American Author, Anthropologist, Educator, Philosopher and Natural Science Writer
American Author, Anthropologist, Educator, Philosopher and Natural Science Writer
But I have pondered and not understood earth that endures spoiled cities in preference to white deserts and stars.
I am every man and no man, and will be so to the end. This is why I must tell the story as I may. Not for the nameless name upon the page, not for the trails behind me that faded or led nowhere, not for the rooms at nightfall where I slept from exhaustion or did not sleep at all, not for the confusion of where I was to go, or if I had a destiny recognizable by any star. No, in retrospect it was the loneliness of not knowing, not knowing at all.
If 'dead' matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows, and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialists that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful, powers, and may not impossibly be, as Thomas Hardy has suggested, 'but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind.
It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness. If he is of the proper sort, he will return with a message. It may not be a message from the god he set out to seek, but even if he has failed in that particular, he will have had a vision or seen a marvel, and these are always worth listening to and thinking about.... One must seek, then, what only the solitary approach can give - a natural revelation.
Man is dragged hither and thither, at one moment by the blind instincts of the forest, at the next by the strange intuitions of a higher self whose rationale he doubts and does not understand.
Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort? You have probably never experienced in yourself the meandering roots of a whole watershed or felt your outstretched fingers touching, by some clairvoyant extension, the brooks of snow-line glaciers at the same time you were flowing toward the Gulf over the eroded debris of worn-down mountains.
Some men are daylight readers, who peruse the ambiguous wording of clouds or the individual letter shapes of wandering birds. Some, like myself, are librarians of the night, whose ephemeral documents consist of root-inscribed bones or whatever rustles in thickets upon solitary walks.
The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.
This is the way wild things die, without question, without knowledge of mercy in the universe, knowing only themselves and their own pathway to the end. I wonder, walking further up the beach, if the man who shot the bird will die as well.
While I was sitting one night with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors. ?He doesn?t know,? my friend whispered excitedly. ?He?s passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He?s in another play; he doesn?t see us. He doesn?t know. Maybe it?s happening right now to us.
But there is every reason to think that the bulging cortex which would later measure stars and ice ages was still a dim, impoverished region in a skull box whose capacity was no greater than that of great apes.
I am middle-aged now, and like the Egyptian heads of buried stone, or like the gentle ones who came before me, I am resigned to wait out man's lingering barbarity.
If he is more than a popular story-teller it may take humanity a generation to absorb and grow accustomed to the new geography with which the scientist or artist presents us. Even then, perhaps only the more imaginative and literate may accept him.
It is a funny thing what the brain will do with memories and how it will treasure them and finally bring them into odd juxtapositions with other things, as though it wanted to make a design, or get some meaning out of them, whether you want it or not, or even see it.
Man is many things -- he is protean, elusive, capable of great good and appalling evil. He is what he is -- a reservoir of indeterminism. He represents the genuine triumph of volition, life's near evasion of the forces that have molded it.
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out ?Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?? The young man paused, looked up, and replied ?Throwing starfish into the ocean.? ?I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?? To this, the young man replied, ?The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don?t throw them in, they?ll die.? Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, ?But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can?t possibly make a difference!? At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, ?It made a difference for that one.?
Sometimes the rarer, the beautiful can only emerge or survive in isolation. In a similar manner, some degree of withdrawal serves to nurture man's creative powers. The artist and scientist bring out of the dark void, like the mysterious universe itself, the unique, the strange, and unexpected.
The secret, if one may paraphrase a savage vocabulary, lies in the egg of night.
Though men in the mass forget the origins of their need, they still bring wolfhounds into city apartments, where dog and man both sit brooding in wistful discomfort. The magic that gleams an instant between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature's cry to homeless, far-wandering, insatiable man: Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster.
While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, It makes a difference for this one. I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.
Choices, more choices than we like afterward to believe, are made far backward in the innocence of childhood.
I am not nearly so interested in what monkey man was derived from as I am in what kind of monkey he is to become.
If I term humanity a slime mold organism it is because our present environment suggests it. If I remember the sunflower forest it is because from its hidden reaches man arose. The green world is his sacred center. In moments of sanity he must still seek refuge there.
It is frequently the tragedy of the great artist, as it is of the great scientist, that he frightens the ordinary man. If he is more than a popular story-teller it may take humanity a generation to absorb and grow accustomed to the new geography with which the scientist or artist presents us. Even then, perhaps only the more imaginative and literate may accept him. Subconsciously the genius is feared as an image breaker; frequently he does not accept the opinions of the mass, or man's opinion of himself.
Man must make, by way of his cultural world, an actual conscious reentry into the sunflower forest he had thought to merely exploit or abandon. He must do this in order to survive.