There is an old New Orleans funeral song (I like the George Lewis version): “Didn’t he ramble/he ramble/he rambled all around/in and out of town./Didn’t he ramble/he ramble/ he rambled ‘til the butcher cut him down.” It is bright and cheerful and incorporates an attitude to life that I think is all too rare today. Maybe it would be good for us to do a bit more rambling, a bit less logical pursuit of imagined goals.
Of course, such an attitude is heresy in an era of “purpose-driven” meaningful lives. People are constantly told that to be happy they must have an easily-encapsulated moral philosophy _ almost a sloganized motto_ of what they should do. Each moment should be devoted to whatever shiny objective they have chosen to add the luster of pride to their dreary little lives. Media is filled with puritanical admonitions to live frugally in hope of future glory.
A ramble, by definition, has no destination. It is valued for itself. It glories in unexpected enrichment as a person strolls undirected over woods, meadows, beaches, roads, city sidewalks, ugly terrain, or wherever a path may be available. Variety is certain. The mind is as free as the body, and comes up with unique ideas to match strange perspectives. At the end nothing much has been accomplished, and there is no shiny trophy commemorating a task well done. Rewards of a good ramble are entirely self-contained and as transitory as the next breeze.
Now, I am not saying it is not good to do something constructive sometimes. There are periods of life that require intense single-minded concentration on a task. Rambling all the time is just as corrosive as constantly striding heedless towards some destination. Each phase of life is rewarding, in its own way, and is part of how we have a fully experienced existence. Sure, spend some time thinking of nothing but that project that you think needs to be done. But, as the saying used to go, smell the roses along the way _ sometimes stop working on the project and wander around the garden doing nothing. There are an awful lot of moments in a lifetime, they can be spread into a grand profusion of activities.
Civilization now provides infinite resources of knowledge, possibilities, and challenges. To cope with ever-more-detailed specializations, society has raised crops of pointy-headed experts. Each of these has a myopic view of the universe that they encourage us to follow. And, to be honest, the most lucky and driven of those creatures often become rich and famous. But from any perspective other than their own, much of what they advise is counterproductive to a rich and full life.
How would your funeral sound? Would they play “didn’t he ramble?” and mean it? Would you prefer weeping, or a long obituary in a prominent journal? Maybe a mix. I usually don’t waste much time thinking about life after me _ other folk’s problem. I certainly never try to imagine looking back from a casket. But I would like to think that, at least, there would be few regrets. Those would include not having taken advantage of this miracle world that was offered, not simply strolled about and been grateful.
Society demands we not think that way. Society is an ant heap. Use up soldiers, drive the workers, keep the queen safe. An individual is essentially unimportant and fully replaceable. What any given ant thinks does not matter at all. I am not, I do not want to be, such an ant. At least not all the time. I spent my ant years commuting and in a career, but even then I broke out whenever possible. We are richly endowed to be much more than ants in our own noggin. Do not put a lot of faith for your own personal salvation in the needs of the anthill.
Let us never forget that a good ramble always includes legs in motion. It is not virtual viewing on a computer simulation. It is not reading a book. It is not even pursuit of a hobby. It is, from external perspectives, “wasted time.” But that wasted time must include using the body, moving along sidewalks or over hills, looking actively at whatever comes into view, listening to the environment, and letting the brain roam as unchained as the feet.
Rambles provide a good anchor for celebration in our very weird universe. We are fated not to understand everything, and that is ok. We are mortal, and we adjust to that grim ending. But we need not listen to experts, work an ant’s routine, nor mutate into potatoes on a couch. A ramble is a cure for almost everything, and (as an expert) I advise it whole-heartedly.
One thought on “Rambles”
Walt Whitman and I both agree with your musings on a “good ramble.” And, as you’ve said in so many different ways, our local landscape is the perfect place for rambling. I call it visiting “the church of nature” since it does so much to restore my physical and spiritual well being.