At one point during our folk tour of the Mammoth Caves our guide told us about the inspiration Emerson had found from the optical tricks that the walls of the caves make when light is taken away. We looked up and also saw the stars and comets that had enticed Emerson to write the essay (and possibly the poem, although it seams a long shot) Illusions, a essay on the illusions that guide our lives as humans to material things while real virtue in life is found in nature. Emerson speaks of the unity of all things, that nothing is circumstantial and everything has meaning (which is found in nature). He writes

One would think from the talk of men, that riches and poverty were a great matter; and our civilization mainly respects it. But the Indians say, that they do not think the white man with his brow of care, always toiling, afraid of heat and cold, and keeping within doors, has any advantage of them. The permanent interest of every man is, never to be in a false position, but to have the weight of Nature to back him in all that he does. Riches and poverty are a thick or thin costume; and our life — the life of all of us — identical. For we transcend the circumstance continually, and taste the real quality of existence; as in our employments, which only differ in the manipulations, but express the same laws; or in our thoughts, which wear no silks, and taste no ice-creams

So most of this essay is great (minus his belief that Women, more than all, are the element and kingdom of illusion…Honestly Emerson? Someone must be holding a chip on his shoulder because some fair maiden didn’t find his words entertaining). Emerson clearly makes a strong connection about the oneness of all on this earth and the illusion of class distinction in the grande scheme of things. Throughout our travels we have been warned of the material folly that is often masked as success, and we have tried to heed this warning.

But truth be told, I can not say that I found the same sort of inspiration from the celestial mirage. The guided tour of Americas underbelly only made me think about America as a nation, positioned on land that most of us have little historical connection with. During the tour we were shown early writing on the walls that dated back 2,000 years. We were shown miscellenious artifacts of other peoples lives, like their ladders, gourds they used to carry food and  even their feces. At one point we were told that a man had been killed and mummified some 30 feet near us. Yet these artifacts are more novel than pedagogical. The people who lived on this land some 12,000 years before Columbus lived in harmony with nature and we (people of European descent) took advantage of their communal philosophy of life and instead of sharing the land (or hell even finding our own plot) we took. We took not handfuls of dirt, but whole civilizations. And today all that remains is mummified feces buried hundreds of feet below the earth we so greatly desired. No I can’t say I found inspiration in the caves, for every time our guide pointed to historic artifacts and stated “we don’t know what this was used for, or means but _____ carbon dates back 2,000 years ago,” I cringed with disillusion because I am not of those people. My ancestors barbarically killed of these peoples and today I have the privileged pleasure of looking at pieces of their lives, pieces of America today that we put in museums instead of addressing as the artifacts of the people who we continue to steal from.  

Emerson establishes his own intentions in life in Illusions, proclaiming

I prefer to be owned as sound and solvent, and my word as good as my bond, and to be what cannot be skipped, or dissipated, or undermined, to all the eclat in the universe. This reality is the foundation of friendship, religion, poetry, and art. At the top or at the bottom of all illusions, I set the cheat which still leads us to work and live for appearances, in spite of our conviction, in all sane hours, that it is what we really are that avails with friends, with strangers, and with fate or fortune.

The cheat is also something that I am set to dissipate, and am ready to shine light on my own illusions. Throughout our journey across America we are seeing pieces of this nation that were previously only imagined. When we have the opportunity to see things how they really are, it forces us to examine our place in this world and unblind ourselves. 



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