A Man is a God in Ruins
- "The charming landscape which I saw this
morning, is indubitably made
up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns
this field, Locke that,
and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of
them owns the
landscape. There is a property in the horizon
which no man has but he
whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is,
the poet. This is the best
part of these men's farms, yet to this their
warranty-deeds give no title."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature"
Last night, I came across a quote by Ralph Waldo
Emerson that I jotted down several years ago: "A
man is a god in ruins." Those seven words say a
lot. But in an effort to better understand their
context, I searched out their source and located
Emerson's essay "Nature." In the piece, Emerson
waxed both poetic and philosophical in describing
man's connection with nature.
essay was written in 1849, it seems more
relevant than ever in our modern era. Emerson wrote
about man's contact with nature, how we can't
really see the divine around us unless we let go of
ourselves and "see the miraculous in the common."
In a world in which cell phones, video games and
reality TV vie for our nanosecond attention spans,
we regard leaves blowing in the gutter or a snail
slithering across the driveway with less attention
than we give the crumbs in the bottom of the
toaster. We can't see the landscape for the farms.
If we are gods, we are more ruinous than ever.
On the surface, this seems a broad
generalization. After all, most people enjoy
outdoor activities. Here in San Diego, especially,
you see people hiking, bicycling and walking along
the beach all the time. But that's not what I'm
referring to, nor, I think, what Emerson was trying
to say. It's not about getting in your car, leaving
your world and getting out into nature. It's
finding nature in your everyday life: watching two
crows quarrel in the alley outside your window,
taking a moment to study the veins in a leaf as you
do yardwork, stopping to notice a bee dying on the
ground as you walk across a parking lot.
"The lover of nature," wrote Emerson, "is he
whose inward and outward senses are still truly
adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit
of infancy even into the era of manhood." I try to
live my life this way, to remain open to the
everyday miracles. In fact, it's often what keeps
me sane when I spend a day sequestered in an office
cubicle. Those fleeting moments spending my breaks
outside, staring at the clouds above and the weeds
below, make the fluorescent lights and commercial
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