A Few Live Seasons

Posted on October 1, 2011

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Today, October 1, 2011. A new challenge put forth. As a meager and slightly shy writer, I’ve told no one except for myself, so if I fail, I am only failing myself – if I am consistent, I will sound my barbaric YAWP.

My challenge is simple enough, and one that I am feeling is needed to really jumpstart my discipline. This month, though I can’t say I am enthralled by blogging, I will participate in post-a-day. Trying to flounder out at least a thousand words a day. This is in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, wherein I will try to birth fifty thousand words over the course of November.

A caveat, because I always need a quick and easy escape hatch is: a thousand words does not a good poet make, so if I find my voice lending itself to haiku, some days I may have to settle with twenty words. It is the quality that sets limit (as so arbitrarily sought in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

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Go now, to the front door and feel the cool brass. Unclick the lock, look out into the world. If you are fortunate to meet the world full frontal from the door, step into it. If you live on the seventh floor, take the stairs this morning, and race and glide down to the sidewalk. Go now, and get out into the air. Begin walking, no map, no destination, just go now.

Good, yes, see if you can read this first paragraph as you are walking. It says,

“It has always been part of basic human experience to live in a culture of wilderness. There has been no wilderness without some kind of human presence for several hundred thousand years. 

Nature is not a place to visit, it is home– and within that home territory there are more familiar and less familiar places” (from page 7, The Etiquette of Freedom  by Gary Snyder).

Foot fall on leaf pile. Good. The body feels nice in motion, see if you can have the mind reverse the loco motion. As the feet quicken the pace, just setting out in any direction, try to still the mind, practice walking meditation, and fully inhabit yourself, as yourself fully inhabits a place.

I see now, nature is not a place, not a destination, impossible to be an other, because everything is fully alive. The same way that wilderness has not been without human, I find that humans have not been without wilderness.

Imagine both aspects of this coin: a tree in the middle of a remote forest on the northern part of Iceland at the top of a peak may have not felt the touch of a human in ten thousand years, it is simply too far in. That does not mean that it hasn’t felt the presence of human though. The carbon dioxide the tree filters through its root and leaf, the warming temperature, the volcanic ash explosions, are all interconnected to that human presence. Conversely, the human experience is inexorably woven to the tree, to the tree as a symbol of pure nature. The tree thrived, thrives, and will thrive independent of whether or not the human is there to touch its bark with hand, saw or machine. The tree provides and exists naturally within  this ecosystem of the entire world, it gives what is needed to perpetuate the right conditions for all species to inhabit this planet, and it takes exactly as much as it needs to continue its own self. The human needs the tree, and all the wilderness to continue the cycles and “natural” tasks it has been completing for so long.

Come back now, from the tree in Iceland, to the place where you are. This moment, I’ve just

stepped foot into Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. Yesterday I was walking through an untouched ravine in Ohio, before that I tromped through the redwood groves just outside of Oakland, California. Come back directly to where you are and STOP.

Stop just for one minute, close your eyes to find a place of center, take as many full breaths as needed to re-inhabit. Sit down if you can, if not, just brace yourself. Live within a ten foot radius of where you are. Get close to the earth and observe everything bustling on a basic level. The layers of soil and surface organisms, the individuality of each blade of grass, the particles in the air just two inches from your face. Try to see the dimensions of air. Now, lay back, and take your senses, all your senses (though tasting, smelling or touching are not always recommended in science experiments) into the sky. Follow the trunk of tree, but follow it precisely. While you are observing the intricacy of each place, the pattern of the organizations of branches, the movement of a bird from limb to earth to worm to limb to nest, also observe the movement within your body. Be conscious, but do your damnedest to remain un-self-conscious.To more clearly articulate this idea, turn to Annie Dillard, a woman enthralled and enamored with the abundance of the world, especially in small and overlooked places:

“Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.

Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. In fact, it is only to a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all. Even a certain amount of interior verbalization is helpful to enforce the memory of whatever it is that is taking place…

Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. So long as I lose myself in a tree, say,  can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree. But the second I become aware of myself at any one of these activities- looking over my own shoulder, as it were- the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown…

Self-consciousness if the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people- the novelist’s world, not the poet’s… ” (page 82, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard).

The question is whether or not we can fully enter nature, our home, and inhabit a place, and ourselves given the current structure of our system. The design of a city, of civilized life, to keep wilderness at bay. How far does one have to travel, geographically and psychologically, to shed off the sluff of society? Or, is it necessary to go anywhere at all: can one deeply experience wild and free within the boundaries of a city, and “re-wild” a place to begin to fully express its true self?

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