There is a comforted and protected feeling from mountains, when you are in them. There are many places of utter silence in which I would feel embarrassed to raise my voice, sometimes even reluctant to speak at all. Mountains are humbling, not in the dictionary sense which always seem to involve the concept of self abasement, but in the sense that they by their very existence remind me of just and proper place in the scheme of all things. Lookinng at them causes me to slow down, stop internal babbling and simply pay attention; pay attention, in fact, to all the aspects of what has existed basically unchanged for thousands of years before I ever existed and will continue to exist for thousands of years after I die. Perhaps this thought is not comforting to some; to me it is.
Mountains have spirit somehow, or at least spirit is attributed to them. Why do the cause me to pay attention, not to think, just to pay silent attention as I would to a lover? Long before the white man settled this area, the Cherokee and other indian tribes lived here. They understood connections with other living things and with the mountains. This, for me, is spirituality. I see no necessary connection between spirtuality and religion; one can have either without the other. The word 'spirit' comes from the Latin verb 'to breathe'; it is not a thing, but connections or relations that exist within us; such relations and connections cannot be seen. Can one see love? One can see aspects and consequences if great attention is payed, but love itself cannot be seen; it is not a thing. A person can understand "I love" or "I am loved", bu that love can never be seen. I can say that I love the mountains in which I live and mean it. We are lovers, the moutains and me.I pay attention, respect. They in turn, give me comfort, serenity and a joy so intense that often causes tears. I think I got the better part of the deal.
Aristotle is supposed to have said, "Man is the measure of all things." A recent riposte was that the translation was in error and and should have read "Man is the measurer of all things." In either case, what can one make of this word "all". In the first quote, the entire universe should be considered relative to Man (meaning the human species)? I hardly think so. Mankind is some freak biological accident; an animal like many other kinds of animal, and overall not nearly as bright and intelligent as he would have himself believe. Civilized? A quick review of written history would put the lie to that idea rather quickly. The mountains give the quietude to dismiss the pretentious foppery of rabid anthropomorphism, and begin to understand the importance in existence of connections. People are more connected here, though they may live individually in an isolation that excludes the sight or sound of another human being. They have the time for others in little and yet important ways.
My first full Winter here and at the first impending snow, a visit to the supermarket was a source of amazement. There were more people than I had ever seen there. Everybody was making sure they had provisions stocked up; the mountain roads when icy can be very dangerous and people just adapt, uncomplainingly. Thoughts of the grim scenes of northern suburbia came to mind. Some lady came out looking the very image of a northern "civilized" suburbanite remaking as she passed, "You don't want to go in there." After entering the supermarket doors, I was prepared for the worst. I almost started to laugh, wondering what the lady was talking about. It was more like a party. This was fun. People were stopping to talk with others, or helping someone find a particular item. I met people I knew. Everybody was actually having a good time. It didn't matter that it was going to snow. This was not a catastrophe, but an event. Events are not the norm here, they are the exceptions and each and every event, here and now, is to be enjoyed.
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