Stories, Learning & Place

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sabbaths 1
   Shot taken on my front steps

Looking east from where I live along Mission Creek, I gaze straight into the Mission Mountains, jutting 8,000 feet above the valley floor. They remind me that the reality I clunk my way through down here in town is not all the case that is. This time of year the peaks rise dazzingly graced with winter’s snows, tempering the urgency of my mundane tasks, inviting me to pause and consider the spring gusts of warmness and the occasional sunshine.

I grew up here, with the mountains maybe the most reliable daily presence. I live just a couple miles from where novelist D’Arcy McNickle also grew up. Although that was almost a century ago, the view above has changed little in that time.

Years ago while reading his first novel, The Surrounded, I was struck by how at home I felt in the story--not in any of its particulars so much as in the psychological geography. In McNickle’s book, the young hero gets into serious trouble with civilization and he runs just a few miles east into the mountains, where he can vanish from the world the officials know and control. Reading the story was like revisiting the daydreams and fantasies I had sitting in school, looking out the window at those mountains. I’ve always been aware that civilization ends four miles east and that it’s possible to disappear into an invisible world.

Imagine the psychology of people who grew up in places where human civilization stretched away seemingly forever, where one couldn’t simply walk a couple miles to the edge of organized society and head up into the wilderness and into a primal sort of freedom. It must be easy for them to begin thinking of the government as a sort of god, the maker and breaker of dreams and the shaper of realities. It must be easy for them to be preoccupied with symbols of status and mechanisms of fame.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 04/06 at 07:17 PM
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©2008 Michael L. Umphrey
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