i have this distinct memory from years ago when my little sister was super little, maybe four or five. we were poking around in the woods, picking blackberries, and i was telling her about this thing called “backpacking.” how you get to go hike up beautiful peaks, into remote deserts, through ancient forests, and sleep under a million stars at night – all with just a pack on your back, with everything you’d ever need inside. she was like, “can i go backpacking with you?” and i was like, “for sure, you just have to get a little older and bigger so you can carry a pack.” and she was like, “someday i’m going to be big and carry a backpack.” and i was like, “yeah, it’s going to be awesome.”
now my sister is old enough. but instead of being old enough to backpack, she’s old enough to be a consumer. she’s old enough to get an i-phone and to stare at it and check it for messages about twenty times a minute. she’s old enough to have a solid grasp on the latest youtube videos gone viral. and she’s old enough to have eighteen years of advertising floating around in her brain. and this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill advertising we had growing up – commercial breaks and some lame magazines – this is 24-7, words and images to the side of every email, every web search, every freeway telling her to buy this, fix that (your body), and go here (or there) and you will be happy.
i must have somehow managed to retain enough memories from a childhood spent climbing trees and camping with my mom, exploring the redwoods and building forts by the creek, writing poems about stone’s and seagulls and baby squirrels (for reals, i just found them), that i can barely, and only just barely, resist the call of the cyber-lords. buying things just doesn’t make me happy. it certainly gives me a rush, especially if it is something i can really use (a hot water heater for example), or something that i think looks cute (on my butt). but its not a sustaining high like that of diving into the yuba river on a hot day after work. or baking a cake for a friend’s birthday and licking clean the entire bowl of chocolate frosting. or lazing in a hammock with my sweetheart and making each other laugh like little kids.
and i know that i am only speaking personally, because i currently live in a glorified fort in the woods, i am going camping this weekend, and i still write poems about baby animals. i obviously chose to keep my own particular type of happiness going. and i guess anyone could argue that tracking justin beiber on facebook makes them happy too. but it makes me sad. i guess that’s why i’m writing about this, because i feel concerned by how easily the internet makes me feel slightly unsettled. how easily it sucks me in with it’s youtube videos and how surprised i am to find myself still searching past a farmer’s decent bedtime. even with my upbringing being relatively nature-based, and even with the lifestyle of a rural farmer, i still struggle to just be happy with the elemental things of the world – the sun, the breeze, my feet in the dirt. or i can feel a moment of peace, but there is always the beep of the text to snap me back into a world that part of me craves and part of me resists. i am sad that with things getting more and more virtual and artificial, too many people, especially the younger ones, don’t have those memories to draw them back into what is essential and tactile.
i acknowledge the irony of my typing this on a computer. but it’s not exactly irony, because i’m not making a call to abolish technology or the internet. i love writing, and i love how i am growing up in an age where writing is so accessible, and where this thing i love – the discovery of what is sacred through the ordering of words – has become communal in new and broader ways.
but i’m scared of it too, and it feels healthy to be, especially on days like today when everything on the farm is just so freaking beautiful. the smell of sweet peas is in the air, the red winged blackbird is making it’s sound like water dropping in a bucket, and the swallowtail butterflies are fluttering around the sweet william. this is the kind of happiness i want. it’s not some intense superbowl wedding proposal, or beyoncés latest dress, or a video of an eagle picking up a child. it’s just a day on the farm. and i’m going to cherish it. and go backpacking. and come home at the end of the day and make dinner and smell the bouquet of sweet peas i made instead of opening up my computer just because it’s there. just like julius, who is my model for most things, i’m going to do the only thing that seems reasonable at a time like this: turn off the phone, unplug the computer, and take a nap in the salad mix.