After a lifetime of wanting to be close to the sea, in the last couple of years all I’ve desired is to be inland, and particularly in the Snowy Mountains, where I am right now.
Yesterday, we walked Dead Horse Gap, a venture that necessitates taking the chair lift to Top Station, an activity I usually enjoy, however the lift was closed so we had to take the Snowgum which was slower and buffeted by very high, very cold winds, which I didn’t enjoy at all, and I spent the ascent struggling to control incipient vertigo while Mrs Chook yelled through the howling gale that I should not look down but at something off to the side and keep my eyes fixed on a particular object, none of which advice helped me, as my brain gradually froze from the combination of icy gales and terror, and I could not absorb her instruction. All I could think was “Archie no liiiike,” a phrase we have all adopted since our second youngest family member took to referring to himself in the third person when in situations that seem unpleasant to him. “Archie no liiiike” I whined at Mrs Chook, and she patted my arm.
I also felt an alarming compulsion to lift the safety rail and jump. Instead, my water bottle fell from my backpack where I had failed to properly secure it, and I had to be nice to Mrs Chook for the entire day so she’d share hers.
In ways I have not yet found the strength to unpick, this could be a metaphor for much of my life.
There is little to compare with the sense of insignificance a human can experience in the physical and metaphorical shadow of a mountain. The Snowy Mountains are not particularly high, as I remarked to Mrs Chook we were closer to the blue dome in Mexico City, if you could fight your way through the layers of toxic smog, but in these mountains the combination of wild, impersonal beauty, imperious height, absence of human intervention, and isolation works to remind one that we are always and forever at the mercy of the natural world, a reality politicians would do well to acquaint themselves with by, in my opinion, being made to spend a certain number of days every year in a challenging wilderness as part of their job description.
In my gloomiest moments I feel certain we are ensuring our own destruction not through more world wars, but through our abominable disregard and despicable destruction of the planet that provides us with the only means we have to sustain manageable lives. This catastrophic behaviour makes us the most ignorant and wilfully stupid species in the known universe. But there’s no convincing deniers. One might as well attempt to convince the religious that their god is imaginary. When unexamined belief and ideology hold sway, change of any kind is impossible, as these two influences are so mindless as to willingly engage in the perpetuation of their own destruction, rather than question the tenets of their faiths. If you don’t believe me, look at the ALP.
One of the most valuable things I ever learned was to question the structures of my life, rather than blindly accept them as the conventional wisdom that is so often nothing more than an obstacle to fresh ideas and new ways of living, a protector of a status quo rather than any truth, and for that, I thank feminism as it used to be, before it was colonised by capitalism and mainstream politics and reduced to the pitiful shadow of its former self it is today. I also thank Foucault, and I came down from the mountains late yesterday exhausted, and determined to read yet again Foucault (and others) on the limit experience, which is, in short, voluntarily undertaking experiences that seem at first impossible in their intensity, and extremity, whether physical, mental, or emotional, as a method of breaking through the treacherous barbed wires of received wisdoms of ideology, religion and other conservative monoliths, to see what one might discover on the other side. These are times in which it seems to me some of us ought to be doing this, if anything is to be salvaged from the wreckage unmitigated capitalism and the crippling rituals of conventional society leave in their vile wake.
There are no prescriptions for limit experiences, obviously one must discover one’s own personal barbed wire fences and seek a way through them, as I think the Dalai Lama once said, or was it Gandhi, I don’t recall, societal change always begins in the individual human heart, something something, something, and I think it’s indisputably true. Of course, one does not fight one’s way through barbed wires without incurring injury, which should not deter, because even if the wounds kill you, at least you’ve made your small bid for human progress, and what else is the point of life?
And this to me is the crux of my opposition to Tony Abbott and his ugly gang of repressed and repressive conservative thugs. They are the self-appointed guardians of the status quo, driven entirely by their ideological beliefs, and they will see us destroyed as a society in the service of their ideology. They are at their happiest behind the barbed wires, and they intend to herd the rest of us into secure compounds they determine most suited to the crass stereotypes with which they populate their limited world. They reduce the vast array of human possibility to that which best suits their ideological purposes, with no regard for difference and variation. They are the dark side of human possibility. They are the people of the shrivelled heart, and it is their intention to shrivel all hearts, because the un-shrivelled heart is their greatest enemy.
When I was finally released from that bloody chair lift, I was completely disoriented, I could have been anywhere bitterly cold and miserable, with no direction home. I then found I was faced with a long and practically vertical hike to the beginning of Dead Horse Gap, the icy gales still whipping me about, searing my skin, bringing tears to my eyes, cutting through my clothes. I almost gave up. I knew there was a several kilometre hike across the top of the mountains before there’d be any protection from the weather. There was Top Station just above me, the cafe where I could drink hot chocolate with marshmallows then catch the chair lift down and bugger the walk. But could I look myself in the mirror if I piked? No, I bloody couldn’t. My heart was shrivelled with cold, and the aftermath of fear. Nobody would give a toss if I did or didn’t do the walk down to the snow gums’ silver skeletons, still recovering from disastrous bush fires, to the last of the summer daisies in the water meadows, beside the Thredbo river swollen with rains, coursing with heart-swelling clarity over brown stones and pebbles and pale, gritty sand.
Why do we do these things to test, to challenge, to overcome, in short, to grow our hearts? And why must we resist with everything in us, Abbott’s determination to make us the smallest we can be?
Because we have to, for as long as we are alive. Because Archie no liiiike the shrivelled human hearts. Archie no liiike.