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Pondering humanity at five below zero

This weekend, as I snowshoed along the state's "new" Raymond Brook trail from the North Creek end, it did not take long before the sound of passing cars on Route 28 faded away.

After making the first series of ascents up the slopes of the old ski trails, the crunch of my snowshoes in the frigid air became the only perceptible sound.

As often happens when exposed to cold temperatures, the mind starts to slow down and thoughts become less hectic. With each step I found myself gaining more distance from my normal "mental chatter" and a sort of calm gently settled in.

As any outdoor enthusiast can attest - this is the lure of spending time alone in the woods. If you are open to it, you can easily leave behind the dozens of things that constantly occupy your mind day in and day out.

There among the frozen landscape is peace, natural beauty, and the simple act of putting one foot ahead of the other. Within that primordial rhythm lies the question of whether you are leaving something behind or seeking a new element of what makes us uniquely human.

Last week a reader sent me an article by Wilfred M. McClay entitled; "The Burden and Beauty of the Humanities," written in response to a recent New York Times blog by Stanley Fish.

Mr. Fish had apparently challenged the value of the humanities, that field of literature concerned with human culture, attesting that it's worth was best defined in terms of human pleasure and little more.

I considered this as I snowshoed along - feeling a bit more physically removed from my fellow humans with each step. Where would we be without a world of knights and dragons I wondered? Without Ahab and the whale? Or Bedouin's wandering across endless deserts?

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