There had never been anything wrong in my life that a few good days in the wilderness wouldn't cure. PAM HOUSTON
Richard Mabey, one of our foremost English nature writers and compiler of Flora Britannica (about the folklore of British plants), published in 2005 a highly personal memoir called Nature Cure which documented his nervous breakdown. His recovery is closely bound up with his rediscovery of and reconnection with the natural world. He says this about language and nature: It is as if in using the facility of language, the thing we believe most separates us from nature, we are constantly pulled back to its, and our, origins... Learning to write again was what finally made me better - and I believe that language and imagination, far from alienating us from nature, are our most powerful and natural tools for re-engaging with it... Culture isn't the opposite or contrary of nature. It's the interface between us and the non-human world, our species' semi-permeable membrane. This is in fact similar to what The Grizzled Scribe was saying in his comment on my post from yesterday.
Mabey cites various writers who have explored this 'interface' - Aldo Leopold, Henry Thoreau, Gary Snyder, Annie Dillard, and the poet John Clare, of whom he writes: Clare was one of the few writers... to have created a language that joined rather than separated nature and culture. I would also add the name of Edward Abbey to this list - for out of the wild anarchy and bitter irony, the anguish and contradictoriness of Desert Solitaire, comes a plea for the absolute necessity and importance of wilderness, and an appeal for a true, universal 'civilization' rather than the one-sided, prejudiced, short-sighted 'culture' of a particular society in a particular tiime and place (when his book was published, in the 1960s, issues such as overpopulation, nuclear catastrophe, industrial tourism and the destruction of wilderness were very much on Abbey's mind). Through his brilliant writing, through his words, thoughts and ideas, Abbey demonstrates (to me at any rate) very much a 'civilized' mind - pointing out as he does the gulf between mankind and nature, and hinting how it may be possible to bridge it.
Yes, language and imagination are quite definitely natural products of human evolution, and may be used by poets, by writers, by all of us in order to reconnect with the natural world, a world we lost in the Garden of Eden after the Fall from Grace (if we choose to see it in these mythological terms). As Mabey writes: We have evolved as talkers and dreamers. That is our niche in the world, something we can't undo. But can't we see those very skills as our way back, rather than the cause of our exile?
In summation of the rather difficult subject I've tried to tackle in these last few posts (hopefully I haven't tied myself in too many knots!) I'll quote Gary Snyder from his book Unnatural Writing: Consciousness, mind and language are fundamentally wild. 'Wild' as in wild ecosystems - richly interconnected, interdependent and incredibly complex. Diverse, ancient and full of information... Narratives are one sort of trace that we leave in the world. All our literatures are leavings, of the same order as the myths of wilderness people who leave behind only stories and a few stone tools. Other orders of being have their own literature. Narrative in the deer world is a track of scents that is passed on from deer to deer, with an art of interpretation which is instinctive. A literature of bloodstains, a bit of piss, a whiff of estrus, a hit of rut, a scrape on a sapling, and long gone.