Watching them work blindly in unison, their lives laid out in neatly organized chemical pathways. They are, in a sense, freer than I ever will be.
Freedom can be defined in a few different ways. To many of you who read Outside, it may mean sitting atop a mountain or screaming down its side on a new pair of skis. It means the power to run wild, free from authority or responsibility, if only for a few days or hours. To others, that same freedom might be a curse. Some people need a purpose, if only for its own sake.
In a new Vanity Fair piece about the French Foreign Legion, a historically fascinating military organization comprised of drifters and wanderers from across the globe, writer William Langewiesche is speaking to a recruit named Streso in the South American jungle. One line in particular resonated quite deeply with me: “We’re in the Legion here,” Streso said. “Just go with the sergeant. Come on, man, you don’t have to think it through anymore.”
When I was in high school, I spent a week in a military immersion program in Israel. It was silly; a bunch of drill instructors screaming themselves hoarse at a group of insolent teenagers who knew full well that it didn’t matter whether they learned to start their march on the right foot. But I loved every minute of it. I had something to do every waking moment. My life was planned out. I immersed myself in the illusion that I was a cog in a greater machine. Of course, I didn’t have to deal with the reality of killing another human being, but at the time, I felt like I had a function. The soldiers of the French Legion are much the same way. Their mission isn’t important, only that they have one.
I’ve always admired hive creatures, particularly ants. I love nature documentaries on them, watching them work blindly in unison, their lives laid out in neatly organized chemical pathways. They are, in a sense, freer than I ever will be. My primary function as a Web producer here at Outside is the equivalent of a builder drone and I enjoy it a great deal. I take raw content and convert it into viewable material. It doesn’t bother me that my task is cosmically irrelevant. I simply enjoy the process for what it is as I strive to perfect and systematize it to the point that I can do it without thinking. When I reach that point my mind is at ease and I am, for a moment, as free as the ants.
Anyway, without further ludicrous babble, here is your Weekend Reading! The winners of last week's reading quiz are probably feeling pretty good about themselves, even without prizes.
The Dutch have lived under the threat of extreme flooding for hundreds of years with great success. Can they help save the American coast from global warming? Andrew Higgins, The New York Times.
“In recent days, the Netherlands’ peerless expertise and centuries of experience in battling water have been widely hailed in the United States as offering lessons for how New York and other cities might better protect people and property from flooding. Dutch engineering companies are already pitching projects to fortify Manhattan against storms, stressing that the Netherlands has experience with a coastline and cluster of river estuaries that resemble New York’s, and pose similar flooding risks. But Dutch officials and hydrology experts who have examined the contrasting systems of the two countries say that replicating Dutch successes in the United States would require a radical reshaping of the American approach to vulnerable coastal areas and disaster prevention.“
Meet the men of the French Foreign Legion. Drifters and wanderers from across the world who have spend hundreds of years dying in their country’s most meaningless conflicts. William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair.