Friday, June 16, 2006

Encounters with Nature

The question is posed: Have you ever had any memorable encounters with nature?

Last fall (to pick one memorable road trip) in the space of a few days, driving down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Francisco, and camping along the way, I had encounters with gulls, sea lions, otters, great horned owl, ravens, numerous finches, crabs, humans and their children and pets, giant redwood trees, Monterey cypresses draped with moss, mushrooms glowing brightly in the dusk, songbirds, jays, sugar maples (just beginning to turn fall colors, so that they are green on the bottom, yellow in the middle, and fire red on top), the overpowering scent of white pine from a logpile at a sawmill, kelp, mussels, bivalve clams, minnows, half-feral cats, deer, more deer (they're always on the move at dusk), redtailed hawk, turkey vulture, brown eagle, koi, willows, spiders the size of thumbnails, banana slugs, pampas grass, and much much more, an incredible richness of encounters.

The question, have I had any memorable encounters with nature?, sort of boggles my mind, as it seems to assume that "nature" is something separate from "me," which is completely wrong. We are immersed in nature continuously. We are part of nature. Not even "city" is separate from "nature." There are two primary sources of inspiration in my life and writing: nature, and the inward life. These are not separable either, especially if you have encountered Jung's concept of synchronicity. The inner and outer worlds reflect each other. It's always there, perceivable, if we just slow down and pay attention to our surroundings, we come into animal presence.

I can't possibly pick one "encounter with nature," because (for me anyway) they are continuous, daily, absorbing, ordinary parts of everyday life and events. Nothing special, everything special.

If you hold yourself still, the fox will always come to you.

A great natural science writer was poet and naturalist Loren Eiseley. I find myself reading and re-reading his essays and poems, with deepening appreciation, as time marches on.

Dan Schneider in appreciation of Loren Eiseley

The American Spirituality of Loren Eiseley

I think we always have to let the fox go, so that she might come and go as she wills. Clinging to an idea, a style, a vision, even clinging to life itself, can choke it, make it mannered, make it stiff. Let the fox remain wild, and she will come back to us. Put her in a cage, and she might die.

I think poetic inspiration is the same way: Let something wild in us remain wild, untamed, "natural" by which we could mean unmannered, unrefined, unfettered, and most importantly uncontrolled, and the wildness will remain in our poetry. It's a wildness we need, even in our cities, if we want to stay in touch with that essential aliveness, that breathes us, the very life-force itself, perhaps.

If you hold yourself still, the fox

If you hold yourself still, the fox
will always come to you. She moves
silent through dusk, across sudden lawn,
a natural gap between bush and cliff.
She is wary, ears up, nose alert. She skips
lightly, pauses to flick her tail, then
disappears, streak of red and black.
There’s a waterfall, bitter, cold, she sips
when night pauses; a deep water seep
from between rocks that remember dinosaurs
and birth-cries of lost volcanoes, gone
before this beach, this river were here.
An owl calls, very close overhead, between
meadow and shore, moving towards beach;
fox freezes, her tail and belly low-slung to soil,
red blur blending into dusk-toned fireweed,
and waits for owl to pass. If you can shape
yourself into stone, slow-breathing juniper,
your palm cupped to hold rain, and be silent
for endless days, the fox will come to you, sip
cold water, lap your lifeline. Don’t look at her
direct, be a peripheral vision of your own self,
flicker of red and black in lung, heart, artery;
and she will come, tentative, hesitant, but
curious. Become moss, become invisible,
become as ancient as the dreams of cliffs.
If you hold yourself still, the fox will come.

{This poem of mine was published in Panhandler, March 2006.)

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