SYNERFACT / CORRUPTIFAT? n sketch of two new words / concepts [ click photo for next . . . ]
On the road in the American Northwest.

Walking the World: The Devil Stands
on the Other Side

Intellect builds good roads,
but only intelligence
knows when not
to build them.

I can already hear the intense, steady roar of the stream,
swollen with all the rain of the past three days.
For hours now, I’ve been climbing up through dense
spruce forest. The trail is faint and little used, and there’s
a lot of windthrow about. It’s remarkable how these
difficulties transform the story-like movements of a
well-made path into something more like an abstruse
argument, full of many hard to follow twists and turns.
As the rain begins to mix with mist and wet snow, I make
a short descent to a large, open meadow which must
have been cleared generations ago for pasture. Towards
the back, with its rear wall built against a sheer granite
rockface, there’s an abandoned shepherd’s hut. Made of
stone, facing South, the hut’s surrounded on either side
by groves of larch trees. The delicate yellow of their
needles reminds me that the nights will be getting colder
now. And that it won’t be long before I can expect heavy
snow above timberline.

To me, places like this, especially when I’ve been out
walking for weeks on end and I’m alone, seem filled
with an almost surreal resonance of the past. It’s as if all
that once happened here continues invisibly to echo like
sounds lost in space, and to reach out in a subtle way to
touch and shape the present moment.
Why is there no one here? Not that long ago, they prob-
ably would have used the hut for five or six weeks during
the summer months. They would have made cheese and
kept perhaps about twenty or thirty milk cows. One can
almost hear the voices of children playing, of the men
rounding up the animals, see and smell the smoke of
alder rising up out of the chimney.

I lean up against one of the old larches and walk my
backpack slowly down to where I can ease it off and
onto the ground.”That’s better”, I say out loud to myself.
Just to be free of all that weight for a moment! I take
out a pocket knife I’ve had for years and go straight for
some bread and cheese I have stashed in the top of my
pack. Even though I can’t see much past the crowns of
the trees, the weather doesn’t feel like it’s going to get
worse. Not much wind, and the barometer’s slowly

The meadow is here and there overgrown with weeds.
There are patches of spiniest thistle, with its tough
central stalk standing a good head or two above all the
other plants, and leaves so well-equipped with thorns and
sharp edges that even the hungriest of goats would not
touch it. A sad form of natural selection, this. Much
like how only the most corrupt of men is left standing
tall in the fiercely competitive battlefields of politics fired
not by ideas, but by money. To the side of the hut, there’s
an area about the size of two or three small suburban
backyards that’s grown into an entire sea of coarse alpine
rhubarb, always a sure sign of overgrazing. And of too
much manure concentrated in too small a space. Maybe
that’s why they left.

The hut is clearly marked on the map. “Not much of a
place to spend the night,” I think to myself. There’s also
a bridge indicated about hundred and fifty meters south-
west of here. That’s the water I could hear before I came
down to the meadow. I still have three or four hours be-
fore I need to set up a camp, but even so it doesn’t look
like I’ll make it over the pass I had hoped for today.
Arriving at the stream, I suddenly realize why the trail
has fallen into disfavor. The bridge is washed out. Not
during the storm of the past few days, but probably
a couple of years ago. Raging full and wild, the stream is
now a torrent. I ponder the situation for a while, filled
with the intense, almost oppressive sound of the rushing
water. It’s funny. If one’s alone, it sometimes takes quite
a bit longer for a fairly obvious situation to sink in. I
decide reluctantly that, with my heavy pack, it would be
too risky to attempt a crossing, so there’s nothing left to
do but to turn around and go back the way I came.
Walking down, a bit wet and weary, it occurs to me how
we have come to take our ease of movement so for grant-
ed. Like most people, I grew up in a world where roads
and bridges were already largely in place and as much a
part of the landscape as streams, fields and forests. If this
is all one has experienced, it can be extremely difficult
to go back in time to get a sense of the land as it once
was, and, in many cases, how it might naturally wish to
become again. In this sense, perhaps one could say that
this original wildness of a place—even that of a thin strip
of weeds alongside of a busy highway—never really
goes away. And perhaps more than anything else, it’s the
movement of walking itself which brings us back into
resonance with it. As we walk, we can’t help but become
more and more sensitive to the profusion of disharmoni-
ous structures which have over the years been built upon
the land.

This includes, of course, roads themselves. From the
walker’s point of view, every road has two sides; it
makes it easier to get to places, which, because of the
road itself and what it brings, are frequently less and less
worth going to.

On a long trek like this, through spectacularly rugged
mountains like the Alps, easily gaining or losing 1500
meters of altitude in a single day, crossing over ridges,
passes and complex glacier fields, I have much occasion
to meditate upon this theme of wildness. This is because
I still need to drop down into villages, traffic and the
noisy chaos of tourist towns every three of four days for
provisions. I don’t mind though. I find the rhythmic
back and forth, with the extreme, razorsharp contrasts of
Nature and Culture, both exciting and enlightening.
How different things must have been in the not-that-dis-
tant past. In the European Alps, which before they were
developed in many ways must have resembled the North-
ern Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, there were places
where the Earth would have said resoundingly no, where
a road or track would have naturally been brought to a
halt by some insurmountable difficulty: a wall of solid
granite which could not be by-passed, or a gorge too
wide to bridge. One can imagine that some cultures
would have perhaps been at peace with such natural
limitations, but with this great outward bound move-
ment which is so characteristic of Western culture,
with its emphasis on mechanical measure and technol-
ogy, thought projected the possibility of boring a tun-
nel straight through the mountain, or bridging the gap.
And generally, as soon as the means became available,
this is precisely what was done, regardless of long-term
consequences or possible negative side-effects.
As I come back down to the bottom of the narrow valley
where I camped the night before, the path leads out onto
a concrete dam and across to the other side and another
trail. This time with a bridge, I hope. The glacier run-off
backed up in the small reservoir has that characteristical-
ly eerie, opaque, milky green color. This is but a small,
secondary or tertiary dam.The water here is tapped off
and led directly through the mountain on to a much larg-
er dam via tunnels more than two and half meters high.
What strikes me most about a dam like this, one of the
many I’ve seen on this and other trips, is the utter lack of
restraint which it represents. The dam is evidently built
simply because it can be built. One need look no further
than the dry riverbed opposite the dam to see for oneself
the remarkably callous and destructive character of this
metaphysics of no limits.

Remarkably, this problem of natural limits is not as re-
cent as we might think. There’s an ancient myth which is
common both to the German and Italian-speaking areas
of these mountains which tells of a possible passageway
across a steep and treacherous gorge. One must remem-
ber that this was long ago when the lives of the people
of mountain cultures were intimately intertwined with
the movements of Nature generally, and that they were
still very much in awe, not only of the Earth’s beauty
and abundance, but also of its at times utterly indifferent
fierceness. With this in mind, here’s how I’ve heard the
story told:

Now, just at the point where a road would reach more friendly
terrain and make for easy commerce between up- and lowland
villages, there is a fearsome chasm. Here, the river roars so
wildly that it dampens the sun with a thick cloud of icy mist on
even the brightest of days. And here, one day at the beginning
of Spring, the Devil appears. He offers to help the villagers
build a bridge to the other side. But there is one condition
which must be met. The first soul to cross the bridge must be
his.The bridge is built and the villagers try to trick the devil
by driving a she-goat across first. But the Devil will not be so
easily fooled. He insists that the contract be met in full...

At the same time, it must be said that there is something
truly marvelous about the knowledge, the technical abil-
ity and, I suppose, the audacity and determination, which
enable a large-scale bridge or dam to be built. But may
the gods save us from the culture that has this capability,
but without any sense of right measure or real neces-
sity, And, more especially, without any love of Earth in
its heart. For surely, change always has a potential devil
waiting for us on the other side. Seeing this is seeing the
fact that, no less important than the power of the intellect
which builds the bridge or the dam, is the clarity of intel-
ligence which sees that it would be wrong or inappropri-
ate to do so.

* * *

These are the thoughts which cross my mind as, high and
dry and full of gratitude for those who built this simple
bridge of but a single log, I pause and look down at the
rushing water below me. This sound—somehow it en-
folds a secret. Moving from the beginnings of time from
high peak to distant sea, it is the sound which brings the
cycle round.

This is a small collection, or
what I think of as a little
of compositions
or pieces, available at
Amazon as separate mp3
tracks . . .

Click left to sample &
enjoy (headphones
manditory for movement of
the sound in 3-D space!)

| more album info |

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All Photographs & texts by Cliff Crego © 1999-2015
(created: I.26.2009)