New words come into the language all the time. Words like ‘staycation’ or using ‘google’ as a verb are a particular kind of neologism. Using words we know in new ways and in new combinations is part of the flexibility and utility of language. Then a word like ‘wi-fi’ was invented in 1999 as a pun to refer to the stereo term ‘hi-fi’. It is a made up term that now is integral to our use everyday and in the dictionary.
Then there are words that are invented that are called ‘echoic’ or ‘imitative’ which are words that imitate specific sounds like ‘meow’ or ‘cuckoo’ or ‘bang’ or ‘click.’ And it would make sense that these words would only be formed if there was something in your midst enough that made a distinctive sound that you would need a new word. In a world with no metal they probably don’t have a word like ‘clang.’
I don’t know about you but I’ve used the web app Zoom more the last six or seven weeks than maybe I ever have before. For catching up with friends, for classes, for courses, for business meetings and book clubs. Of course there are other options but Zoom seems to have become a new standard in this time.
Zoom is also an echoic word. It is just over one hundred years old and it emerged as piloting term echoing the sound of fast plane. The word ‘whoosh’ is also an echoic word that connotes speed but a whoosh is slower than a zoom and the first usage of ‘whoosh’ was in 1856. Certainly things whooshed before 1856 but that word was the one that was settled on for the sound of wind through rushes or birds flying right by your ear or the quick gust of a storm. But it is fair to say that nothing had ever really zoomed until an airplane. That high and fast whine and the Doppler effect of the risingness of the oncoming sound and then the quickly vanishing sound with the almost vacuuming suction of the sound as it goes by.
Of course that zooming airplane became foundational to our way of life in the last century and it is that speed that has allowed us to get anywhere we want to go with little imposition beyond the coin in your bank. Our economy zoomed along with the jet engines. Zoom, the web app, is trading on the notion of speed inherent in the word to infer that our connections with each other will also be as fast and as reliable as planes. And now one of the consequences of a century of zooming is now to stay in place and zoom less but Zoom more. Strange that we are Zooming while sitting at home, mostly. Just another of the many contradictions of our times.
When you are driving in a rural place and pushing 80 miles per hour you can easily find yourself in ‘the middle of nowhere’ and in the US we have ‘flyover country.’ These two terms are a consequence of speed. Terrestrial speed (or airspeed) is often is paired with a kind of cultural forgetting or a geographic amnesia. Place goes away. Only destinations matter. And only important destinations really matter. To make such speeds possible roads must be made, holes must be dug somewhere in the world to get the asphalt and black tar and cracked basalt and limestone gravel to fashion smooth highways and level runways. And then their use by commuters and travelers and truckers and merchants means these very same roads must be maintained because the very way, the very capacity to go, crumbles from use and exposure. So that means more holes must be dug somewhere in the world. And the cycle continues as a response to our cultural devotion to speed and to immediacy.
A trail, on the other hand is a path that is made and made deeper and more durable by its use contrary to a road or a runway. Almost always trails for humans are made by following animal trails. But simply the act of walking a trail maintains it. No other material is required than traversing at about three miles per hour. At that pace you can start to know the landmarks and hear the birds and see the alive movements of the place.
When we go 500 miles per hour in a plane or 80 miles per hour in a car again and again and again for our whole lives we lose the sense of the terrain and the texture. The trees whiz by (another echoic word from the 1500’s) and everything that might be in relationship with the trees is made infinitesimally small. Or the mountains we soar over in minutes rather than weeks it continues to spur the logic that there are no limits.
Now I say this having driven faster than 80 and having taken many planes and ordered food and items from far away that came to my door with alacrity. This is not to curse these things but just to start to see some of the cultural consequences and conditioning that seem to emerge from our fifth gear lives. And a plea for slowness as well.
This notion of the trail, the thing that is maintained by its use sounds a lot like sustainability to me. And it sounds a lot like culture too. The main thoroughfares that we drive almost always sit on top of or in echoing shape to older trails beneath or besides them.
I live in New York City. This is a city that is built on speed. The airports, the global reach, the media center. The city has been a vector of speedy transmission within its borders and for the world for a while now. In my city the one of the centers of the viral storm in the United States is the famed borough of Brooklyn. You may have even heard of some of its most famous roadways – Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue, and Atlantic Avenues. Those three, but many more, were once upon a time the walking, hunting, and trading trails of the Lenape, Nayack, Canarsie, Werpoe, Winnipague (and many others) peoples. Take a look at these old maps to see.
Which is all to say that under the very footing of all our monuments for speed and immediacy in our modern lives, even struck still by these viral days, there might, might, might be a remembering of a slower way beneath it.
We here at Primal Derma are trying to remember that slower path and deepen it while using it while still employing roads and planes to get the jars to you.
Thanks so much for your ongoing support in trying to remember such things and to perhaps look for them in your corner of the world.