There is safety. We don’t want to get hurt. This is only natural, I believe they call it instinctual, isn’t it? When you were a child, did you fear bees, getting paper cuts, being hit by somebody with a crumpled up piece of paper? I mean, beyond being a baby that is… babies seem to be drawn to sharps… poisons… hot surfaces, and all sorts of danger. But outside of being a baby, and perhaps a teenage boy, since they seem to get into a great deal of trouble, don’t we search for ways to make our lives safe? This instinct is is a great way to weed out the dumb and non-viable babies and poor-choice teens. But it runs deeper than that. As a child, you perhaps were afraid of being hurt, and that is only normal, or typical, or whatever they are calling common these days, but as you matured we extended this preservation to others.
We don’t want to see our loved ones get hurt (I mean outside of certain sexual proclivities but that is another story). Nature or nurture drilled into our DNA or RNA or whatever it is that makes us remember things not just personally, but as a species and throughout the aeons. We then extend that feeling to preserve and avoid pain outside ourselves, to our family and friends, and then [most of us] mature some more and extend this blanket of safety to strangers and those beyond our sights. We don’t want to hear that a child in a far off country got very hurt and some adults were killed by a drone, fell off a horse, or were hit by a car.
There is nature. Nature is chaos. There is no natural order. There is no ‘balance of nature’ that is an illusion. This Truth is the only place where Science and Theology agree. Nature does not use every piece of the buffalo or whatever is dead. It wastes and forgets and builds you up only to grind your bones into anathema. When the forest is burned down by lightning, it does not regrow. The forest you knew is gone forever. It does not come back. A new one will. In years, or decades, or whenever. It will grow back but only in as something else. Nature is blood – hook, tooth, and talon. It is all pain all the time suffering madness.
Creatures playing, little baby animals, they are cavorting and tumbling, then one is struck by a car, falls down a cliff, it taken away by a much larger predator and is eaten alive. Living and being chewed on. Nature is pain and suffering and yet… There are times of beauty, these moments are instilled with us at a very deep level. I have been with people who otherwise would be considered not smart or even dangerous due to their selfish and petty choices and I have seen these people marvel at the beauty of nature. The sunset of a certain day glowed.
The purple glow of the sun setting on the Rocky Mountains is obvious, but little moments we see all the time strike us of all intellects, social and emotional aptitude, and even the most basic education. The deep blue of the ocean in certain parts of the ocean or the cold water in other areas. Nature is majestic and doesn’t care about your or your life. It is larger than all of us, some even believe it is God.
There is a famous falls in the Catskill mountain falls up a certain road much painted by certain artist of the Catskill School, Hudson River School, Woodstock, or other moments. The famous falls are up a rather precarious county road and it takes the traveler from one small and slightly depressed hamlet to another depressed hamlet. There is a parking lot, then a few hundred yards down a busy county highway the erstwhile hikers may take their first risk, that of sharing the roadway with cars and trucks scrambling up and down the highway. At the trail start (perhaps called the trailhead) one hops over the guardrail and is safe from the cars and takes on yet another set of perils as the trail begins and large rocks give passage beside a stream that becomes a raging river with the slightest rain up upon the mountains. The stones are in a huge jumble to the inexperienced woods/wo/man but they have been arranged by long ago hands and kept in place by a lost army of parks trail maintainers. When one gets up the top of the first rise, the trail doesn’t get any better. It changes, and at times is less risky, but even if the total distance from the guardrail to the first view of the falls is but half a mile, it is not a simple trail. It is taken by many, and has been for quite a long time.
When I first stumbled up and back on the trail, the trail was in poor shape but there were few people on it. Then, the Catskills were re-re-rediscovered, and more people from all over came, and yet the trail was in worse shape due to floods and other natural calamities. It was a rough decade. Several decades of “oh this only happens once a century” storms. Walking the trail’s fallen in parts, and braving some ways to trip and break, one is brought up to the stopping point where above are the falls. Since it has been painted, photographed, and written about by far greater artists, I reserve the right to not go into detail other than to say that there is quite a rise up to the uppermost summit of the falls.
Most stay put. View the falls, take a few selfies, and then move on. Before, there was a way to take this journey further. This meant to continue up beyond the official trail since the section had been closed since sometime in the 1980s when the death toll had risen in a publicized way. When I first took my way up there, I had to scurry up a sharp hillside and then to a very narrow and dripping path, if one could call it a path. there was a gnarled pine that provided what little protection one could get, at the point where the slippery wet shale game way to slippery red mud. Then, you could hunch about and follow a scooped out section – perhaps natural – and get behind the waterfalls. After the falls, you could continue further up and along other not-trail trails to the top, which in the summer was always moist and mossy and in winter icy, and in all other seasons quite dangerous. So many, actually since the early 1800s (since they often chissled their names into the living rock), crawled out to the edge and there sat at what, for Catskill standards, is the top of the world.
Then there is death. Many died before. Long before in the 1800’s, and 1900’s and into recent times. A death here. A slip and fall on the trail. A drowning in the waters. Some were drunk, others in the dark, some wore the wrong shoes, and others no one may know the truth other than the sad fact that some phone call had to be made to a grieving family. There is safety. As I said before, we don’t want to die, we don’t want our loved ones to die, most of us don’t want strangers to die. But… then there is nature, and she has the final word.
Nature doesn’t care. She doesn’t. She’s not your mother. If you live or die, it does not matter. The trees fall into the waters when the second “once in a century storm” happens in the same year. The moss you stepped on to get around the wet area on the trail perishes under your foot. The beasts and monsters of the mountains had been hunted into extinction long ago. But, for one reason or another, blame evolution or something greater we feel exceptional. We don’t want to go on some picnic and die. I understand. I never wanted to die when I went to the top of the falls though the dangerous areas. I will admit, I never did it drunk, or in flip flops, or otherwise in an idiotic manner. I hiked it knowing that nature was not a bounce house and there wasn’t an army of attendants who takes care of the trail and all my needs free of charge to me. In the woods, no matter how beautiful, I needed to be very careful.
And now they have built a staircase. The “they” being the DEC (Department of Environmental C… Uh… google it). These stairs are stone and crawl up the formerly slippery hill and then to what may be a walkway, since the fines were great and my luck with DEC tickets not too great, a safe passage to the top of the falls and a new lookout, not the living rocks or the frightening edge, but a safe wooden platform where numbers of people can come and go without any manner of worry, seeing nature, but not being in nature. This is perhaps a new low of humanity or perhaps it is representative of what the Catskills have offered for centuries to blundering urban dwellers and suburbanites from all over and across time. The stairs are there, whether we ‘old tymers’ and traditionalist Walden-Pondesque curmudgeons like it or not. The trail still is washed out and pounded and thumped upon by untold visitors. Who knows what new ‘storm of the century’ will come and wash away the safety. Great ruins of civilizations must come from somewhere, and whether we like it or not, we all must return to the earth and to Nature.