Sky, stone, and the turning seasons

Dartmoor cows grazing near Bronze Age ruins, midsummer.

From A Branch from the Lightening Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wilderness
by Martin Shaw:

"To be in touch with wilderness is to have stepped past the proud cattle of the field and wandered far from the twinkles of the Inn's fire. To have sensed something sublime in the life/death/life movement of the seasons, to know that  contained in you is the knowledge to pull the sword from the stone and to live well in fierce woods in deep winter.

Pathway onto the moor in deep winter

"Wilderness is a form of sophistication, because it carries within it true knowledge of our place in the world. It doesn't exclude civilization but prowls through it, knowing when to attend to the needs of the committee and when to drink from a moonlit lake. It will wear a suit and tie when it has to, but refuses to trim its talons or whiskers. Its sensing nature is not afraid of emotion: the old stories are are full of grief forests and triumphant returns, banquets and bridges of thorns. Myth tells us that the full gamut of feeling is to be experienced.

Near Scorhill Stone Circle as the rain rolls in.

"Wilderness is the capacity to go into joy, sorrow, and anger fully and stay there for as long as needed, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Sometimes, as Lorca says, it means 'get down on all fours for twenty centuries and eat the grasses of the cemetaries.' Wilderness carries sobriety as well as exuberance, and has allowed loss to mark its face."

Scorhill on a stormy day.


The speech of trees

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From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"To our indigenous ancestors, and to the many aboriginal peoples who still hold fast to their oral traditions, language is less a human possession than it is a property of the animate earth itself, an expressive, telluric power in which we, along with the coyotes and the crickets, all participate. Each creature enacts this expressive magic in its own manner, the honeybee with its waggle dance no less than a bellicose, harrumphing sea lion.

"Nor is this power restricted solely to animals. The whispered hush of the uncut grasses at dawn, the plaintive moan of trunks rubbing against one another in the deep woods, or the laughter of birch leaves as the wind gusts through their branches all bear a thicket of many-layered meanings for those who listen carefully. In the Pacific Northwest I met a man who had schooled himself in the speech of needled evergreens; on a breezy day you could drive him, blindfolded, to any patch of coastal forest and place him, still blind, beneath a particular tree -- after a few moments he would tell you, by listening, just what species of pine or spruce or fir stood above him (whether he stood beneath a Douglas fir or a grand fir, a Sitka spruce or a western red cedar). His ears were attuned, he said, to the different dialects of the trees.

Tree 5 6x8

Also, Katherine Langrish is re-running the Fairy-tale Reflections series over on her wonderful Seven Miles of Steel Thistles blog, and my essay "On Fairytales" has been posted for it's second go-around today. (Thanks so much, Kath!)


The songful dimension of language

Nattadon morning, 1

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"Human language, for us moderns, has swung in on itself, turning its back on the beings around us. Language is a human property, suitable only for communication with other persons. We talk to people; we do not speak to the ground underfoot. We've largely forgotten the incantatory and invocational use of speech as a way of bringing ourselves into deeper rapport with the beings around us, or of calling the living land into resonance with us. It is a power we still brush up against whenever we use our words to bless and to curse, or to charm someone we're drawn to. But we wield such eloquence only to sway other people, and so we miss the greater magnetism, the gravitational power that lies within such speech. The beaver gliding across the pond, the fungus gripping a thick trunk, a boulder shattered by its tumble down a cliff or the rain splashing upon those granite fragments -- we talk about such beings, the weather and the weathered stones, but we do not talk to them.

"Entranced by the denotative power of words to define, to order, to represent the things around us, we've overlooked the songful dimension of language so obvious to our oral [storytelling] ancestors. We've lost our ear for the music of language -- for the rhythmic, melodic layer of speech by which earthly things overhear us."

Nattadon morning, 2

Nattadon morning, 3


Word magic

Cows in the lane, 1

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"All things have the capacity for speech -- all beings have the ability to communicate something of themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of this gregarious, communicative power of things, wherein even obstensibly 'inert' objects radiate out of themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things?

Cows in the lane, 2

"Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granite cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, all are expressive, sometimes eloquent and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

Cows in the lane, 3

"It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care -- this full-bodied alertness -- is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world's unfolding."

Cows in the lane, 4

Cows 6* 6x8


The animals that we are

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From "A Prayer for a Wild Millennium" by Terry Tempest Williams (an essay published in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert):

"I believe we need wilderness in order to be more complete human beings, to not be fearful of the animals that we are, an animal who bows to the incomparable power of natural forces when standing on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, an animal who understands a sense of humility when watching a grizzly overturn a stump with its front paw to forage for grubs in the lodgepole pines of the northern Rockies, an animal who weeps over the sheer beauty of migrating cranes above the Bosque del Apache in November, an animal who is not afraid to cry with delight in the middle of a midnight swim in a phospherescent tide, an animal who has not forgotten what it means to pray before the unfurled blossom of the sacred datura, remembering the source of all true visions.

Brooklyn street art by Ericailcane

"As we step over the threshold of the twenty-first century, let us acknowledge that the preservation of wilderness is not so much a political process as a spiritual one, that the language of law and science used so successfully to define and defend what wilderness has been in the past century must now be fully joined with the language of the heart to illuminate what these lands mean to the future."

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Mythic fiction and mythic art speak "the language of the heart," and can, I believe, play an important role in the fight to preserve wilderness and the wild for our children's children's children.

The wonderful paintings and drawing above are by the Italian street artist Ericailcane, based in Bologna. Please visit his website to see more of his work.