Fall Reflections

I remember an experience from my childhood, memories that are shrouded in mystic and imagination, and yet as poignant and realistic as if it were a captured image directly in front of my eyes. Being a son of the Okanogan Valley in beautiful British Columbia, it was quite acceptable, during the summers of my childhood adolescence, to retreat into the mountains for days on end. Sometimes these retreats would be organized through scouting groups, other times as father/son expeditions or as friendly excursions with schoolmates. One experience in particular stands above the rest.
On a quite afternoon midsummer, I managed to convince my parents I was off on another camping trip with some friends down the road, and, as we happened to live near the wilderness, in a rather smallish town, I was neither questioned on who I was going with, nor when I would be back (these were different times). Instead to heading to friends across town, I took my sleeping bag, knife and water bottle with me over the hills, across town, to Rattlesnake Point, a jagged peninsula sticking out into the middle of Kalamalka Lake. There I found myself a quite, secluded spot, and set about arraigning wood for a fire, pine needles for a mattress and cedar branches as a lean-to. With darkness quickly settling in, I lit a fire, and roasted the hotdogs I had packed with me, a rewarding meal to satisfy an enormous hunger from the hard days expenditures. Then, refreshed, in a world of safety, and extremely alone, I curled up under my protective canopy of leaves and warm cocoon shell of a sleeping bag, and quietly slipped into the approaching darkness.
At this point, it is fair to relate that there was already a healthy relationship between myself and nature, primarily based on fear and respect, with a smattering of wonder and a pinch of awe. I had spent many hours alone in the forests and valleys of the interior, hiking, exploring and discovering. However, there had always been the ever present companionship of the sunshine, a reality I had completely overlooked in my haste to explore the world alone. Which brings us back to the tale at hand. I was completely alone, in a world that dramatically transformed as the sun went down. The friendly companionship of squirrels and chipmunks was replaced with the ominous advance of unseen creature. The gentle lapping of water on the shores of the lake morphed into a mask, cloaking distant sounds from my ears, thereby allowing a greater sense of abandonment and isolation. The shadows of the fire danced, creating gruesome pictographs in the air and on the ground, mocking, advancing, and retreating in infamy. My young mind soaked up each transfigurement, and impressed meaning upon each and every subtle nuanced change.
Although at the time I felt profound fear, my memories of the experience no longer hold any shred of fright or trepidation. In retrospect I can only remember awe, enlightenment and an experience of the “other”. Eventually I awoke, remembering the feelings of the previous night as if it were nothing more then a dream. But as I fully opened my eyes, and relaxed around my again familiar landscape I began to recognize the dramatic change that had indeed transpired. The woods were no longer static, devoid of meaning, simply stoic statues in time. Although the physical objects had reverted to their original shapes, there now appeared to be an alternate meaning behind the bark, just out of sight of the naked eye illuminated by the sun.
I packed up my equipment later that afternoon, returning the site to the original state it had existed in before my arrival, as I had always been taught. But for me, the area would never be the same.
This experience remained in my memories of childhood, but quickly was overlapped with other memories of summers, winters, parties and travel, and eventually was relegated to the dusty annals of mythological imagination with the rest of my childhood. Relegated, that was, until the second week of Liberal Education. But I will return to that in a moment.
When Bruce told me about the concept for this semester’s edition of the Liberal Education program, I was skeptical of the possibilities for development and discussion that could arise from such a theme. However, as I gave the concept more thought, I realized the grand importance of the land. The land can cover issues in economics, biology, history, literature, art and especially politics. I began to be excited about the possibilities that would present themselves with an involved community of students. I was sure that debate, frustration, enlightenment and introspection would be rampant, and would present me with several opportunities to exercise a liberal mind. But I was not expecting to experience anything fundamentally new. Theoretically, I understood the politics of the land, if not the more subtle nuances of science and art. As an avid fan of nature, how could an academic examination of it bring anything new? In a very accurate sense of comparison, I had taken the tools with which I was familiar, was armed with the knowledge of the landscape, and had the unbridled excitement of a young man as he wandered into the recognizable on a personal journey for selfish reasons.
Before the discussions of the first official day of classes (which were actually the second day of class), I had the opportunity to read the two required readings for the course, The Wheatgrass Mechanism and Wild Stone Heart. The scientific and esoteric themes were familiar and expected, and, as I had assumed, presented no fundamental shift in paradigm. It was the same world which I was accustomed to.
Then, from absolutely nowhere, the darkness of night settled in, and the world changed.
Let me qualify this point. The darkness did not bring fear. It did not cause me to be concerned from the shifts in reality. But it did cause me to reexamine the fundamental realities which I assumed could not shift. The proverbial trees where no longer stoic statues. The shadows no longer remained in place, but were malleable and full of meaning. How this change came to be is still a mystery to me. But as I reread both text, nuances began to appear which caused me to question what I thought I knew about the politics of land, about the relationship between the arts, and the actual geographic location of its creation. The symbiosis that I assumed existed between the familiar cultures of farming and the physical land of the prairies slowed, sputtered and ceased to exist in my mind as a obvious reality.
The land moaned for me, with a voice unheard, untested and unrecognized. But a voice nonetheless. I fully expect this voice to develop, and become recognizable before the end of my journey. Not a tangible voice, but rather a form of communication that speaks for the desires of the land, irrespective of the demands and wishes of humanity. I first heard the unknown voice some days after that fateful first class, as I sat in Indian Battle Park, a regular stomping ground for reflection and synthesis. The voice unheard spoke of strain. As I watched the controlled water of the Old Man, I understood the desire of man to dominate nature. But I also heard the voice of unacknowledgement of the labels, desires, theories and themes man has placed upon the land. Quietly, and without much concern for my presence, other then the occasional glance to assure my proximity had not become threatening, a beaver continued to gather the materials necessary for the construction of a damn. The propaganda of humanity had no bearing on nature.
I recognize this as a simple anthropamorphization of the land, but not without precedent. Religious theologies of all cultures have acknowledged the reality of a cognizant earth. Perhaps I have begun to believe it too.

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~ by maffersalmon on September 24, 2008.

One Response to “Fall Reflections”

  1. I like the analogy, Matt. I’d be interested to hear how the development of these views continues to unfold. This topic brings up points of discussion into which I have neither the time nor energy to delve at this point. But something to think about going forward, from a spiritual and perhaps a religious perspective, would be this: Whose land is this? There are numerous answers to this depending on how you define the ownership/stewardship/possession implied by the word “whose” and the delineation of the land in reference. And that’s just taking it from a spiritual/religious perspective. When you factor in political, economical, ecological and societal perspectives, you get a whole new set of answers and justifications. Anyway, that’s just a thought.

    One of these days I’m gonna beg you to let me proof-read your posts before you publish them so I can remove your syntactical errors. Until then, however, I’ll just have to bear them with patience. 🙂

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