“It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.”
William Blake, The Price of Experience
I know Blake’s “The Price of Experience” heads from here into very different territory, but these two lines suggest something so haunting and evocative, I can’t help but pull them out of context, allowing them to inspire in me a reverie on this notion of “an easy thing.”
It is an easy thing to love hiking on a warm, cloudless day, when your boots fit well, and your yoga pants (grin) allow for perfect comfort. It is an easy thing to love putting in a long hard day on the trail when it all goes well. The views are stunning, the company charming, and the dogs behave. It is an easy thing to love hiking when hiking is lovable, when it all goes as planned and the serendipitous meetings are either safe (a friend appears from around a bend) or breathtaking (a bald eagle soars overhead just close enough to make out that white head and tail) or both. The miles add up, but not too many, and the appetite unleashed by an honest day’s effort is easily slaked.
But easy things are not always as rich as the harder things. And easy things are not always what I want. That’s right; I don’t always want it to be perfectly lovely. After several picture perfect Autumn-in-the-Catskills days out on the trail recently, I find myself hankering for some drizzle. A little mist, some rain: a little suffering to temper the joy. The grayed out mist makes the reds of the maples pop, and the relentless pattering and dripping creates a blanket of white noise (and discomfort) that envelops – both maddening and soothing. Maybe a hazy white sky that screams “blah” would suffice. I want a day in the woods that isn’t tourist-friendly, a day only a mother could love.
Back in my college days, a couple of friends and I roamed the late night streets of Oswego, NY, armed with a superball and an overabundance of youthful exuberance. We ended up arguing about the balance between “bite” and “flow.” We were talking about music at first, but the discussion quickly spiraled out of control, touching on all human experience and plenty of non-human “experience” too. My girlfriend insisted that life handed us enough bite, and that our job was to seek and create flow at all times, in all places. My guyfriend and I argued against this, celebrating the balance and the counterpoint. Beyond this, celebrating struggle and discomfort not only because they provide that counterpoint, making the maple reds pop, or making you love it more when it’s over, but insisting that the unpleasantness has it’s own merits. Like loving the edgy whine of Alex Lifeson’s electric guitar on some obscure Rush song when it cuts like a blade and is beautiful in it’s painful wrenching, sometimes the pain is good.
It doesn’t have to be good. It also doesn’t have to be lousy. I just have to show up and make sure I’m there. Really, what else is there?