I was sitting in my family’s garden, the shade of a twenty year old evergreen obstructing the sun's warmth. I’ve grown up with this tree and it is as wide as it is tall, the territory of birds – Finches, Stellar Jays, and Northern Flickers. It is healthy and perpetually thriving; I’ve never seen a limb brown nor bare. This tree will outlive me, my mother, my father, our pack of adopted Labradors. It will likely outlast the next inhabitants, and those after them. The tree gives me a feeling benevolent familiarity, a friendly fixture and a symbol of nature in an otherwise bland suburban neighborhood.
Eventually the November sun crests the evergreen's form in a blinding glare and I feel the warmth of that glowing mass and the sting of a crisp fall air, the cloudless sky that fine Colorado blue… I love the feeling of warmth that rises in me and I am reminded of days of my youth when that same warmth filled me with joy and longing - I couldn’t get enough. There were days spent wading through the cold and dark depths of slot canyons in Escalante country where I’d wade with my friends through icy water, carrying our packs overhead or floating them along on inflatable air-mattresses we covered in garbage bags. Once we were in a canyon notorious for epic sufferings, deaths, and the rescues of parties who underestimated the seriousness of the remote forty some mile long descent. The guidebook recommended wetsuits and dry-bags and a week’s length of time for the journey – we had neither and swam / waded nearly hypothermic from one ray of sunshine to the next, where we’d lay naked on sandstone slabs and worship the warmth that was carried such great lengths from that distant star.
While sitting in my garden the warmth of that same sun refreshed me with a feeling of happiness that has become increasingly rare in my life. To quote Edward Abbey, “I want to stare at the sun. I want to stare it down, stare it down until it turns black”. I believe he meant to face life honestly, as a materialist and naturalist – as a man. I feel similarly these days, I want to face life and its tragedies as honestly as I can. On my finer days I am a materialist, believing in that evergreen, those birds, that sun… and on my lesser days I am on the brink of believing in nothing. In his excellent and highly regarded book “Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul”, Nietzche scholar Paul Leslie Thiele notes the three challenges that face any individual : Indolence, Cowardice, and a “Lack of Belief in the Self”, and affirms that Nihilism is indeed the bane of modern existence. But as I sit here in this garden, weak and pale and full of angst following months of struggle with my own tragedies, the warmth of that fine sun on my skin, the smell of pine, and the chirping of finches is enough to remind me that I once loved life, that I still love life, and I will continue to love it until that sun turns black. To quote Albert Camus, “In the depth of winter I found, that within me lies an invincible summer.”