Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Indoor Life: A Reflection

     Yesterday, in response to the promptings of the C.S.O., I bought her a grill. It’s a nice grill, a Weber, all stainless steel and (supposedly) easy to clean and maintain. The C.S.O. was exceedingly pleased by the acquisition. As I have not inherited the grilling gene, I was baffled.

     “Why,” I asked her, “did you want a device that would compel you to cook outdoors, among the insects, the ragweed, and the grass clippings, where at any moment your life could be snuffed out by a falling jet engine?”

     The C.S.O.’s reply was typical, and typically brief: “Troglodyte!”

     For those of you who suffered a “public school” education, that means cave dweller. And yes, nearly all of my day is spent under a good sturdy roof. (Our home was built in 1959, when Long Island was the beating heart of the defense aviation industry. if you fail to see the relevance, remember those falling jet engines.)

     But of course, such an exchange is merely grist for a writer’s mill. It caused me to reflect on the changes in American life patterns over the years since the Civil War / War Between the States / Late Unpleasantness. (Choose your regionally preferred expression.) One of those changes is how many of us are, like me, “People of the Roof.”

     It’s expressed in all our institutions and practices. We work indoors. We sleep indoors. Mostly, we eat indoors. We partake of our most common entertainments indoors. The outdoors is now where most Americans go on occasion, whether to go under a different roof, to discharge some obligation, or for a recreational purpose. (I maintain that when you’re in your automobile – convertibles excepted – you’re still indoors...and how, pray tell, do you store your vehicle? In a garage or under a carport, perhaps?)

     The homes of working-class Americans have larger rooms than they did a century ago, in part because so little of life was lived indoors. You don’t need big rooms, or need to pay for them, if you only use them to keep the rain off the kids. Homes with large rooms were the hallmark of the wealthy: the financiers and industrialists, and a scattering of the professions.

     The things we play with have become ever more outdoors-indifferent. Some are outdoors-hostile. And we spend an increasing fraction of our time playing with such devices.

     But the outdoors is still there. (Trust me on this; I checked.) And it still offers its opportunities and pleasures. It would be well for us to enjoy it a bit more than we do – not for any abstract reason, but because if we don’t we might wake up some day to find that it’s all been taken away from us. And I don’t mean by overdevelopment.

     Many years ago, when “in a mood,” I wrote an essay about the nature of outdoor beauty. Beauty, whether one claims that it’s an objective characteristic or solely in the eye of the beholder, is an event: It occurs when a man encounters something upon which he confers a strong positive aesthetic evaluation. “This is beautiful,” he says, audibly or otherwise. But as with all things that occur within a human mind, the beauty event cannot occur unless the beautiful thing is experienced, made perceptible by our sensorium.

     I’ve misplaced that early essay. However, I recall clearly and specifically the thrust at which I aimed it: If beauty is an event that requires an encounter between the beautiful thing and a conscious human being, then it depends critically on the accessibility of the beautiful thing to the human mind. The car one drives and the road one drives along to surround oneself in the beautiful landscape are as important to the beauty event as the landscape itself!

     Human ingenuity has greatly expanded the number of beautiful outdoor things to which men have access. But another sort of human ingenuity is gradually stealing them.

     The green bigots (Thomas Sowell) have gradually eroded the methods and means by which Americans can access outdoor beauties. Ever more scenic sites are being closed de facto to the general public, merely by making access to them too difficult for most of us. Unless you’re a fit-as-a-fiddle hiker or backpacker with oodles of free time, that is. This is a reversal of one of the few positive trends of the Twentieth Century: the opening of access to more places to more Americans.

     The green bigots’ usual rationale is “preservation.” (Note: not conservation.) This, of course, means preservation from normal Americans and reservation to the green bigots. It’s a large-scale form of theft: the theft of our opportunities to experience natural beauty. It’s being carried out under color of law, which makes it doubly vile.

     I could go on, and sometimes I do. But the most important thing is to highlight the trend involved, whereby supposedly “environmentally minded” sorts are depriving those of us with Airstreams or Winnebagos of the enjoyment of outdoor beauties. I doubt we’d be as numb to it as we are, were we not always peering into a smartphone screen or crouched before a keyboard.

     And now, in the troglodytic spirit from which this essay was written, a little music for you...very little:


Glenda T Goode said...

Your CSO will use the grill to make tasty things that are burnt just enough to make them mouth watering.....don't complain about that....Besides, Bugs do not like BBQ grills all that much. Smoke...heat.....

I agree totally with you in the 'preservation-reservaton' BS that is peddled as policy that is best for the environment. As a long term disabled person, I used to meander around the woods of the Adirondacks in my 4x4 until the APA essentially banned all motorized traffic in the woods. The communist state of NY decided that the parks were for the privileged and not the masses. Sure Emperor Cuomo and his ilk still venture into those special zones just for the rightly connected.....

Living in FLY over country in upstate NY I am used to seeing our upstate interests being subjugated to the whims and fancies of the liberal elite in NYC. I am unsure of your area is within the zone or subject to their whims and fancies like we are.

As to outdoors I had my perspective altered on that many years ago when I became disabled. Even so, I found that when my kids were out and about, I was as well. These days, I am not outside so much and conform pretty much with your thoughts on things outside our protective shells.....Grand kids drag me out once in a while....

daniel_day said...

A friend of mine who is a retired forest ranger has remarked several times on the US Forest Service's purchases of land. Thousands of acres, if not more, have been bought up in southern Washington State, and elsewhere, no doubt.

Stacey said...

The main reason I cook on the grill is so that I don't have to scrub the skillet that I would have made the food on in the house.

Pascal said...

Ooh, the I cannot imagine how short the half life would be for that second youtube being posted on a #MeeToo site. LMAO

Emmett Fitz-Hume said...

I love the outdoors: my son and I enjoy hiking and running (at 9 years old, he can run a mile in just over 7 minutes), and mountain biking.

But I just don't get the Grill Thing. I love a good burger and steak in a good restaurant. A burger in a diner from a flat-top grill is my favorite. But the backyard grill thing...don't get it.