Dip Your Toes In

The islands of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and The Elizabeths are full of beauty and wonder. Tuckernuck and Muskeget (the islands that make up Nantucket), along with the Vineyard were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago by massive glaciers depositing silt and clay sediment at the peak of their growth. The huge pieces of ice receded, leaving behind what my family and I call our home today. I often ask myself whether I would have enjoyed writing so much if I had lived someplace else, where the stores stay open past five o clock and there is a little more to do besides write in my journal and read a good story.

Living on a little rock in the middle of the ocean made my life as a child somewhat boring. With no laser tag or McDonalds, what was I supposed to occupy my time with? I soon realized that the lack of video games and other common child commodities that I experienced in my youth largely contributed to my creativity and my interest in writing. More importantly, with not as many “mainland” commodities, I learned to enjoy the little things that much more. I took advantage of the many acres of state forest that my house was situated in. I walked my golden retriever through the evergreens and black oaks and slowly began to form a realization in my mind: I didn’t need anything more than what I had.

This life of simplicity contributed to my writing greatly. I grew to love nature and respect it for what it was—all encompassing. After my sister and I were born, my father used his lawn mower and a pair of brush-shears to carve into the scrubby maple undergrowth and make walking paths. These winding trails gave me the ability to immerse myself in nature whenever I wanted to. When my father asked us who would take the dog for a walk, I was always the first to throw my hand in the air and yell “I will!” I was an adventurous little kid. My friends and I would play imaginary games with sticks as our swords and trees as our castles. My mind swelled with all of this fun and creativity. The seemingly endless trails that my father made became my own world where I could exist as whatever I wanted.

As I grew older, the days of wandering through the forest with a lichen covered sword in my hand began to seem distant. I would often reminisce of the days when my mind could wander freely. I needed to find some way to get that feeling of freedom back. It wasn’t until my twelfth birthday, when I tore open a small rectangular present that my imagination was again ignited into an even stronger blaze. Inside the glossy wrapping was a brightly colored book. At first glance, I figured this would be a short novel of either fiction or Sci-Fi. After opening up the magnetic clasp, I was surprised to find the pages completely empty! What was I supposed to do with this blank book? It seemed silly at the time and my first inclination was to stuff it at the back of my bookcase for it never to see the light of day. My mom explained to me “it’s a journal for you to write in.” Looking back, I am glad she encouraged me to explore my interests and utilize my creativity.

As I grew into a young man, I began to broaden my literary scope with Mill, Thoreau, Emerson and the like. A whole new way of thinking became available to me. I started to see nature as not just an essential aspect of life, but really the central reference to how I should live my own life. Today, with the natural world in a state of endangerment, I find it that much more important to write. My beautiful island; the place that inspires me to write about sandy beaches and sprawling forests seems more impermanent with every passing day. Almost a foot of shoreline is being stolen by tropical storms and nor’ easter’s every year, and the rate of erosion is growing dramatically. I have decided that I will write about my home in order preserve the incredible landscapes that are unique to it.

Everyone feels an innate connection with the place that they were born. That particular theme can be seen in multiple of the texts we have been exploring including Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge: An Unnatural History. In these books, the idea of home is seen as meditative and spiritual. Home is where people feel the closest to their family and their past experiences. Whenever I drive off the ferry and the treads of my tires touch the pavement, I immediately feel the presence of all my friends and family that have also given me the inspiration to write. The phrase “home is where the heart is” rings true for me in more ways than one. My heart and soul will always belong to the place I was raised, and the place I was raised will always belong to me. I will continue to write about my tiny island long after the mighty Atlantic has swallowed it up.

The Tortilla Curtain: Coyote People

In T.C. Boyles The Tortilla Curtain, Delaney and Kyra see the Mexican people and any people that are dissimilar to them as creatures; feral beasts with no inhibitions. They curse the Coyote for breaking the “safe” boundary of their property and disrupting the calm that they perceive as reality. They curse the Mexicans for invading their neighborhood and threatening their established way of life. Candido must enter the Arroyo Blanco estates to search for scraps to feed his pregnant wife, just as the mother Coyote must scramble through the fence in the dark of night to feed her pups. The Mossbachers don’t understand that they are no different from the Coyote or from Candido—they are all animals.

Animals can be incredibly compassionate but when they are backed into a corner or feel threatened, they will resort to their most ancient instincts. In the book, we realize that Delaney and the white residents of Arroyo Blanco can be mean and vicious, but also friendly and compassionate. After the community is evacuated, the residents see the man in the backward hat and his friend and call them words like “spic” and “wetback”. The men are angry because they think the Mexicans are responsible for all the issues in the community including the fire. It is easy for them to place blame on what they don’t understand. Delaney also places blame on something as natural as a coyote and her hunt. The coyote was not invading their space, they invaded the coyote’s natural space when they brought in the bulldozers and pavers and made the area “civilized.”

People often generalize when they do not understand something. Delaney sees all people of color as one thing–an inconvenience. The problem with these types of generalizations and stereotypes is that most of the truth is lost. The Arroyo Blanco residents see the immigrants in a single-minded way. A conclusion about outsiders has already been made inside the community, making it difficult to see them in any other way.

When Delaney feels as if he has lost control, he gets very angry and behaves without thinking about his actions. When the coyote takes his dog, Delaney works himself into a frenzy. Boyle says “there it was, wild nature, up and over the fence as if this were some kind of circus act.”

Just as Candido is willing to risk his own safety for something that he values greatly, Delaney loses control of his emotions as he runs after his stolen pet. The difference is that Candido is trying to fend for his life and the life of his family. Delaney is able to keep his animal instincts at bay by surrounding himself in a vale of comfort.

The first interaction Candido and Delaney have is when Candido is hit by Delaney in his car. The car salesman asks him, “So what’d you hit—a deer? Coyote?” Delaney responds by saying “Must have been a dog. Sure it was. Yeah. A dog.” This shows how Delaney sees Candido as nothing but a dirty animal. Although he lies to cover up the truth, if Delaney had hit a white man the outcome would have been very different.

To Candido and his people, a coyote is the chance at freedom and a bridge between two worlds. A coyote, a people smuggler, was the only way for Candido and America to cross the border without getting caught. The men who attack him and his wife are called “vermin” and the border patrol “herd” them into a group. The Mexican border is an extension of the wall that the residents of Arroyo Blanco are attempting to build. They are trying to keep out the “animals” but the coyotes are the ones that end up “over the fence.”

In Delaney’s writing he acknowledges the futility of trying to protect the “sanctum sanctorum” of a back yard. He speaks to how the coyote has adapted to dwindling food and water and has managed to find a niche in which it can live. It feeds off of the piping dug for the residences and picks through trash, maybe even finding a hardly touched cheesecake for dessert. This description pairs well with describing the immigrants that have made their presence known in the community. They put up huge walls and do everything in their power to protect their way of life but they don’t realize that they only have control over so much.

Gary Snyder: Meditation in Motion

In The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder uses his extensive knowledge of Buddhist culture and history to make thoughtful comments on humanity and its relationship to nature. He specifically quotes and comments on Dogen Kigen and his many essays and poetry. For Gary Snyder and in the Buddhist religion, “the blue mountains are constantly walking.” In Dogen’s writing, mountains and rivers are sacred and are symbolic of the greatest lessons of existence. One of those lessons is not separating oneself from real life. Someone who might be considered enlightened would have a strong, harmonious connection with nature. All the Buddhist and Taoist monks focus deeply on not only the incredible power within, but of the infinite power and wisdom of nature.

This process of deep and ruminative thought is meditation; one of the most important practices in many different religions. Snyder says that one of the best ways to meditate is to walk through nature and open the eyes of your mind and soul. He suggests that “Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance of spirit and humility.” To connect to nature is to plug in to the real world and tune out the unnecessary thoughts and worries. It is primary to escape these human-made confines and move to a place that is old as existence.

Meditation is a sacred practice. It aligns you with your true self and the truth of existence. Many people must do this for years and years before they are able to sufficiently tone in to a higher plane of thought and life. Snyder says that “Sacred refers to that which helps take us (not only human beings) out of our little selves into the whole mountains-and-rivers mandala universe.” He says that walking can blur the facetious line between human and nature, allowing us to see clearer and feel more. Suburban, urban, agricultural developments, rivers, mountains, bear and salmon: all should be seen as one living, breathing system. We have so much to learn from the shallow valleys and the towering mountains.

In order to “enter the wild areas of the mind”, as Snyder says, we must start by entering the wild areas of the natural landscape. There in the forest, by the stream, swimming along the shore, are the tried and true lessons. Lessons etched in stone and carved by current. If we focus and meditate on the mountains and rivers and all the creatures surrounding us, we can learn. The mountain is strong, elegant and beautiful—the river is patient, dedicated, and wise. Many search for spiritual knowledge and existential insight in books and seminars, but are blissfully unaware of the many volumes that a wolf howling under the silver moon might speak.

Walking and other forms of meditation are a way for us to look at the self and understand identity. Snyder and his predecessors such as Dogen believe that understanding the self means understanding that there is no self. Dogen says that “we study the self to forget the self…When you forget the self, you become one with the ten thousand things.” The “ten thousand things” that Dogen is talking about are the bumble bee, the oak tree, the screeching bat and the crashing wave. We are part of this system—inseparable. When you walk through the woods, you hear the birds, you see the bounding doe. These things that exist in nature are proof of themselves; proof of the unity that we as animals share with other animals and with the earth.

People have been walking on trails and seeing the proof in nature. However, can we consider walking on a well-worn path in some wildlife sanctuary or state forest as a venture into the wild? Snyder suggests that “You first must be on the path, before you can turn and walk into the wild.” As you saunter through the trees, you see all the wildness around you and recognize its presence in you. Snyder suggests that the next step after that is to go “Off the trail,” and to leave no stone unturned. The trail is a small piece of thread pulled from a much larger garment. Once you realize that “Off the path” really is the path, a whole new world is open to you.

It is important to clarify that “the Way” as Snyder and Taoist scripts describe it, is not a path that can be ‘wayed’ or followed. The way should not be oppositional or come with difficulty. The Dao De Jing says “A path that can be followed is not a spiritual path.” In this way, those who meditate and those who walk have essentially the same goal in mind; to go away from the trodden path in order to find new truth and gain new insight.

Monkeywrenching: The Tools of the Trade

 

Tools, Logo, Work Equipment, Pictorial, Letters

Monkeywrenching is a term that has spread through the plane of eco-literature and into the broader plane of the centuries great cult classics. Edward Abbeys, The Monkey Wrench Gang has become a delighted book worldwide. This book is a spiritual journey as well as a pamphlet to promote the rebellious acts of the main characters.  The reason people want to read this book is because it has changed so many people’s ways of thinking about our relationship to the earth. While the characters and plot are purely fiction, the big questions that this book poses are essential to thinking about what we might do to fight back against the destruction of the natural world. This book gives people the spiritual, as well as the technical tools to wage war against environmental degradation.

The greatest things we can learn from this book are through the characters, their pasts and their actions. Hayduke is a man that is scarred from the ferocity of war. The “rape” of the natural land and all of its beauty sparks a fire in Hayduke that intends to burn every last excavator and chainsaw in Arizona. He is madly passionate about sabotaging bulldozers and knocking down billboards. He says that “freedom, not safety, is the highest good.” Hayduke provides a fair amount of technical knowledge including weaknesses in mining and logging equipment as well as ways to make improvised explosives. This is another example of how the book provides technical skills. Although Hayduke is a wild and eccentric war veteran, he has enough insight on sabotage that it almost seems as if Abbey is giving the reader a detailed list on how to commit these drastic acts.

Doc Sarvis is a very intelligent man and the most coherent character in the story. Although his knack for cigars makes it difficult for the reader to take his health concerns seriously, he often voices his opinion on why he Monkeywrenches. He says that environmental degradation is “seeing too much insulted tissue under the microscope…Acute leukemia on the rise. Lung cancer. I think the evil is in the food, in the noise, in the crowding, in the stress, in the water, in the air.” Sarvis gives the reader a medical perspective. He sees the increase in diseases like cancer and leukemia and wants to make a difference. This is another way that Edward Abbey puts the issue of environmental destruction “under a microscope.” To understand why things like chemical pesticides and genetically altered foods are bad, we need to hear it from someone who has the expertise to comment on these effects on the human body. Doc Sarvis provides us a talking point from a medical examiner, while also being an interesting and conflicting character as well. Although Sarvis relents the current field of medicine, his knowledge gives insight into a different way of seeing how our actions directly affect us.

Seldom Seen Smith has his own ideas about the environment. He is a wilderness guide and a Jack Mormon. He espouses libertarian beliefs and has simple reasons for wanting to help the gang. Smith believes that his way of life, his business and his prosperity is being threatened. Like the other characters in this book, Smith is mainly concerned with making an impression on large-scale industry.

This book is a novel first and an instruction booklet second. Need to know how to use thermite to blow up a bridge? This book can show you how. Want to know which piece of a Caterpillar bulldozer is the most prone to jamming? (It’s the crankshaft). Maybe you don’t necessarily care about sabotaging property and being a rebel. Even still, this book is madly entertaining because of how much detail the characters put into each act of sabotage and destruction. Things like throwing caltrops to pop the search and rescue team’s tires or lowering a jeep down a cliff with a winch are things that seem to be out of a comic book, but they are being used in the book as actual means of being rebellious. To be a Monkeywrencher like the characters in the book, you need to have a number of traits. You have to be courageous in order to continue your activism even if things look bleak or you feel you can no longer fight. You need to be resilient just in case Bishop Love picks up the tracks of your jeep. Finally, you need to be passionate.

Abbey often injects his own knowledge directly into the story. With Haydukes passion for explosives and machinery, and Sarvis’s medical expertise, we begin to see how adeptly Abbey painted these characters. Seldom Seen Smith contributes his knowledge about the surrounding area. He points out places for the gang to hide when a helicopter is bearing down on them. He even leads them through the maze of winding roads leading away from the search party. The characters are very different yet each of them compile their expertise in some way.

Terry Tempest Williams: Seeing the Truth in Death

 

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For Terry Tempest Williams, caring for her mother in her time of need was a spiritual journey. Williams was transformed by this journey in many ways. One of the most important things she learned from watching her mother’s slow decline was to embrace death. We often see death as the end to something great. Life is something to be celebrated and it seems that death takes everything that life holds away. She says “I know it is not the trials we are given but how we react to these trials that matters.” Williams does not want to hide from death, she does not want death to make her feel helpless and weak. Through her religious beliefs as well as her own reasoning, Williams is able to see her mother’s death not as the end of something, but as a part of life and one of the many tribulations that she must face.

The Mormon faith believes in the idea of an afterlife. After your body is gone, your spirit will continue to live on, just as all the other creatures of the world will live on through their spirits. If we are able to see death for what it is (a natural part of life) then it wouldn’t be such a daunting idea. Williams has dealt with the possibility of her own death when she battled cancer. She suggests that we should never “take life for granted” because then when our final hour is here we will have not lived fully. Williams’ mother does not want to be complacent during her final time on earth. She embraces her death by wanting to live without chemotherapy or radiation. When she realizes that there is a chance she will live, she chooses to go ahead with the treatment.

One stage of death is denial. It clouds our vision and makes us see things the way we want to see them even if that vision is incorrect. Williams says that “Denial stops us from listening.” It stops us from listening to the incredibly important truth; what we want does not always happen. Williams wants her mother to be ok, she wants her life to continue on as normal. By living in this way, she is living a false existence. Only when she accepts the inevitability of her mother’s fate will she be able to value the time she has left with her. In a way, death is the ultimate truth—the only thing we can say with any certainty. Death “brings life into focus one day at a time.” Williams firmly believes in living life in the present and stopping to savor every precious moment. Every laugh, every tear should be seen as an incredible gift. Our battles only serve to make us stronger and appreciate the good times even more.

The truth about death is that it holds so much wisdom. It informs us on how to live our lives to the fullest extent that we can. When she battles cancer, she explains that she is “torn between the excitement of what I am learning about life and the sorrow I feel in that I have no future.” How does knowing that you do not have a future effect your decisions that you make day to day? It gives a different perspective; that you are no more or less important than any other form of life. This insignificance is not something sad or depressing. Knowing that you are going to die focuses your attention inward to the fabric of your being, but it also opens your eyes to a dying world. Every living being is on its march toward death. Even the earth will eventually meet its end—no one and nothing is safe.

Cancer shows that death is usually random and unfortunate. There is no good time for death to happen. This disease does not pick and choose, sometimes it is just fate that decides who goes and who stays. Death narrows the scope of life. Instead of viewing a long-term perspective of existence, the possibility of death shrinks that range from years to days. We begin to value life in all its finitude. Many people say “life is short” as a phrase but most don’t think about how “short” it actually is. Most see the average life span as somewhere in the high seventies, but Williams understands early on that sometimes we expect to have a certain amount of time with people, but that time can be cut short. Death comes with no warning. “Living in the now” is the only true way to prepare for death; because it can happen at any moment.

Death allows us to evaluate. At the end of each day, it allows us to look back and ask “did I make the most of this?” Evaluating ourselves is important because it is the way that we improve and better ourselves. If we believe that we have all the time in the world to experience mistakes and correct those mistakes, we will never change. Life is full of immediacy, we can never count on there being another day. If we are unsure of tomorrow, then today becomes that much more important. Consider your entire life’s goals. Then consider what goals you might focus on and what goals you might put to the back burner if your life was cut in half.

Another truth of death is that it allows us to help others. Once we understand that after we are gone, our only legacy will be the people that surround us, we begin to focus on the good and happiness of others. Williams’ mother says that “when we are fully present, we not only live well, but live well for others.” Williams and her family want to see her mother happy and living her life the way she wants. It brings them inherent joy to allow Diane to make her own decisions.

Solar Storms: The Waters of Change

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Water is a reoccurring theme in Linda Hogans’ Solar Storms. Water represents change in the book. It is a powerful force that the dam builders are trying to harness and control. It is the road by which the main characters in the book travel and it is the way that Angel reveals her past and determines her future. The four women, especially Angel and Dora Rouge, are naturally connected to the water. They can see the fish swimming beneath the surface and can even make pacts with the water to keep them safe. The bond between this natural element and the four women is founded on love and respect.

While the dam builders simply want to exploit the water and use it for its energy, the women thrive off it by eating its bounty and using it for transportation. Unlike the dam builders, Angel and her companions see themselves connected with the wild. They have a relationship of reciprocity with the river and with the natural world. They want to protect it and the lake from the advance of civilization.

The first time Angel sees her mother is when she surfaces from the freezing waters of the lake. Her whole life is changed and she is born anew. Just as a child emerging from the holy waters after a baptism, she sees the world as if for the first time. Water is a symbol of purity and new life. People  are baptized in holy water to wash away their sins and to be born again. Although this symbolism is not identical to that of Linda Hogans’ book, it is apparent that water stands for purifying the soul and believing in something greater than yourself. For Angel, water cleans her body as well as her mind and soul. When angel is bathing in the “black waters” of the lake, she says that it is “Such a cold baptism.” When angel steps into the lake, she feels the icy water washing her skin and freezing her limbs. She “hoped the water would cleanse all the pasts, remove griefs.”

As angel travels, she begins to see nature in a much different way. She feels the innate connection her people have with the land and treats it as something that is “deeper” than the material. Angel and her people see water as a spirit that lives and breathes. The dams will not only have an immense effect on the animals (deer, rabbits, bear, humans) that live there, but it will destroy the land and harm the earth itself. The wilderness is meant to be free to change and evolve on its own. The natural landscape should be carved by rivers and glaciers; wind and erosion, instead of by the hand of industry and economic endeavors.

John Muir saw the land in a similar way as the travelling women. He believed that the great mountains and rivers were temples–places of holiness. To Muir, a mountain was more sacred than a church or a mosque or a synagogue. Native people like Angel and Dora Rouge insist that these places should be protected in order to save them from the flaws of humanity. There are less and less places that are untouched by civilization and industry. A great deal of responsibility should be placed on keeping these pristine rivers and mountains in their original state.

Angel describes the dam builders as those who “would reverse the world, change directions of rivers, stop the cycle of life until everything is as backward as lies.” Rivers represent forward motion both literally and metaphorically in the book. The women are travelling down a river while also progressing on their spiritual journey. For the white dam builders, the rivers are useless and empty. They are trying to exploit the rivers, seeing them only as a natural resource for renewable energy. This is because the men are focused on money and the progress of civilization. Rivers are seen by them as barriers, while the travelling women see them as their roadways. Just like water, Angel is constantly changing on her physical and spiritual journey to meet her mother and uncover her past.

Water truly is an unstoppable force. Even though the dam builders were able to flood Adams Rib and ultimately uproot many people’s lives, those dams will eventually burst and the people that originally operated the facility will be gone. The water however, will still remain. The life of water goes to show you that nothing is permanent and everything will change form at some point. The water cycle itself does not distinguish between beginning and end, because water is always being born into a new existence. From a vapor, to a liquid, to a solid—always changing and evolving.

All rivers converge at a certain point, into a larger body of water. The native people in this story also have to come together, despite their differences, to fight against the destruction of their home and of the things that are most important to them. Angel says that eventually the women would “unite and become like an ocean made up of many rivers.” An ocean is vast and seemingly infinite, but there are many rivers that feed it and live off of it. Even though the men can block the rivers, the water will still move through its cycle and eventually the quarries and dams and hydroelectric plants will be washed away.

Humans are often put in comparison to animals in this book and are almost made to seem the same. If the rivers are all dammed, the native peoples will not be able to travel in canoe as they have for hundreds of years. Their travel routes will be rendered useless. Just as the dams create incredible troubles for life of the humans living in the area, the native animals are also having their homes and their migration routes decimated. Angel describes the flooding of Two-Town by speaking of “the caribou running across the flats as the water surged toward them, knocking them over, flooding their world, their migration routes gone now, under water.” The dam builders are trying to make the human and the natural world separate; an attempt that at its core is totally futile. The problem for the Cree and many other tribes is that they live off the land as well as with the land. If the caribou are gone and the rabbits and deer have fled due to floodwaters, what will they eat? If the birds have left for good because of the constant sounds of the planes flying overhead, how can the hunter feed his family?

Nature and Poetry

Landscape, Poetry, Environment, Inspiration, Nature

The poet understands the intrinsic value in all that exists on the page, just as he understands how incredible and unique everything is in the world. All words and pieces of punctuation and lines in a good poem are related to each other and work together to make a whole. Just as in a poem, everything in the natural world is relevant. To understand a poem, one must put some serious effort into coming to terms with each part. Once you break down every stanza, you begin to see the piece in its entirety. Poetry that  uses nature as a backdrop or  for visual description, we could call simply nature poetry.  The other end is the poetry of nature. This is something a little more sensitive, a little more evocative, a little more self-reflexive. So how can we differentiate between nature poetry and the poetry of nature? Poetry of nature does not necessarily have to be in nature or even be about nature. Every poem written is about nature because nature is the essence of our existence.

Just as nature is a place to clear ones mind and get in touch with the soul, poetry allows one to see deep inside oneself and bring thoughts and emotions to the surface that would not normally be available. Some people take a hike to escape from the stresses and tribulations of everyday life. Just as a jogger goes for a long run in the early evening. the poet sits down to write and leaves all the pressures of life behind. Nature can bring one to incredible realizations that . Poetry is also a way to realize ones self and recognize ones connection to everything in the world.

“From somewhere behind the smoke and heat came the hypnotic sounds of frogs, rhythmic as a heartbeat from the swampiness of beginnings.”- Solar Storms, Linda Hogan

Nature is always changing and evolving just as language is. Gary Snyder and Linda Hogan use beautiful language and abstract visuals to create an intense image in the readers mind. These writers want their work to make an impact on their readers. Everyone reads poetry differently, just as everyone sees nature from different perspectives. The amazing part about describing nature through poetry is that nature is free-formative, thought provoking and deeply fascinating. If we wrote about nature in a very commonplace way like “the tree hangs over the river.” it wouldn’t give the reader much space to visualize and understand the tree. What type of tree is it? Are there animals living in the tree? How is the tree connected to life on the river and the river itself? If we write about nature like “the ancient oak hangs its knotted branches over the swift river, thick, black roots protruding from mud along the bank.” Which piece of writing is going to make the reader experience nature in a way that makes them feel a certain way. Nature is incredibly diverse, so there is always something interesting and unique to write about.

If you sit at the edge of a winding river and listen to the churning whitewater, you feel the infinite power of the river. If you walk along its bank, you will see its age and its wisdom. How can one put this on to paper? How can one best capture the essence of nature? A photographer would say take a picture! A picture freezes a moment and time and allows us to look back on it in many different ways. But what about a writer? A writer must capture all that emotion and detail in his mind and then project it through pen and onto paper. A picture of this winding river might show an old oak hanging drearily over the rushing waters, or a beaver eagerly gnawing at a branch in order to make a home for her offspring. Using poetic language is the best way to show nature because people see nature in a very abstract way. The intricacies of nature are best exemplified by the intricacies of language. Each word has immense meaning and potential, just as each tree and animal has so much relevancy to us.

Wendell Berry: The More we Know, The More we Wonder.

Wendell Berry suggests that many of the people in the world are blind. One reason for this is that they are scared at what they might see. He says that the less we know about our interdependence with nature, the easier it is to go on exploiting the very thing that allows us to exist. The more we know about nature, the more difficult it is for us to grapple with the “essential complexities” or what I would call the “essential questions” of every aspect of our lives. Berry says that “To know anything at all becomes a moral predicament.” He is speaking about the idea of awareness. If we are aware that we are exploiting our exhaustible resources, then at what point does the paradigm shift? Knowledge is power, Berry knows this. He also knows that knowledge is responsibility. Both from an ethical and a logical standpoint, these “essential questions” are the questions that we must strain every synapse in our mind to construct.

It is easy to become swallowed in a pit of your own reality when you do not have a good idea of other people’s realities. The first step towards action is awareness. If you are aware that around 15 people die from starvation every minute, it gives you a point of view that is larger than that of your own. That is why Berry believes that knowledge and education about culture and agriculture is so important. Most people experience food production insofar as gardening and maybe filling a coop of chickens. The average citizen has no idea about the time it takes to acquire the proper knowledge to produce food and livestock. Most do not know that a large portion of the world’s population still relies on subsistence agriculture. To the city dweller, the city is the main point of concern—just as the farmer is mainly concerned for the welfare of his land. However the two viewpoints differ in that the farmer sees nature and the city dweller is separated from nature.

Knowledge and awareness come with great responsibility. Your car that you drive to work every day gets ten miles to the gallon. That is an awareness; so now what are the implications? How does one live a comfortable life knowing that there are people suffering and starving every day? These are extreme examples, but the point remains the same: how do we ask ourselves the really difficult questions while at the same time already knowing the answer. These questions have useful redundancy. Meaning they have been asked before, by many scholars and thinkers. Even though these questions have ran through the minds of some of the greatest thinkers in the world, the fact that you are asking them is just as important and relevant. It is easy to live life if you never ask questions, both of yourself and of the world.

Berry says that we are insane creatures. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Berry says that “no sane creature befouls its own nest.” How can we live at the expense of others? How can we live at the expense of ourselves? To pollute and waste and consume with no thought of the implications, Berry suggests to be suicide. So how can we continue our daily habits and creature comforts, while at the same time being totally aware of our inextricable connections with nature and the world? Our minds do not like to come to terms with these immense questions, so our thought process often becomes “fragmented” as Berry says. This fragmented mindset is dangerous because it allows us to disconnect ourselves from our moral responsibilities and the obligations we have to our earth.

We need to stop thinking that both our earth and our species is permanent. There are things that need to be done in order to safeguard our place on this planet. We need to make the conservation of natural resources our main priority. Why shouldn’t it be our main priority? Let’s say one of the most common vices of humanity is our perpetual need to be comfortable. If comfort and way-of-life is a priority, then before that should come the very structure of our economy and our society; our home. If there is no food to eat, there will be no life. If there is no air to breathe, there will be no life. So what is the point in enjoying the comforts and amenities of home if the byproduct of those amenities is harmful waste and pollution that impacts other people’s lives and your own?

Another point that Berry is trying to make is the fact that we should not get discouraged. Whether it’s the election of a president that doesn’t support the EPA or many natural disasters happening in rapid succession, we need to remain optimistic and hopeful. We need to begin to take some steps in the right direction. Berry says that “To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.” The “renewal” of the earth should be our main priority, because our survival as a species depends on it. We have already destroyed many of our natural resources and some of our most valuable natural landscapes. The coral reefs are dying, and the massive glaciers that carved the island I call home are melting. Berry suggests that hope, just as in many other circumstances, is the only way to stay true to our natural roots.

 

 

Gary Snyder: Asking Questions

Mother Earth: Her Whales-

“IS Man the Most Precious of all Things?”

We must ask ourselves the question, what separates us from every other living being on earth? Is it the fact that we stand upright? Is it the fact that we are the most intelligent tool-using beings? Is it because we have built cities and incredibly diverse communities and weapons that defend us from harm and four walls that attempt to simulate some sort of physical division? Have we taken our earth for granted because we are too dedicated to ourselves? Maybe we are too full of ourselves. We are so centrally focused—like we are the center of the universe. If you zoom out however, and try to view a broader scope of existence, we are just a speck of dust floating through an infinite cosmos. This is not to say that we are not important. Just on this tiny speck there are billions of people living out their lives and animals and plants that flourish in the natural landscapes. If we see each individual as one component in a larger schema—one cog amongst many in a clock, maybe we will be able to value nature and our connection to it.

 

Self-Indulgence/ greed

Why do people enjoy material possessions? Why is money the central goal of many human endeavors? The truth is, humans put this value on things. Gold is valuable because it is shiny and it is rare. Good for jewelry, a pleasant color and texture. Not as much because of its conductive properties or its value in technologies. Gems are sparkly and look pretty on a woman’s finger, but how many people could you feed with a diamond and ruby wedding band? How many trees could you plant? Would your money be better spent on charity for national parks? That is for the individual to decide, but most will choose the more expensive ring. I am not judgmental of people for being materialistic. I have my fair share of excess in my life, same as most, but that is not the point.

The point is that we must be aware of the reality of the situation; most people are consuming way too much. We buy and circulate currency and we eat and waste. Waste is now an accepted byproduct of our existence. Focus on how much we waste, and what might happen if we were to change our perspective. The difficulty of this is that the amount of waste that is produced in the world is simply inconceivable, so most people decide to put their blinders on and pretend like it is not a serious issue. We have created a society in which greed and consumerism is the driving force behind our economy and our world affairs. Instead of focusing on conservation of resources, we focus on exploitation of resources.

 

Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier than Students of Zen

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are part of an ecosystem. These other parts of the ecosystem are effected by our actions. We are not the only important life on the planet. This is the paradigm shift that we need. If some are more concerned about their lives than that of the coral reefs or the bacteria that dwell within them, they should be made aware of how those components are linked to our existence. What is the result of the coral reefs dying? How does this change our way of life? These are the questions that might not need be answered, but simply considered.

“There is no other life”

Is there any other life for these people? They get up and drive, perhaps for many years, perhaps it is all they know. We cannot tell these people that what they have done with their lives is inadequate or that maybe it hurts the environment. It simply CANNOT matter to the men and women who wake up before dawn and make their commute. So is a truck driver sitting in a high-seat the same as a buddha meditating before his first meal? For the truck driver, sitting in the chair is his meditation, and cutting wood is his ultimate task. Who is to say that this isn’t all there is?

Is there really no other life on the Tyler Road grade on the way to Poormans Creek? Is this what the logger sees as he drives down the road before the morning commuter traffic? Does he hear the song of the morning birds? Does he see the squirrels and field mice scurrying from under his 18-wheeler? The man driving the truck sees only the passing by of yellow lines, one side broken one side solid. He sees the tree spades and the feller and the buncher, all posed neatly next to a shrinking forest. The trucker sips his coffee as he drives. In his mind are thoughts of being done with work and being able to go home to his family. There are no thoughts of the forests. There is only “thirty miles of dust.” There are family men, maybe men who like to hunt quail and deer. Of course this is not all loggers, but of those who do hunt and enjoy forestry, do they fully comprehend the end result of their work? Perhaps not. If they did, would they throw away their hard hats and chainsaws? Perhaps not, these answers are not clear.

 

Rachel Carson: The Power of Example

Rachel Carson wrote her 1962 book Silent Spring for a very serious purpose—to try and address a very serious problem. She wanted to inform, educate and motivate her readership to simply open their eyes as wide as they possibly can and experience life at different levels. She wanted us to focus and be attentive to the amazing things that are happening around us every day. When Carson went for a walk, she would see the birds, maybe identifying a few different species. She would hear the crickets and recognize their song and know its purpose.

In her book, Carson took different aspects of the natural world, different situations and environments, and put them under a magnifying glass. For example, Aldrin from large single-crop fields running off into a local pond. Over-spraying of DDT to control a species of beetle that isn’t even in high numbers. These things are specific examples of a larger problem. Carson fits these examples together like pieces of an intricate puzzle. She does this in an effective way that diagrams how large of a scale we as humans are reaching, and how much damage we are inflicting.

The reason Carson uses these examples is because the issue that she is trying to address is of too massive a scope to tackle the whole mess head-on. Instead, Carson breaks the issue apart. Town by town, field by field, contaminated watershed by contaminated watershed. Silent Spring changed the way many people view nature. She is making a strong argument in her book. What is that argument? Is the argument advocating for rights of animals or humans, or is it simply trying to show how important it is to be aware? Being conscious of other humans and animals even and how our behaviors influence their lives. Even if an animal species or group of people are thousands of miles away across a vast ocean, they are still existing with us on earth.

We must stop thinking as humans and nature divided from one another. Carson says in her book that “In nature, nothing exists alone.” This also surpasses just living things or things that we can see with our own two eyes. There are a thousand times more bacteria in a fistful of soil than there are humans on earth, and what we use to benefit the growth of our crops is simultaneously destroying that soil culture. The horrible irony of this fact is that those very same bacteria are the things that break down plant matter and keep the earth healthy. We as humans, are also consumers and producers and money makers and comfort-lovers. It is easier and cheaper to buy corn from a supermarket than to buy it locally. It is easier and cheaper to till large plots of land and plant a hundred thousand head of corn in each plot. However, you might find that the local corn pops right off of the cob and is sweeter and juicier than that from a supermarket. Whether the corn tastes better or not, it is the process of how that corn is grown that should be hovering in the back of your mind whenever you pass the produce aisle.

These are small and specific things. They seem so insignificant when put under the scope of our everyday lives. People have their priorities and recycling may not be one of them. Still if someone knows why it is good to recycle and why it is detrimental not to, then by ignoring those facts they are just living with blinders on. Comfortable in our domiciles, often removed from the slight scent of the trees or the touch of a gentle breeze, we begin to forget what else there is. And there is so much more: to see, to experience, to embrace. That is why experience is so important, especially when considering experience in nature. It is so easy to walk out your front door and down a windy trail and get lost in nature. Being aware is very important. Hearing the sounds of a chickadee singing its song or a crow cackling or seeing an ant carrying a piece of a leaf that is three times its size: these things all give us insight into the world around us. Rachel Carson wants us to be present and listen and feel how our decisions influence everything. If we as humans can feel and embrace our innate connection to the world we live in, then maybe there is hope.