September 10, 2002

From the mountains, there cometh my strength
Just finished the riveting book, The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert, the true story of Eustace Conway who left his comfortable suburban home at the age of seventeen and moved into the Appalachian mountains. For the last 20 years he has lived there. It interests me on several levels; his unqualified absolutism and idealism, the effect of constant absorption of the natural (i.e. God's) world on the pysche, and his independence, especially his refusal to let the culture mold him.

We are all, more or less, prisioners of our time and culture. And the funny thing is how little we realize that. We don't know what we don't know, and when we most think we are objective we are often being the least. This book emphasizes how conformist our culture is.

Eustace isn't content to live in the woods by himself - he wants to change the culture (like we do, for a different reason). And so he holds camps and goes to schools across the country preaching his simplicity and 'back to nature' messsage. Check out how this excerpt resonates (the author is questioning why he has so little time for what he is preaching):

'Have you ever wondered,' I asked, 'if you might benefit the world more by actually living the life you always talk about? I mean, aren't we supposed to live the most enlightened and honest life we can? And when our actions contradict our values, don't we just screw everything up even more?"...

"Whenever I go into schools to teach, I tell people, 'Look, I am not the only person left in this country who tries to live a natural life in the woods, but you're never going to meet all those other guys because they aren't available.' Well I am available. That's the difference with me. I know I present people with an image of how I wish I were living. But what else can I do? I have to put on that act for the benefit of people.'

'I'm not so sure it's benefiting us, Eustace.'

'But if I lived the quiet and simple life I want, then who would witness it? Who would be inspired to change?'"

Another excerpt:

"What remains after all this activity? That's the question Walt Whitman once asked. He looked around at the galloping pace of American life and at the growth of industry and wondered, 'After you have exhuasted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains'?

And, as ever, dear old Walk gave us the answer: 'Nature remains."

Or God. So it is fascinating watching Eustace's quest, the quest we all trod in learning over and over again that all is loss but Him.

A review of the book.

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