The Wilderness Above
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Not far from here, there exists a wilderness that only a handful of human beings have ever visited, and it’s just 30 miles away. If wilderness resembles the last vestige of the primordial, that which remains to remind us we are part of something vast and timeless, not just 21st century nine-to-fivers, inspiring environmentalists and nature lovers to protect it for posterity as a matter of conscience at every opportunity, then the wilderness above, below, and all around us that is revealed in a dark Montana sky illumined with stars is the surest reminder that the primordial is here, now, and always will be.
No one can or ever will develop a vastness that is beyond our ability to conceive let alone somehow manage or tame. There will be no paving of the infinite. No signs or regulations will be needed to mitigate human “impacts.” And even as we wrestle with whether or not to take extra precautions to protect a certain bird or predator, the silent backdrop of all the world will continue in its course as if nothing happened one way or the other, content in its unfathomable, untrammeled immensity.
It goes on forever. That is the backdrop of wilderness, primordial beyond conception, even as minds try to conceive and tell us how, though no human mind can contain or designate the limits of infinity.
I once sat in a tavern in an old Pennsylvania inn just a short drive from my farmhouse, built in 1805, upon which land Washington’s Continental Army had encamped, on a rise, with a clear view of Skippack Pike, down which British troops would had to have marched from Philadelphia to attack the rebels, my front yard having been their look out post and camp, that having been (can’t remember) just before or after the horrendous winter at Valley Forge, now a ten minute drive by car from that spot. Technology, you see (cars), closed the distance, but it will never close the distance to an unknown boundary that cannot be. And so we were discussing space in the tavern, and time (and so a historical backdrop seems apropos, a relatively recent past that, sorry, barely scratches the surface) and after expressing my fascination with creation’s inestimable proportions, and its eternality, that it seems to go on and on, and never stop were one to travel by some means into it and beyond any conceived boundary or destination… And what would you find, how can it be, what is out there in the cold, cold distance of forever? And my thought, spoken to the gentleman, was that it could not be contained or understood by the human mind, to which he unimaginatively responded, like a robot inside a mental box, that Einstein had simply not figured out the time-space continuum thing, as if that utterance would render comprehensible the incom-prehensible—the Nature all around us, in every direction like a blanket of mystery obscuring all that is beyond, that which eyes cannot see, including the subatomic realm (as Blaise Pascal observed in his 17th century essay The Two Infinities (Les Deux Infinis), although the 1600s, like Valley Forge, are not very long ago in the scheme of things either, not the scheme you’re considering now.
It has been a pet contention that this issue, and the avoidance of it (many don’t get it), lies at the root of a lot of other issues that have been disguised, unconsciously, as other things (religious, scientific, and environmental dogmas).
Experiencing a wild place, guarded under the boughs of old growth pines, smelling the smells of those pines and the forest floor of billions of needles like stars exuding scent, spying through a clearing snowy peaks against blue sky, where each of a mega billion snowflakes take unique crystalline symmetry as their design, and then white clouds (the trail up to Pine Creek Lake, say), and the higher you go and longer you stay, the more you splash cold water from the lake on your warm face, the more the primordial becomes personal and mystically inspiring, beyond containment, as you take a deep breath to get more of it in you. Yet it is familiar, reminding of something long forgotten, the elements of air, water, wood, earth, sky, and whatever pervades the ambiance (smells, sounds) being icing on a beautiful, uneven rugged cake, a place that begins to feel as home, a birthright, it being righteous and without sin, though you cannot possess it or eat it because it’s too big—your slice of infinity, once out from under the limiting confines of a starless roof, walls, and a job selling what, insurance policies or appli-ances, the mundane names of which seem blasphemous by comparison, and that’s a religious concept, some action that assaults the sacred—and any connection with infinity, the primordial backdrop behind the veil of appearances, called nonlocality (non-space/non-time) by subatomic physicists, is just that, to those who have eyes to see.
So, how is wilderness the non-space/non-time of physics? It would be better to ask how it is not, for it is Nature, and when you delve into Nature from any point in its infinite expression toward any direction, physically or philosophically, you end up there, unavoidably, as Pascal observed, and as the more enlightened physicists have observed in the subatomic quanta that pervades the macroverse as well.
Nature remains therefore intrin-sically and ironically supernatural, because how can anything at its essence have no ending, no beginning, no time, no space—in the quanta and in the farthest reaches? And these are merely words, of course, and mental concepts used to describe the indescribable, conceive the inconceivable. Nature —Home.
Dogmatically materialistic science, ill-equipped in such matters, like the guy in the tavern, tells us time and space came into being with the Big Bang and that before that there was… well, what was there before there was anything, and where did that come from? —The intellect cannot say. The finite cannot contain the infinite.
So, try again. What is there if there is no time and space? The avant garde physicists have a response—non locality, a flimsy word because it tells you what something is not, not what it is, but you can’t blame them because they don’t know what it is, yet one thing both seem to agree on (materialist and avant garde) is that it was here (and it still is) before there was anything apparent, a primordial something that does not suit the brain—unless deep meditation is your thing, where unity can be realized.
You can’t easily put this into words, but whatever it was and still is that allowed Nature to appear to us, as it does, and for us to experience, is still out there, still here, still with us. —Wilderness is wild.
Just something to consider while eating your Cheerios.
More on Dark Skies, see this issue.