by Mike Vuono
August 5th, 2019
Does your bullshit-meter ever go off when someone says something is "natural"?
"Oh yeah dude, this hamburger meat is 'natural,' you don't want to eat any of that GMO broccoli bullshit."
"Natural" is just sort of a nothing word at this point with all the relentless marketing bullshit that uses it to try and sell something that is at best meaningless and at worst causes some kind of long term health problems. Why is everyone always trying to sell me something? Just fucking chill, man.
Natural means "occurs in nature." Arsenic is natural, it doesn't mean it's good for you in any way. Eggs are natural, doesn't mean they're good for you in any way. Sorry, not sorry.
I just finished reading Yvon Chouinard's latest book, "Some Stories" etc etc subtitle. It's a collection of published and unpublished stories he's written over the past 60+ years. Dude is and was a fucking maniac legend; rock climbing, surfing, fishing, traveling all over the planet, and creating what is probably the best company that exists at the moment: Patagonia.
Something in the book caught my eye though as I was reading; several times he brings up the idea of climbers doing things "artificially" by using new equipment, and like, putting bolts and shit in mountains more and all that. To be honest, a lot of the terminology was kind of lost on me as the extent of my climbing experience never rose above a ten foot high chain link fence I scaled so that I could skateboard somewhere. But I understood that the new guys were taking an "easier" way to climb a giant fucking mountain, and to him this was artificial. This wasn't natural.
He goes on at one point, to say that a true climb of sorts is one man, naked, climbing a mountain with no tools at all. You lose 1 point for all the different pieces of gear and such that deviate from this theoretical perfect climb. The point of the whole thing was something I can appreciate; you'll never be perfect but the pursuit of being perfect is what makes something worth a damn.
As I sat and really considered how fucking crazy it was that this dude would go somewhere, hike to a mountain with a bag or two, climb it for a week, and then get down and go home, my mind started thinking about how my major outdoorsy activities would be considered fucking robot-algorithm levels of artificial by comparison: I mostly run around my town with a GPS watch telling me how far and fast I'm going, or I go to a regularly maintained and groomed hiking trail, still with said GPS watch, to hike a set trail system. It's all a bit contrived. I'm either running a safe, urban route for a pre-determined distance on a given day, or I'm hiking a trail that has been carved into the side of nature, but is not nature, with two terminus points fairly close to one another.
There isn't a sort of "natural" vibe to my deal. The idea of "hike to mountain, climb up mountain, get down mountain" just has this sort of organic feel to it. It's this contained challenge, with natural starting and ending points, and it feels like it's somehow more real than me running around a park. My outdoorsiness is artificial. I choose where to start and end my journey. I set the terms. My artificial experience with nature. My side-swipe of something that might be nature, but I don't go into nature because like, there's no trail there and what if there's a snake or something I mean I don't want to deal with that shit. There's ticks in the woods. No thank you, I'll run my six. My little six mile maintenance run to make sure, "yep, I'm a runner."
But it doesn't stop there. Me running or hiking is at best a few hours of my day. A handful of hours of my week. Something in the ballpark of 5% of my week if I were to crunch the numbers (which I did.)
The rest of my life is way, way more artificial. TV, computer, reading Reddit comments, playing video games. It's abstraction on top of abstraction. Sometimes I watch people stream themselves playing video games. So as if it wasn't bad enough to play video games, where you're assuming an avatar of someone doing something, but I'm taking it a step further, I'm going another Inception level with the van flying off the bridge and the dude in the hotel room spinning around or whatever; I'm watching another person playing a game pretending to be a person. It's just so odd and slightly depressing. This is a hobby I actually kind of enjoy now. Watching someone play a video game.
This seems like a far leap to have made from like 200 years ago where someone my age would be chopping wood for fire every day and like, I don't know, fighting bears and shit? I mean yeah, they weren't fighting bears, but they weren't explicitly not fighting bears, either. I'm definitely not fighting any bears.
I guess I want to get out and be in the wild more. To have me "being in nature" to have a deeper, more difficult meaning than to go for a hike on a one mile long trail that's somehow at the end of a cul-de-sac in town. I want to struggle to bend to this unforgiving and unrelenting Earth. I don't want to try to bend it to my will. I want to have a connection with this planet that we're killing. I've read that people who are able to think of themselves as a part of nature, as simply a small being within this giant greater organism of "Earth" that we all inhabit, those people are more proactive about climate issues, they're more protective of our planet. Our one planet. Our only planet.
I don't know, I don't...I don't feel protective of the planet. I try to reduce my carbon foot print as much as I can, but I just feel like I'm here, floating on this hunk of shit, and whatever's happening is happening. I don't feel like it's me and the Earth in a tag-team championship match against someone else. I'm just a hunk of carbon riding on a hunk of carbon.
I've been trying to figure out what's next for me for a little while now. I'm still not exactly sure, but I know I want to feel like I'm really a part of the Earth. Like whatever I'm doing is good for people and good for the Earth. Like it's something honest and natural and needed. Not like I'm contributing to a 2 BPS improvement on some KPI for some CEO to say to the board "See? We're improving market share." That cannot be the culmination of my efforts.