Thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not only like other creatures in diverse elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds. -- Sir Thomas Browne
Two weeks ago I made mention in this series of essays that, though I have never considered myself lost, I often have little idea as to where I’m heading. The statement was made in regards to land travel: while it may be true that sundry landscapes appear very similar, causing modern house cats to quickly become bewildered; while it may be even more true that modern house cats are increasing in the population and that many of these modern house cats are so lost in the metaphysical sense of the word--that fewer men can distinguish east from north, let alone conclude what side of the stump moss grows on, it is still true that north, despite what modern metaphysics does to its symbolic meaning, will always and forever be north. Until California falls into the sea--and may that day come quickly--it will always be west of Kansas, and if a modern explorer only studies a map long enough, he will find it’s far easier these days to lose one’s soul than one’s body.
Nevertheless, I am very rarely ever in a boat, and when a man is accustomed to a particular landscape from the view of land, his perspective is certainly altered from water. So it was as the boat wobbled and my fellow explorer and I left the boat ramp in our canoe. Our guide, eyeing us suspiciously as he handed the paddles to us, asked if we had ever been in a canoe before. Answering him that we surely had though it had been some time, the man, still with a suspecting eye about him, explained to us that the back paddle was for steering. Easy enough, thought I. Whether it was due to my adventurous spirit or manly pride, I grabbed the steering paddle and awkwardly maneuvered my body into the back of the canoe. The suspecting eye of the guide turned into one of annoyance, and I was commanded to get out of the canoe so he could properly give us our push. Like Lewis and Clark we shot out from the shore as if we had been canoeing for years. It did, however, take us half a moment to get our sea legs accustomed to the wobbliness of the boat, and my companion recognizing that I was steering it astray, switched the side on which he was paddling. This caused the canoe to sway not a little, and after I thoroughly reprimanded him, we decided that as the one steering the vessel, I would call out “Switch!” when needed. We were not but fifty yards from the ramp, and though I did not see him, I felt the suspicious eyes of our guide bearing down on us from shore.
The following account must be taken with the full knowledge that I am a novice. For as we somehow managed to make our way into open waters, my ability to steer us properly was significantly hindered. An island worth exploring was due west, and we immediately made our way towards it. However, every time we had our boat aimed in the direction of the island and began paddling towards it, we would dart to the right. As navigator I would let out a “Switch!” and after switching the boat would either continue on its course to the right as unaffected as an elephant by a fly, or the boat would violently change directions. It happened that I had to call out “Switch!” so often and that we change course so frequently, that we zig-zagged our way through the waters heading in every direction but the island.
Life often has a way of sending a man in the last direction he would choose to go. To our south were two fishermen in a boat, and wanting to avoid the embarrassment and shame that was our paddling ability, my companion explained to me that he would rather we not bother those fishermen. He said this in a way that assumed confidence in my ability to steer us anywhere but in circles, yet it also hinted at a skepticism of that ability. Well, as fate would have it, we headed due south toward the fishermen. We still had high hopes of reaching the island, and after hearing the directions to stay away from the fishermen, I attempted to navigate the canoe westward. But it seemed that the more I wished to push the boat to the right the more it went south. I then decided to adopt the age-old philosophy that there is more than one way to skin a cat. (Some philosophers even proclaim there is no wrong way to skin a cat.) Navigating the canoe eastward, I then managed to do a complete three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn, pointing us straight toward that island. Like a good post-modern, I had spun us around in circles, working hard to arrive nowhere.
Every weekend I seek to wander about through nature to escape the confines of my desk job. But it is not just to escape the desk and the cinder-block walls; it is to escape the waterfall of nonsense that pours over me throughout the week. In today’s world common sense is so uncommon that man must now create theories to explain truisms. We may take the modern and pointless field of gender studies as an example. I teach out of a textbook which explains that people who happen to be born biologically male and who happen to also identify with that gender are to be called cis-males. It may take me three-hundred-and-sixty degrees to arrive at the same place as an experienced canoe-man; it takes an expert gender studies academic a three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn to figure out what every five-year-old has known for two years.
Every age is defined by something; each has their blind spots and nonsense that only seems to come out after all those theorists have died off. I am beginning to feel that our age may be defined by the absurd insistence to apply every cracked theory to every facet of life. If truth and knowledge are constructed socially then so is gender--biology even. If biology is a construction then so are sunsets and avalanches. But something like an avalanche would only be socially constructed if it caused no damage. No two social constructionists would ever actually go tell their theory on a mountain for the mountain would overtake their stupidity. Perhaps then it would not be so bad if all of these social constructionists applied their theory to avalanches; their obnoxious wailing would surely construct something--be it a bear or an avalanche--that would rid the world of their nonsense for good.
After roughly five or six three-hundred-and-sixty degree spins, we made it to the island and decided to switch navigators. Like an academic with truth on his side, we veered neither right nor left, flying across the waters like Hawkeye and his Indian friends. As it turned out we grew quite comfortable with my companion as navigator. So comfortable that I felt confident I could navigate us back to shore. The scenario is an analogy to mankind. Truth and common sense ideas often create relatively peaceful and prosperous societies; but with those societies, ignorant men have too much time on their hands, and with that time, they think up absurdities. So it was with us as I took the reins again, believing I could navigate us back to shore, for our canoe was due. As our guide watched from the ramp, he saw a young man in a position he should not have been in and a canoe making little progress but spinning in circles.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
With a new dip pen,
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In the English Building, Kansas State University,
September 23, 2014
Painting: "Five Natives in a Traditional Canoe"
Tempera on board, n.d.