Sunday, March 23, 2014

Of Canyons, SEO, and Hank

I'm sitting here at my kitchen table eating rice and beans and all I want to do is read Walden. Nearly three years ago, the summer before I started graduate school, I read Walden for the first time. I think I had probably been assigned to read it as a part of my BA in English, but let's face it, if I was chances are pretty good I didn't read it. Because I was a less-than-ideal student. And even if I did read it, it was likely little more than a cursory  perusal. And when I say "cursory" I mean it was probably as cursorily cursory a reading as it could be while still being allowed to fit within the definition of the word "cursory." The kind of reading that searched for a handful of killer quotes and that didn't lend itself to any retention beyond the ensuing 3-5 hours. Like I said, less-than-ideal student.

Now I said I read Walden for the first time that summer, but the truth is I never did quite finish it. But we'll get to that in a moment. That summer I was working as an SEO specialist. In fact, it was the job that I had obtained by means of the Best Cover Letter Ever. It was a perfectly fine job. I worked with great people, I was occasionally mildly stimulated intellectually by the work itself, and I sat next to a big window that looked out over an expansive field full of thistle and often patrolled by a red-tailed hawk winding his way across the sky. At lunch I would often drive to a park that was a mile or so away from the office, sit under a tree and eat while reading about Hank's experiment concerning living well.

As I read I was at once enthralled and disgusted. Enthralled by the things I was reading, and disgusted at myself for tying myself down to a desk job that was so far removed from any productive labor that Hank would have laughed himself silly if I'd sat down and tried to explain to him what I did.

Those lunch hours passed in a kind of dreamlike bliss. For those few minutes life seemed slow down and simplify. The world seemed to make sense. Naturally I could see inherent flaw in some of the ideas and philosophies put forth in Walden, but it seemed to boil down life to its core and highlight the things that really mattered at the end of the day. I tend to be kind of an idealist by nature, but that summer my idealism was at an all-time high.

One oppressively hot day after work that summer I decided to escape the heat by going for a short hike up Slate Canyon....Quick side note: boy howdy do I miss being able to decide to go for a hike and 5 minutes later be at the mouth of a canyon. I mean look at this:

 and this:

and this:

and this:

And all that just a mere five minutes from the front door. (In case you're wondering, these pictures weren't taken at the time of the hike currently in question, but they were taken up the same canyon.)

Anyway, I grabbed my backpack, hastily packed it with Walden, a box of Wheat Thins, and a couple bananas, and was on my way. 

As I was hiking along I started hitting that hiking sweet spot where everything just kind of comes together. The activity in my mind and the motion of walking along the trail and the mountain beauty all around me seemed to be so perfectly in sync that I didn't stop along the trail to read, as had been my plan. I didn't even stop to eat anything I'd brought along, but instead I just kept right on going. It wasn't all that long of a hike, maybe two hours at most, but I hadn't stopped once by the time I got back to the car.. I headed home, and upon getting there threw my backpack on the floor next to my bed and forgot about it till the next morning.

The next morning as I was getting ready for work, I grabbed my backpack to put my lunch in it and from the weight of it realized I hadn't taken everything out of it the night before. I opened it up and was met by the strong smell of banana. Sure enough, the forgotten bananas had mashed over the course of the hike and had gotten smeared all over Walden. No, that's not quite accurate. There was banana smeared both in and over the book. Somehow the banana mush had managed to weasel its way into the pages. I didn't have time to deal with it as my carpool was due any minute, so I tossed the book onto my bed and left it till later. By the time later arrived, the book was beyond salvaging. The pages were so stuck together with banana paste that they just ripped rather than allowing themselves to be pried apart. 

So I threw the book away. It felt wrong, but there didn't seem to be anything else to do with it. And since that day I've never gone back and revisited it, or, frankly, even really had any drive to do so. Until tonight.

So here I am. Sitting at my kitchen table eating rice and beans. Out of the blue, I just really want to read Walden. But I can't. So I'm just gonna keep eating my rice and beans, pining for a lost idealism.


  1. The kindle edition is the grand ol' price of $0. Not the same as a hard copy, to be sure, but the words are still the same (i assume. technology can sometimes be sneaky).

    1. That's all fine and good, but I don't like reading for pleasure off of a screen. To me reading is about so much more than just the words, it's an overall aesthetic experience. And I want that experience to include a book in my hands. So while you can't beat the price, I'd rather fork out a few bucks and have a hard copy. Maybe that makes me a snob, but I'm okay with that.

    2. Ha, not snobbish at all! While the convenience of a kindle app is nice in a pinch, I agree with the aesthetic experience of books over technology. And especially with the reading material you were craving, the question you then have to ask yourself is WWWD? What would Walden Do? Probably not pull out his iPhone, so bravo for remaining pure.

    3. And by Walden I totally meant Thoreau. 3WD just sounded better ;)

    4. Don't worry, I knew what you meant. [: