Snow, a hike in Gruyères, a road trip to Prague

27 10 2012

Let’s move backwards in time, starting from today.

27 October. The first snow of the season.

And no, it’s not sticking to the ground yet. But it’s falling thick, and I can’t believe how beautiful it is. Like silver raining down from the sky.

It rained all last night and this morning, and when I left to walk to the Portuguese market down the block to get eggs and chorizo for a homestyle American hangover breakfast, it was still raining. I guess the temperature must have been hovering right at the cutting point, because as I walked, the wind drove the rain in sideways sheets, and then – like something you see from the corner of your eye when you’re on a psychedelic drug – just for a moment, it… changed. Shimmered a little; shivered and wobbled in its straight cutting pattern of raindrops, then went back to normal as the wind shifted. And then it changed again: the raindrops swirled in a way that water cannot swirl; lines that were supposed to be parallel twisted and wound like two ropes that become intertwined, then slipped apart again. It was a quiet, invisible switch from one reality into another. Because then suddenly there was no more rain, there was only that weird billowing frozen mist of fat icy flakes, each of which danced and then fainted on the black ground.

I am just in bliss. I’ve really liked the past two days. Yesterday Eloise and I went for a hike in Gruyères (which is the next town over from Fribourg, and yeah, it’s that Gruyères) and it was the most peaceful autumn day. Gruyères has a little more elevation than us – it’s on a hill topped by an amazing castle, in the foothills of the Alps (les préalpes fribourgeoises). Autumn there is well underway, and the autumn colors there were ridiculous. A vivid rainbow of yellow, orange, red and fading, withering green, burning even brighter beneath the heavy grayish sky.

We walked around the town, which is pretty small and mostly just consists of a bunch of cafés advertising fondue, cheese tastings, and the unsung secret of Gruyères: meringues à la double crème. It’s a thing here. This is probably the only Swiss culinary habit I’ve discovered so far that I see myself taking home, and it consists of giant, delicate, eclair-sized meringues dipped in this thick sweet cream, “double crème de la Gruyère”, that you can buy at Migros or Coop. You can also put double-cream on raspberries. With out student budget we haven’t experimented much with that, but it was advertised on quite a few café chalkboards in the town square of Gruyères and it looked dank.

We took a pretty good hike, across a covered wooden bridge called le Pont-qui-Branle (the Shaking Bridge) which crossed a glass-clear, aquamarine blue alpine river. The clouds were low overhead, and around the town, hills dappled with multicolored trees swooped up and just sort of ended at the ceiling. Once or twice we caught a glimpse of rocky peaks disarmingly high up in the mist, but only enough to let us know we were missing something – we definitely couldn’t see the mountains at all.

But it was just such a chill, peaceful day. The light was dark and somber, as if the clouds were threatening something: rain or snow or an early nightfall or maybe just winter. We sat on a bench to eat lunch, which consisted of bread, beer, and Gruyère cheese. Just because this situation wasn’t Swiss enough yet, we broke out chocolate for dessert. I felt a natural high sitting there in the muted light. We listened to the whisper of the falling leaves, which almost sounded like rain, and waited for the cold to gather, and just thought. Then we talked, a little. It was really nice. Even at 3 p.m. you could already feel nightfall coming, and we were back on the train to Fribourg by 5.

That’s this weekend in a nutshell so far, but I neglect to report on last weekend, when we rented a car and drove 8 hours to Prague. Although we did some sightseeing I don’t have much to report, except that it was amazing and Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life. The old painted buildings and the weird black-and-white cobblestones, and the parks, and the autumn trees, and the crazy Gothic carvings and towers, and the gold Baroque leaf and fading Gutenberg-print letters on the walls, and the gas streetlamps, and the bridges over the quiet river, and the canals with their stone walls and little mill-wheels, and the tall leaded-glass windows and the yawning palace domes and the grand squares and the cheap, delicious, wonderful FOOD. Which has nothing to do with how beautiful it was, but you could also call our weekend there a marathon of gluttony. I had a well-deserved stomachache the day after we got back, but it was so worth it.

I guess Prague pictures will end up on the book of face, not here, but I do want to share three pictures that I took from one single spot on the trail yesterday. Just to give you an idea of how gorgeous this one single spot was. It would be a lie if I said that our whole hike yesterday looked like this… but fall in Freiburgerland is starting to be pretty spectacular.



7 08 2012

Lake Tahoe in August. I am twenty years old.

The sand is summer-vacation yellow, but it turns lurid orange where it is touched by the crystal water of the lake. The water is choppy, but it couldn’t be more pleasant. Swimming in it is indescribable. The waves part before me like a billowing sea of jade. The air is dry and thin. Swimming at 6,000 feet makes me breathless suddenly, like falling in love.

I stick my head under and open my eyes. It is perfectly peaceful, almost. I can hear the high-pitched buzz made by  distant motorboats plying the lake. I imagine a different world, in which the colonization of the Americas never happened and white people are tourists in a nation of hunter-gatherers, with the occasional grand city like Teotihuacan or Mesa Verde dominating the economy, linked by a rudimentary public transportation system. There would be no motorboats on the lake, then. There would be freshwater otters that play in the shallows and swim right up to you, and the rivers would teem with fish that are swiped up in turn by the grizzly bears. There would be no town of Stateline, only a series of wigwam villages around the lake linked by a ring road. Maybe the road would be paved, maybe not; and it would only ever be used anyway by the few with cars – tour companies and regional doctors and tribal leaders. The people would remember what the word Tahoe meant, and they’d wake in the morning and tell each other “good night” speaking the forgotten language it came from.

Now the wind is colder than the water and I don’t want to get out. The grains of sand are large and coarse, massaging the feet. My grandma is on the beach, wearing a long black dress that whips in the wind; my father is with her. Three generations, alive and together as a family. I am twenty years old, and none of the generations yet are my children.

The wigwams and otters and grizzlies are gone and the cars have kicked silt like destructive children into the lake of which no one remembers the name, but the pine trees are still here. The fragrant pines that smell fresh and dry and sweet and head-clearing, that smell like Life itself. It’s so strong up here that the air stops being just pine-scented air and turns into something else. The aether of Heaven. Calling it pine-scented air is an absurdity, like calling champagne grape-tasting water.

The mountains are my home. The mountains make me go into reverie.

“A shortcut to what?”

28 05 2012

Me and my friend Katie went exploring for a long time in upper campus today and we sort of didn’t feel like humans.

It was just so nice being alone, and the sun was so hot and the cicadas so musical with their rhythmic cymbal screech like the heartbeat of the world, the grass so green in the shade, the trees so restless in the wind, and every time we saw a biker or a jogger or something we were like “Look! OTHER HUMANS!” It became sort of a running joke.

So at some point about halfway through our ramblings, we decided that the biggest possible adventure at that moment in time would be to venture into the human world. Specifically, to 9/10 dining hall. Never being one (or two) to pass up on an adventure, Katie and I quit our forest-wandering shenanigans and started off. From the 9/10 meadow, we got our first glimpse through the trees at the city of the humans. It was so huge and impressive! It’s actually kind of trippy considering that UCSC is considered a quaint wilderness outpost, and Santa Cruz a “small town”. I mean, in the greater scheme of things, why shouldn’t the majestic 4-story buildings of the ILC, as they emerge out of the trees with their gabled roofs – dwarfing a person and tenfold-dwarfing any other living animal – not constitute the edge of a grand city? UCSC has impressive squares created by architecture, tons of different places for people to live and to eat, and enough people that you could never possibly know all of them personally. But when you’re a human, “big” has such a different meaning. As Katie said, “it’s just so crazy how we build these giant cities with our minds!”

I was thinking a lot about the indigenous tribes I visited in Peru. A lot of what I thought about on my trip was how much purer life would be if we had to do more for our own survival; if we had to hunt for food and poop in the woods and be in touch with what it means to be an animal. I still believe that life would be purer that way, if we were more like the animals. But going to 9/10 dining hall today made me realize that it’s no easy task to be a human. I mean, if you were a visitor from another planet plopped in the middle of 9/10 dining hall… what would you do? You have to take a plate from this place, and a cup from this one, and press these tabs that make liquid come out but you have to know that the cup has to be there first. Then you’re confronted with all of this food and you have to eat it with these little metal things with prongs or scooped ends – which one do you use for what? – and then you have to know where to put it all when you’re done, or else you’ve failed. A member of an uncontacted tribe would have no idea what to make of all this. None whatsoever. And if you make a scene in the dining hall – think about it; if you make a scene anywhere in a civilized, smooth-running city – you stand a serious risk of being kicked out, or arrested, for ridiculous and belligerent behavior. You wouldn’t survive.

It’s hard to be a human. Not only do we build these massive cities with only our minds, we are all complicit in the immense clockwork that keeps them running and we don’t even realize it. We are trained from the day we’re born to do everything we need to do in a society as complex as ours. we are fending for ourselves in the social jungle of preschool, elementary school, family reunions and public transportation, learning how to be human. And it takes most of us 18 years or so to get really good at it.

As an average 21st-century man or woman, you don’t know how to fire a bow, differentiate pure water from harmful, or find shelter for the night in a storm. But you do know how to pay for buses, operate an elevator, handle social situations at the urinal, apply for tax returns, use a car door, get a library card, open a soda can, ride a bicycle, and close an umbrella without hurting yourself. And that is insane. I don’t know if it’s impressive, really. But it’s completely insane.

As were were walking away from the dining hall, Katie put it best. “I like being a human. It’s hard… but it’s also pretty great,” she said. “They give you a lot of stuff, when you’re human.”

Chevron with Techron

9 01 2012

I got gas today at a gas station brandishing the name, “Chevron with Techron.” It’s not the gas station I usually go to, but my parents used to go to it all the time. So I was surprised by how easily the phrase “Chevron with Techron” jumped into my mind, like something quoted so often that you’ve forgotten the source. And suddenly I asked myself the question: what is Techron?

It’s so indivisibly part of that phrase, but it doesn’t mean anything. Like, why is Chevron always offered with Techron? Has anyone ever walked in to pay at the cash register and been like “Hi, I’d like my Chevron without Techron, thank you.”

I have never seen Techron with my own two eyes. My first thought is that it’s some secret formula, some chemical they put in the gas to make it extra-effective. So saying “Chevron with Techron” is like labelling a food item, like, “Orange Juice with Vitamin C” or “Brownies with Pot”. I’m pretty sure that’s what I passively believed Techron to be when I was a kid. But that doesn’t make much sense. So then I thought, maybe Techron is a mascot. Like Tony the Tiger. There are, after all, a lot of drawings of animated cars in Chevron propaganda. Maybe one of them is Techron, so when you get gas there it’s like, “Get Chevron with Techron! [TECHRON smiles and winks a windshield wiper at the camera. Cut to black.]”

I think that idea is my personal favorite for Techron, even though there are other possibilities (insurance policy? special automated pumping system?). If I ever get a dog I might name it Techron, so that I can bring him in the car and say I’m going to get Chevron with Techron.

Well… maybe it would be too dorky to say. But I’ll think it.

Techron would be a good name for a dog, actually. You could call him Tech for short, which I think has a nice ring to it. It sounds like one of those douchey 50s names, like Skip and Rush and… I dunno, Mitt. (Why do Republicans always have douchey names?)

The gas was so that I could drive to Santa Cruz and tie up a few loose ends with the registrar and my rock climbing membership and so forth before I leave for the Amazon in two days. I know that where I’m going is a place of sweltering tropical languor and heat, but for me driving over the summit of Highway 17 is driving into endless summer. It was a clear day in Santa Cruz; the green was starting to creep back into the meadows; the sun was crisp and bright; and from the linguistics offices in Stevenson I could see down the green sweep of the town all the way over the blue, blue waters of the Monterey Bay to the land on the other side. The Moss Landing smokestacks 40 or 50 miles away, usually a hazy silhouette of a thing, were in sharp relief. I don’t know when I last saw such a clear day. And it was… well, I’m going to miss it. I went to Bry and Annaïs’ place in the Porter apartments and they were there along with a bunch more of my friends, and we had salad with blueberries and pot stickers for lunch, and hung out. Everything was all clean and bright from people having moved out and then moved back in. And… I’m just going to miss it a lot. Going to miss them  a lot.

On my way back I was listening to a mix CD I just made. Now, before I tell the rest of this slightly embarrassing story, I need to say that songs almost never make me cry. Maybe I’ll be listening to a sad song for a specific reason which is making me cry, but for a song to emotionally create something out of nothing? It doesn’t happen to me. Maybe this wasn’t “something out of nothing” because it had to do with the trip I’m about to take, but the song “3×5” by John Mayer came on, and to my own bewilderment I started to tear up. I have to stress that I’m honestly not mentioning the I-never-cry thing to be all macho, it’s just that the first reaction I felt was “Wha–?!?! whoa.” When you think about it, 2 minutes really should not be time enough for you to build up enough emotion to cry. It’s weird and abrupt. That’s how it felt: abrupt.

But anyway. This song, this song is so perfect, and something about it caught me by surprise. Part of the reason I’m so excited to go to Peru is because lately I’m feeling dizzied by the crush of technology and staying connected, and the pace of life when some important news about my 992 friends on Facebook breaks every twenty minutes. Five different passwords. Three different e-mail accounts. Keep in touch via Skype with your friends from this class, and that class, and that summer…. I just want to get off the map and really live. And this song, the title is after a common print size for photographs – 3×5 – and it goes, “Didn’t have a camera by my side this time/ Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes.”

Yeah, I’m bringing a camera to Peru, but the camera isn’t the point. Some combination of the experience I’m looking for and what I know I have in Santa Cruz – friends that are always there to share food with you when you show up at their door; something that can’t be photographed or quantified in Facebook posts – really hit me. The friends that are really worth something have a connection with you deeper than what you can share and describe. Just as I know that my time in the jungle will mean more to me than any blog or photo could ever share or describe. The magic is in realizing that, and not trying too hard to share and describe it anyway. As the song goes, “You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes/ it brought me back to life…” The idea that stopping to really see something, even something ordinary, can save you. I heard it as if for the first time. And I… well… sort of…. um. cried.

Yup, that was embarrassing. I’ll be going into hiding in Peru now. Be back in 2 months.

(P.S. John Mayer is hot, isn’t he? That’s not a rhetorical question; i’m staring at him and I honestly can’t decide… but. don’t look at the video while you listen to the song. Hot or no, John Mayer’s smoldering Zoolander lips will not reduce you to tears. but this song might.)


3 11 2011

In my astronomy class we talked about the lives of stars today. Of course, we humans are so egocentric that any mention of this eternal, impartial cosmic phenomenon contains some sort of discussion about What Will Happen When The Sun Goes Out. God, we’re so egocentric that to even try to talk about stars’ lives without having the Sun discussion seems ridiculous, like there’s an elephant in the room.

But I digress. The term “goes out” is misleading, because actually the sun will probably turn into a red giant star, engulfing the first two planets of our solar system and turning the Earth into a barren, boiling wasteland long before it blows up and the party’s over.

We also learned about the birth of stars today. In the cloud of dust and gas that radiates from a supernova, sometimes a nebula coalesces, and sometimes within that nebula, a speck of dust swirls into the weight of its own gravity and slowly begins to heat – and another star is born. Like a phoenix, a new solar system rises from the ashes of an old one. Just like people, stars are born, stars die.

That idea, it seems, should give me some sort of comfort: the universe is cyclical, a ring of interlinked endings and beginnings, just like human life. But the point of this post is that oddly enough, it doesn’t. Because actually it’s not like human life at all. There are trillions of planets in the endless cold sky, and as far as we know not one of them has even the slightest basic similarity to this balmy cocoon we call Earth. I believe that there must be other life out there, but what if there isn’t? And what if we never find it in time? When I imagine the end of our solar system I can’t help but see it as a death from which there comes no rebirth. Because when you think of all the infinitely perfect chances that have allowed life on Earth to develop as it has – the impossible chance of there being wonderful sweet liquid water here; the insanely timed spark of protobiotic energy that somehow made a single carbon molecule suddenly decide to start flopping around trying to survive – it’s like, how could this ever happen again? How could this ever come again?

This is our one shot. Our solar system could die and reform a million times and none of these million future solar systems, each one lasting for billions of years, would ever support life again. To return to square one, to ground 0, and be faced with the impossible odds that another living planet could ever be created again: the prospect seems hopeless. Because all of those future solar systems would be nothing without life. What value does the emptiness have, if there is no human heart to wonder what lies within it?

During class today I brought my laptop and it proved to be extremely distracting; namely, I spent half the lecture reading the entire Wikipedia page for Iceland. Don’t ask me why. I sort of have a crush on the Icelandic language and the whim developed from there. But the point is, even one tiny treeless island in the frozen northern regions of our world can be the cradle for a complex and beautiful language, and one and a half thousand years of history, and a literature, and unique national sports and singer/songwriters who perform in Reykjavik cafés and a national healthcare system and a mythology full of trolls and elves who lurk beneath the glaciers and dubbed versions of every Disney movie ever made and the list goes on and on.

Why do the happenings of outer space enthrall us so, when an island can be an entire universe? Not that I don’t find astronomy interesting, just… a little bit terrifying. I don’t think I could ever devote my life to astronomy. Because without life, what’s the point? To cast your imagination into a vast and lifeless universe always and forever must bring about an existential crisis sometime.

Sometimes I imagine what went through God’s head while he created the universe. I used to believe in a very friendly, very sentient God when I was a little kid. My muddled adult faith doesn’t revisit that idea so much anymore, but sometimes I still do. I figure that belief in God is a willful submission to faith in something unproven; if you’re going to invest yourself in something that exists only in the imagination, why imagine it half-heartedly?

In this particular Bible of my head, God is very anthropomorphic indeed and specifically, he only has so big of an attention span. When God created the first atom he must have just spent millions of years basking in how brilliant that was, just watching electrons and neutrinos float about in a perfect clockwork like a kid admiring his Lego set, thinking, “Well, there it is, I created the Universe”. But then one day he got bored and suddenly – hey wait! What if there was this thing called gravity, and it allowed all these atoms to collapse in on each other, and when they got all excited and jittery because of that energy – heat! And once a few stars had formed, which must have seemed like the coolest thing ever and impossible to one-up, then God had another idea – what if these atoms can be combined into more than one substance? No, there can’t be more than one element… but what if there could? And then there was, and what a humdinger of an idea!

And thus I imagine how many eons of background must have gone into creating a universe so infinitesmal and detailed that these stars can create 117 elements, and these elements can combine on lovely little beads of fire or water floating through space, and that on these beads, Life can exist. When suddenly one day God got the idea for life, it must have been just the greatest idea ever but also about the umpteenth time he thought he wouldn’t be able to one-up himself.

J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a devout Catholic (ironic considering how often fantasy is black-listed by the conservative Church), believed that Man being created “in God’s own image” is merely a reference to the fact that we alone among all creatures make up and write stories. Just as God created the universe, we create universes of our own, and for that reason we are like God. So I think that’s the basis of how I imagine God: simply a great Cosmic Imagination. My God is only sentient because to imagine the beginnings of the universe, I must also imagine a sentient consciousness who witnesses it.

Sometimes it’s also fun to imagine how God must be different from us. For instance, color. When you project a beautiful HD image of a fiery rainbow nebula onto a projection screen, it’s funny to remember that it has nothing to do with the real thing. As far as I understand it, photography of objects in space is achieved through roundabout methods of capturing light that have little or nothing to do with the human eye. Color means nothing in the lightless vacuum of space.

I wonder what God would think if he paid enough attention to the world to notice these people called astronomers, who look at the beauty of these images and claim to love the cosmos. Hah! How could humans love what we will never understand as God does? A nebula’s heat, its sparkling diffusion of gas, and its inevitable turning gravity like a clock that never stops! And here we humans take it and transpose upon it simple, basically human ideas – ideas that mean nothing to the rest of the universe – in order to call it beautiful. Color. It’s so silly. We do not understand what’s beautiful about a nebula. A nebula is God’s child from another mother than Earth, a distant cousin to us only. Our eyes, our brilliant human eyes, are designed, specialized to see the colors of fjords and glaciers like the ones in Iceland. Not to process something as unreachable as a nebula.

No, I could never be an astronomer. I hope that one day we find life on other planets, but until then, it seems like an uphill battle to devote ourselves to anything other than the beautiful madness of life on our own. I guess can see how to a certain type of well-adjusted, unsentimental person, learning about star cycles and the death of our own Sun can be simple. To endure the emptiness, that’s one thing. But to love the emptiness – that’s something else altogether.


1 02 2010

I have always been very in tune with nature. When I was a baby and I was crying, my mom had only to take me outside to look at the wind in the trees and I would stop crying, entranced. It’s a cliche that weather is a boring thing to make small talk about (“Lovely weather we’ve been having…”) but I really love watching the weather as the seasons turn. What with my boring, second-semester-senior life, I’ve been paying attention to the weather a lot lately.

Summer is in the air. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there. As soon as the storm clouds cleared last week it was suddenly weirdly sunny – not quite the drenching golden sun of summer, but a crisp, clean, bright kind of sunny, like the sun didn’t remember how to shine and was just starting to get the hang of it again. Biking to school, I realized just how beautiful the light was. Even though it’s still chilly, the bright sunshine makes me wish it was warm. I can almost feel the warmth, when I stand in the full sunshine and imagine. My memories warm me up, and I long for summer.

I noticed the same thing when I slept over at my friend’s house this weekend. I got up at around noon and stumbled outside shirtless to check the temperature. The chirping birds, the bright sunshine, and the whisper of warmth when the chilly breeze was ever-so-still all smacked of another time, when I wouldn’t have had to put on a shirt all day. I could almost smell it in the air.

And then there was today, overcast but weirdly warm, and still with that queer summer smell hovering the edge of everything. It didn’t feel like an overcast winter day – it felt like June Gloom in L.A.; as if any moment the clouds would break and it would be 80 with a cool ocean breeze. Man, I want summer. And not even because I want to get out of high school or anything. I don’t want The Summer Before College; I just want summer.

This is the longest, darkest part of the year, when the afterglow of last summer is truly gone and next summer isn’t nearly close enough to be excited about. It’s the worst part of the year, but also the best – because you’re used to things; you fall into a pattern and start getting the hang of it. It’s when the real memories of the school year are made, I think.

The nights are still wintry, in a California sort of way. This weekend I went to the park at night with my friends. Around 1 a.m. a creeping mist started to form. It was eerie but somehow serene and beautiful, like we were seeing the secrets of nature at work. We walked out to the softball field, where the mist was thicker as it rose off the cold, dewy grass. The cruddy old lamps at the field’s edge gave the mist a yellowish glow reminiscent of Jack the Ripper’s London, but in the middle of the grass the lights faded away and everything was silver and reverently still. The moon was incredibly bright, the brightest I’ve ever seen it in my life. I remembered seeing something about in on Yahoo! News, where they publish “news” headlines about stupid shit like what phase the moon is at or 5 cheap meals to cook for your family. For once one of them was useful. Go figure.

The moon was full, so bright that it was almost painful to look at. We found that our shadows had weird, silvery halos around them. Right at the shadows’ heads the moon shone stronger than normal, as if there was a lamp trained at the ground that your head was blocking. And there was also a faint ring of light on the grass, always right at the corner of your vision, like the shimmer on asphalt when you’re wearing polarized sunglasses. The moonshadows combined with the chill, mysterious mist to remind me of the wilds of Tartary or Russia, and I suddenly wanted to ride the Trans-Siberian Express.

So, that’s basically it. I want it to be summer, and I have wanderlust. Nothing that anyone who knows me couldn’t have guessed on their own.


5 12 2009

A while ago, I did some preliminary research for an ultimately unsuccessful project to “feng shui” my room. One of the rules of feng shui that I learned is that you’re supposed to pay attention to what you see the very first thing in the morning. It should be something calming, the website stated, and nurturing, and woe on the person who has something electronic at the foot of their bed. Unfortunately, the computer on which I’m typing right now is situated smack in front of my bed.

Well, after realizing something was wrong with this, I started noticing: It is kind of disruptive to have my computer right there. It’s never bothered me before, but now that the setup is suspect, I’ve started noticing it more and more. When I open my eyes in the middle of the night, I see the pale, sickly green light of some sort of modem or adapter breathing up the wall from behind the server. I don’t know exactly what it is, but since I looked up Feng Shui, it has started to annoy me, if ever so slightly.

Last night, I had a raging stomachache. I woke up at three o’clock in the morning, walked painfully into the kitchen and ate four Rolaids. I was anticipating being able to draw some sort of comfort from the empty, cushiony darkness of the house. I just wanted to sit down somewhere dark and noiseless, be perfectly still and wait peacefully while my stomach churned the pain out of my last few meals.

But instead of a comforting darkness, for the first time (and with a sort of 3-in-the-morning logic), I realized just how many electric things there are in our house. Everywhere I turned, I saw tiny blinking indicator lights and heard a constant humming: things charging, things snoozing, things running. When I finally found a dark, comfy spot on the couch, I realized that the DVD player was making noise, and once I had put my finger on the sound I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. And then there was the great, glossy black shape of the TV, which commands attention and (I’m convinced) kills brain cells even when it’s off. There was no rest for the weary.

This episode got me thinking about how much technology we use in our daily lives. Of course I’m not against technology; I’m not one of those people who believe that video games turn you into a serial killer. But beyond how much we use it, or what we use it for, I do believe that in some way the presence of technology is disturbing to the energies of humans and of the universe.

There’s a tactile element that is missing from our world, which you just can’t get with the push of a button. I remember, when I was little, staying with my family in a cabin on Big Sur. The cabin had barely any electricity, and it had to be lit entirely by gas lamps. Something about that cabin enchanted me, so that I immediately decreed (and haven’t changed my mind) that I wanted to live in a cabin just like that someday. Everything in the cabin was tactile and touchable and real. They had board games and a fireplace instead of video games and a TV. The entire place smelled overwhelmingly of musty sweet pine wood. The night we stayed there, a storm battered the coast. We lit up the delightfully hissing gas lamps, cuddled up with the resident cat and listened as the wind howled over the cliffs.

It all comes back to the lamps. I didn’t know why I liked them then. I just knew I did. I liked the funny smell they had, the solidness and heaviness of holding them in your hand, the sheen on the metal base when they were lit, and even the quaint ritual of lighting them. Now I think that what I liked about them is the permanence, the sturdy feeling of really putting a match to something made of metal and glass and watching it bloom into light.

I think everyone could be fulfilled a little by doing things that are just a little more old-fashioned than the norm. Listening to music is fun whether its an iPod or not, but it feels like an exciting activity when you listen to a record. You can hold the big glossy disc, feel glamorous as you set it delicately down on the turntable, and hear the crackle before the music begins. Same goes with photos. Even if they’re of the same caliber as online photos, there’s something irresistably nostalgic about pulling out an old leather photo album and poring through pictures. The example that people might understand best is cooking. Why is it fun to make an incredibly complicated recipe from scratch? It’s the adventure, the novelty of having eggshells and reduced chocolate and weird-ass semolina flour scattered all over the counter. When you do something the hard way, it makes the ordinary feel extraordinary.

The one other thing I do to escape technology is go out in the backyard. Luckily, I’m blessed to have a pretty good backyard for this kind of thing. It’s surrounded by verdant trees and tall bushes, so as not to be too suburban, but the lawn is just wide enough that there’s a fairly reliable strip of sunlight in the middle all day long. When I really need to chill out, I go outside, lay on the soft grass and gaze up at the treetops swaying in the wind.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury referred to “the people who ate shadows for breakfast, steam for lunch and vapors for supper”. I think we’ve absolutely become those people. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I certainly don’t want to take my cue from Fahrenheit 451 as to what I’m saying about society. But when I go out to my backyard just to watch the wind in the trees, I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing something. If I squint a little so I can’t see the power lines, or if I turn my gaze just so, I can pretend that I’m in the Forest Primeval that whispers in the dreams of every human being. Ahh – there! In the blessed silence that reigns over the glade of my imagination, I can feel my stomachache starting to ebb.