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Entries in Gary Snyder (6)


Wise Words I: Gary Snyder

So let's start with Gary Snyder. From The Practice of the Wild

"Thoreau says “give me a wildness no civilization can endure.” That’s clearly not difficult to find. It is harder to imagine a civilization that wildness can endure, yet this is just what we must try to do. Wildness is not just the “preservation of the world,” it is the world. Civilizations east and west have long been on a collision course with wild nature, and now the developed nations in particular have the witless power to destroy not only individual creatures but whole species, whole processes, of the earth. We need a civilization that can live fully and creatively together with wildness. We must start growing it right here, in the New World."  

"The lessons we learn from the wild become 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 tell a good story when we get back home."  

Yeah, probably my favorite book in the whole world. [NOTE: Image shows my dog-eared copy of The Practice of the Wild. Has accompanied me to Hawaii, Myanmar, and Laos].


Distant Neighbors

About halfway through the new book Distant Neighbors, which presents a fascinating collections of letters between two of my heros, Gary Snyder (see Gary Snyder at 83) and Wendell Berry. What a lively and thoughtful dialogue - and a lovely friendship. They exchanged nearly 250 letters from 1973 to 2013.  A snippet from Snyder's letter to Berry on June 3, 1977:

"The question I ask myself is, what next? My ignorance of the dynamics of economics troubles my sleep. I must keep working on that. Because, (as my study of China is showing more and more) the best intentions in the world will not stop the inertia of a heavy civilization that is rolling on its way. As poets, our politics mostly stand back from that flow of topical events; and the place we do our real work is in the unconscious, or myth-consciousness of the culture; a place where people decide (without knowing it) to change their values."

[NOTE: There is a powerful and subtle logic on display in these letters. I highly recommed this book]. 


Books IV

Pulitzer-prize winning Beat Zen Buddhist poet and eco-activist Gary Snyder turned 83 last week. Don't know how I missed this. He's a role model and hero of mine. This from Practice of the Wild:

"Our skills and works are but tiny reflections of the wild world that is innately and loosely orderly. There is nothing like stepping away from the road and heading into a new part of the watershed. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sense of coming home to our whole terrain. "Off the trail" is another name for the Way, and sauntering off the trail is the practice of the wild. That is also where - paradoxically - we do our best work".

[NOTE: Go here for nice film profile of Gary Snyder. A belated happy birthday and best wishes for many more].

[NOTE: Originally posted on May 16, 2013. Practice of the Wild is probably my favorite book in the whole world. It resonates deeply with me on some many levels. Inspirational. This is a must read].


Smokey Bear

Have always been a fan of Smokey Bear, even before I went to forestry school. This U.S. Forest Service mascot did an amazing job of reducing the frequency of forest fires and making people aware of all the bad things that happen when the woods catch on fire. Smokey, unfortunately, didn't address the usefulness of control burns for fuel reduction or the indigenous use of fire, but, I guess, there is only so much that a bear can do.

And then there's the Smokey the Bear Sutra by Gary Snyder which depicts Smokey as a reincarnation of Vairocana Buddha.

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR'S WAR SPELL:


And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.

-Gary Snyder
1969 Sierra Club Wilderness Conference
(may be reproduced free forever)


Earth Consciousness

A useful distinction from Gary Snyder:

There are two kinds of earth consciousness: one is called global, the other we call planetary. The two are 180 degrees apart from each other, although on the surface they appear similar. "Global consciousness" is world-engineering-technocratic-utopian-centralization men in business suits who play world games in systems theory; they include the environmentalists who are employed at the backdoor of the Trilateral Commission. "Planetary thinking" is decentralist, seeks biological rather than technological solutions, and finds its teachers for its alternative possibilities as much in the transmitted skills of natural peoples of Papua and the headwaters of the Amazon as in the libraries of the high Occidental civilizations.

-The Real Work: Interviews & Talks (1964-1979)

[Image of Earth at night is a NASA composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. Image made possible by the satellite's "day-night band" of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, which detects light in a range of waverlengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techinques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, wildfires, and reflected moonlight].


Mantled Guerezas (from the Archive)

This is really kind of a crummy photo, but seeing these two Mantled Guereza monkeys (Colobus guereza) leaping from tree to tree in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve (see Bwindi Impenetrable Forest) with their long white mantle trailing behind was breathtaking. 

...faces among the leaves,
being ears and eyes of trees,
soft hands and haunches pressed on boughs and vines

Then - wha! - she leaps out in the air
the baby dangling from her belly,

they float there,

-she fetches up along another limb - and settles in.

Mountains and Rivers Without End
Gary Snyder, 1966.