Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman’

Where will you spend eternity?

June 3, 2013

It was Decoration Day in the Tennessee hinterlands yesterday, as it is annually on the first Sunday in June.

The old custom in my wife’s family is to gather in the family cemetery  on that date (not on Memorial Day as some do elsewhere, for reasons no one seems to know), place flowers on the graves of the departed, and then tuck in to a bounteous potluck picnic under the big shelter my late father-in-law (now one of the residents of the estate, tucked under) helped build.

It’s a strange custom, I suppose, but also a good reminder to ourselves the living to enjoy our brief tenure above the turf, and to remember the lives of those who’ve gone before us in the inevitable procession.  We didn’t do that back in the midwest, where I came from. Too bad.

It’s the Graves family cemetery, by the way. Really.

But you don’t have to be a Graves to get in. My wife has thoughtfully reserved spots for our family. Older Daughter’s not too keen on spending eternity there, though, and neither am I. My preference is to be boiled to my elements and ritually apportioned in all my favorite places: Radnor Lake, Warner & Centennial Parks, Greer Stadium. Maybe a spoonful to join the Graveses et al.

And if the cost comes down, family, I’d like some small part of me to enter low earth orbit and circle my favorite planet for as long as anyone can imagine.

Meanwhile, an occasional walk through the graveyard is a good thing. Next year I’m bringing Walt Whitman along, and I’m going to set up my folding chair on one of the unoccupied corners of the field  and read to the inattentive throng:

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
  How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

  I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green
      stuff woven.

  Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
  A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
  Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see
      and remark, and say Whose?

  Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

  Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
  And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
  Growing among black folks as among white,
  Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I
      receive them the same.

  And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves...
Do I contradict myself?
  Very well then I contradict myself,
  (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

  I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

  Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
  Who wishes to walk with me?

  Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

  The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
      and my loitering.

  I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
  I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

  The last scud of day holds back for me,
  It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
  It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

  I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
  I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

  I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
  If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles...

Mystic, dreamer, tramp, loaferer

July 14, 2012

And still it drizzles, here at Seattle on the Cumberland. I miss the pool.

No sooner had I filed my “loafing” post yesterday than Rick Bragg popped up on the radio talking about the Alabama version he calls “loafering” – not to be confused with Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, presumably. He elaborated in the pages of Southern Living recently.

Bragg usefully distinguishes loafering, which occurs when you’re idly in motion, from stationary “piddling.” He says he can do both, though he actually tends more frequently to put in 18-hour work days – “because I’m an idiot.”

Well, it all reminds me of James on Whitman:

Yet so blind and dead does the clamor of our own practical interests make us to all other things, that it seems almost as if it were necessary to become worthless as a practical being, if one is to hope to attain to any breadth of insight into the impersonal world of worths as such, to have any perception of life’s meaning on a large objective scale. Only your mystic, your dreamer, or your insolvent tramp or loafer, can afford so sympathetic an occupation, an occupation which will change the usual standards of human value in the twinkling of an eye, giving to foolishness a place ahead of power, and laying low in a minute the distinctions which it takes a hard-working conventional man a lifetime to build up. You may be a prophet, at this rate; but you cannot be a worldly success.

Walt Whitman, for instance, is accounted by many of us a contemporary prophet. He abolishes the usual human distinctions, brings all conventionalisms into solution, and loves and celebrates hardly any human attributes save those elementary ones common to all members of the race. For this he becomes a sort of ideal tramp, a rider on omnibus-tops and ferry-boats, and, considered either practically or academically, a worthless, unproductive being…

But he sure could write. Cue the poet, on Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and then hopping the omnibus. The philosopher concludes:

Truly a futile way of passing the time, some of you may say, and not altogether creditable to a grown-up man. And yet, from the deepest point of view, who knows the more of truth, and who knows the less,—Whitman on his omnibus-top, full of the inner joy with which the spectacle inspires him, or you, full of the disdain which the futility of his occupation excites?

Right. Life’s still too short to be busy, and getting shorter every minute. Hail the ferry, board the bus. Go fish.

“I loaf and invite my soul”

July 13, 2012

Enjoying Andrew delBanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. Every prospective student should read it. (Hint hint, Older Daughter.)

It’s chock-full of deep pedagogical wisdom from the likes of James, Dewey, Emerson, and Whitman, who said “I loaf and invite my soul”: now there’s a walker’s credo. And a biker’s, hiker’s, floater’s…

“Loafing.” That’s a more straightforwardly descriptive term for the   haughtily buttoned-down “contemplation” of the overly-cerebral and stationary style of thought. You can keep your Thinker, thoughtful walkers are Loafers – in the very best sense of the term. And they’re collaborators too, btw, not just solitary meditators. A collegium is a society or a community actively educating itself through mutuality of purpose and exchange. And that’s why my Intro courses are now called CoPhilosophy. “The pluralistic form takes a stronger hold on reality,” more creative and more fun. More true, too.

Delbanco also writes:

The most important thing one can acquire in college is a well-functioning bullshit meter. [Or baloney if you prefer.] It’s a technology that will never become obsolete.

And the most important reward of a liberal education: quality time, for a lifetime, with your most intimate personal acquaintance.

“You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life.”

Like Delbanco, I wouldn’t dream of denying that plenty of interesting people skip college. But as he points out, people who say college is not for everyone tend to have in mind other people’s kids.

What they probably don’t have in mind is an older ideal of college, one that teaches you how to loaf and enjoy it, and learn from it. That’s in danger these days. I’m glad Delbanco’s reminding us of how much we stand to lose if we don’t recapture it from the “outcomes”-oriented academic bureaucrats and anti-intellectual dopes who tend to hold higher education’s purse-strings in this country.

“They do not sweat and whine about their condition”

June 9, 2012

One last word, maybe, on Ray Bradbury. He said in an old Fresh Air interview that the sources of his lyricism, a cut above the standard in scifi,  included Shakespeare and the Bible.

In Martian Chronicles he has a character blaming Darwin, Freud, and Huxley for robbing humanity of meaning. That’s egregiously wrong, on my view those three tapped into the most prolific founts of meaning available to conscious agents in a material world. All great men do indeed have their limitations, Bradbury’s no exception.

But, I wouldn’t dispute his character’s next statement:

The Martians discovered the secret of life among animals. The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life… [They] realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer.

Hear that, Camus? Wondering again if Ray didn’t also read his Whitman.

“I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.”

Aren’t we all “chock-full” of faith?

January 24, 2012

William James* thought so. And Walter Kaufmann said we heretics can have faith too. Turns out his faith was a lot like mine, and like that of many in my profession: a pluralistic faith in the value of variety, of many voices, of collaboratve learning:

I do not believe in any afterlife any more than the prophets did, but I don’t mind living in a world in which people have different beliefs. Diversity helps to prevent stagnation and smugness; and a teacher should acquaint his students with diversity and prize careful criticism far above agreement. His noblest duty is to lead others to think for themselves. -“Faith of a Heretic” (see also WK’s lectures on existentialism)

But not all faiths are equally meritorious. A rigid, intransigent, unfalsifiable faith too easily becomes a misanthropic dogma. A tentative, grasping, spectatorial faith may be mere wishful sentiment. But faith that motivates works, faith in the future or faith in one’s own abilities or in the capacity for goodness of people who’ve let you down in the past, can be self-actualizing and self-fulfilling if we’re prepared to act on it ourselves and apply what we learn from the consequences. That, anyway, is the faith of a pragmatist, and not just the abstract academic variety of pragmatist but (some of us abstract academics might argue) of pragmatic agents of social change like MLK. Are you skeptical? Good, you should be.

(I love that phrase “chock-full,” it was Jackie Robinson‘s coffee and thus has acquired for me the connotation of fortifying, emboldening plenitude.)

Today in CoPhi we continue our first pass through the Hellenistic Age of ancient Greece, with the Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics. They didn’t speak much of faith, but they had a salutary form of it: faith in reality, and faith in the ultimate beneficence of acknowledging it. Their philosophically “dominant mood” was

a clear-eyed resignation to chaos and uncertainty, and a conviction that reality, even painful reality, is preferable to living under false ideas.

Where so many philosophers in the western tradition have recoiled from uncertainty, they found “emancipation” in the embrace of chaotic reality and the repudiation of “ridiculous, infantilizing misconception.”  They were among the first genuine cosmopolitans, and in JMH’s agreeable metaphor they decided to stop trying so hard to escape the forest of natural existence.

Hang a sign that says HOME on a tree and you’re done; just try to have a good time. Thus the cosmopolitan doubter looks back on earlier generations with bemused sympathy—they were mistaken—and looks upon believing contemporaries with real pity, as creatures scurrying through the forest, idiotically searching for  a way out of the human condition.

Cynic means dog. “Cynics wanted to live virtuously and calmly, the way the animals do.”  Reminds me of my favorite lines from Whitman.

I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

Stoics said “we are here, this is our situation, there is no hidden other situation.” Deal with it.

Epicureans said Take heart! The gods are distracted and uninterested, and anyway they did not make the world, “if they had, it would not be so full of suffering.” And, “we are going to die, but so what? When it is over, it will be over.” And, “the soul is a corporeal thing.” And, “accepting the finality of death makes it possible to enjoy the pleasures of the garden” and to stop yearning for another one to come. “Difficult truth is better than wonderful falsehood.” Sorry, Willy James.

In A&P we’ll look again today at any of Goldstein’s God arguments anyone cares to discuss.  I’m especially interested in the Argument from Pragmatism (#32), which is probably at best an argument for the right to believe (and not for the existence of God). In fact, most of the arguments are best construed in that vein. The largest question we can ask about them in the aggregate, then, is the old Clifford question from Will to Believe: is it ever right, anywhere, any time, to believe anything on insufficient evidence? By what right? (SEP)

D has challenging thoughts* on all this, and awaits my reply. I do too. Never know just what I think about WJ’s WtB, at a given moment, ’til I see what I say that day. I’m pretty sure it’s a crummy argument for God’s existence, but am still unresolved as to its ultimate merits in defending personal belief in things unseen. It’s a big, open universe, maybe there’s room in it for variety here too.

*”Appeals to authority are bad, recognition of authorities’ insight, when evident, is good. Is there a reliable criterion of evidence we can all invoke?”

If by ‘reliable’ you mean steadfast expectations based on past experiences, then empirical science has been proven to be the most reliable criterion for event prediction. I don’t think this has to exclude other means of discovery, but we all rely on empirical science every day whether we like it or not. One would be hard pressed to find a theist willing to be blindfolded and rely on divine guidance to traverse a busy intersection… If we both accept [the foregoing statement about ‘authority’] as true and by ‘authorities’ insight’ you mean insight based on scientific theories that are repeatable, falsifiable and backed up empirical data, then, in light of verifiable evidence, ‘authority,’ in this sense, is simply the genesis or author of the theory, which has no bearing on the veracity of the facts…

Sounds right enough. My problem (might it be my salvation?) is that this still sounds right to me too:

I have long defended to my own students the lawfulness of voluntarily adopted faith; but as soon as they have got well imbued with the logical spirit, they have as a rule refused to admit my contention to be lawful philosophically, even though in point of fact they were personally all the time *chock-full of some faith or other themselves.

Faith in the probity of scientific inquiry, for instance, is a faith I happen to share. I am prepared, even, to cross the street on its authority. Seems pretty reliable so far. But it’s not really “faith” in the same sense, is it?

Is there a reconciliation in the offing, between the Jamesian pluralists (am I the only one?) and the hard-core take-no-prisoners atheists? Or at least a spirited and friendly conversation?

Or should we just call the whole thing off, on the authority of whoever left the apocalyptic flyer in my car door last night?

“Jesus Christ is Coming to Take Over! – Your invitation to the take over and escaping death begins by saying yes to Jesus Christ… [Visit our prophecy site on the coming of WW3, the east and west coast tsunamis and mega quake, backed by miracles, signs and wonders at”]

Kinda makes a mockery of my high-blown defense of Jamesian pluralism, doesn’t it? I think I could turn and live with animals…

loafing on the grass

October 18, 2011

Even the least religious of men must have felt with Walt Whitman, when loafing on the grass on some transparent summer morning… the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth. William James

Bells Bend (Nashville), October 17 2011

“I could turn and live with animals…”

March 21, 2011

Chapters 5 & 6 in Native Science are about animals and place, respectively, so that calls for a reiteration of the link to Michael Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place,” mentioned the other day. (Summary)

Pollan’s influential essay was all about how humans can best express and sustain a healthy respect for animals, especially those destined to end up on our plates. He thinks people like Joel Salatin, at Polyface Farm in Virginia, are onto something important. Could be.

Native peoples, we read, have traditionally perceived animals as co-creators of life, in many ways our betters and (as Eagle Man already taught us) our teachers. But of course, indigenous peoples have always eaten animals. Respectfully, gratefully… humanely and ethically too? Or is eating animals wrong, period?

Well, what would Walt Whitman say?

I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

There are non-consumptive, non-exploitative forms of participation in animals’ lives. Telling stories featuring animal heroes is an example, especially those calling us back to the more elemental and instinctual parts of ourselves.  But we’re more comfortable with the Disney version, projecting anthropomorphic stories onto Simba and Mickey and Baloo et al. Great entertainment, but do we ever outgrow the patronizing, sentimentalizing propaganda?

What we’ve really got a case of, apparently, even if biophilia reigns at the deepest instinctual levels, is bio-phobia. We resist the “natural orientation”that would draw all life into our circle of empathy. The Shaman, again, runs interference in “establishing and maintaining a direct relationship between human beings and the animals and plants.” (Remember Ed with his hand in the ground?)

Another of my favorite topics is raised here, the question of how “meaning passes from generation to generation,” crucially distinguished among indigenous peoples by their inherited oral and hunting traditions. Do those of us whose stories are more encrypted, and who do not trap, wrestle, or otherwise subdue our own sustenance directly, have a harder time “coming into being” (i.e., becoming educated about our natural relations)?

Coyote stealing fire from the shamans” will remind many of us of Prometheus, and the Great Turtle myth of the Iroquois of Gaia. Stay tuned, Stewart Brand and James Lovelock are on deck and in the hole. (Lovelock may actually be in his bunker humming Carole King.)

I’ve mentioned Aldo Leopold‘s “Land Ethic” before, but Cajete reminds us again. It carries a strong indigenous current I hadn’t thought about much: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Is that true?

“Multiverse” is a term William James liked, and lately Brian Greene and other astrophysicists, but for neither of them does the term quite mean “multiple realities of which the reality experienced by our five senses is only one of many possibilities,” and in which direct communion with animals and plants might result in knowledge discoverable in no other way. James would have been sympathetic, though, especially if the nitrous was strong.

Do animals have “rights,” beyond interests, even if they cannot defend them discursively or juridically? Peter Singer

The Navajo concept of ho’zho was engagingly discussed by Chris Phillips

Ancient indigenous paths and roads are everywhere, even where their traces are hard to spot. But I’ve been motoring up and down one of them for many years to visit my in-laws who live down “the Trace.” Sometimes I park, get out, lace up my Nikes, and participate in a locomotive ritual that owes more than most realize to native design genius in the matter of moccassins.

Finally, and not just because we’re just back from gorgeous Fall Creek Falls: springs and waterfalls are wonderful symbols of healing and purification. They’re powerful, beautiful, inspiring, “memorable.” I don’t think “western science” would or could ever remove its spiritual impact on any honest observer.

the way

January 27, 2010

We’re talking about classic Chinese philosophers in Intro today, Confucius (the sage, not the biopic that bumped Avatar), Lao Tzu and many others whose names  can be harder than Greeks’ to keep straight.

But The Tao of Pooh should be simple enough

Owl of course is the opposite of Pooh, the Knowledge for the sake of Appearing Wise, the one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, rather than working for the enlightenment of others. That way, the scholars can appear Superior, and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something. After all, from the scholarly point of view, it’s practically a crime not to know everything. But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to understand because it doesn’t seem to match up with our own experience of things. Isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t?

Oh, yes. Ask any pragmatist. Or ask Bob Solomon: For the Confucian, the personal is the social. For the Taoist, the personal is the relation to nature. For both, the goal is harmony in human life and a larger sense of the “person” than the mere individual. Experience preferred.

Or ask Simon Critchley, who reports this Socratic jab from Confucius (aka Kongzi): “You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?” His rival Lao Tzu thought he understood his body to be the source of all his suffering. That’s blaming the victim, if you ask me. Both are now asteroids, nominally at least. Presumably their suffering (and understanding) is no more. Same for Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), who– like Freddie the Leaf— saw death as “just like the progression of the four seasons.”

“We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie. It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him. “Yet, you were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”

“Does the tree die, too?” Freddie asked.

“Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life.”

“Where will we go when we die?”

“No one knows for sure. That’s the great mystery!”

“Will we return in the Spring?”

“We may not, but Life will.”

“Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question. “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon. It’s been about happy times together. It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children. It’s been about colors in Fall. It’s been about seasons. Isn’t that enough?

The Japanese Zen  monk haiku masters (like Mabutsu) would say it is, if they said anything propositional at all. You never know just when the bottom will fall out. So true.

It was enough for Walt Whitman, too, who sang of “the beautiful uncut hair of graves” and would not be “contain’d between my hat and boots.”

Pooh, for a bear of very little brain, has sure made his mark amongst academics and intellectuals. In Pooh and the Philosophers John Williams says Whitehead got it wrong: all those post-Platonists were really annotating our ursine hero. In Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews discovers a humanist role-model and skewers the pretensions of literary critics in the process: two acts of public service we can all be grateful for.

WJ bio – 12

December 4, 2009

We rejoin James in his early sixties, in 1903: a time of rapid (by the standards of the day) mechanization. “A Packard accomplished the first automobile trip across the United States,” San Francisco to New York, in the astonishing time of just fifty-two days. The Wright Brothers have just gone aerial. And Henry Adams is yearning for the thirteeth century’s cult of the Virgin of Chartres.

To get slightly ahead of our story: James exchanged letters with Adams not long before his death, responding to the latter’s dark musings about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the inevitable “heat death of the universe” and so on, this way:

“Though the ULTIMATE state of the universe may be its… extinction, there is nothing in physics to interfere with the hypothesis that the PENULTIMATE state might be a happy and virtuous consciousness… In short, the last expiring pulsation of the universe’s life might be, “I am so happy and perfect that I can stand it no longer.”

That’s looking on the bright side.*

James’s great intellectual excitement at this time is his discovery of the “process” philosophy of Henri Bergson, his elan vital and his perception of time’s inexorable forward momentum. “It is like the breath of the morning and the song of birds. And to me it tells of reality itself and not merely of what previous dusty-minded professors have thought about reality.”

(Note that it’s always other professors’ dusty-minded ideas one must shake off.)

This is when James wrestles, somewhat ineffectually, with “the Ph.D. Octopus.” If exclusionary formal credentialing was already out of hand then, how much worse is it now? Short answer: lots.

This is also when he really first appreciates his fundamental consanguinity with John Dewey, who “makes biology and psychology continuous” and whose “favorite word is situation.” (His second-favorite was “reconstruction”).

And this is the time of the Emerson centenary, when James orates in memory of New England’s great Socratic Transcendentalist:

“The deep today which all men scorn” receives thus from Emerson superb revindication. Other world! there is no other world.” All God’s life opens into the individual particular, and here and now, or nowhere, is reality. “The present hour is the decisive hour, and every day is doomsday.” Such a conviction that Divinity is everywhere may easily make of one an optimist of the sentimental type that refuses to speak ill of anything. Emerson’s drastic perception of differences kept him at the opposite pole from this weakness. After you have seen men a few times, he could say, you find most of them as alike as their barns and pantries, and soon as musty and dreary. Never was such a fastidious lover of significance and distinction, and never an eye so keen for their discovery. His optimism had nothing in common with that indiscriminate hurrahing for the Universe with which Walt Whitman has made us familiar…

1904 brings the nominal birth of  James’s “radical empiricism,” made radical by its refusal to concede the reality of “any element that is not directly experienced nor exclude any element that is directly experienced.” Bertrand Russell, famously disapproving of James’s “Will to Believe“– make-believe, Russell had sneeredsaid James “was right on this matter, and would on this ground alone deserve a high place among philosophers.” (More Russell quotes)

*Russell also agreed with James’s rejection of cosmic pessimism, even supposing our sun and galaxy and universe must someday expand and collapse and disappear:

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence.

Long-term thinking is good, wondering what life will make of itself is vital… but let’s not get carried away! The end of the universe is (almost) unimaginably remote, much moreso than the potential end of a humanity victimized by its own self-destructiveness. This would have been Russell’s answer to young “Alvy Singer”… it was in fact the essence of what “Dr. Flicker” advised:

NOTE to students: the James story still has a few years to tell… but this is all you’ll “have to know for the test.”


June 10, 2009

The scheduled morning bikeride with Older Daughter didn’t come off yesterday, morning being an alien concept to her at this stage of summer vacation… so I found myself again pedaling solo at Warner Parks. It’s a great way to cheat the heat on a day headed for 90+ degrees, under all those tree-shaded paved roads. Managed to circumnavigate both parks, about 18 miles or so from the Belle Meade entrance to Ensworth High School to the Steeplechase course and back to Deep Wells, in the process coming across a memorial bench I’d not encountered before near the summit of Percy Warner. (These lovely, simple commemorative tributes dot the parks in strategic locations, providing welcome respite and reflective pause for tired and thirsty hikers and cyclers.)

memorial bench Percy Warner ParkI lifted my insulated water bottle in silent homage  to James Miller Harrison (1954-2003), who sadly made it only to the bottom of the fourth (by Ethelbert Miller‘s reckoning) before being benched forever- a full half-century shy of Norman Corwin‘s impressive and growing tenure on this earth.  And, I tried to appreciate the gorgeous vista before me for Mr. Harrison and all those others who loved these woods and this view and this oasis of solitude in the city, but who no longer can appreciate it for themselves.

I’m sure he’d be pleased.

Being in this setting, in this state of mind, invariably evokes Whitman. What are these woods and trails and meadows? What is the grass?

Now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.