Norway, february 2017
The philosopher in the dumpster (happy days)
hen went on perfect days. They would crown the long ride through Nóreegr, the « Path to the North » that Norway is, which I kicked in the reverse way.
I discovered, after stiff uphills, geological plateaus between the heights, silent green jewelry boxes concealing a supernatural life under a glass bell, that I would cross like the wagon at the top of a scenic railway, seized between two vertigos in a spacial and temporal oscillation. It was like piercing a ceiling of clouds and appear in an irradiant atmosphere, blinded by the solar star, inebriated by a pure oxygen, still pushed forward by the energy that had propelled me to this altitude, white curls of smoke in my wake. There were hidden countries in this floors of greenery, Scots pines and snow, pasture lands and quiet hamlets with their suspended breath, where would resonate only the snoring of tractors and the bleat of sheeps with long black and white curly hairs, polished by the dew and rain. The local craftsman knows how to choose the part where he cuts the bushy material, in order to weave fabrics: depending on the propriety of the selected strands, he will obtain a wool that protects from bad weather or that isolates from cold, that can resists abrasion or that gets rid of smells. A sheep is waterproof on his back, hard wearing on his bottom, odorless on his belly, one should know that for a fact!
Sometimes, the flat ground was slit in two by an impetuous stream. At the first hours of the day, it would smoke like a powder line burning in the plain, making a thick curtain of fog zigzagging above the trail of the flows, pierced hither and thither with roofs full of flowers, trees, peaks, with early white rays of light.
Soon after the Trolls Road, I kept company to the giant glacier Josteldalsbree, measuring, from the shores of lakes and the rocky promontories raising between Byrkeilo, Skei and Moskog, its smooth and sparkling profile; it was heading the crests before breaking itself like a cristal wave on the red headed treetops. Cold as well had fallen down like a blade on the country. It was fascinating to observe the advent of autumn on the mountain, its grand lady-like manners with a fire and ice temperament. Night after night, she would blow lower and lower a thin but deeply white rice powder, covering the crevices of a skin darted with rocks and conifers. When it had rained for hours at my camp altitude, morning would reveal what kind of thick and cold mist had bathed up there, only to freeze itself in an immaculate foam which would flare in the rising sun light.
The first very cold night, I was lucky to find shelter in a minuscule hunter’s shack, equipped with a solid berth. A tricky disposition of nails and ropes would let one open or get down the wooden panels, covered with a thick cloth. After having scattered the cows that had gathered too curiously when they had seen me make myself at home, I had supper from a boiling stew brighten up with delicious melting vegetables, cutting with appetite the whole flour bread full of seeds, gleaned the day before in a dumpster. I observed the large quadrupeds dining, like me, in the humidity. It was really amazing that such a thin layer of hair would avoid them from being annoyed of such temperatures. From the height of my couch, I was quite happy not to have to put my legs on a frozen surface and tear out, my nose stick in the ground, a wet grass, emitting bell rings at each movement of my jaws, and not to have to to spend dark hours sitting in a flowing mud, agglutinated under a tree. They went to sleep as a group, a bit up in the prairie laying in front of me under the starry sky, that a noisy river was crossing, brewing our little valley. I felt asleep full and emitting enough heat for the night, in an obscurity accentuated by the isolation features of my ranger closet, I was fully happy of my cramped plank mounted on palettes.
At dawn, I had opened a bit my makeshift windows, the polar wind had immediately stormed in, chasing easily the warmth accumulated in the shelter, whilst I was well wrapped up to my eyes in my soft sleeping bag. As I was eating the rest of the bread which I had buttered with the last of my bananas (what the day would bring concerning food, I had no idea), with my frozen fingertips and nose, I observed the first lights slowly run on the summits. They would make elongated shadows appear and disappear, and were splashing more and more generously with a beautiful golden and purple puddle on the oriental sides. It was very quick and very slow. The Chinese scenario screening on the slopes was constantly changing, with the introduction of new long-limbed actors on a conifers blaze background, but the edge of that sea of fire, that I was desiring so firmly from my cold and shabby mattress, seemed to be out of reach for hours to come. I pushed back the time to come out of my cocoon, half sleeping after a copious breakfast, feeling regularly the air circulating between the planks and the dormer windows without glass. I knew how to use a later wake up, if it was to bring a temperature advantage, a few degrees would suffice. For it was harshly cold at night and in the early morning. It seemed a long time ago since I had not observed with amusement the clouds of steam which would escape with each of my breathing. I thought of the quantity of water then expired that would condensate in the colder surfaces, at the constant warmth produced by my body, a true reactor, from which I knew more and more how to take advantages of. The last stars were fading out, drowning in the day’s whiteness, while in a yawning I engulfed a good part of the astral universel that had winked at me until the end, and decided it was time to go.
That morning, I made what I was calling a good card pick. It was doubled at the end of the day with a jack pot, a thing which allowed me an excellent feast at supper, and provided some stocks. More than this, because I was charged with those particular victuals, I had an agile foot for the task and a happy heart whilst leading the difficult and refrigerating stages that would follow, in a landscape splashed with a winterish sun and flying leaves.
At Vassenden (standing at the crossing of the Jølstra mouth and the lake Jølstravatnet), first village reached after a well quick performed camp break, I noticed the big dumpsters on the side of the grocery store, nearly swallowed up in the evaporation twirls that were drowning the whole agglomeration and its church tower. I knew how to proceed, one quickly learns how to optimize chances of loot. I would thus go directly at the rear of the shops, where were generally parked the staff cars, where deliveries were made and the unsold sane food destruction big op happened. When dumpsters were in sight and well aligned, near the iron curtains or the escape doors that would open from time to time to pour out their edible garbage, it was quick. I just had to lift the lids, with the salivary impatience of a potential treasure, sometimes in plain sight of a pedestrian, sometimes alone, other times with a camera recording the nothingness of the crime scene all day, or sometimes yet in presence of delivery men with trucks that were thus the last piece in the circularity of our situation, bringing fresh merchandises in. In Vassenden, the lifting of the large shutter offered to my sight a pile of diverse goods, I innerly got very animated, full of the joy of a fisherman hooking a heavy fish. I took my time, more and more, for such operations. I would not hesitate climbing on the edges of the cans, on my stomach, feet on the castors, arms deep in the food, lifting up, putting aside, selecting. I got hold of a grapefruit buns pack typical of the country, a big fruit yogurt pot, tiny vanilla bread bites, all of these would make excellent snacks, and, rare nuggets, there was here a collection of cheese in hermetic packages from which the appearances were everything but dubious. One of them even seemed to be an excellent local product, a kind of label AOC goat cheese with herbs, that was to deliver to me, savored on thick slices of bread roughly cut with my cutlass, the indicible pleasures of the alpine snack. No fruit, nor vegetable, nor bread this time, but I was more than pleased with that fresh arrival.
It’s a bit later in Førde that I completed, in a second and prolific search, my gleaning: I found then splendid plump carrots, from which the tops, full of vigor, refused to bend (a basic food to me, I appreciated its weekly renewal), a few tomatoes that would be perfect on my bread, a cucumber, potatoes, an oignon, peppers ands fruits, some things I coveted and would be thinking of daily. I was often consuming 3 or 4 bananas a day, but they could also stay absent for a long time of the barrels, until, all of a sudden, they would accumulate, often cracked, as numerous black and yellow bunchescp, under masses of pears. I took also a coco chips pack and some chocolate and almond powder, summum of refinement to dress my fruit salads. On top of everything, enormous potbellied breads were only waiting to be seized, and thus I could reconstitute a pantagruelian reserve.
Most of the citadins and sedentary people don’t know what is a day of food harvesting, about which one does not know the nature and the quantity at the beginning of the search, but which eventually delivers fruits surpassing all hopes – unless vagrant souls, urban gleaners and beggars that still put themselves in the hands of a daily expectation delights, but it is not often that they have to produce as much energy as it is needed to ride the whole day in mountains with a heavy load. Norway was easing the things regarding the apprenticeship of that substantial let go. I applied quickly, after months of slow maturation, what I had known how to apply from the beginning concerning the road: I knew not what to expect and did not plan much, I improvised, was letting things surprise me, happen, and, if it was not often easy, retrospection and gained experience after a crossing of a particularly demanding milieu that coud last for day, would always bring a profound satisfaction topped with a sort of aging and liberty gain. Here, I thus trained to not know what my meals would be made of and to not have a reservoir always full. Though I had indeed some favorite foods, and was selecting in what I would find, I was educating myself so that plenty of peppers one day, an abundance of carrots on another day or an orgy of bananas and bread for a week, or even few loots for a little time, would be fine to me. I did not always succeed in this. But I would enjoy more and more the unexpected lightness provided by the practice of contentment with what presents itself. It was at the same time a never-ending surprise and a tireless repetition of a vital search, in the enraged cycle of days and night, terrestrial revolutions, dawns and sunrises. I started the abandonment of one of the most deeply rooted mechanism, the instinct of accumulation, of stock, an instinct feeding the latent fear on which rests the system that enslaves individuals to extirpate their energy, in order to make a financial profit: the illusory fear of lacking what is needed to survive, thus to die or be expelled from the society. I was in doing so also emancipating myself from the modalities of a merchant exchange, for a time. It was a beginning, I saw how I wanted to lead further on the search. And it was quite easy, this rich and powerful country was letting fresh products overflow without a wink from its dumpsters, rarely locked. Sometimes, I would even ask inside the shop what was destined to be thrown or given to flocks, to farmers, and one would let me access it, under the eye of customers paying their own food! When thinking about it, in this country, things that had very little value compared to the average high revenues of the population were gladly distributed for free (and they often were the ones that had the highest value for me), coffee was often free in big food markets, dumpsters were full of edible food and were left spilling over, but on another hand one would not understand that I could try to sleep in the public space of a mall of a very small village and not in the next hotel, or that I would look, rather than for a ferry or a plane, for a fishing boat or a cargo, or that I would travel with few means (to the extent that someone hit me once with a terrible: « nothing is free »). I was making generalizations, but it seemed that this was a typical dystopian shifting of a society from which the economical level of life had reached summits in a very short time and for nearly everyone.
I was aware of a delicate point in the process I was using in order to feed myself, since I was enjoying the wastes of a system from which I was, on another side, trying to denounce and divert the serfdom ways. An agro-alimentary industry from which, moreover, others seemed to plainly suffer the unevenness of distribution caused by its logic of unlimited profit, and from which the global production could have though potentially fed each and every human stomach. For those, the absence of food or the unforeseeable character of its profusion was surely not such an easy pretext to some stoical or cynical (in the antique meaning) ethical exercice. Though they were much more in numbers than the midia mirror likes to reflects, digging in the trenches of alternatives, of the DYI, of the invention, a mosaic far too much rebel and nuanced to fit in the Manichean and infantilizing representation destined to put to sleep any critical spirt, through the picture and the instantaneousness. What this exercice was thus teaching thus me, was yet and forever that a way of life and an activism implied a particular milieu, a conditional situation from which one could deploy a capacity of action (an agency), bearing loop effects. It was vain to imagine another case, to have fantasies about another time in history when this paradox would not have been so vigorous. It was only in the actual state of things and from the place I was exercising that I was summoned to be and to act, and that lesson was the stimulant of a wandering imagination too and the source of differences in the do-it-yourself with which each one elaborates his own life and individuality. To my ethical quest of a good life, I could only find a contemporary answer, depending on the context I was then in, and if the pile of eudemonian knowledges and testimonies do conceals some trans-temporal wiseness, I knew also that putting it personally in practice could happen nowhere else than in the sewing of my acts on the geo-historical fabric of the moment.
After many months of de-conditioning, I began to feel the ineffable well-being blossoming in the being who breaks the last mental obstacles to what it is tempting to call “freedom”, something which was not the possibility of having the things wanted when one desires them, but rather a kind of carefreeness towards the uncertainty of what was to happen. Something highly volatile, though very dense, that none of the huge profits made from the invisible petroleum platforms of the Norwegian fjords could ever be able to buy.
As the winds of an interior freedom were blowing more and more, the sacred aura of hard cash was fading away. I thought then that when money was un-materialized, circulating under the form of a magnetic and binary transaction, everyone was fooled by that appearance of nothingness making it easy to spend, for it’s so easy to spend an illusion of nothingness that gives something very palpable in return (and that penchant is exploited to the highest level by banks pushing people to all kind of overdrafts and fictitious investments). But, when being of concrete material, the pieces of metal and the pieces of sheet with numbers on them were little by little, between my fingers, becoming like handfuls of gravels and tree leaves, the fetishist and shared belief that was investing them with a regulated value of exchange was turning obvious, they were going back to their prosaic materiality. As I was loosing progressively that scale of values, as the liberation from consumerist alienation meant messing with the order of values imposed otherwise, the act of buying became a distant ritual from which the distribution of affective intensities was overturned (another economy of desire was plugged in it, one must not fall into delusion, I was desiring what I was about to acquire, and I was spending a lot of time regulating those desires: for food, a meal, a coffee, a night in a camping with electricity and wifi, equipment, postcards to send, etc), it became nearly comical. When I had money, when I received donations of benefactors, I would not stock it, I would make a happy use of it, and the value of exchange soon slipped as a whole into the richness of a moment that was made possible thanks to the generosity of « another », a peer. Donation, highly subversive then, was transfiguring the money, which would then irradiate with another shared belief: the belief that not everything is relative to accumulation and profit, and that mutual aid was a constituant of ethics (thus of politics). For a buffet breakfast (not particularly good) and in order to celebrate a change of country, it happened that I had to pay 20 euros on a ferry going to a lost island, but it did not prevent me from enjoying the mere pleasure of a few hours long satiety (I was hungry indeed half a day later!), and I did not deliver any serious reticence, full of gratefulness for the human being who had allowed this instant. Something that would yet not erase a vivid astonishment before the legal organisation of robbery, at a large scale, of our mean of reproductions. For yes, 20 of those metallic things against powder eggs and frozen strawberries produced by dubious means, by slaves under the hovering menace of non-employment, it was indeed pure robbery! On the occasion, I went not without gathering a maximum of small breads and yogurts in my bag, obviously in contradiction with the insouciance concerning stocks I had been just bragging about. The lunch, which was included in the cheapest ticket available for the sea crossing, letting thus believe in a kind of gratuity of it, in a benevolent gesture from the company, was worse, excluding any beverage, water, entry or dessert, though it was of course largely redeemed if not profitable, by the price of the sailing ticket. I even heard of poor fellow ask for drinkable water at one of the numerous bars, and he was answered the usual: « yes, we sell water bottles for 5e”. As for myself, I would refill my bottle in the bathrooms. But we do know the circumstances that are about to make of drinkable water a factor of global military and commercial wars (and bewildering injustices), as in every imperialist system where those two aspects are generally interdependent.
On another hand, the propension to avoid any waste was increasing in me, I would eat, more and more, what we are usually taught to cut, select, throw away. Thus of the extremities of fruits and vegetable, of the heart of tomatoes, pears and apples, of the white parts of peppers. I would scrap fully the pots, gather all crumbs with the appetite of an ogress. Even more when the food was coming from any sort of recuperation, gleaning. The insatiable appetite as soon as I was to stop, the devouration, were getting into proportions that interrogated my moral conclusions on the necessity of measure. Perhaps was it here the government of the self the toughest to exercice, tough I regularly succeeded, and I knew that the deconstruction of the beliefs linked to alimentary needs, that I had begun first in a supple veganism, was one of the serious task that was left for me to lead further yet. The body is an optimized machine of life, able, with the right allowances to transform and provide a lot more energy than one generally think of, and able to survive in a surprising way to their rarefaction. Quantities that one believes one has to ingest are, under the actions of the civilisations of abundance and stock, the marketing of industries of distribution, largely exaggerated. But well, there was also that kind of reptilian urge that pushes one to accumulate, to stuff oneself, « just in case », an urge, as I read somewhere on a rainy wildcamp evening, that would make a modern man opening his fridge, his mallet, his balluchon, his chamber, nearly all the time get to the end of the almond and toffee ice cream pot in the following 10 minutes, just as the vagrant in front of the dumpster full of goods would try to take the most of it, exactly as a hunt of wild berries would turn often into a very long walk, a berry calling always another berry, bigger and more colourful, yes here, just there, 10 steps away, another one (a cause of numerous disappearances of elderlies in Scandinavia)!
This is how I came to the conclusion that ethics is probably condemned to never skip the trivial issue of alimentation: about its nature, its supplying and its storage. More stunning perspective yet, perhaps that question is to be the ground of ethics, that any researcher in individual and common happiness will be forced to scrupulously examine, in the first place. The inaugural gesture, in a permanently renewed critic of the hubris, consisting in going against the solid conviction that a good life should mechanically flow from the insurance of a supply of goods, about which one should not have to worry for the longest time possible. For it is precisely the contrary that happens with the preoccupation of accumulation: that worry gives way in a latent fashion to the unfolding of a servile mechanism, that of salary system or work, and infiltrates itself in every part of the edifice of a life built on possessions and credits, a life one has to put all one’s own energy into, for one’s whole lifetime, what a life on earth!
Disconcerting easiness of the method, hidden away by a technocratic and economic swelling, when not made fun of.
Scandalous path that lies ahead then, that will make more than one who is nourished with promethean hopes and oblivion of his human condition, shiver. The path of the apprenticeship (not painless, but is it… !) of a particular humility in the human destiny, the humility of a life which offers a human integrated scale as an ethical tool: the measure rests in oneself and in the around-the-self at the reach of one’s hand, and it guarantees not an easy life, whilst it bears the infinite treasures of an individual and common good.