By: Matt Baatz
Your mom just handed you your first box of crayons. I’m betting one of the first things you draw is a big yellow sun with a smiley face benevolently spreading warmth over your world.
Then you spend the next 15 to 20 years in school dispelling your naiveté. Nature doesn’t care at all. It is nothing like us. Any tendency of our mind to see things otherwise is a psychological smoke and mirrors game; the natural world is a hostile place, and we cope by finding friendly faces where none exist. Eat or be eaten and all that.
Except for the hardest headed pragmatists, I don’t think the inner animist ever truly leaves. I’m willing to bet that even molecular biologists secretly tear up at a good “Lassie” story. We’re shamed into the life-as-dead-matter and biological robots scenario, but something deep inside refuses to let go of seeing benevolence, purpose, will, and spirit.
I only mention this as justification for what I experienced the other day, lest you think too much time alone in the woods rendered me daft. I think years of relating with the Green Mountain Trails on my own terms has revealed my own inner animist. I saw the trail system as a living, breathing organism, and I don’t mean that as a metaphor.
The stone stairs are its backbone; they even look like vertebrae (perhaps with a case of scoliosis). The stone hut contains its eyes with its vision forever focused on a vista so full of wonder and awe that it can’t help but enliven the rest of the mountain. Muddy’s Hut is the heart (hearth?) to which the life blood flows and from which it is pumped through the trails, which are its circulatory system. You, my friends, are its blood, extracting and distributing oxygen helping to spread vitality while simultaneously accumulating it.
The trail system grows while it decays, but ages well, like Harrison Ford. It has moods, seasons, an inner essence that never seems to falter even as big changes ensue. It has an immune system in the form of stewards inoculating it against disease. What’s the plague of a place like this? The denial of its spirit, seeing it as just another resource, dead matter, disposable, exploitable, meaningless.