Monday, March 11, 2013

Changing group dynamics and "Adventure as Art"

This is the second time I read “Stickeen” and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Most of what I have read by Muir takes place in Yosemite, so it’s nice to read his perspective about a different location. When I’ve read his descriptions of the Sierras and of Yosemite, I am always struck by the profound connection to the particular landscape he describes, and how he goes about experiencing his surroundings. I remember one essay in which he describes climbing a sequoia tree in the middle of a thunderstorm so he could better experience the storm.  Muir describes a similar excursion in “Stickeen”: “When I heard the storm and looked out I made haste to join it; for many of Nature’s finest lessons are to be found in her storms, and if careful to keep in right relations with them, we may go safely abroad with them, rejoicing in the grandeur and beauty of their works and ways.” In both stories I felt a bit surprised to read about going out and about in the midst of a storm. To be honest, I kind of prefer being in my tent or under a tarp when it’s raining, toasty warm and dry and listening to the pitter patter of the rain fall on the fly as I fall asleep. That is not to say that on occasion I don’t love running about in the rain and stomping in puddles every once in a while. But this latter scenario usually only occurs in the front country, when I know that should I get cold I can quickly dry off and change clothes. In the backcountry, however, there’s a question of how long the rain is going to last, and how long until your clothes are going to dry.

I enjoyed reading about the development of the relationship between Stickeen and Muir. After they both make their way across the crevasse, and Stickeen transitions from “the depths of despair to exultant, triumphant, uncontrollable joy,” the two become inseperable. Muir writes, “Stickeen was a changed dog…instead of holding aloof, he always lay by my side, tried to keep me constantly in sight, and would hardly accept a morsel of food, however tempting, from any hand but mine…And often as he caught my eye he seemed to be trying to say, “Wasn’t that an awful time we had together on the glacier?” I was reminded of times leading trips when a particular difficulty, such as a hard section of trail, horrendous weather, spilling dinner, or an insane number of beaver dams creates a sense of solidarity within a group. It doesn’t always happen – sometimes temperatures run high and everyone becomes cranky and miserable, but occasionally the group community grows stronger because of such an event. Muir’s descriptions of Stickeen are quite different before and after their excursion out into the storm. At first he does not want the dog to join the expedition, and describes him as “a queer character.” In contrast, after their experience on the glacier, he writes, “I have known many dogs, and many a story I could tell of their wisdom and devotion; but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen.” The change in how Muir writes about Stickeen reminds me of the changes that a group of people sometimes undergo when spending significant amounts of time together in the backcountry.

On a completely unrelated note, I saw a link on Facebook the other day that linked to a blog post that reminded me of our discussions regarding the definition of adventure so I thought I would pass it along. I have never heard of the author before, but exploring the idea of adventure as a type of art form was a concept that caught my attention. It’s an interesting idea, especially since both adventure and art can mean such different things to individual people. I didn’t particularly like the way it was written (some parts seem a bit over the top and cheesy), but I would be interested to hear what you all think about this particular perspective on the idea of adventure. 
Here’s the link: "Adventure as Art"

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