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.

The day after Earth Day from the morning porch

Earth Day is bullshit. (My favorite comment on the day was from nature writer and curmudgeon Chris Clarke on Twitter: “I am to Earth Day as @Space_Kitty is to St. Patrick’s Day. Prefer to stay home while everyone else vomits green for a day.”) It’s true that I decided to begin serializing qarrtsiluni‘s long-overdue Animals in the City issue yesterday, but that was sheer coincidence. Looking at the past six years’ worth of updates in the sidebar of The Morning Porch, I notice that it’s the day after Earth Day—April 23—when I seem to have my eyes and ears the most open:

April 23, 2008
A male starling—a rarity here—lands among the cherry blossoms, iridescent black feathers speckled with white. He gargles musically.

April 23, 2009
A moment of sunlight illuminates the yard. Water seeps from the mountain’s every pore. The starling is doing its best to talk like a duck.

April 23, 2010
Mid-morning sun: I’m almost baking until the wind blows, cool as midnight, the chitter of goldfinches interrupted by a raven’s cronk.

April 23, 2011
Four gray squirrels interrupt their chasing to scold the feral cat—a Two Minutes’ Hate. In the corner of my eye, the zip of a winter wren.

April 23, 2012
Snow falling faster than it can melt. Unto every one that hath shall be given, says the sky: hawthorn and bridal wreath now twice as white.

April 23, 2013
Clear—but how clear? I notice a faint haze in the sky near the sun. Off in the woods, the white cloud of another shadbush coming into bloom.

What’s mental illness got to do with it?

Coyote Crossing:

There’s just one particular form of mental illness that’s been found to be shared by a significant number of spree killers. It’s depression. At least a tenth of people in the U.S. have it, or have had it, myself among them. And there’s no conclusive causal link between the depression and spree killing.

You are not normal.

There is no normal. You may well be happy and well adjusted. I hope you are. I often am as well. But every single person is neurologically distinct. Normal is semantic, an arbitrary boundary on the bell curve between peak and long tail. Mentally ill, if it means anything at all, just means landing on the wrong side of that arbitrary line.