Monday, December 06, 2010

Distant horizons, Emerson, and Alexander Supertramp...

The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.
We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.
- Emerson

While catching up with some administrative work this morning, I came upon the above words by essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I had been reading for awhile and felt my eyes tiring. The words reminded me to take a moment and gaze out though the window and into the gentle woods that surround our home. Focusing on the shimmering green leaves of the arbutus trees, I could feel the weariness in my eyes dissipate.

How true it is. Having "horizons" in life, and being able (and willing) to gaze out upon them, refreshes us and provides renewed energy. Horizons also help us to move from where we are into a greater understanding of ourselves and of the world around us.

In his very moving, non-fiction book, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer tells the story of young Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless, who wandered away from mainstream culture and hitch-hiked to Alaska and then walked into the remote "wilds", north of Mt McKinley. The ending is very sad and many have wondered if Chris was a "visionary or a fool". Whatever one may think, the following words, attributed to him, contain a significant element of wisdom:

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

Emerson wrote of the "horizon" as something that energizes. McCandless saw, in the changing horizon, a source of deep joy. So often, we forget to look up and out, and into the distant horizon. We mistake our most immediate experience for "our lives" and, in so doing, we place significant limitations on our "adventuresome spirits", our memories, and our dreams and aspirations.
Those who paddle the lakes or the ocean, walk the shorelines or the forest trails, gaze out over the prairies or to the mountain peaks, will know the experience well. It's "eye candy". The horizons change as the day traverses from dawn to dusk and into the night. In much the same way, the spirit within each of us must surely yearn to be as change, to grow, to explore, and to experience deep joy and meaning.

Perhaps that was, in part, what old Isaiah was talking about when he suggested we could "rise up on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary". I'm thinking so.
Look far.
Images: The Salish Sea and two of our favourite "distant horizons".


  1. Great post. Alexander's quote was my facebook status all last week. Great minds think alike!

  2. And who am I to argue with that! :-) Thanks Lee, always appreciate you taking time to stop by. D.

  3. New horizons are always good! Challenging, refreshing and exciting...yet I like the safety of knowing where I shall rest my head at the end of the day.

  4. I'm with you, L. Sure, it's almost Christmas but the prospect of "no room at the inn", can be a little unsettling - especially if there are no other inns in town! Thanks for coming by. D.