Whenever it rains, my father looks up to the sky and says “I love the rain; it washes the bird shit off my car.” Praising the typical inconvenience of rain for its usefulness must give him a certain sense of power. It’s a way of saying to the universe “you thought I would be annoyed by this, but this isn’t bothering me at all.” I was reminded of this when Bryson says “thank you” in response to a bird dropping on his shoe. Bird droppings are typically met with repulsion, but this event reminds Bill of what is supposed to happen outside and he is grateful for his “outdoor experience.” This atypical response mirrors other comedic literature that relies on the subversion of expectations.
This chapter intrigued me, because I have often thought about the amount of time we spend indoors as Americans since watching an episode of Black Mirror called “Fifteen Million Merits.” In this episode, everything takes place in an indoor, self-contained society, but the episode ends with a glimpse of the outdoors through the window of a luxury apartment. The overall effect is to emphasize that the people in this fictional society have chosen to live this way. After watching this episode, I went about my life and noticed the truly disproportionate amount of time I spend indoors. Even leisure or exercise time spent outdoors a few times a week and walking in between places is completely insignificant to the amount of time we spend indoors. The idea of people completely losing the value of being outside didn’t seem so far off.
When Bryson describes Opryland, I immediately think of the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, the site of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. It is a hotel and conference center connected to a shopping mall and DC metro station. I went the entire weekend without seeing sunlight and was blinded after emerging from underground at Union Station in DC. While I will certainly shriek the next time a bird poops on me, Bryson’s gratitude for the natural world we are so disconnected from doesn’t seem all too ridiculous.