Aesthetic Arrest

Zion National Park in May of last year. We set up camp in the shadow of one of those glorious red rock monoliths with the rushing waters from a nearby (but unseen) river as our only soundtrack. That night the moon turned the whole valley silver and the sounds of the river seemed to amplify in the still night air, enveloping us in this white-noise cocoon. After dinner I went off on my own, determined to put a visual to what now seemed to come from everywhere at once, and as I pushed through the brush, the more it consumed and bewildered me, until finally, I reached the river’s edge and stood there on the banks, for how long I really don’t remember. 

It was maybe twenty to thirty feet wide, a winding beast of a river, a fierce torrent of gray-white water emerging from a bend in the distant shadows and racing straight towards me, over rocks, fallen trees, slogging, pounding, churning and glistening in the silver light.

How strange that so many worship at the feet of a man who died two thousand years ago, pinning all their hopes and wishes onto him, while at the same time judging the animism of indigenous cultures as superstitious and naive. I stood on the banks of that river in worshipful awe; humbled, confounded, in a state of aesthetic arrest as Joseph Campbell so beautifully describes it. She was alive, that river. And she was more powerful than anything I’d ever witnessed. And strangely, my anxieties of the day – all of the turmoil and uncertainty in the world – it all fell away, because I understood then and there that this river, that Mother Nature, could not be stopped by the egomaniac in the White House, by the divisions in our little country, nor even by our own destruction of the “environment”. 

The rains will come, the waters will rise, and that river will destroy and cleanse everything in her path, including us if she has to. 

She will endure. 

And I say all of this not in some nihilistic way. I will continue to fight for and protect this land in every way I can. But I, like so many others, struggle with guilt over not doing enough. We watch the rainforest burn and the arctic melt and feel utterly lost and helpless. But standing next to that river in Zion, I experienced a new sense of alignment with the natural order of things. I felt wonderfully and rightly small. And light. And free. 

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