Sins of omission

At, Chris Clarke goes for a winter walk in the Mojave desert.

I spend so much time staring into a computer screen. It’s an odd problem to have. I earn my living writing about the natural world, trying to convey the things about it that make it different from the conceptual one we increasingly inhabit online. Few things online hold the surprising complexity of an oak leaf, a beetle’s wing. Online, we create the world in our own image, and we filter out the nuance in our image when we do it.

That’s not unique to the online world, of course. Simplifying things is what we do when we tell stories. First we discard the irrelevant details. Then we leave out details that make the narrative too complicated. Then, fatally, we get rid of any of the details that muddle the moral we’re trying to convey.

What is the online world but a global storytelling session? And I contribute to it. I sit at my desk, trying not to be distracted by the natural tumult outside the window, and I omit one beautiful detail after another.

What a pallid, thin soup of boiled-down life this writing becomes.

What should I omit in telling you about the walk I took as the engine in my new old truck cooled, rattling? The stone in the shoe? The awkward conversation with the bicyclists at the trailhead? The way I shivered after water slopped out of the Nalgene onto my shirtfront?

Let’s try this: Once upon a time a man walked out into the desert alone. No one knew where he was. He had some water and some food. He had a map, which he did not consult. He had the Joshua trees and the junipers for company. It felt sufficient.

He had more company than the trees, but he wouldn’t find that out just yet.

It’s a beautiful essay. Go read the rest.

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