Dharma Bums. Bon Iver. Woods.

As I mentioned last week, I have a special place in my heart for Jack Kerouac‘s The Dharma Bums, which I’m reading for something like the dozenth time, and no matter how many times I do there are passages that still take my breath away they’re so beautiful.

As I also mentioned, Dharma Bums inspired me to follow in Kerouac’s and Gary Snyder‘s footsteps toward a love of hiking, and the passage that grabbed me this morning, from chapter 9, in the heart of the glorious hike to Matterhorn Peak, is a wonderful meditation on being in the woods.

Coincidentally, a friend was visiting yesterday and played me a song by Bon Iver that also took my breath away, and which just so happens to also be a meditation on the same topic, aptly titled Woods. It’s a song with only four lines…

I’m up in the woods
I’m down on my mind
I’m building a still
To slow down the time

…repeated multiple times, not a true haiku by structure, but reminiscent, and fitting, since earlier in the Matterhorn hike episode, Kerouac and Snyder compose haiku as they hike along.

So I thought I’d try a little experiment.

First, below, I’ve posted a YouTube recording of Woods, and I’ll ask you, dear reader, to click on play.

Then, as the song starts, scroll down and slowly read the quote from Dharma Bums. And do read it slowly, savor the language, read it twice or however many times you can or wish to.

Come on! It’ll be fun!

But it seemed that I had seen the ancient afternoon of that trail, from the meadow rocks and lupine posies, to sudden revisits with the roaring stream with its splashed snag bridges and undersea greennesses, there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I’d lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling. Ecstasy, even, I felt, with flashes of sudden remembrance, and feeling sweaty and drowsy I felt like sleeping and dreaming in the grass.

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