Thursday, June 9, 2011

to be awake

When I was in high school I went through a phase where I was obsessed with Henry David Thoreau. I think most adolescents go through phases of obsession, and it wasn't like I was as obsessive as that girl in the 10 things I hate about you movie where she thinks she's going to the prom with Shakespeare. (That portrayal was a bit startling.)
It was more realistic, I read passages from Walden every day, and re-wrote lines that I thought were very inspiring into a notebook. Although it ended up I was basically copying it out.

It didn't matter that his experiment in natural isolation was basically in his mother's backyard, or that his last words were "Moose." and "Indian." Everything he wrote seemed beautiful and true. It was enough to make you want to throw out all your possessions and clear the dust from the "recesses of your mind." I suppose it could be a partial explanation for my general anti-social attitude, "Ah I have never found a companion so companionable as solitude!" right.

Even though the Thoreau phase passed, I think next up was John Donne, and then after him V. Mortensen in LOTR, I still think about Thoreau from time to time. Especially because in Hong Kong I feel like I've lost any connection to nature or the life that's free of possessions that he's talking about. I can go weeks without feeling like I'm stepping on the ground, or actually seeing a clear view of the sky. It feels artificial, and although I love the city, sometimes with all the lights, I feel like I'm like Winston in 1984 in the room where it is never dark.

The other night after a lesson I stepped outside and was hit by a familiar wondrous smell. I know how people say smells are kind of like immediate time travel, but I have such a poor sense of smell I never really understood what that meant. It was like I was a kid again, we were playing little house on the prairie, building bonfires until it was dark. I was walking around this fancy luxury apartment complex, trying to figure out the source, trying to remember exactly what the smell was.. so joyous! it was fresh grass! it was cut trees! it was days spent horseback riding at a barn on the edge of town, and just before I was going to take off my sandals and walk barefoot on true ground as Thoreau would have wanted, I realized what it was that I was smelling.

It was manure.
I was smelling fertilizer.