Monday, June 26, 2006

an artificial Eden for our amusement

a month or so ago, my wife, brother and I were driving up to the Sawtooths in central Idaho. on the way we passed through Eden, where we found the most paradisiacal truck stop I’ve ever seen. like any mall or pentagon food court, they had a Blimpie sandwich place, Taco Bell and TCBY frozen yogurt. here’s the thing though: Eden had been recreated in the dining area! no, not Eden, Idaho in miniature. I mean the real Eden, the first one we all read and hear so much about. yes, the tables and chairs were placed in the midst of a small pleasant landscape of cement rocks and a fake banyan tree with fake bracket fungus. hanging from the tree, notice the giant green python. there were also some real plants and there was real water running over those cement rocks. what a place. they even took my coupon, with some difficulty.

earlier this year, in the spring, I was reading in Walden where he talks about the pond thawing and all the geese coming in.
Thoreau says, “In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their amusement.”
this is something I’d never noticed before. and the passage is the earliest example I’ve ever seen. you know, when we’re like “wow, those lichens are so brilliant they seem fake!” or “see that tanager up there? it doesn’t even look real.”

growing up I never saw a tropical sunset except on capri sun pouches or on the cover of my trapper-keeper. so when I finally did see an actual tropical sunset for the first time, I’ll admit that it brought back those airbrush on mylar images from my childhood. my mom tells me that when I was little, I called sycamores “storybook trees,” probably because somewhere in some children’s book, they lent themselves well to watercolor for the illustrator. or, less likely, I could have imagined them altogether from the narrative before actually seeing one. in which case this would have to be the earliest example.

growing up… (I know I keep going back there but with this all being so experiential, I see no way to avoid it. you have any better ideas?) anyway, growing up, we had a jigsaw puzzle of Mount Rushmore. once when we were working at it, my younger brother asked me if the monument was natural or man-made. he was young and might have been thinking about a recent family trip to the old man of the mountain in New Hampshire.
what a wonderful question, and so revealing about the anthropocentric spell through which we tend to see our world. I don’t remember exactly how I responded but, as an older brother, I’m pretty sure I took advantage of the situation and made fun of him. I still haven’t made it out to Mount Rushmore or the Dakotas. but if I ever do, I'm not sure I’ll be able to leave the North by Northwest movie set out of it, fake lodgepoles and all.

and then growing up…(just kidding). but I bet you can think of your own experience. seeing faux wood graining where there is real oak. glimpsing model train sets from the airplane window. visualizing a golf course in a mountain valley. or imagining Versailles at the edge of, eh. well, Versailles is just too far out there. I think I’m going to be sick. man, that Louis XIV was sure an s.o.b. wasn’t he? you know, the first time Europeans got a hold of a platypus pelt, they thought it was a hoax too.

maybe Plato was right to post “no mimesis: seriously, cut it out!” signs all around his Republic, casting out Walt Disney, Thomas Kinkade and other taxidermists. I won’t venture to say whether or not all this is healthy. that's why there’s a comments section. but, even after all the mass produced imagery and retail that streams through us, we are still astonished to see real glaciers and iguanas.

and when we did get to the Sawtooths, they were incredible.


ZLB said...

Once while guiding a group of high schoolers in
Grand Gulch I had a boy from LA ask incredulously (whilst surverying a gorgeous vista taking in Navajo Mt. and the Bears Ears) if I was totally sure that what we saw wasn't man made. He just couldn't buy it. Later when we encountered a crumpled swath of corrugated metal that had washed down a canyon in a flash flood I pointed and said, "that is man made". He got the point.

T.R. said...

I believe your specific response was that Mount Rushmnore was carved by lightning.

But here's something I know that you don't: Thomas Kinkade loves to pee in public places.

kel said...

did you notice how in Eden your beverage was fresh and flowed freely, but out side of Eden you had to really work for it?