Autumn 2013



Toward an Ecohumanities

 

Dodging headlights, I relax only when I reach where rocks glow a soft blue in the crepuscular light before dawn. In the distance,

a diminished, pinched cry, but there was that in the voice of the bird stronger than chagrin. It was the necessity to live, and even to cry out the triumph of life. [D. H. Lawrence, “The Man Who Died.” New York, 1995.]

It recalls the priestess who "sat down before her goddess, in the almost-darkness, to muse, to go away into the dreams of the goddess. It was Isis; but not Isis, Mother of Horus. It was Isis Bereaved, Isis in Search:

She was looking for the fragments of the dead Osiris, dead and scattered asunder, dead, torn apart, and thrown in fragments over the wide world. And she must find his hands and his feet, his heart, his thighs, his head, his belly, she must gather him together and fold her arms round the re-assembled body till it became warm again, and roused to life, and could embrace her, and could fecundate her womb.” [Ibid.]

The shamanic story of Osiris was ancient when it reached its final form in the Passion of Christ, whom Lawrence imagined as having lived through the crucifixion to experience his manhood in the arms of an Egyptian priestess of Isis. In this myth the circle is completed, the path paced back to its beginning.

 



While editing Charles Olson’s poems, George Butterick discovered: "Of the seventy-seven Maximus poems first published separately, in magazines and elsewhere, during the poet’s lifetime, only fourteen appeared exactly the same in both the printed volumes and original manuscripts. Differences extended from omitted punctuation and altered spacing to misread words." Butterick found this “a humbling experience, producing a general wariness.” [G.F. Butterick, “Editing Postmodern Texts.” Sulfur #11 (1981)]

This may also address the fantasy that a sacred text consists of the originally inspired words. Which is why poet/mystics and shamans are still needed to rescribe the numinous.

What phantom hugs your breath to its chest, motionless?
In conjuring the image of God, dislodged by a turbulence
from a pinched diaphragm, I have chosen
a transcendent lammergeier massive with alpine
strength.
[P. O'Leary. From, "A Supersensual Utility in the Sun, and Stars, Earth, and Water."]

The lammergeier is a "bearded vulture" who roosts on the cliffs and in the crags of mountains. It is among the birds to whom traditional Tibetans feed the dismembered bodies of their dead.

I'm reminded of an art gallery opening in Albuquerque, where an Amerindian artist who had cancer said: "When it's time, I'll go into the mountains and feed my body to the animals of whom I have eaten many of their brethren." I wondered if his cancerous meat would harm those animals. Even the vultures of Tibet, who are avoiding corpses tainted by modern medications, are suspicious of the food chain.

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Brazilian Jungian analyst, Roberto Gambini, wrote that the Paleolithic cave paintings were “not naïve attempts to copy animals or people living in the sun,” but were “”psychic images, certainly not primitive photographs of outer realities.” [“Soul on Stone.” Spring Journal 76, 2007.]

This theory has been drawn differently, in particular by South African archaeologist David Lewis-Williams in his many scholarly articles and books. However, Gambini’s phrasing highlights the fact that the models for these cave paintings were outside, “living in the sun,” while the artists toiled by flickering oil lamps in the black bowels of the earth. The animals would have been re-membered on the walls; and, especially in such sensory-deprived spaces, the artist's memories, imagination and dreams would have subsumed those images perceived outside.

I keep returning to the Paleolithic because we can never know what the cave paintings, rock art, Earth Goddess sculptures, etc., actually meant to the people who made them, what they had in mind, and not-knowing is the beginning of knowledge.

Soft moonlight spreads behind clouds. The horses are up, the feed truck's making its rounds. On the road into the River Preserve yesterday's horseshit is piled up in the shape of Mongolian oboos.

According to most studies, Pliohippus evolved around 54 million years ago on North America's Great Plains and migrated around the continent. Some these small horses with the hoofs of modern breeds wandered across the land bridge into Asia; while over the next 40,000 years those left behind disappeared.

When the nomad gained the horse, quite possibly from chariot driving city dwellers, and, discarding the chariot, learned to mount and ride, blending the intelligence and purpose of the rider with the strength and fleetness of the horse the myth of the centaur took shape in reality. The horse nomad came into being. He acquired the stirrup, which made the handling of the powerful double-backed horse bow possible and effective, and then, against the much greater numbers of the city dwellers and the tillers of the soil three times he changed the face of the world and re-arranged peoples and cultures.[R.B. Ekrvall, "The Tibetan Nomad and His Horse." Coyote’s Journal, 1974.]

In the 16th Century, with the invasion of the Americas by Spanish conquistadors, the horse, now Equus, was reintroduced into the New World. Presently, there is a controversy between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), along with cattle ranchers and land developers, who want to control the population of wild horses, treating them as "an invasive species," and those who claim that these horses are descendants of Pliohippus, thus indigenous denizens with rights to their habitat.

Coyote physics:
appearance is
disappearance.

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Biting cold, almost frosty. A few hours after sunrise, the dens of snakes are warming. Sweater drops from shoulders, girdling waist. Hoary questions uncoil and rise into a brain of dubious age.

“All good poetry offers answers to questions, though only the poet knows what the questions are.” [S. Takahashi. Interview with Lucian Stryk. “The Triumph of the Sparrow. New York, 1986.]

From across the dry riverbed, a cool breeze reaches the first bench, whose plaque is dedicated "To Sam. The Best of Dogs." I don't sit, but continue deeper in the canyon, to where an old oak spreads its ruddy wings, sun fringing its highest branches and lighting its crown. Here, the second bench memorializes a singlular person. No more need be said.

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The third bench's plaque reads, “Honoring the Future.” While climate scientists keep moving up the date of no redemption, and politicians deploy a scanty imagination, "there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed." [N. Klein, "How Science is Telling Us All to Revolt." The New Statesman, 29 Oct. 2013.]

Where the mind falters, the body grabs thunder by the throat.


Clocks turned back, a trickster's long shadow slides over the rocks, while I must step carefully between them. Within sight of where the path splits in two, the fourth bench appears empty. Our words have become so enchanted by the illusion of ourselves, it's nature that speaks most compellingly—

For a moment:
face to face
with a hummingbird.

Past the fourth bench, there's a steep walk over old flows of igneous rock. I imagine climbers on the summit of Mt. Everest, "Mother Goddess of the Universe," who rest, then continue to climb higher.

Here, I recall this dream:

I am dead, a spirit flying along with another, and a third I only sense. I ask where everyone is,
as billions of people had died before me, and am 'told' they are higher up.

Striving to rise higher, above me is a dome-shaped ceiling my arm is stretching to reach, straining to break through, while I'm desperately shouting GOD! GOD! GOD!

At the top of the hill, a signpost points two ways again. In how many worlds do we live? The divine guide between worlds, Hermes, turns me around and I'm walking back down.

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Pink morning sky makes the mountains blush. Taking the long way around to the canyon's mouth, a deciduous limb, a thread of weedy thoughts, an old poem, perhaps a rune etched into the folds of a rock...everywhere I'm finding lost strands of myself, as if millions of years ago my DNA went feral.

During the Neolithic, “It was religious experience that gave people the power to command the construction of megalithic monuments and to sacrifice animals and very probably human beings in order to keep the cosmos in good order. Another way of putting that point is, of course, to say that animal and human sacrifices—mastery of enforced cosmological transition—kept the elite in power.” [D. Lewis-Williams and D. Pearce, Inside the Neolithic Mind. New York, 2005.]

Cities were built, raided and defended (standing armies). Forests were cleared for planting (agribusiness). With the ability to store food, humans thrived and began expanding into, and destroying, the habitats of other species (capitalism).

 



What presence a mountain has! Perhaps our blasting mountaintops is not just for their mineral wealth, but also displays jealousy of the solidity we feel in a mountain that is lacking in ourselves. Nature has meaning not because we give it meaning, but because it makes us meaningful.

Like plants, that are "not just related to one another (but are) also related to us animals, fungi, bacteria and all other living things on Earth," [C. Zimmer, “Crunching the Data for the Tree of Life.” N.Y. Times, 10 Feb 2009.], the path that led to Homo sapiens is so strewn with dead branches, entangled rhizomes and densely packed humus that our biological roots cannot be untangled from the rest of creation.

In autumn,
fallen leaves
clutter the fountain.

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Just now, in the corner of my left eye I see an animal that makes an eerie sound, then becomes a stone! What we are learning is pointing toward this planet's multitude of life-forms not having only evolved vertically, but also by the horizontal transfer of genetic materials.

It is not just that there are dozens of examples of likely horizontal transfers, but that the mechanisms which could accommodate horizontal transfer of DNA are observed everywhere. Multiple mechanisms for the physical transfer of DNA from one species to another are known. Recombination mechanisms that can absorb this DNA are ubiquitous. Examples of cells and organisms that will express and incorporate products from foreign genes are too numerous to list. [M. Syvanen, "Horizontal Gene Transfer: Evidence and Possible Consequences." Annual Review of Genetics, 1994.]

That many, if not most, organisms contain genes from other organisms doesn't subsume Darwin's insights. While in the mythological realm, shape-shifting, a phenomenon that has been recorded for thousands of years, gains a toehold of biological footing.

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Today, reaching Hermes' guidepost, autumn's scent had death's cloyful sweetness on its breath. Following human, horse and bicycle prints to the next post, I turned and walked slightly downhill, stopping at a wide view of the valley. Brumes of mist still wrapped the mountain's highest ridges, but the sun was already in full focus. Sweat gathered on my neck, then dropped from leaf to leaf.

After the weather changed, wet ground sunk, stones rose, and horseshit froze into snowballs.

Two birds suddenly flew out from a clump of bushes, their wings and my eardrums fluttering together.

With satellites circling and photographing the Earth, terra incognita

is no longer the territory of explorers, but of mystics, shamans, and other misfits who colonize nothingness.

I had counted on this period of my life for when I would sit quietly and search inwardly, only to find there is no such direction, at least not discretely.

In the middle of the night I awoke recalling words from a dream, and fell back asleep without recording them. In the morning they were still clear in my mind: "The people of Ojai want the town to be built in a circle." "Of course," I thought."The town is encircled by mountains."

When I walked outside, it was just below freezing. The rocks were still asleep, dreaming hot flows of lava, and the mist was thick enough for Merlin to come flying across the valley. I would welcome the old mage who reframed the pretension of arcanum. M. Merleau-Ponty wrote, there is a "continual rebirth of existence;" so each morning I begin again, re-created by the land on which I am walking.

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As winter storms rage across the country, it is still autumn. A season's beginning is but an astronomical calculation. Using lunar poetics, Oglala prophet Black Elk made a calendar he named The Twelve Moons. December is "Moon of the Popping Trees." For my calendar, wise Elders would declare the beginning of each season by consulting their bones.

Bowing low before the sun's regal light, rain clouds are expected to return tonight. Up the coast, Big Sur's usually moist green world glows with wildfires, in the driest year ever recorded there. Is the Henry Miller Library in danger of burning down?

The one difference between Big Sur and other 'ideal' spots is that here you get it quick and get it hard. Get it between the eyes, so to say. The result is that you either come to grips with yourself or else turn tail and seek some other spot in which to nourish your illusions. [H. Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. New York, 1957.]

A small tractor is parked by the dry riverbed; two vans are parked on the other side. The longest tape measure I’ve ever seen is stretched out between. "We’re surveying the bedrock." I don't ask why.

Stepping around it all, I continue past the four benches, clambering up and down a few steep hills, until confronted with a tall brush barrier that's been dragged across the trail. There's another, tangential, path; but today I will return home the way I came. Today.