The Lushootseed speaking people of Puget Sound have a creation story that goes back to their Epic Age, when "nothing was fixed in time or space." Nor were beings fully human or animal, but "protean, with many simultaneous attributes that only got sorted out when the world changed or 'capsized' in preparation for the arrival of modern humans." At which time, as in the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, "each being assumed a single form and became associated with a particular location. Many transformed into particular landmarks where they exist as aspects of geography, unusual acoustics, or appearance. Others became species of plants or animals occupying particular ecological niches."(1)

Cold, soggy morning. I leave the city's streets and enter the woods, its path's muddy puddles, newly fallen trees, trunks still sleeved in dark green moss, creek churning and roiling to the planet's climatic changes. Through the drizzle come people walking dogs, or gabbing to each other. "The same trail," I think, "but different paths." As I climb the first hill, the creek drops as if suddenly falling into a crevasse, its stentorian voice lost until the earth levels again.

My early years here were imbued by this forest's sweet mixture of scents, its tall sentinel trees, variegated shades of green, and a creek that rose from chthonic dreams. Addressing how "Christian practice repeatedly witnesses points of (God's) departure," Jennifer Wallace wrote. "The ideal kind of pilgrimage, consequently, is one that never rests and never reaches its destination. It journeys to 'the longed for land' which 'dissolves on approach.'"(2)

Alternatively, mainstream climate scientists readily accept that there is natural variation in the system. For example, greenhouse gases alone can't melt the Arctic at the alarming rate that has been observed recently. Americans sorting through this issue may feel constrained by all the unknowns. Perhaps they need to adapt to uncertainty, to see the pilgrim experiences the illusion of arrival, while always remaining on the threshold of the "Promised Land."

And what is sorrow
but a giving back to the void
what it has always possessed:
A return from a journey never begun.


Stained glass windows of cathedrals were designed as doorways into Heaven, medieval portals manned by behemoths, demons and other frightening beings.

Now building sites are patrolled by sharp-toothed dogs, destruction worked with monstrous machines bullying old material into mounds of rubbish lifted and driven away.

          Clearing the ground,
          Frantically working the gears,
          Grabbing handles,
                    pulling levers,
                         billows of dust...

          O MAN, dragged over the land
          Behind a machine!!

          Tearing freeways, cracking sidewalks,
          Universities, libraries...whole worlds
          Of consciousness plowed back to seed.

From subterranean depths, reinforced concrete stanchions rise to support a skyscraper's layered world. We continue to build on modernism's flawed foundation, posting old visions and ancient rites. Today's mythology is what wasn't in yesterday's news; rather it "represents a state of being and of culture almost completely at odds with the ordinary and the mundane,"(5) making for a picture of cleared ground dotted with small "cathedral mounds," where the "aborigines humanize their landscape, that is take possession of it conceptually, through symbols."(6)

On Buddha's birthday there was a circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco. Walking uphill clockwise, we stopped at stone mounds along the way to chant a short sutra and dharani, then each of us would add another stone, "invocations of the spirit of the place."(7) The sense of sanctity continued, until descending the mountain at the end of the day, we stood "in our little circle, blowing the conch, shaking the staff rings, right in the parking lot."(8)

From a scholastic viewpoint the lineage of buddhas before the historical Buddha is mythological. Even some of the dates of masters who lived after Gautama Sakyamuni are skewed, in order to create a consistent hagiography. When a contemporary Zen Master was asked about this, he replied, "Of course much of it is a myth." Then added, "But it's true."

The psychic moat between the sacred and profane is also the fence that separates the city from wilderness. Liminality, the state of "ambiguity and paradox, a confusion of all the customary categories,"(9) is where instantiated into some kind of platform, these components can be structured so to build up increasingly levels of complexity, eventually arriving at complexity so deep, multilayed, and extensive as to simulate the most complex phenomena on earth, from turbulent flow and malignant social systems to reasoning processes the initiate learns that moats silt over and fences rot.

"We shall not reply by indicating a means of access, for example, through a given form of architecture: preamble, pronaos, threshold, methodical route, circle or circulation, labyrinth, flight of stairs, ascent, archaeological regression toward a foundation, and so on."(10)

With ways to approach, but no access, we reach a point of knowledge, of gnosis, where the place of initiation, the threshold, is everywhere. Consciousness can't be transformed without its host's environment in mind: there is no separation between who we are and where we are.

In one of two magisterial books on the philosophy of place, Edward Casey wrote: "To be is to be in place."(11) Like other Western philosophers, Casey was trained in a tradition that extends back to Ancient Greece; in particular, to Aristotle. I'd like to suggest that place is an "ecotone," an interface that doesn't exist without other places. Thus, to be is not to be in place, but between other places.

The liminal is the "borderland" where we are more and less than ourselves.

"Borderland people personally experience, and must live out, the split from nature on which the western ego, as we know it, has been built. They feel (not feel about) the extinction of species; they feel (not feel about) the plight of animals that are no longer permitted to live by their own instincts, and which survive only in domesticated states to be used as pets or food."(12)


"And if I am not in a psychic field with others—
with people, buildings, animals, trees—
I am not."

If we read "psychic field" as awareness that includes the somatic and sensual, our very existence depends on psychic integration with where we are and all it contains. We are not placed. We are place itself.


i am on the deck of a barge that holds large steel containers. i tap each one with a cane, listening to the signature of its ring. Finally, one sounds unique. i lift its lid. Inside a seemingly dead woman begins to color. She rises slowly, then flies toward me! i panic and run.
In the lobby of the Brooklyn apartment house where i was raised, there are three boys staring through its glass doors. The older one is saying that we mustn't run from her, but "Welcome and embrace her."

Transformation is appealing, but its practice may be the ultimate challenge to humanity. One's illusions, inherited or self-built, tumble down; their remains, like autumn leavessuch colors!are swept up and left to molder. "The broom or brush sign (on the vulture's wings at Çatal Hüyük) denotes the energy and power of the Death Goddess, as does the witch's broom of European folklore."(15) The "witch" was being purged of the Devil, while her broom flew away!

Putting aside statistical probabilities and lines of ascent, imagine a place "conceived as both primordial space and the primordial time of the event," which "would allow a genuine alternative to modernityor, at least, to modernity traditionally understoodby giving place precedence over both modern space and time." However, "to 'synthesize' pre-modern and post-modern ideas of place would be to imply that place is (as essence of places) and that it is not (as event-like non-essence of places)—a flat contradiction."(16)

Only the dead can sink into the reality of a place. For the living, place is always slippery underfoot.

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savior.

In the hills and along the streets communities of trees open their arms to crows, starlings, robins, jays, and others flying species who unfailingly navigate a trackless sky, along with ants and squirrels and an occasional cat who run up and down their trunks. Even though there may be pictures of it, or travelogues written about it, a place is only potentially extant, like subatomic particles, super-positioned in space.

Each culture has its own cartography. Place may be "up the road a piece," "yonder," "five point three miles," "due south of the next oasis." Ask an Australian Aborigine where a place is and "you will be given directions from some other place, not from where you are. This reference place will not be mentioned in the original question but will be somewhere significant and assumed to be well known."(18)

In the spring of 1689, the renowned poet Matsuo Bashō stopped to ask directions from a man cutting grass in a field. "Courteous, he thought awhile, then said, 'Too many intersecting roads. It's easy to get lost. Best to take that old horse as far as he'll go. He knows the road. When he stops, get off, and he'll come back home.'"(19)

Modern societies have no initiatory process into the Mysteries, such as Eleusis and Delphi. Theologians and anthropologists may offer some newly excavated facts, but as religious myth is buried in dogma, creative liminality must be sought in the "collective unconscious;" specifically in what C.G. Jung calls "big dreams," where we are "transitional beings" who have "no status, property, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows."(20)

One loses one's self, at least temporarily, where language is not a tool for communication that belongs to us. Language is not an exclusively human ability at all. It is a field of meanings and intentions that we inhabit. Human language grows out of the world itself. We speak because soma and society are delicately balanced. Here the moral haunt of a culture can be seen in the visionary breadth of its reconstruction.

Construction site—
Yellow machines abandoned
To the rain.

Analyzing menhirs from the Neolithic and Bronze ages in Brittany, Christopher Tilley wrote: "They took on their meanings in relation to the experiences and feelings of those people who lived with them in the landscape through particular modes of encounter and engagement."(21)
Of course it also works the other way around: People derive meaning from their experiences and feelings of a place and its contents.

In all cases, there is a complex web of connections between the sensory experience of a place, the meaning of the place and the symbols that express and enhance both the sensory experience and the meaning.(22)

The third and final stage of the liminal process is when the initiate is reassimilated into the community, the equivalent of the famous Zen Way: First there is the mountain; then there is no mountain; then there is the mountain again. However, as with the community, the mountain is experienced differently. "The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us."(23) Although this view is too anthropocentric, it hints at the need for psychic integration with one's environment.

At the beginning of his last long trek through 17th Century Japan, Matsuo Bashō wrote, "every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." For Bashō, inspiration for his poems was found in places where ancient poets, warriors and priests who had become cultural icons had visited. The ancestors of Australian Aborigines were gods who had stopped their journey long enough to become recognizable terrestrial forms that were reimagined by each generation during a "walkabout." Every society has at least the memory of an initiatory sojourn, which modernity has all but demeaned into "spiritual tourism." In Western culture, the arcane knowledge or ‘gnosis’ obtained in the liminal period is felt in the change in the inmost nature of the neophyte, impressing him, as a seal impresses wax, with the characteristics of his new state. It is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but a change in "the idea of objective space involves the idea of a multiplicity of positions or locations within it."(24) With this in mind, the neighborhood is the threshold, and the journey itself.


To the north was the sea, the waves rolling in at a place called Tide Crossing.(25)

To the north, an industrial section verges
along a river that joins another flowing
one hundred miles to the sea.


To the west, Muyamuya Barrier
cut off the road.(25)

To the west, the forest I walk photograph and write populates hills with thousands of tall green umbrellas.

Eastward lay an embankment, with a road leading offf to Akita.(25)

Looking east, a freeway held high by concrete pillars is a source of air pollution, cultural separation and aesthetic regret.


To the south, Chokai upheld the heavens, its reflection in the waters.(25)

To the south runs a heavily-trafficed street that divides two neighborhoods like a river
too swift cross: the lights change too fast!



1- Miller, J. and Hilbert, V. (1996) "Lushootseed Animal People: Mediating and Transformation from Myth to History." In, J. Arnold, Editor, Monsters, Tricksters and Sacred Cows. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
2- Wallace, J. (2004) Digging the Dirt: The Archaeological Imagination. London: Duckworth.
mainstream climate scientists: E. Kolbert, “Butterfly Lessons.” The New Yorker, Jan 9, 2006.
3- Dahl, D. (1985 ) The Other Room. Santa Barbara: Tsunami Press.
4- Weishaus, J. "Clearing the Ground." In, Feels Like Home Again: Collected Poems 1962-2002.
5- Turner, V (1992) Blazing the Trail. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
6- Rapoport, A. (1977) "Australian Aborigines and the Definition of Place." In, P. Oliver, Editor, Shelter, Sign & Symbol. Woodstock: The Overlook Press.
7- Gennep, A.V. (1960) The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
8- Snyder, G. (1996) "The Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais." In, Mountains and Rivers Without End. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.
9- Turner, V. (1987) “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage." In, L.C. Mahdi, et. al., Editors, Betwixt & Between: Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation. LaSalle: Open Court.
instantiated into some kind of platform: N.K.Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer. Chicago: University of Chicage Press, 2005.
10- Derrida, J. (2008) "No (Point of) Madness—Maintaining Architecture." In, Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Volume 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
11- Casey, C.S. (1993) Getting Back Into Place. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
12- Bernstein, J. (2005) Living in the Borderland. London: Routledge.
13- Hillman, J. (1992) We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse. (with M. Ventura) New York: HarperCollins.
14- Weishaus, J. "Dream." "Reality Dreams-Scroll Eleven":
15- Gimbutas, M. (1989) The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
16- Brockelman, T. (2003) “Lost in Place? On the Virtues and Vices of Edward Casey’s Anti-Modernism.” Humanitas, Vol. XVI, No. 1.
17- Stevens, W. From, "The Plain Sense of Things."
18- Lewis, D. (1976) "Observation on Route Finding and Spatial Orientation Among the Aboriginal Peoples of the Western Desert Region of Central Australia." Oceania (June)
19- Bashō, M. (1991) Narrow Road to the Interior. S. Hamill, Translator. Boston: Shambhala.
20- Turner, V. (1987) Ibid.
language is not a tool: T. Cheetham, Green Man, Earth Angel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
21- Tilley, C. (2004) The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology. Oxford: Berg.
22- Chazan, M. and Horwitz, L.K. (2009) “Milestones in the Development of Symbolic Behaviour: a Case Study From Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa.” World Archaeology Vol. 41(4).
23- Snyder, G. (2010) Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison and The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley: Counterpoint.
24- Malpas, J.E. (1999) Place and Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
the arcane knowledge or 'gnosis: V. Turner, Ibid., 1987.
25- Bashō, M. (2005) "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." In, D.L. Barnhill, Translator, Bashō's Journey. Albany: State University of New York Press.