That other attribute wherewith I recreate my devotion, is his wisedome, in which I am happy; and for the contemplation of this onely, do not repent me that I was bred in the way of study — Sir Thomas Browne

That man is the freest of the beasts is a concept that is both accepted with enthusiasm, yet disdained in droves. Man, free to extend the capacities of his mind, to reason well beyond the limits of the brutes, both to promote justice and peace and to annihilate his brothers. Man, so commonly disposed to virtue and reason, is thus distinguished from the creatures, whose barbaric natures fetter them in impulses and foster lives of monotony. But though man reasons beyond even his own capabilities of understanding, he also finds that the very nature of his ability to reason makes him bound in a way unlike the beasts — for man is, unlike the animals, commonly found with thoughts that tend upward and outward, and while the beasts are fettered to instinctive impulses, so man is fettered to his thoughts on the firmament.

Man, unable to reach the physical localities of many of the beasts, has yet found ways to stretch his presence across the globe. Man, so keen on adventure and exploration, though unable to fly as the eagle or swim as the dolphin, has, nevertheless, scaled the heavens and submerged the sea’s depths. But man, after searching out the four corners of the globe, conquering skies and seas, has achieved so much in exploration, that modern discovery is relegated to the atmosphere, and those of us left below are told to repress our adventurous spirit or hand it to a guide. Man, now having explored the countryside, has so regulated every jot and tittle of land and lot, that adventures are either covered in mounds of paperwork or controlled by machines and fences. Any modern man who so decides to go on an adventure — decides to leave the nicely paved paths — is liable to prosecution or execution, and the free-spirited creature, once so open to freedom from instinctive impulses, is told to harness his adventurous spirit through games and gadgets.

Those powers which so suppress modern exploration have strewn their signs across the landscape, and unless one is willing to fill out mountains of paperwork, signing away any ability to sue for negligence or admitting to knowledge of the dangers that await. But though man is so told he is to not trespass, a gravel path which led right past that warning sign went unheeded in the cool evening as a companion and I strolled past nonchalantly. That path we were on forked as many do, and we chose to bear right, flying right past that sign which warned us we were breaking the law.

*****

The path continued on to the right, but as boys are wont to do, we left that path for a small creek — what the locals often refer to as a “crick.” The sense of smell, so often neglected as a sense which protects, alerted our attention to the distinct smell of a skunk. Now, the modern farce here is that some power-that-is thought that constructing a sign which reads “no trespassing” would actually stop anyone from trespassing. The problem is that many modern people, like us, are completely oblivious to any ugly white sign stuck on a nature path, as if anyone is going to look at the one eye-sore along the landscape. Moreover, those who are not oblivious probably cannot even read or at least have little to no idea what “trespassing” even means, for it is a whole three syllables. But even granting they can read and do know what “trespassing” means, they have probably grown up under the modern education system, which teaches us that even if we think we know what “trespassing” means, we really actually have no idea because it is merely constructed by old white males, and so the reader of a no trespassing sign must analyze the meaning, not by its dictionary definition, but according to his, or her, or its cultural group he, or she, or it belongs to. This process probably takes a couple of hours for all people belong to various sub-groups. If you happen to be a middle-class, Hispanic woman, “trespassing” means something different than if you are an upper-class, Asian-American male or if you are some concoction of a gender yet to be discovered and revealed. The whole farce of it all is that even when we are done figuring out what “trespassing” specifically means in our own cultural context, we then (coming to the same conclusion as the dictionaries, as happens every time) have to realize that because it was preceded by a “no,” we are bidden to subvert whomever placed that sign there, so that, at the end of the day, it would have been better to either create a sign that read “please trespass” or put a rabid skunk in its place, for as the smell became more poignant, my companion and I fled that little cove for the path.

We took turns throwing rocks at things along the way and commented on the cornfields to our east, surrounded by fences as if deliquents were going to get in. I commented on the joy that cornfields give, that though my time among them as a teenager was filled with moments of sadness, the cornfields were always nostalgic to me for that lost time, and they had a certain beauty that, unlike the untampered grazing fields, pointed our attention to man’s dominance of the world.

*****

It was about this time that my companion mentioned we were probably breaking about fifty ordinances. Now, nevermind that we were, the point is that a boy today cannot simply sail out on his local river without someone telling him he is breaking the law. It is more likely we would imprison a small boy on a raft, smoking a pipe, than any sex-offender among us. But the whole problem truly boils down to our trouble with the legal system. The whole reason everyone has to fill out three-hundred pages of paperwork to take a step in the river is due to a common acceptance of stupidity. The boy who drowns in the government’s river is now the least responsible person — about as responsible as the goose watching him drown. If my companion and I were to waltz out into one of the cornfields and rise up and slay each other like the children of the corn, the last person to fetter would be the victor. It is more likely the cob used to club the defeated is to blame, and the murderer, to ward off punishment, should put the stalk in the dock and sue the seeds.

But while violence is still frowned upon in our lands, stupidity is lauded. Every year we hear about how some idiot spins himself on a windmill or trips over a sprinkler head, only to point blame to man who built the windmill or watered his grass. Now, it used to be as good a joke of any to place an object so as to make a person fall; now it is a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Stupidity reigns supreme from coast to coast, and those who are thereby affected are the pioneers and explorers of our age. Unlike Lewis and Clark, we strutted out of harm’s way that evening and proceeded back to the path outlined for us by government officials. We crossed a bridge that was too safe and rounded our way back to the automobile which would take us away from nature and back to the town in which we live. “It is sad,” said another companion of my mine recently, “that we have covered everything in concrete.” Indeed, it is. But I suppose the modern philosophy is that one is easier clubbed to death with a cob of corn than cut of cement.

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One thought on “Ambler, No. 12 [On Paperwork, A Means to Depression]

  1. The shame is not that we are prohibited from exploring wherever we desire. It is moreso that we are too often not even interested in exploring the places we are allowed. Just as with the law of the Spirit, there is freedom not in doing whatever you want, but in doing anything within the boundaries God has set up.

    Great points on the acceptance of stupidity though.

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