• John Diamond-Nigh

Siri, take me to Cleveland

Updated: Jul 14, 2019

#Robert Macfarlane, on enchantment:

Maps such as these, held in the mind, are alert to a landscape’s volatility as well as to its fixtures. They are born of the sophisticated literacy of a place, rather than aspiring solely to the neutral organization of data. We cannot navigate and place ourselves only with maps that make the landscape dream-proof, impervious to the imagination. Such maps–and the road map is first among them–encourage the elimination of wonder from our relationships with the world. And once wonder has been chased from our thinking about the land, then we are lost.

Siri pouts when we stop for lunch. In her world of meticulous pragmatism, food is a rebellious deviation. It hardly bears wondering what expletives would fill the car if we took a detour to look at a tree. She’d slap our wrists if she could.

What is Macfarlane driving at? And where else could his notion of maps be applied? How else do we dream-proof our lives?

I recall our family picking up a skinny, bedraggled, crazy, young pilgrim in Syria; he drove with us for four or five miles to see the ruins of Ephesus. He was walking from London to Jerusalem. He could only ride with us because, the next day, he’d be traversing the same road on foot. His route was a meander; he spun off here to see some obscure ruins, or there for a swim in the sea (precisely what we were doing in our camper). When we first came upon him, he was encircled by a half dozen dogs nipping at his ankles, twirling his walking stick in arabesques of self-defense. He had other tales of peril, but what a walk. What a year of life. And I hope, in Jerusalem, that he got the full atonement he was aiming for.

Of those of us who try to graft as much #enchantment onto, or into, our lives, we all of us have something of the #pilgrim in us too. Yeats referred to the pilgrim soul as his highest ideal: Macfarlane may use a road map, but prefers a wonder map.

We are lost, Macfarlane says. That actually is a little odd, given that his books are a persistent summons to get lost. He, on his journeys, does so all the time. He loves unanticipated storms, getting drenched. The things and people he bumps into are what he writes about. I know several photographers: for them too, life is a serendipitous prowl. They often get soaked.

#Machiavelli once observed that the morality of Christianity and that of democracy (or republicanism, for Machiavelli) are incompatible; one is authoritarian and often falls for the worst leaders: the other relies on each of us being free to think as well and clearly as we can for ourselves, following our own scrupulous nose. Two kinds of #maps. In the former we walk on a straight and narrow path (from Lexington to Cincinnati, straight up 65); in the latter, we are often lost.

#Experimentation has alway been a hallmark both of science and of art. It should be a hallmark of all of our lives. How many revelations in each of those domains come by means of surprise? That isn’t being saved. That’s being alert.

Back to wonder. It is not an acquisition, it is not an accident, it is a map, one that follows us as often as we follow it. From #John Muir to Robert Macfarlane, underneath their extolling texts about landscape and wildness, looms a larger text about our capacities for #wonder; equally so, lamenting the corrosion and ‘development’ of our landscapes, our language, our culture, our homes, our privacy–you name it–lies a lament for our dwindling milieu for enchantment.

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