January 20, 2006


Transcendent moments in nature
by Craig Volland

I went to see the movie, King Kong, recently. I didn’t expect much, the usual big budget, special effects extravaganza. I was surprised and deeply touched. It was the lovely sunset and sunrise scenes that did it. Ann Darrow, the helpless heroine and Kong, the giant ape, sat quietly together, first high above the ocean in Kong’s lair and later on top of the Empire State Building. These were transcendent moments.

My editor is thinking, “Oh no, Volland’s invading the turf of eKC’s movie reviewers. Is he, in his zeal to be noticed, also going to extract an enviro message out of that utterly preposterous tale?

Why, yes I am. A spiritual one, too. I know a little about transcendent moments.

Eight years ago I walked across northern England with my partner-in-life Ann (no, not the movie Ann) on a Sierra Club international outing. Ann asked the group leader to make a short detour to the ancient stone circle at Castlerigg near Keswick. The stone circle lay on an upland ridge at a point where four mountain valleys seemed to intersect. The sun, breaking through England’s typically angry cloudscape, cast beams of light against the stones and onto the mists in the valleys beyond. I was stunned. It was perhaps my most memorable transcendent moment in nature. That’s when the view is so spectacular that I lose my self-consciousness, my ego and seem to merge as one with nature.

The stones were erected some 5,000 years ago. Nobody knows what kinds of ceremonies were held there, but the place imparts an open and celebratory quality. I came away with the conviction that I had communicated with the ancients. They clearly treasured this setting as much as I. Other members of the group must have been affected, too. I talked to the leader just a few months ago and he said that the Castlerigg stone circle is now a regular part of the tour.

In contrast, during a later trip, I was intimidated by the more famous Stonehenge, completed a millennium later. For its time Stonehenge was an engineering marvel, but I regard it as a prototype for later monuments to human hubris like the cathedrals of Europe and yes, the Empire State Building where Kong lost his life.

Part of the thrill of the movie was how the moviemakers juxtaposed the stark horrors of predation and the struggle for survival against the unlikely tenderness that developed between beauty and the beast. Granted, Darrow was trying to survive by distracting Kong with her vaudeville tricks. Nonetheless, Kong developed an attachment to her not because of her supposed beauty but because she had related to him and even respected him as a sentient being and companion in nature.

My only criticism of the movie is the racist presentation of dark-skinned native islanders as ignorant and threatening while the heroine was the usual young and Caucasian blond of conventional beauty, the kind that makes women worldwide feel inadequate. Perhaps it would have been too much to ask of the producers to veer further from the original story created when America was even more steeped in prejudice than now.

Anyway, the connection that developed between Ann Darrow and Kong had nothing to do with Ann’s blond hair and gorgeous body. They had shared a transcendent moment, an oneness with the best of nature that peeled away the innate fear we have of other creatures, of the unknown and the unknowable.

Some would say there’s nothing new about this concept. True. Others would say it’s finding God. Perhaps. I probably got it from Herman’s Hesse’s Siddhartha, who achieved his transcendence sitting by the river when he realized he was interconnected by that water with all the oceans and lands of the earth and hence to everything in nature. That image spoke to me many years ago when I read the book.

This concept surfaced again recently in a New York Times interview with Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who invented LSD, the hallucinogenic drug used by some “New Agers” in the 1960s and 1970s to alter their state of consciousness. Apparently Hoffman’s obsession started when, as a boy, he had a mystical experience in the forests of Switzerland. He was “completely astonished by the beauty of nature.” Afterwards he longed to recapture what he called “a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality.”

How 20th century it was of him to seek a chemical means to induce the desired state. We ought to be able to do it naturally. Apparently some people, particularly Buddhists, succeed.

In my own way I can do it... in the proper setting. You can too. We have to do all we can to preserve and protect those places of natural beauty, large and small, and open our minds to receive them as both our inheritance and our legacy.

A movie should be art, but rarely is... in America. Of course, Kong and Ann Darrow did what was written in the script. I wonder what these writers were up to, where they got the inspiration for those beautiful and touching scenes, including the park scene where Kong playfully slid about on the ice with Ann in his lap. I think King Kong rose to the level of art.

Does this remake of an old movie presage an advance in humankind’s environmental consciousness? I’d like to think so. When one experiences that transcendent moment, that oneness with nature, one will also, despite the day-to-day mayhem of human affairs, achieve a profound appreciation for the earth and a compassion for our fellow creatures. We may yet be saved from ourselves.

Craig Volland is a dreamy tree hugger who, next time, will get back to the science of it all. If you must have your “moment” with him, email publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.


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