Travel Log: General Sherman

I stopped in one of the last towns to fill up on gas and get supplies–which consisted mainly of sandwich bread, two cans of tuna, some fruit and peanut butter–before starting into the mountains, into Sequoia National Park, where I’d sleep for two nights.

Desert Town - California - Central Valley - Quinby & Co
Small town in the desert, where I got a quick breakfast.

 

After getting to my campground and setting up my tent, I set out to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.  I reached the trailhead and made my way into the grove, warm and stuffed with tourists wandering and laughing and taking pictures. I heard babies and toddlers crying and whining, and kids sprinting up and down the trail playing tag and accidentally photobombing the pictures of strangers. I continued and noticed the larger crowds gathering to snap a picture of something in the distance, still obstructed from my view, but something I knew could only be the General Sherman Tree.

It stood mightily at the center, surrounded by excited onlookers who looked like ants by comparison.  It was crowded with admirers and yet it seemed strangely alone. A silent sage. A wise man who’d seen generations come and go, had witnessed all the great moments of human history from the very spot upon which it stood. I even pictured some legend of the silver screen, growing old though still appearing ageless, encountering a crowd of photographers or tourists taking their picture, but just taking it in stride like a professional. They’re no stranger to the attention, after all.  They’ve seen it all before.

General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman Tree, and the ants at its feet; Sequoia National Park, CA

I understood and appreciated the truth that trees, like all other plants on earth, are living breathing organisms. And the more I looked at General Sherman, a tree more than 3,000 years old, the more I appreciated the relevance of these truths which concern all living things on the planet. The more I looked at it, the more I connected with it.

Still I felt like it was looking way past me, somewhere far beyond where I stood; and that despite its age and wisdom and experience far superior to my own, it too was still something of a lost soul searching and still unsatisfied with everything it had so far understood its purpose to be on this earth. It was the king of these mountains, but it was still subservient to a higher order it didn’t fully understand.

A soft rain fell, more like a mist than a rain. It probably only lasted a minute, but it seemed longer, as if the rain had slowed down time. In that moment the surrounding tourists vanished from sight and left the two of us alone, facing eachother.

The rays of the sun beamed in through the forest, shining down on us both, revealing the tree in all its eternal youth and ancient power, as the reclusive angel, having kept its vigil for centuries way up here in this shadowy grove, high up in the mountains.

We were pilgrims, old and young. Angel and man. Man and angel. Guardian angel, maybe. Brothers.  In that moment, we were no longer separate from each other.  We never had been.  There I stood, once again remembering something I seemed to know long ago.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt this way about anything in nature. It wouldn’t be the last. Unbeknownst to me, an entire network existed, scattered far across the wilderness of America, and farther still, across the Atlantic Ocean and out to the far eastern reaches of Europe.  It took the form of people I’d meet, and the many beautiful things I’d see along the way.

It was ocean and sky, woman and man, living and passed on.  With them I felt connected in common cause: that each of us might reach the realization of love and respect for all living things.  An understanding of our ongoing, unfailing connection to one another.

I remembered something from my early days in the church that made more sense to me now than it did before.  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.  United in one breath, one beating heart.

Kaweah River - Lodgepole Campground - Sequoia National Park - California - Sequoia - Quinby & Co.
Kaweah River at Lodgepole Campground; Sequoia National Park, CA

The thought didn’t occur to me at the time, standing in the shadow of General Sherman and the mighty sequoia.  It only does now, as I recall the story and wonder how it might sound to someone reading this. Truth be told, prior to this experience, I wasn’t much of an outdoors person.  I liked to be outside as much as the next guy, but I’d never really camped before at all, and I’d never done much hiking beyond the typical neighborhood hikes in and around LA.

I’d never spent much time in the mountains, amongst the trees whispering at night.  I’d never lay quiet, listening for melodies beside the creek in the early evening.  I’d never breathed in the rush of the river beneath the new morning and the slow, rising sun. 

Now, that was all about to change.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Ren Michael - Quinby & Co.
The tree is my brother. Me and General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

Talking About Political Correctness

I used to complain about political correctness, even though I’d never actually met anyone who shamed me or embarrassed me due to my incorrectness. I wonder then whether most of the people who complain about it are just insecure people?  

The growing consensus seems to be that everybody everywhere takes everything so personal all the time, which may yet be true.

For starters, the complaint seems far more warranted, say, with respect to professional comedy where part of what makes a joke funny at all is it’s irreverence, its breach of political correctness. If a comedian were constantly wanting to avoid offending people, that comedian would likely lose inspiration and give up the whole thing. 

Comedy thrives on irreverence. Even so, the best comedians still grasp the basic concept of knowing how to read a room.

When people look at their life and really think about the number of times they’ve been slapped on the wrist by a friend, family member or acquaintance for using the wrong word or making an insensitive remark, is that number actually few and far between, if at all?

The way I see it, political correctness is a fact of life and always has been, no different from any other form of etiquette that will change depending on where you are in the world. The only difference now is that it’s been given a name, and stigmatized in the one sphere of public life where it’s probably essential–politics.   

I wonder then whether people who complain about having their head bitten off for breaching that etiquette, who yearn for some comprehensive, universally agreed upon rubric for what’s ok and what’s not, and who then further expect it to never change, ever again—at least while they’re alive—are simply operating in some other reality; as if anything like that ever existed at all within the long span of human history and the diversity of cultures that make up this planet, let alone the ones that make up this country.   

They’ll mention how it used to be different years ago, how somethings were ok and others were not—as if the ideal sort of history of language and expression is a static one.

People once used words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, words like ‘colored’, just as men once wore stockings and wigs out in public. And yet if you spoke or dressed that way today, you’d look like a jackass. Why? Because things eventually fall out of fashion. And yes, it might be a phenomenon but if we can’t accept it, then we might want to find ourselves another planet.

The complaint ignores the fundamental truth that language changes because people change.  It ignores the fact that larger, free-thinking societies are quite naturally heterogenous.  The bigger they are, the more diverse they will likely become, with each community and sub-community developing their own customs and standards of decorum. Political correctness, then, at the very least seems to represent that basic truth in the matter of how we converse with one another, when each of us comes from a different background and our own sphere of personal experience.  

I’ve noticed that people who travel a lot typically have no problem understanding this, because they’ve spent a good amount of time in communities other than their own. They learned to adapt, and often a part of them even enjoys navigating the complexities of different cultures.

They don’t get upset over the fact that they have to learn a new language, they embrace it as an opportunity. If something changes in the country or community they visit and they have to adapt yet again, they don’t dismiss the people as petty and refuse to budge any further.

They are often driven by an appetite for learning new things, and a wonder before all the intricacies of the world and its many points of view.

They don’t get hung up on the possibility of making a mistake here and there, because they’ve already accepted the high possibility that they will make one sooner or later.

However, that leads to another point of discussion.

Could those who are hip to the changing tides of fashion be more polite about it? Do they have to be such a dick about it? Is being woke, for example, nothing more than a matter of bragging rights, one that ultimately involves shaming all those who are out of the loop?

I’ve never encountered anyone like that, but if and when I do, I don’t think it will surprise me. I used to complain about political correctness because I’d automatically bought into the notion that these types of people were everywhere and running absolutely wild…even though I never met one.

I think it had to do with insecurity. My own fear of making a fool of myself led to a defense mechanism against the enemy I had never actually seen. If these woke people exist–and I do think there are a few out there–then I imagine they are likely motivated by the same fear. Fear of not being hip, fear of looking like an idiot, or just someone out of step with the times. An outsider.

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being ignorant. I think the real pity is either burrowing yourself in your ignorance, or over-compensating in the direction of righteousness or enlightenment, all for the sake of never being wrong and being some kind of insider.

Personally I think it’s more fun being a little bit of both, having one foot on the inside and another on the out.

It’s one reason I like to travel.  I like knowing that I can adapt easily enough to changing surroundings, and I know doing that involves a flexibility of perspective, a willingness to listen and an actual openness to being wrong every once in a while.

It’s something I’d forgotten about myself, but I think it’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. It might make life a little more complicated now and then, but with the slightest tweak in perspective, if we can set aside our ego, it might also make life a whole lot more enriching.

critic at the pulpit

by Cal Corso

Art belongs to the people. It always has and hopefully always will.

It’s an important relationship, essential to the human experience.  Still it’s most consistent threat comes in the form of the intellectual asserting their expertise and implicitly suggesting some greater understanding of the art than the average person, even though we all have eyes and ears.

It’s a role that really shouldn’t exist unless it celebrates the work and it’s potential value to society.  If the work itself is no good then why talk about it at all? Wouldn’t it just add more noise to something that isn’t worthwhile to begin with?

Conversation and debate, more so than criticism, should arise from the ideas suggested by the art, and not dwell on whether the work is any good.  Any real complaint or criticism, then, would still manage to stimulate further discussion instead of stifling it.

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
-George Orwell

I can’t help but notice how these critics are a lot like some religious leaders who take a universal experience, plainly accessible to everyone, and suggest that their perspective on it is somehow more credible than our own, that they are more aware of its complexities–even though these are typically complexities of their own creation.

Most of them have never made a film, written a novel, composed music, or contributed anything to the field in which they claim expertise.  What they have done is invent a vocabulary, spontaneously and without any great need for one, a lexicon uniquely tailored to the craft, to a collective experience, that only further reinforces the illusion that they understand it more deeply than we do.

Jargon complicates the experience for the layman, reserving it for the elites who invent the language, evidently to perpetuate their own sense of self-importance.

In the late 1940s, William Faulkner criticized Ernest Hemingway for his terse style of writing, his limited choice of words.

“He has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb,” Faulkner said. “He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”

When Hemingway heard about the criticism, he had his own choice words for Faulkner.

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Very often I’ve met people who find art overwhelming, even intimidating, just like they do poetry and certain types of music, like jazz or classical, because they feel it goes over their head.  They get discouraged by their seeming inability to figure out what the artist is trying to say, as if there’s some great big point to it they cannot grasp.

Ultimately it’s a product of our own making.  We’ve cultivated a whole industry that assumes the right to decide for everyone else what is good and what is bad, even though there has never been a science in determining something like that, and suggesting otherwise only reinforces the idea of there being some secret language to understanding it in the first place, a language reserved only for the esoteric few instead of the many.

There is no big secret, or code, or convoluted way.  The language is universal.  There is only the reaction, our own individual connections to the art, every bit as legitimate as the reactions of the self-proclaimed scholars.

I emphasize this because, in this magazine, we’ll be talking about music and films and painting and all kinds of art that we enjoy here at Quinby & Co. We’ll be talking about why we enjoy it too.

We will never be talking about something just so that we can give it a bad review and shoot it down.  If you hear any kind of criticism, it will more often address a specific point we feel the work in question is making, one that we feel has broader societal and philosophical implications.

If anything, it will try and stimulate debate not on the merit of the work but on the larger points that we have interpreted from it.  Most often, it will be a conversation over ideas.  We are not experts here, but we are passionate about telling good stories that resonate with people, about the tradition of telling stories and understanding why, since the dawn of man, we’ve even bothered to do it all.

To that point, we’d like to emphasize our belief that any work of art that stimulates such discussion is still, at the very least, something worthwhile.  Something worth experiencing.  In our humble opinion, it makes for a significant contribution to the times in which we live.

Issue #2 / Quinby & Co.