On my last post I posed the question of where do we find the love of wild places? Is it something inherent inside of us we respond to, or is it something needing to be nurtured and that emerges with each exposure? I am inclined, at least in my own case, to believe it is a combination of both.
I always felt a certain response to the woods, the aromatic pines, the decaying mulch, and mostly to clear water. The sight and sound of a clear forest brook or stream always invoked something inside me. Yet I needed other guidance to bring me to that eventual recognition of it being important to me. Simply being in those places as a boy, meant someone taking me there, usually early on my father on our relatively rare fishing and hunting outings, and as I got older other friends with similar interests. Then there were boyhood magazines on fishing and hunting eventually leading to books and discovering certain authors, and suddenly a new world is opened.
Two of the people whom have influenced me most through their respective writings of the Natural world are John Muir and Edward Abbey. Which is interesting to me as they would lie on opposite ends of any spectrum other than their shared love of wild places. How they wrote differed, how they appreciated those wild places differed, even how they would have traveled amongst nature differed.
John Muir was a world class botanist, a man with a deep faith in God, a tee totaller who really preferred his own company when amongst his beloved mountains and forests. He thrived in conditions most would be put off by, relishing in storms, earthquakes, traveling in cold harsh conditions with not much more than the clothes he wore, a sleeping bag of some type, and dried bread and tea for sustenance. He loved nothing more than spending hours alone studying striations left on rocks by retreating glaciers, collecting plant life for further study, or simply sitting amongst the huge red woods and sequoias. His writings were testaments to Nature and God, imploring man to get out to wild places and through Nature find God. He ended up carrying the banner for the rudimentary beginnings of Ecological Awareness through his writings, was instrumental in helping to create the U.S. National Park system. He helped save the Grand Canyon from early destruction, brought awareness to the country of saving areas of big trees - influencing greatly the young Sierra Club, and creating a platform for his writings through the National Geographic magazine to reach a wide audience. Finally he gave his failing health trying to save Hetch Hetchy valley, a valley he considered the equal if not superior to Yosemite. He fully demonstrated alternatives for San Francisco to supply its growing need for water in other ways, but failed, and Hetch Hetchy is no more. He died that same year.
Edward Abbey once could not identify some basic desert plants outside a friends house, he was not interested in botany. He was a man of prodigious appetites for whiskey, women, music, and his beloved desert country. Specializing in rafting the rivers of the Southwest he was no light traveler, his rafting parties wanting for nothing, yet he spent much time, like Muir, traveling on his own and camping in the deserts. Abbey's devotion to the wilderness was not like John Muirs, he did not seek it out to meditate or pray. As he drove along highways he felt no shame in littering the detested roads with his beer cans. Abbey hated the cold, and his less than frequent ventures to Montana and Alaska could never end soon enough for Abbey. He was a man of the desert. He never wanted the label of being a "Nature writer", and indeed his body of work includes many other areas outside it. He wrote with great love for his environment in the desert and the need for wild places, but whereas Muir dug deep into finding meaning within the beauty around him, Abbey was content on the surface, there was enough there for him to relish in. Indeed, he himself considered John Muir "relevant, but dull". I am not quite sure I agree with Ed there, as I am somewhat of a below the surface man myself, but his writings are extremely witty and funny, an ecological Mark Twain really. Abbey became relevant in bringing awareness to a generation of America mired in corporate expansion and greed, over development of our park systems, and again, encouraged people to commune with nature on their own, on their hands and knees if necessary to actually "see" something, even if most often we would not. Even today, his 1968 classic "Desert Solitaire" is still relevant and inspiring, his "Monkey Wrench Gang" still a strong call to wilderness action.
I suspect John Muir would roam the Ruahine ranges with glee, relishing the rivers, forests, and open tops, browsing for new and interesting plants and seeing what I have never seen there yet. Abbey would find the Ruahine too restricting, lacking the wide open vista he preferred, too cold and green for his liking. Still, at the end of the day, in front of the Corker or camp fire, most interesting company to share the evenings whiskey ration with and converse.
There are many inspiring and spiritual quotes I could use here to demonstrate the writings of John Muir, a few I have used already in prior posts. Abbey offered little in the way of finding that connection to Something Else Beyond Here in wildness, it simply was what it was. Yet I find him, at times just as inspiring through his appreciation for the surface and his pragmatic approach to the wild. I quote Edward Abbey writing about how one should approach the desert,
"Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noon day sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently".
Muir would have us fight for Nature by being amongst it and finding a connection to our part amongst the whole, therefore, in Muir's view, God. If he fought for a cause it was legally or through appealing to the masses through his writings. Abbey would have us hurl a brick through the window of a developers office. I see merit in both.
Entrainment is a scientific word used to describe the phenomenon of one organism rhythmically and internally adjusting itself to another, when life pulses coordinate. Van Morrison uses the same word to assert : "Entrainment is what I am getting at with the music...Its kind of when you are here...in the present moment - with no past or future".
Perhaps "Entrainment" is what I sometimes get to experience in the Ruahine ranges, and in a few very special moments out here in the world. This past weekend, for me, was one of Entrainment, by the standard of both definitions above. It was filled with music, friends old and new, and a sense of wonder and beauty - mostly me wondering how I could be surrounded by such beauty, calm, and wonderful people. It was a weekend I will remember forever.
Friday evening my friend Adam, see prior post Drinking Deeply, arrived for the weekend to play with a band he has hooked up with during his visit from Ireland, A Parcel of Rogues, whom had a two night gig booked at the Celtic Pub here in Palmerston North. Playing with Adam, on fiddle, were Andy on acoustic guitar and drum, and harp, Nick on mandolin, banjo and guitar, and Mark on drums. It was an excellent evening, one of the rare ones Tara and I get out together, and certainly rare to a pub! We had an excellent evening, meeting new friends, enjoying the beautiful mixture of Irish and Country Alternative music, as well as tunes by Wilco, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. And so cool to see Adam playing with a band on his new electronic fiddle. Nick and Andy are rapt to have found someone of such quality, and in my opinion both excellent musicians themselves. Spent a bit of money! But well worth it in the big scheme of things.
The following morning I rang Tara's brother Davey, an accomplished guitarist himself. Davey has recently left a band, growing tired of playing pop music and has been concentrating on acoustic and searching for a sound. Not long ago I turned him onto a few blue grass bands to listen to and he has fallen in love with that sound. So he came over and met Adam and within minutes they were jamming, Adam running Davey through some basics and then off they went. Adam was highly impressed with Davey's technique, and how fast he picked things up. He was wishing he was staying in New Zealand longer to possibly do some things with him. Tara and I just went about our normal Saturday morning business while being serenaded by our own private little house band.
And if that were not an exceptionally fine gift, later that afternoon we were joined by Nick, and Tony whom we had met the night prior through Pohangina Pete. Tony plays in a local Irish band here named Slate Row, and along with Adam and Nick, we were treated to another lovely jam around the fire. The guys took turns singing and playing, joining in on each others songs. I had tears in my eyes a few times - and not just from my smokey fire! It was just a fine afternoon and I felt blessed by the presence of such people. Thanks to each and every one of you.
You by the countryside
0h you when you reach the sky
You and you're climbing that hill
Well you when we're listening to the little whippoorwill
You when the sun goes down
You in the evening, in the morning when the sun comes round
You with your ballerina dance
Well you put me back into a trance
That's Entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment
by Van Morrison - Keep it Simple 2008 - Copyright extract lyrics reproduced with kind permission of Exile Music.
1. John just below Rangi saddle on the main range and Kawhatau valley below on a misty
2. High above Rangi saddle looking across to the Hikurangi's and Mangaweka, the highest peak in the Ruahine ranges at 1733 metres.
3,4,5. Andy, Adam, and Nick, and photo 4 left, Mark : A Parcel of Rogues
6. Robb and Tara
9. Davey and Adam
10, 11 Tony -from Slate Row- and Adam
12. Tara and Charlie
13. Amelie, Pete, Nick, and Jonno
14. Nick, playing Christmas in Washington by Steve Earle
15. Charlie and Adam
11 hours ago