Tag Archive 'philosophy'

Jun 18 2020

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Order and Chaos

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I have a lot of time on my hands, thanks to the pandemic. As a result, I’ve been doing two things a lot more than I usually do: reading and gardening. And in a strange way, these activities are related.

A month and a half ago, I finished putting together my latest book, Campfire Philosophy, for publication. Since then I have been hard at work, reading and doing research for a brand new book project about nature and the Absolute. Central to this project is the dance of order and chaos that we find in nature – something that has always fascinated me. To what extent is nature designed, subject to immutable laws? To what extent are the forces in it utterly random? Needless to say, these questions have taken me all over the place, from German Idealism, Indian philosophy and microbiology, to Natural Theology, evolution, and quantum mechanics. My latest stop: chaos theory. Egads!

Along with the entirely ordered gardens around the house that are full of utterly domesticated plants, Judy and I have cultivated a patch of forest floor in our back yard that we call the Buddha Garden. A stone Buddha lords over this somewhat haphazard experiment in what I call unnatural selection. In addition to a dozen or so domestic flowers that we’ve planted there – some of which are found naturally in the wild, like false Solomon’s seal and foamflower – we have allowed many of the native plants to stay. Among these are trilliums, baneberry, trout lily, and some rather aggressive asters. So you could say that this so-called garden, wilder than most, is a curious blend of order and chaos.

At any rate, while transplanting more flowers into it this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what the laws of nature are and to what extent they dictate what happens in my semi-wild garden regardless of my tinkering. Meanwhile, the stone Buddha just sits there, seemingly detached from my pondering and handiwork, staring into oblivion as if there’s something about simply being in the world that guys like me completely miss.

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Jun 04 2020

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Campfire Philosophy Is Now in Print

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Back in 2006, I self-published excerpts from my field journal in a slender staple-stitched chapbook. Last winter I added more excerpts to that collection, expanding it to this 138-page paperback. I call it Campfire Philosophy because these are all wild moments, reflections and insights written while I was in the woods – quite often while sitting next to a campfire. One can almost hear the campfire crackling in them.

The fragments in this book span 30 years. They have been drawn from the field journals of every major excursion I’ve taken into the wild, along with a good number of smaller outings. And while my worldview is worked out better in other books of mine, this writing best captures the spirit of decades of woods wandering. It is also presented here in nice little snippets that the reader can digest at his or her leisure.

At any rate here it is, Campfire Philosophy, my latest offering to the world. It’s available at the Wood Thrush Books website, and Amazon.com, of course. I hope it inspires some of you to get out and enjoy wild nature while the pandemic rages in the more developed places.

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Jul 19 2018

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New Adirondack Book in Print

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Five years after the release of The Allure of Deep Woods, I now have a second Adirondack book in print: The Great Wild Silence.  It consists of a dozen short narratives and essays about backpacking in the Adirondacks, along with one rather long narrative about my 5-day sojourn in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness last year.

The Great Wild Silence is the juxtaposition of movement and staying put, of hiking and abstract thought. The main narrative in this collection, “Deep Forest Ruminations,” is a series of meditations on nature and our place in it, braided with observations and routine activities while camped alone at a backcountry lake – just me and my dog Matika, I should say. That’s the second half of the book. The first half sets the stage, recounting various excursions in the Adirondacks over the past 25 years, both alone and with others. Some of the latter pieces first appeared in the ADK publication Adirondac and other periodicals but haven’t been seen since. I’ve extracted others from previous collections of mine. It’s a curious mix to be sure.

If you’re as enamored with the Adirondacks as I am, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Be forewarned, though: there’s a lot of philosophical speculation in this book. It isn’t just about walking in the woods.

 

 

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Jan 30 2018

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Pantheism Book Is Now in Print

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Three years after putting the first few words down on paper, A Reluctant Pantheism is now in print. It was officially published at Amazon two weeks ago, but the first shipment of books just arrived at my doorstep this afternoon.

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for decades – a full-length work of religious philosophy. Such things can’t be rushed, though. It has taken me the better part of a lifetime to sift through all the theories, beliefs and hard science regarding the nature of nature, and to conjure up some sensible concept of God as a result. My own spiritual quest, begun as a teenager yet continuing to this day, makes anything I say or write about the matter rather inconclusive. Still, I have dived headfirst into this subject, and it feels good to have done so.

A Reluctant Pantheism is not an easy read, even though my wife Judy says it’s more accessible than my other philosophical writings. Nor is it suitable for those of you who have your vision of the world all cut and dried. In this book I venture into that nebulous realm where natural science and religion meet – a realm where conscientious philosophers and theologians have been scratching their heads for thousands of years. And yes, there’s more of my own story in this book than I care to admit. In short, I doubt it’s like anything you’ve ever read before.

So if you’re in the mood for something different, check out this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Facebook or email me to share your thoughts if you do get into it. I’d like to know how this book is received.

 

 

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Nov 26 2017

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Woods, Words, Worldviews

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Every once in a while I stop and take a long, hard look at my life. I consider myself perfectly normal, but my wife likes to remind me that I operate way out of mainstream. She’s right, of course. I fill my days with tramps through the woods, writing, publishing and selling books, and philosophical speculation – very little of which is good for the economy.

Lately my mind has been firing on all cylinders. I’ve written a few new essays, put the finishing touches on my pantheism book, and edited a manuscript of Walt Franklin’s that I’ll publish next spring. In addition to this, I’ve been reading lots of books and papers on human nature while working out the intricacies of wildness and being human. All this literary work keeps me busy, to say the least.

What’s it all for? I look at the long row of books my bookshelf that I’ve written and/or published and wonder who cares about my thoughts beyond a small group of faithful readers. Who will care a hundred years from now? More to the point, does the world really need another worldview? Aren’t there enough of those already?

Funny how I break into a fit of self-doubt every time I put on my philosopher’s hat. But response to my work during the past 25 years has made it clear to me that philosophy – my philosophy in particular – doesn’t sell. What the world wants from me are hiking narratives, not rumination. So I drop my pen and go for a hike long enough to get out of my head, to see what the wild has to say about all this. And that’s how it happens. That’s how I become a philosopher of wildness. All nature wants me to forget about economics and focus on what’s real.

As a self-proclaimed philosopher, I have no credentials. I wander, I wonder, I write. That is all. The forest is my university and its inhabitants are my teachers. I dismiss everything I find in books or on the Internet that refutes the wild. I embrace Nature with a capital “N,” and seriously question whether anything exists beyond it. In addition to this, I live my funky life despite what’s good for the economy. And that, I suppose, is what makes me a heretic.

 

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Aug 05 2017

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A Philosophy Tempered by Wildness

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Two weeks after leaving the woods, I am still processing what I thought and experienced while sojourned briefly at Pillsbury Lake. Most of this process is subconscious, though occasionally I think back to a particular moment during that retreat when something significant took place, or some important insight arose.

Early into my fourth day alone, while I was leaning against the shelter wall and writing in my journal, a butterfly landed on my leg. I had been writing down some heavy-duty thoughts concerning God, man and nature. The butterfly came to render its opinion – as if what I was writing had better match up to the reality of wildness. That’s how it struck me at that time, anyhow. How well did I do? It’s still too early to tell.

Earlier this week, a phrase came to me in the middle of the night: philosophy tempered by wildness. That pretty much sums up what my recent Adirondack retreat was all about. There is an indoor, utterly civilized way of looking at the world and another way that makes more sense in the wild. During my retreat, I opted for the latter.

There’s a book somewhere in all this, I’m sure. The trick is to let things ferment a bit, then to start writing while the memories are still fresh. The urge to start writing comes to me during my day-to-day affairs. Suddenly I feel distracted, as if some powerful insight is about to wash over me. Then it passes. Yeah, I’ll be hard at work on this book soon.

This time around, my number one critic will be that butterfly. Whatever I write has to win its approval. I’ll rely heavily on my field journal, of course, because that is a record of my outdoor thoughts at the time. But it’s still going to be tricky. There is a tendency to make ones wild thoughts make more sense than they should. On this journey, reason can only take me so far.

 

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Feb 07 2017

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Burroughs Book Finally in Print

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At long last, the Burroughs book is in print. I’ve been reading his essays for decades, and toying with the idea of selecting and publishing excerpts from his work for nearly that long. He wrote over 30 books on nature. I’ve been crazy enough to read most of them.

The full title of this book is Universal Nature: Philosophical Fragments from the Writings of John Burroughs. As the title suggests, the excerpts I have selected tend towards the abstract. While Burroughs was the master of the quaint nature essay – quite often writing about songbirds – he delved deeply into philosophical matters as well.  In his later years he became interested in the tension between science and religion. His was an utterly naturalistic worldview, of course, so he leaned as heavily towards pantheism as I do. Hence my obsession with him.

While Burroughs comes off as a simple, white-bearded countryman observing birds and the like, he was a surprisingly complex character in real life. My biographical introduction puts his work in context, showing how his thoughts emerged from friendships, travels and fruit farming in addition to extensive reading. The excerpts are organized chronologically, making it clear how his perception of wild nature evolved over time from the particular to the universal.

You can get a copy by going to my website WoodThrushBooks.com. It is also available at Amazon. I hope you find the natural philosophy of John Burroughs as intriguing as I have.

 

 

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Sep 22 2013

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Campfire Meditation

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campfireThere comes a time when nothing here in the developed lowlands can cure what ails me, when I must load a few essentials into my backpack and head for the hills. It doesn’t have to be a vast wilderness area. Any pocket of wild woods will do.

I go alone. No one but my dog Matika accompanies me, that is. She makes good company in the woods because she’s not human.

I hike for several hours, sweating away much of my frustration with what passes for civilization. Then I start looking for a good place to camp. By the time I am comfortably ensconced in the woods, it is getting on towards evening. I build a fire to cook dinner. Afterward, as the sun is setting, I slip into campfire meditation.

Flames dance inside a small circle of stones at my feet. I feed thumb-sized sticks into the fire to keep it going. Placement is essential otherwise the pan-sized fire will quickly burn out. I pay careful attention. Eventually random thoughts give way to something else, to a deep calm, to clarity.

Hours pass. The moon rises, an owl hoots in the distance, the nearby feeder stream gurgles, and all is right with the world. When I start running low on wood, I let the fire burn down to embers. Then I put it out. But in the morning I do it all over again – this time with a pen and field journal in hand. Campfire meditation becomes campfire philosophy. And that’s pretty much what I’m all about.

 

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Feb 19 2012

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Reading John Burroughs

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Once again I am reading John Burroughs – a turn-of-the-century writer who practically reinvented the nature essay. Heavily influenced by Emerson and second only to Thoreau in his passion for the natural world, Burroughs has intrigued me for years. Yet I have shied away from him time and again, fearing that the yawning chasm between his work and modern sensibilities might prove infectious.

More than one literary critic has called Burroughs “quaint” – a damning term to be sure. I cringe whenever I hear it. That’s like being accused of being both frivolous and irrelevant. Granted, the word might apply well to the many bird watching essays that made Burroughs so popular in his day, but it completely ignores the man’s more philosophical side. In the last few years of his life, that part of him really flourished.

John Muir and John Burroughs are the “two Johns” of late 19th, early 20th century nature writing. Most self-proclaimed nature lovers relate more to the former than they do to the latter. That’s because Muir was an activist in his day, a promoter of national parks and a founder of the Sierra Club. All that is much in keeping with the spirit of modern environmentalism. And Burroughs? Well, when he wasn’t writing pieces for mainstream magazines or hanging out with industrialists like Henry Ford, we was thinking too much. A quick perusal of Accepting the Universe, published shortly before his death, is proof positive of that.

Yeah, those of you who have read my heavier work know which side of Burroughs I prefer. In one essay he writes: “We cannot put our finger on this or that and say, Here is the end of Nature,” and I’m all over it. “The Infinite cannot be measured,” he adds, and I couldn’t agree more.  Yeah, Nature with a capital “N,” going well beyond politics. Am I the only nature lover alive today who cares about the things that JB pondered in his old age? One of the few, certainly.

The essays of John Burroughs are good for the soul. I find his ruminating, rambling style a welcome change from the superficial, sensational nonsense so prevalent in the media today. So I will continue reading his work and thoroughly enjoying it despite the musty smell that emanates from the hundred-year-old books that I hold in my hands. Sometimes nothing will do but the classics.

 

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Sep 29 2010

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Mountain Stream Philosophizing

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Sometimes I head to the mountains to escape my thoughts.  Other times I take my intellectual baggage with me.  The other day was a good example of the latter.

Even as the rush of the mountain stream filled my ears, and the intoxicating smell of autumn leaves tickled my nose, I brooded over a comment made by a world-renowned physicist a week or two earlier.  He had said that a Creator was not necessary, that the universe could have arisen spontaneously from nothing.  I immediately scoffed at the notion, but it ate away at me regardless.

Order or chaos – it all comes down to that, doesn’t it?  Either the universe is organized according to certain immutable laws, or all events are essentially random.  Recent cosmological discoveries point to a Big Bang occurring 13.7 billion years ago, to a singular event giving birth to the universe as we know it, thereby ruling out the possibility that things are now as they have always been.  But that leaves the non-religious thinker no choice but to embrace utter randomness.  And that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Order or chaos?  While fly fishing a mountain stream, I see plenty of both.  All around me there are downed trees, rotting wood, and the quiet tumult of growth and decay, yet the leaves overhead are turning gold, completing a cycle set in motion many centuries ago.  Rocks are strewn about haphazardly, as are twigs and branches, yet the stream itself follows the inexorable tug of gravity.  Is wild nature ordered or chaotic?  A good argument can be made either way.

A small brown trout rose to my showy fly, an Ausable Wulff, then all was quiet for a while.  When I spotted a cloud of tiny, slate gray mayflies hovering over the water, I changed to another fly – one called a Blue-winged Olive – that better matched the hatch.  I was betting that the hungry mouths beneath the water’s surface would know the difference.  This bet didn’t escape the philosopher in me.  I was betting on natural order and was not disappointed.  Several trout splashed to the surface, chasing my tiny gray fly.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the eyes to see my offering on the water so I missed the strikes, leaving all matters philosophical unresolved.

Shortly thereafter, I resorted to my showy A. Wulff, which is much easier to see.  I soon hooked and landed a ten-inch brook trout.  It didn’t make any sense, really.  You’d think a big, old brookie would know better than to rise to something that looks as out of place as an A. Wulff.  Clearly Mother Nature was making fun of me, mocking my assumptions.  Or maybe we just don’t have enough information to really know what’s going on around us.  I laughed long and hard at that, while returning the trout to the drink.  There’s always a rationalization, isn’t there?

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