Thursday, January 15, 2009

Arne Naess

Something like ten or twelve years ago I visited Arne Naess in his mountain cabin at Tvergastein. I remember, in particular, these things:
Getting off the train at a tiny stop in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, and walking, as if into nothing, across the rough moorland towards the shoulder of a mountain plateau where, I was had been assured, I would find his cabin. The landscape was magnificently bleak. (And it was near here, I think, that in World War Two Norwegian resistance and British operatives hid while preparing to strike a heavy water production facility. The Germans concluded that no one could survive for several weeks out in the open up here, and gave up their search.)

Naess pointing out to me the tiny flowers in rocks crevices, convincing me of the importance of their existence, and showing me his collection of minerals and elements in tiny glass jars: the purity of their colours.

Even though he was well into his 80s Naess was still an enthusiastic climber. He took me up a rock face, scaring the daylights out of a desk-based reporter. Later, after I had learned more about climbing, I think I understood a little better a part of what this was about: absolute concentration and presence in the moment.

Naess wanted me to understand his belief in what he called ‘beautiful action’ – a term he related to the work of Spinoza.
Naess, it's said, was pessimistic about the 21st century but optimistic about the 23rd. I have some hope for the 22nd or even a little sooner than that.

P.S. 16 Jan: Andy Revkin gathers some recollections and comments

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