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« Earth's Wildness Heals Us of "The Illusion of the Central Position" »

Chris Morales, regular reader of this blog, recently sent me this One Earth experience during three days of backpacking at 6,800 feet in the Sierra’s Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite National Park. It’s excellent commentary on the earlier blogging I did here on “the illusion of the central position” and also brings Barry Lopez, nature writer, to this blog. Here are Chris’ own words:

As I sat by a lake one early morning, watching the sun rise over ridges in the east, feeling the heat of its reflection on the placid water as it warmed my bones from the night before, and casting about the depths for rainbow trout, I read an essay from an author I am growing to love, Barry Lopez.  During parts of the passage, I thought of you and your blog, specifically, your September 8 post on the ‘illusion of the central position.’  

In the book I had brought with me, Crossing Open Ground, Lopez reflects on different interactions with humans and nature alike that he has had over the years, which has increased his understanding of his own essential nature and given him some perspective on his place in the world and relationship with nature.   In one essay, titled Yukon-Charley, he reflects on a canoe trip he took into the heart of Alaska along the Charley river, a feeder into the mighty Yukon, an area which the Wilderness Act of 1964 declared as wilderness. He talks about the controversy over wilderness, in which industry and civil society fought over the meaning and value of wilderness. During the time of his writing, the Reagan administration was at seat in the White House, and they sided with industry, simplifying wilderness as something that could only be measured in economic terms: lumber, land for grazing, mining, etc.  

Aside from pointing out the other side of the argument, of the value of recreation, a source of clean water, a diversity of biological relationships, and aesthetic and spiritual dimensions among others, he describes another dimension that raises the value of wilderness in immeasurable, unquantifiable ways. “Wilderness travel can be extremely taxing and dangerous. You can fall into a crevasse, flip your kayak, lose your way, become hypothermic, run out of food, or be killed by a bear. Far less violent events, however, are the common experience of most people who travel in wild landscapes. A sublime encounter with perhaps the most essential attribute of wilderness — falling into resonance with a system of unmanaged, non-human-centered relationships — can be as fulfilling as running a huge and difficult rapid. Sometimes they prove, indeed, to be the same thing” (82). 

While reflecting on my beautiful hike to that lake the day before and the absolutely peaceful morning that I had spent sitting on a granite outcropping that stretched far into the liquid mirror, I absolutely knew what Lopez was saying. I could feel my body harmonizing with my surroundings. It was as if I shed all of the excess thoughts and stresses and baggage that living our civilized life attaches to us and simply be, as humans and animals have simply been, part of nature for thousands of years - and suddenly the energy inside of me started resonating at the same frequency as the trees, birds, water, rocks and sky around me. Instead of being me, with my ego and plans and concerns, I had suddenly become just a part of it all. I realized that if we all cast away this illusion of our own central position, and came to the wilderness, falling into resonance with it, there is no way that we could ever live a Multi Earth narrative. There would be no need for wilderness acts, which ban civilized humans from our own nature.  

When I came back and read your latest blog, and the line that more and more you are turning to nature for her teaching, I knew that this reflection was also for you in some way. If you haven’t yet read any of Barry Lopez, I suggest you do. The book Crossing Open Ground is a great introduction to his simple yet powerful writing.

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