Archive for June, 2018

Jun 27 2018

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Architecture of the Wild

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Walking in the woods on a cool, early summer day, I take note of the trees around me. Some are relatively young, thin, and pushing straight up towards the sky. Others are strong, solid, well established, with limbs branching into the canopy. Still others are bent over, partially sheared away, or on the ground. But what catches my eye are the gnarly ones at least a hundred years old, maybe two hundred, with twisting limbs and thick bark. They are few and far between, and for every one still standing there are remnants of a dozen others scattered across the forest floor.

The bulges and scars in the trunks of those old fellows tell an incredible story of survival, as do the tortured branches reaching every which way. It is the architecture of the wild – proof positive that some life forms do not give up easy. Throw decades of heat, drought, frigid temps, heavy snowfall, torrential downpours, bacteria, fungus and insects at them, and they still keep going. Every one of them is a testament to the efficacy of wild nature, to the relentless urge of all organic things to live and grow. God only knows why.

Look around and you’ll see some trees losing the struggle to survive and slowly dying. Last week I hired a fellow to drop and remove a nearly dead one still standing in my yard – one too close to the house for comfort. I suspect another might be on the way in another year or two. Meanwhile the rest of the trees on my lot sway in the wind as if they don’t have a care in the world. It’s baffling, really, the way some trees stand up to the stresses of daily life and others succumb.

Dead saplings are not uncommon in the forest – most losing the race to sunlight. And yet the occasional mature birch, maple or oak grows only thicker and tougher with time, sometimes losing a huge limb or two yet still persisting. What moral can be taken from this? No, it’s best if we don’t go there, trying to uncover the secrets of their woody success. It’s best if we don’t even look at old trees that way, but simply admire them for what they are: bastions of life force, beating all odds, both relentless and remarkable.

 

 

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Jun 18 2018

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What Makes Us Human?

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For the past year and a half, I have been pondering human nature and its relationship to wildness. I have read dozens of books on the subject, and have approached the matter from various angles: philosophical, anthropological, biological, historical and naturalistic. The more I look into the matter, though, the more befuddled I become, often getting bogged down in the morass of morality where the vast majority of people plant their flags then forget about the matter. It has been a daunting undertaking to say the least.

Wildness, I am certain, is the key to understanding who/what we are, for we are creatures as natural as any other. But there’s a fundamental problem here, and that is the rise of civilization a little over 5,000 years ago. What happened to us then?

To some people being civilized is what makes us fully human. That has been a convenient excuse, anyhow, for the subjugation of more primitive peoples through the millennia – those with less sophisticated means of conducting war that is to say. But I don’t abide by that prejudice. In fact, I suspect that more primitive peoples, living closer to the earth, are much more in touch with their humanity than those of us living indoor, urban lives, staring at our electronic devices, largely removed from nature.

It is now widely accepted in scientific circles that anatomically modern humans have been around over 100,000 years. That is, people who look pretty much like humans living today. About 50,000 years ago, our species underwent a great cultural transformation that resulted in behaviorally modern humans. That is, people who think, behave and interact with each other much the same way we do. Up until 10,000 years ago, we were all hunter/gatherers with an intimate understanding of the flora and fauna around us. In that regard, our being agriculturalists and urbanites – the two pillars of civilization – is a relatively new development with little bearing upon our basic humanity, if any at all.

I don’t believe for a second that pre-civilized life was some kind of Eden where human beings lived in peace with each other, always prosperous, healthy and happy, and in complete harmony with nature. The human bone and skull fragments our archeologists have dug up pretty much rule out all that. But there is something about those living closer to the earth that undercuts the arrogant and grossly misleading presumptions that we highly civilized folk have about ourselves and the world.

Soon I will try to write about this subject, if I can muster the humility, honesty and courage to do so. But I don’t think the resulting book will be very popular, even by the modest standards of my somewhat dubious literary career. Generally speaking, those of us firmly ensconced in today’s complex, industrialized and digital world do not respect our distant ancestors, or the remnant bands of hunter/gatherers who still live as they did. Our collective arrogance in that regard is profound. We civilized folk think we have it all going on.

 

 

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Jun 07 2018

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A Woodsy Walk

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After three days building shelves to expand my book biz, I figured it was time to treat myself. So I loaded Matika into the car and headed for a patch of nearby woods for an easy hike.

It was more of a walk, really, since I had my old dog in tow. I don’t break a sweat any more when I’m with her. That’s okay. I’ve started hiking without her whenever I want to get some real exercise. But this morning it was all about the two of us just being in the woods together, grooving on the wild.

We’re in the cusp between spring and summer now. The dames rocket flowering in ditches along the highway are proof of that, as is the sudden appearance of Canada mayflower and dewberry in the woods. “Days of heaven” is what I call this time of year, because it doesn’t get any better than this: ideal temps, vernal green, flowers blooming, and all the delights of summer directly ahead.

I love a woodsy walk. I love the play of shadow and light in the cool, green understory, along with the rich smell of forest growth and decay, and the sound of leaves rustling in the canopy overhead. I stopped by a beaver pond long enough to listen to veerys, thrushes, and other songbirds while basking in the joy of simply being alive. Oh sure, I have my concerns – doesn’t everyone? – but they didn’t phase me in that moment. And that’s the great thing about a walk in the woods. One draws quiet strength from it.

Matika was panting heavily by the time we finished our walk. All the same, I know she enjoyed being in the woods as much as I did. It doesn’t take much to make her happy. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, either. A patch of nearby woods does the trick.

 

 

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