Shall we talk about alienation? Or the romantic naivety of professing love for a place while understanding little of its workings? Love is love, no doubt, but perhaps this is an immature love that takes the complexity of its object for granted.
No, this will not do. To learn the names of your hosts and neighbors is a matter of respect, the first step.
There is something disorienting about an “outdoorsperson” being able to cite more outdoor gear manufacturers than birds, in knowing the local drive-thru’s menu better than one’s local edible plants. What does it mean to recognize the fleeting silhouette of a Toyota Forerunner but remain unable to name of the stalks of yellow flowers whose fragrance reminds you of that day you walked that coast with someone you love? To understand the evolution of bicycle braking systems or professional sports rosters better than one knows the history of the western gray squirrel who happens to be yelling at you from a branch?
We seem to love ourselves and our creations above all. Look at the world unfolding, this much is clear.
And we forget what we’ve forgotten. Amnesia. One generation having lost a sense of what has been added to or missing from the landscape stretched before it; something has changed, but it’s blurry around the edges. Is not knowing the names a symptom, manifest in unconscious unawareness, oblivious to one’s obliviousness of the natural world? All the while perfectly in-sync and at home in a manufactured world. Chasing Pokemon in a computer simulation in a dream.
Sunburned, mildly dehydrated, and scratched upon return, my head is swimming with “new” plants and birds and watersheds. I sat still in the dirt of the chaparral at noon and was rewarded with the conference of two spotted towhees, one perched on a burnt-out manzanita close enough to reveal his blazing red eyes. My own eyes burning, I gorged on tart blackberries beside a small creek for lunch. There was purple, berry-laden coyote scat beside me. Not so different.
I’m beginning to understand what I missed for all those years in my pursuit of mileage, but I suppose this is the way: Sketching the large lines, filling in the big gaps, slowly refining, shrinking the scale, adding layer upon layer of detail. I think of a good friend who’s been slowly tracing the Upper Kern for decades, alone, mapping small bends and folds, until arriving at the headwaters and turning back. And doing it all again, discovering what he missed, reassessing what he found.
The cartography of sweat, thorn, and birdsong.