The glow of the setting sun flows off from the cloud’s gnarled fingers and into the windows of the Caltrain, right above the monstrously rectangular Hillsdale shopping center. We’ve all tried capturing a gorgeous sunset, only to find the miniature sensors in our phones always pail in comparison to the real thing. But what is it about the “real thing” that draws us, instinctually, to awe at nature? To awe at sunset clouds, yes, but also the forest creek, the mountain peak, and the ocean’s coast. What characteristic does nature reveal in it’s beauty? Roughness.
Rough, shockingly, is not smooth. Reflect on nature’s bounty, how many straight lines and smooth surfaces come to mind? A forest floor is smooth when viewed from the canopy, sure, but examining closely reveals an infinite variety of landscapes built of soil, bugs and plants. Just like a coastline is impossible to measure as it’s length increases as our measuring devices get smaller, so too do all of nature’s “natural” beauty contain within it an inherent roughness. A stream has no edges, for as soon as you define it, it’s motion has shifted the edge somewhere else. Same goes for a mountain - it’s iconic singularity is actually a bunch of little mountains (rocks) - or a tree, whose branching structure embodies this rough, natural beauty.
My question, then, is where is the boundary of roughness in nature? Do it’s fingers reach out to us, or pass us by? Looking around a city, we are reminded of certainty: straight lines and unchanging structures. Streets don’t shift and change as we move within them. A city block is a block today and it will be the same block tomorrow. In this way, human structures are very smooth in comparison to the buildings of mother nature. Of course, this is largely for practical purposes, and I for one and glad my plumbing pipes always guide away from the walls of my room and towards an organized collection.
But we cannot hide from the facts: life is rough, and so are we.
Why is it that The Hero’s Journey has built into it, conflict? Moreover, why does every story which contains a message for us, also contain some bumps and imperfections for the character or plot? We can’t help our nature; roughness is inherent in the building blocks of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and anywhere else we look. So why then, is it difficult to embrace our roughness? It may be a fear of the infinitely shifting tides we call experience, self, consciousness, and reality, that, as soon as we feel cemented in them, have shifted. We desire the straight lines of downtown buildings but are again and again given the dance of the forest. Sometimes harmonious, sometimes on fire, always changin.
For me, it is seeing the roughness in nature that let’s me feel at home in my self. That is to say, that makes me feel connected to the ever changing, unknowable rock hurdling in space and everything else within it. This does not make me feel solid in a unchanging way but strong like a mountain against the wind. I am changing, now, tomorrow, and on, sometimes slowly, sometimes quick. But that is not scary, it is in fact a truth. Deeper than our genetic code and more mysterious than fried ice cream, roughness is a byproduct of existence as we understand it. In this way, we are no different from the rest, from it “all”, but we are acutely aware of the ride. From this view on the cosmic roller coaster, at least for a moment, there is solitude. Solitude in the un-know-ability of it all and the know-ability that here, in this rough state, we have now, and that is - and it better be! - enough.