An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of April 6, 2003
issued from the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

CALLUSES

This week I've been grubbing Red Buckeye saplings from the hayfields and this has hardened the very slight calluses on my hands. I do just enough hoeing, scything and shoveling to keep respectable hints of calluses on my fingers and palms. These calluses got me remembering and thinking.

For two or three summers during the 80s I worked in Ulm, southern Germany, home to "Europe's tallest cathedral." You might enjoy seeing the cathedral's Wikipedia page. The cathedral's constrution was begun in 1377. During my Ulm days, whenever I visited the cathedral, which was often, I always went right to an obscure little carving in an out-of-the-way corner portraying a naked man absolutely shaggy with long fur. Apparently he was a famously pious hermit back in 1377, someone who swore off clothing and other of man's conventions, and in reaction to Germany's habitually cold and rainy weather grew long hair all over his body.

So, the body can react to harshness in some surprising ways. Corned feet once served our barefooted ancestors well. Long before humans had tools and worried much about clothing, maybe all humans looked like the shaggy hermit in Ulm's cathedral. For, the time since humankind emerged from the Stone Age is just a tiny flash at the end of many millennia of humans evolving in the context of small family or tribal units, on the open savannah and in the forest.

It's logical to think that today our inherited human genetic code continues producing humans meant to function in our ancestors' long-enduring world, not our recently appeared one.

Moreover, our minds, like our bodies, must react to stimuli and the lack of stimuli as if we were still in those distant times. But instead of protective calluses, corns, and shaggy hide, the mind must protect itself with mental armor. Much of my thinking this week has been about what that armor might be.

I think that maybe the most common mental armor is self delusion. Many of us have lost our identities as important members of any family or tribe, so our minds imagine us as centers of our own mental galaxies -- thus the "Me Generation" and the general decline of broader social structures depending on voluntary effort.

Similarly, today the mind reels before the complexity of the societies we humans have invented. I think that the mind's main "callus" protecting us from this is our tendency to withdraw into and identify with gross simplifications -- inflexible, black-and-white doctrines like racism, nationalism, communism and the trickle-down economic theory, and the world's many religions.

Grubbing up a Red Buckeye sapling in the middle of a sunny, windswept hayfield, I stare dumbly at the muddy, oversized root, and the sunburned, wrinkled hands holding the root. Crows call and I hear myself breathing. And more than a little I sense the out-of-whackness of being what I am, being just here, doing this, the way I am in all this greenness and blueness and odor of crushed grass and earth-smell on the wind and the oily smell of my own skin in the sunlight, the cool wetness in my mouth, the feeling of fresh air rushing into my lungs... indulging in the illusion that Red Buckeyes need to be grubbed out...

And what could I do but just laugh and keep grubbing? Facebook Icon.