My first blog post! All happened serendipitously. You start with this nagging thought that goes on for months and months. You love writing but love procrastination more. People prod you to produce prose. You are a mild technophobe, wonder about why, life’s purpose, who would care, would I have the commitment.
And then it all comes together one sunny morning
when you’re listening to Priesner’s Requiem for my Friend and cicadas.
So a quick one. Introducing a few great minds whose books have stirred something within, and set you on a path. The first was Eric Collier’s Three Against the Wilderness. A story of the restoration of a piece of land and a community within the Fraser river catchment of British Columbia. Read it first in high school. The library probably thought it was a ‘boy’s own’ type read, but it was so much more than that. Then I lost all reference. I had been searching for it ever since. Thirty years without the author or the title, just this memory of this amazing read so significant to my early path in life – to understand land.
Then I was in a home town book sale thinking about the possibility of finding it again, and there it was!! You don’t have to think it’s spooky, but I did, and I do. And it was as amazing a read the second time through as the first. It inspires you to heal a place, and to understand the keystones that can make it happen; in Collier’s case the beavers and their dams. In my place, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, it is holding water in the land, going for value and diversity not volume and sameness, and keeping ownership and community decentralised. Resilience is the way. No, that does not mean a large centralised irrigation dams and corporate ownership. It means the opposite.
Second big shock was discovering Aldo Leopold’s essays and A Sand County Almanac. Where Collier was about practice particular to a place, Leopold was about experience, many different places, a personal journey of mind, and philosophy. A challenge to assumptions, especially to those of this oh so modern world where it is all about mechanical determinism and the treatment of people and place as a ‘resource’ to allocate based on a utilitarian quantity you think is more real than a virtue such as care.
Reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden really stirred. I kissed that book after finishing it. Sent prose to the forestry journal that described what a forest *was*. Not some measured piece of structural parts, but a functioning, dynamic, socially-connected wonderland that you could not begin to ‘know’ with a calculator. The quanta are one dimension, one perspective; like looking at the Eiffel Tower from the plans.
The revolution against my science training had kicked in. Reinforced by a life event that put me in a chair with wheels, and forced me out of the scents and sounds and wider ‘sense’ of being within a forest, within a community, within a landscape, within a universe of energy. I could commune in all but the former, and so perhaps the experience was heightened. And I had great people around who would haul me under canopies to commune. Then I discovered and studied philosophy, a natural home. And doors opened in policy and academia which connected me to people with great minds, and exposed to me the many, many locked-in paradigms of belief (Thomas Kuhn has it right!) and new ideas. It’s not until we have lost something that we find some things.
Then Rachel Carson … then Wendell Berry, who keeps getting broader and deeper. The Unsettling of America is hard to beat. But his later essays often hit a higher note. Prose to praise aloud and underline, to note down and expand and from which to digress. Then more recent discoveries, Edward Faulkner, and Louis Bromfield (whose ‘Pleasant Valley’ sits before me).
There are others; Wes Jackson, Ikerd,
Klein, Logsdon, Edward Abbey, the Orion Magazine and all its contributors, poets, philosophers, anarchists, quiet revolutionaries of the mind standing against this modern aberration of mechanical DYS-integration of life and love. What will they think of our myopia decades hence?
Of real significance is that, firstly, all these people could write like angels. Their hearts and souls come through their prose. Secondly, they all write with a reverence (Woodruff’s “Forgotten Virtue”) that suggests some spiritual connection. Do they channel? Years ago, I would have scoffed, but I have felt something like that, and a sense of incoming energy that you could call a collective unconscious, or love. Or perhaps it’s the drugs they put you on when you are induced into a coma? Or the body’s own euphoric chemical broth brought on by meditation, or extremes of stress.
We are taught to rationalise a material explanation. It is a very hard value to break. But the important thing to realise that such rationalisation is a value, not some justified true belief! Where would poets, writers and musicians be if all was material rationalisation? So, perhaps we channel, and the most wise are those that are open to this wider universe.
Which touches on the other great teacher, experiences. I ‘got’ ecology lying on my back in a forest seeing the dynamism (temporal and structural) within a small patch through a kereru’s eyes (NZ wood pigeon). All the theory fell into place, and the limitations of statistical stratification into scales that completely missed the microsite and landscape, and the contingency of time and place and chance coinciding events, and small initial conditions easily overlooked, was revealed. Read Daniel Botkin And Tom Wessels. They’re best at describing this.
Then two years ago a brush with death, 11 days in a coma, and an awakening to something bigger than what we can perceive through the five senses.
Logsdon said you can go home again …. and so I did.
I said it would be a quick one!
3rd February 2013
Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.
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