Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild. Northpoint Press, San Francisco, 1990.
The Etiquette of Freedom
(5) The world is nature, and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the process and essence of nature, is also an ordering of impermanence.
(6) North America was all populated [before European arrival]. One might say, yes, but thinly - which raises the question of according to whom. The fact is, people were everywhere. When the Spanish foot soldier Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his two companions (one of whom was African) were wrecked on the beach of what is now Galveston, and walked to the Rio Grande valley and then south back into Mexico between 1528 and 1536, there were few times in the whole eight years that they were not staying at a nature settlement or camp. They were always on trails [ie, human byways].
(7) The place-based stories the [native] people tell, and the naming they’ve done, is their archaeology, architecture, and title to the land.
(8) Language is like some kind of infinitely inter-fertile family of species spreading or mysteriously declining over time, shamelessly and endlessly hybridizing, changing its own rules as it goes. Words are used as signs, as stand-ins, arbitrary and temporary, even as language reflects (and informs) the shifting values of the peoples whose minds it inhabits and glides through. We have faith in “meaning” the way we might believe in wolverines - putting trust in the occasional reports of others or on the authority of one seeing a pelt. But it is sometimes worth tracking theses tricksters back.
(12) When an ecosystem is fully functioning, all the members are present at the assembly. To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came out of that wholeness, and to consider the possibility of reactivation membership in the Assembly of All Beings is in no way regressive.
- Compare to standard Western view that wilderness is empty, unused. “Nature on its own provides little value to society,” John Locke.
(13) By way of trade off [nature illiterate civilizations] learned “human management,” administration, rhetorical skills…Then citified mythology (Medieval Christianity and then the “Rise of Science”) denied first soul, then consciousness, and finally even sentience to the natural world. Huge numbers of Europeans, in the climate of a nature-denying mechanistic ideology, were losing the opportunity for direct experience of nature.
(14) Ishi the Yahi walked into civilization with as much desperation as Nunez walked out of it. Nunez was the first European to encounter North America and its native myth-mind, and Ishi was the last Native American to fully know that mind - and he had to leave it behind. What lies between those two brackets is not dead and gone. It is perennially within us, dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakes it again.
(16) The term culture, in its meaning of “a deliberately maintained aesthetic and intellectual life” and in its other meaning of “the totality of social transmitted behavior patterns,” is never far from a biological root meaning as in “yogurt culture” - a nourishing habitat. Civilization is permeable, and could be as inhabited as the wild is.
(16) A ghost wilderness hovers around the entire planet.
(17) The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. Sensation and perception do not exactly come from outside, and the unremitting thought and image-flow are not exactly inside. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than “you” can keep track of - thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out.
(18) Language is learned in the house and in the fields, not at school. Without having ever been taught formal grammar we utter syntactically correct sentences, one after another, for all the waking hours of the years of our life. Without conscious device we constantly reach into the vast word-hoards in the depths of the wild unconscious. We cannot as individuals or even as a species take credit for this power. It came from some place else: from the way clouds divide and mingle, from the way the many flowerlets of a composite blossom divide and redivide, from the gleaming calligraphy of the ancient riverbeds under present riverbeds of the Yukon River streaming out the Yukon flats, from the wind in the pine needles, from the chuckles of grouse in the ceanothus bushes.
(19) 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.
(20) There is an extraordinary teaching of specific plants and animals and their uses, empirical and impeccable, that never reduces them to objects and commodities.
It seems that a short way back in the history of occidental ideas there was a fork in the trail. The line of thought that is signified by the names of Descartes, Newton, and Hobbes was a profound rejection of the organic world. For a reproductive universe they substituted a model of sterile mechanism and an economy of “production.” These thinkers were as hysterical about “chaos” as their predecessors, the witch hunt prosecutors of only a century before, were about “witches.” They not only didn’t enjoy the possibility that the world is as sharp as the edge of a knife, they wanted to take that edge away from nature. Instead of making the world safer for humankind, the foolish tinkering with the powers of life and death by the occidental scientist-engineer-ruler puts the whole planet on the brink of degradation. Most of humanity - foragers, peasants, or artisans - has always taken the other fork. That is to say, they have understood the play of the real world, with all its suffering, not in simple terms of “nature red in tooth and claw” but through the celebration of the gift-exchange quality of our give and take. “What a big potlatch we are all members of!” To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.” It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.
- see Death of Nature, C Merchant.
- The unconscious death wish of narcissistic, hubristic modernity. The fear of death toward the will to eternity in a made up, transcendent (outside of nature), omniscient, nature-hating God.
(20) The world is watching: one cannot walk through a meadow or forest without a ripple of report spreading our from one’s passage. The thrush darts back, the jay squalls, a beetle scuttles under the grasses, and the signal is passed along. Every creature knows when a hawk is cruising or a human strolling. The information passed through the system is intelligence.
- Spell of the Sensuous, D Abram
(21) “Whoever told people that ‘Mind’ means thoughts, opinions, ideas, and concepts? Mind means trees, fence posts, tiles, and grasses,” says Dogen (the philosopher and founder of the Soto school of Japanese Zen.
(22) The Buddhist iconographers hide a little animal face in the hair of the human to remind us that we see with archetypal wilderness eyes.
(22) Richard Nelson, a student of Indian ways, has said that an Athabaskan mother might tell her little girl, “Don’t point at the mountain! It’s rude!”
(23) Nature description is a kind of writing that comes with civilization and its habits of collection and classification.
- its our dignified way of “pointing at the mountain.”
(25) People of wilderness cultures rarely seek out adventures.
(25) The lessons we learn from the wild becomes the etiquette of freedom. We can enjoy our humanity with its flashy brains and sexual buzz, its social cravings and stubborn tantrums, and take ourselves as no more and no less than another being in the Big Watershed. We can accept each other all as barefoot equals sleeping on the same ground. We can give up hoping to be eternal and quit fighting dirt. We can chase off mosquitoes and fence out varmints without hating them. No expectations, alert and sufficient, grateful and careful, generous and direct. A calm and clarity attend us in the moment we are wiping the grease off our hands between tasks and glancing up at the passing clouds. Another joy is finally sitting down to have coffee with a friend. The wild requires that we learn the terrain, nod to all the plants and animals and birds, ford the streams and cross the ridges, and tall a good story when we got back home.
The Place, the Region, and the Commons
(29) Thoreau says in “Walking” that an area twenty miles in diameter will be enough to occupy a lifetime of close exploration on foot - you will never exhaust its details.
- small geographic home range of eastern and western coast Native Americans
(32) American public lands are the the twentieth century incarnation of a much older institution known across Eurasia - in English known as the “commons” - which was the oldest mode of both protecting and managing the wilds of the self governing regions. It worked well enough until the age of market economies, colonialism, and imperialism.
(40) In the old ways, the flora and fauna and landforms are part of the culture. The world of culture and nature , which is actual, is almost a shadow world now, and the insubstantial world of political jurisdictions and rarefied economics is what passes for reality. We live in a backward time. We can regain some small sense of that old membership by discovering the original lineaments of our land and steering - at least in the home territory of the mind - by those rather than the borders of arbitrary nations, states, and counties.
(42) [Austin] Hammond [Tlingit elder] spoke of empires and civilizations in metaphors of glaciers. He described how great alien forces - industrial civilization in this case - advance and retreat, and how settled people can wait it out.
Sometime in the mid seventies at a conference of Native American leaders and activists in Bozeman, Montana, I heard a Crow elder say something similar: “You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough - even white people - the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming up from the land. The spirits and the old power aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the shirts will begin to influence them.”
- Technological civilization, by ecological definition, unfortunately cannot be around long enough.
(44) Bioregionalism is the entry of place into the dialectic of history.
(45) Our philosophies, world religions, and histories are biased toward uniformity, universality, and centralization - in a word, the ideology of monotheism…Before the expansion of early empires the occasional strife of tribes and natural nations was almost familial. With the rise of the State, the scale of the destructiveness and malevolence of warfare makes a huge leap.
- Platonic Ideal Forms toward the transcendent, non-nature monotheistic god.
- “States” are not outlined by bioregions (cultural landscapes), but by the straight lines of politics. Disrespect for land comes hand in hand with disrespect for people.
(46) Cultural pluralism and multilingualism are the planetary norm. We seek the balance between cosmopolitan pluralism and deep local consciousness. We are asking how the whole human race can regain self determination in place after centuries of having been disenfranchised by hierarchy and/or centralized power. Do not confuse this exercise with “nationalism,’ which is exactly the opposite, the imposter, the puppet of the state, the ginning ghost of the lost community.
- “Without diversity, the mind creates autonomous, hallucinatory experience,” P Shepard, Man in the Landscape. The computerized experience of modern life is just this.
(65) American society (like any other) has its own set of unquestioned assumptions. It still maintains a largely uncritical faith in the notion of continually unfolding progress. It cleaves to the idea that there can be unblemished scientific objectivity. And most fundamentally it operates under the delusion that we are each a kind of “solitary knower” - that we exist as rootless intelligences without layers of localized contexts. Just a “self” and the “world.” In this there is no real recognition that grandparents, place, grammar, pets, friends, lovers, children, tools, the poems and songs we remember, are what we think with. Such a solitary mind - if it could exist - would be a boring prisoner of abstractions. With no surroundings there can be no path, and with no path one cannot become free.
(66) Some historians would say that “thinkers” are behind the ideas and mythologies that people live by. I think it also goes back to maize, reindeer, squash, sweet potatoes, and rice. And their songs.
It is appropriate to feel loyalty to a given glacier; it is advisable to investigate the whole water cycle; and it is rare and marvelous to know that glaciers do not flow and that mountains are constantly walking.
(68) If we actually tried to teach the values of western civilization, we’d just be peddling the ideology of individualism, of human uniqueness, special human dignity, the boundless potential of Man, and glory of success. Isn’t that finally the Oil Pipeline philosophy? (“Jewish Inwardness - Greek Narcissism - Christian Domination” is how Doug Peacock the Grizzly Bear scholar puts it.). After Protestantism, capitalism, and world conquest, maybe that’s still what occidental cult comes to.
(74) It’s not enough to be shown in school that we are kin to all the rest; we have to feel it all the way through. Then we can also be uniquely “human” with no sense of special privilege.
- So Human An Animal, Dubos.
(82) [With Homer and Hesiod] A niche had opened up in the spaces between shaman, priest, poet, and mythographer. That niche was the city, the small city-state. Thought in the city reflected a kind of contest: the poetic and mythic way of seeing that was common in the villages versus the daily argumentation and reportage that dominated town life. At bottom it was a contest between subsistence economies and surplus - the centralized merchants. So the philosophers - the Sophists - were instructors to the rich young men on how to argue effectively in public. They did a fine job. They are the Founding Teachers of the whole occidental intellectual lineage. Ninety percent of what all so-called humanists have done throughout history has been to fiddle with language: grammar and rhetoric and then philology [the structure and historical development of language].
- The sophist rhetoric of modern lawyer-speak, which is a reflection of the abstract, cyclical (self referring), narcissistic, hubristic, nature-abandoning modern way.
- Without the humility that Living-in-Nature brings, all thought and discourse is a contest. We have forgotten that Nature has already won whatever illusory contest we can devise.
(83) In one of his talks Dogen said, “To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. But myriad things coming forth and experiencing themselves is awakening.” Applying this to language theory, I think it suggests that when occidental logos-oriented philosophers uncritically advance language as a unique human gift which serves as the organizer of the chaotic universe - it is a delusion. The subtle and many-layered cosms of the universe have found their own way into symbolic structure and have given us thousands of tawny human language grammars.
Good, Wild, Sacred
(85) For preagricultural people the sites considered sacred and given special care were of course wild. In early agrarian civilizations, ritually cultivated land or spacial temple fields were sometimes considered sacred. The fertility religions of those times were not necessarily rejoicing in the fertility of all nature, but were focusing on their own harvest. The idea of cultivation was conceptually extended to describe a kind of training in social forms that guarantees membership in an elite class. By the metaphor of “spiritual cultivation” a holy man has weeded out the wild from his nature. This is agrarian theology. But weeding out the wild from the natures of members of the Bos and Sus clans - cattle and pigs - gradually changed animals which are intelligent and alert in the wild into sluggish meat-making machines.
- which in turn transforms humans as well into sluggish meat machines.
(98) The most sophisticated modern variety of hierarchical spirituality is the work of Father Teilhard de Chardin, who claims a special evolutionary spiritual destiny for humanity under the name of higher consciousness. Some of the most extreme of these Spiritual Darwinists would willingly leave the rest of earth-bound animal and plant life behind to enter an off-the-planet realm transcending biology. The anthropocentrism of some new age thinkers is countered by the radical critique of the Deep Ecology movement.
- A natural progression from the invented “off-the-planet” transcendent God of biblical tradition. An exiled people must necessarily discount land as homeland, which creates the need for a landless (nature-less) God who then commands the conquest/genocide of others.
(99) We can all agree: there is a problem with the self-seeking human ego. Is it a mirror of the wild and of nature? I think not: for civilization itself is ego gone to seed and institutionalized in the form of the State, both Eastern and Western. It is not nature-as-chaos which threatens us, but the State’s presumption that it has created order. Also there is an almost self-congratulatory ignorance of the natural world that is pervasive in Euro-American business, police, and religious circles. Nature is orderly. That which appears to be chaotic in nature is only a more complex kind of order.
- biological narcissism; self-regulated, self-fulfilling myopia.
- what is more orderly, the thing that is billions of years old (nature) or the thing that has consciously separated from nature for only .1% of nature’s existence (humans).
(101) The wilderness pilgrim’s step by step, breath by breath walk up a trail, into those snowfields, carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy.
Blue Mountains Constantly Walking
(105) We learn a place and how to visualize spatial relationships, as children [as for all adult life], on foot and with imagination.
(109) In common usage the compound “mountains and waters” - shan-shui in Chinese - is the straightforward term for landscape. Landscape painting is “mountain and waters pictures.” (A mountain range is sometimes also termed mai, a “pulse” or “vein” - as a network of veins on the back of a hand.). One does not need to be a specialist to observe that landforms are a play of stream-cutting and ridge-resistance and that waters and hills interpenetrate in endlessly branching rhythms. The Chinese feel for land has always incorporated this sense of a dialectic of rock and water, of downward flow and rocky uplift, and of the dynamism and “slow flowing” of earth forms.
- Mountain ranges are a snap shot of a wild, tumbling sea. They are moving in their own time. “As the cricket’s soft hum is to us, so are we to the trees, as are they to the rocks and the hills,” Snyder.
(111) The early Tang poet Han-shan is taken as the veritable model of a recluse - his spacious home reaches to the end of the universe:
I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,
Already it seems like years and years
Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams
And linger watching things themselves.
Men don’t get this far into the mountains,
White clouds gather and billow.
Thin grass does for a mattress,
The blue sky makes a good quilt.
Happy with the stone underhand
Let heaven and earth go about their changes.
Ancient Forests of the Far West
(143) With good practices North America could maintain a lumber industry and protect a halfway decent amount of wild forest for ten thousand years. That is about the same number of years as the age of the continuously settled village culture of the Wei River Valley in China, a span of time which is not excessive for humans to consider and plan by.
(144) All the houses of San Francisco, Eureka, Corvallis, Portland, Seattle, Longview, are built with those old bodies [Redwood]: the 2x4s and siding are form the logging of the 1910a and 1920s. Strip the paint in an old San Francisco apartment and you find prime quality coastal redwood panels. We live out out daily lives in the shelter of these ancient trees. Our great-grandchildren will more likely have to live in the shelter of riverbed-aggregate. Then the forests of the past will truly be gone.
Out in the forest it takes about the same number of years as the tree lived for a fallen tree to totally return to the soil. If societies could learn to live by such a pace there would no shortages, no extinctions.
(145) The straight line of mushrooms sprouting along a smooth ground surface is the final sign, the last ghost, of a tree that “died” centuries ago.
On the Path, Off the Trail
(155) The relentless complexity of the world is off to the side of the trail.
(164) We find some ease and comfort in our house, by the hearth, and on the paths nearby. We find there too the tedium of chores and the staleness of repetitive trivial affairs. But the rule of impermanence means that nothing is repeated for too long. The ephemerality of all our acts puts us into a kind of wilderness-in-time. We live within the nets of inorganic and biological processes that nourish everything, bumping down underground rivers or glinting as spiderwebs in the sky. Life and matter at play, chilly and rough, hairy and tasty. This is of a larger order than the little enclaves of provisional orderliness that we call ways. It is the Way.