Random Acts of Kindness
The trail dips down to the rocky bed of a brook and I’m greeted by a dozen stone sculptures – piles of stone that humans have arranged with varying degrees of artistry and complexity. Some are only a foot or two high, others reach above my waist, but all bring to these deep woods the air of ragged Hindu temple spires. My favorite consists of two columns made of flat rocks supporting a broad flat horizontal stone on top of which a tapered third column reaches almost chest high. Who left these here, I start to wonder, and then stop myself. Better to think of it as an anonymous gift. That way I can imagine any stranger I happen to meet as capable of acts of kindness.
“Wilderness is neutral. We make of it what we are, and its absence of civil authority heightens opportunities for kindness or cruelty.”
I dropped a favorite hat recently on my way up a mountain. Descending, resigned to its loss, I found the hat hung neatly on an eye-level trailside branch. Such acts of generosity in the woods support a sense of human solidarity we all crave. But the opposite happens too. There’s a history of wilderness violence that goes at least as far back as the mythical Greek bandit Procrustes, who captured travelers near his remote mountain lair and forced them onto an iron bed which they were made to fit either by stretching or amputation. Wilderness is neutral. We make of it what we are, and its absence of civil authority heightens opportunities for kindness or cruelty.
As I leave the stone sculptures, my mind shifts from Procrustes to a camping memory from years ago. After hiking in to a remote mountain lake, I sat under bright stars and played a few songs on my harmonica. As I rested, thinking myself alone, I was startled by accordion music drifting from the far shore of the lake. For half an hour my invisible companion and I took turns serenading one another. The next morning I went around to find him or her. But my unseen partner had already gone.
© Dan North, 2011
Dan North, a retired journalist who lives in Jersey City, discovered Fairview Farm in 1996 while bicycling past on Larger Cross Road. When he rode down to explore, he loved what he saw and has been coming back to wander around ever since. We are pleased to feature his essays here on our web site.