Preface

As a New Hampshire resident who grew up for the vast majority of his upbringing within a moderately-sized suburb in the southern seacoast region of the state, I must confess that my outlook concerning nature has always been one of a certain lazy indifference, at least by New Hampshire standards. What with the abundance of wilderness found within my state as well as many others in New England, I’m well-aware of the appreciation which is expected to be fostered of the natural beauty that’s native to New Hampshire if I’m to consider myself an individual who as many say ‘knows or appreciates his roots’ to any degree. That being said, as a child who didn’t particularly excel in athletics or outdoor activities, I wouldn’t call the younger versions of myself an avid nature enthusiast by any means. In fact, to the contrary I’d have rather spent my free time inside, sitting contemplatively at the piano or reading a book by the fireplace. However, as a very young child I can remember something very specific, a notion which I can remember as if it were yesterday, which directly parallels the means by which I’ve learned to understand the natural world we all inhabit today.

I can remember always looking particularly fondly upon overcast days, especially when it rained. Like many children, I was very vocal of my inward thoughts, regardless of the consequences which they might bring forth, and so I was at first, utterly incredulous at the idea of others widespread distaste for the very type of weather I enjoyed, upon expounding my own favorability towards it. I’ve maintained this affinity for gray skies as I’ve matured, and although it’s taken me a while, I believe the reason why I prefer this kind of weather is directly related to the way in which I’ve learned to consider the natural world.

As a child, we’re almost immediately inundated with the pre-planned routine of society (although granted, mostly through our parents agency more directly than our own) and as such, become very attuned to when things don’t go as planned, even if we remain within the same environment with which we’re usually accustomed to. I recall one particular morning in kindergarten, having just arrived in the classroom, only this time I’d noticed that something was different. Not off, not unsettling; something quite positive actually, and evidently apparent enough for my young mind to register, additionally. I can remember noticing the particular hue of the lighting in the classroom, although at the time I was far from being able to place my finger one the exact difference I’d become aware of. It took several years before I realized that this was the first time I’d been at school while it was raining. And I can recall eventually working out this preference for rain as well as dark, looming clouds outside the window as opposed to the brightness of the sun and the electric blue of the cloudless sky as being rooted in those specific qualities which only young children are privy to; with their naturally exploratory minds and their untarnished, fresh view of this vibrant experience we call life. I’d noticed that somehow, on some subconscious level, I’d been unknowingly comparing how the light emitted from inside the classroom had felt to me when compared to a bright sky, versus a dark one. And what I’d gathered, again without realizing it, is that by itself, when left with no comparison, there’s nothing inherently wrong with bright skies. However, when one’s introduced to the possibility of their alternative; the fluorescent devices which cast themselves within the classroom are painted in an entirely different light (no pun intended). Put simply; by contrast, the darkness from the outside makes the inside seem brighter than on days when the man-made lights of the school building had to compete with the unequivocal luminescence of the sun. I’m not at all focusing on the difference of my opinion in regards to most others where the consideration of rainy days is concerned; I’m instead pointing to the contrast which one is forced to take into consideration and consequentially, look upon as positively or negatively as one desires, depending upon their own individual perspective. It’s this very idea of contrast with regards to what one observes which initially taught me that optimism as well as pessimism are both choices which one can bring to any event in their life. It’s this very same idea which with which I’ve learned to understand the relationship between humanity and the more than human world, as well.

The means by which I’ve always gone about considering the environment has been fundamentally improved upon by the topics, viewpoints, and ideas discussed, dissected & digested within the course titled ‘Writing in an Endangered World’ taught by prof. Mark Long.

Every text discussed within this class at the very least helped to further widen what I understood as my general categorization of just exactly what ‘environmentalism’ as a movement was, who it was primarily composed of, as well as how I understood myself and my species in the context of this world which was, at its core, so much more than just human. The idea of contrast which I’ve mentioned above is directly related to this recognition of humanity within nature’s context. Just as I was unable to grasp my initial affinity for gray skies before they revealed themselves as a point of reference for me; I was equally unable to grasp humanity’s place among the more than human world; without first being able to recognize the world we inhabit as exactly that: more than human.

Regardless of whether your perspective is as far away as mine initially was or to any degree closer; this characterization of the world as more than human is imperative, should one desire to ascertain all of that which this collection of essays has to offer.

 

The World As Undeniably More Than Human

Initially considering the more than human world, I thought about it as though it needed a second sort of characterization. As though ‘more than human’ weren’t enough words so as to allow the idea to make a whole amount of sense to me. However, upon further contemplation, I’ve found that the more than human world is a perfectly fine means of describing the concept. I’ve discovered, through thinking with the authors we’ve observed thus far, that the description had only unsettled me to begin with due to a certain inherent uncomfortability of mine with the idea of further minimalizing the human species in reference to other things or concepts I’d previously been unaware of.

Whether this is due to a certain amount of inherent egotism found within humanity or just a personal failure to humble myself on behalf of the world around me, I’m still not sure and, in all honesty, I wonder about the degree to which the real answer is probably a mixture of the two.

Becoming acquainted with the thoughts of others who’re not only credible in this area of discussion but who also illustrate approaches to thinking which vastly differ from my own have allowed for a widening of my perspective, in ways. The fact being that environmentalism as a movement wasn’t something I’d ever considered myself to be even relatively well-versed in the particular details of, the somewhat stubborn reluctancy I’d taken up when attempting to make meaning out of the ‘more than human’ world as a categorization seems more than a bit unwarranted to me now. Through understanding the phrase via the lenses of multiple disciplines which all seem to be focusing their gaze upon the same ominous picture with regards to it’s (the more than human world’s) future, the idea’s gained credibility as a verifiably rational notion to me.

The world is so much more than that which pertains to humanity. We like to focus our view through a lens of self-centeredness as though this lens itself were an inherent prerequisite to living a productive and fulfilled life; however I believe that quality of inherence to be more or less, for the purpose of pacifying our species’ collective ego. Now of course there are other factors to be taken into account, such as the specific cultural values and personal biases which any individual might bring with themselves when attempting to confront an idea or concept which does little to fit itself comfortably within the perceiver’s comprehension, however these unavoidable subjectivities can’t be helped to a certain degree, and so while relevant in the scope of a fully realized explanation, don’t lend themselves to the same level of magnification with regards to exactly why it is that they might be marring what would otherwise be an objective view of our species’ widespread inability to recognize the world as so much more than just human.

In conclusion, I believe there to be a multi-faceted definition as to why humanity grapples so tenaciously with it’s own inconsequence in relation to the more than human world, in particular, an unrelenting inability to reconcile the objective with the subjective. Upon learning how to separate the objectively observed reality within which we all inhabit from each of our own subjective outlooks which we bring with us to any problem or thought, a certain clarity is gained and the ability to be able to make the distinction from that which empirically exists and truthfully effects us all vs. any delineations from that which we create due to our own subjective world views and perspectives becomes more palatable. It’s this quintessential distinction which I believe to be imperative in the further recognition of the accuracy of the characterization of the world as ‘more than human’ by our species as a whole.

 

 

Relative To Humanity

The natural world’s near-ineffable indifference to the human species is something which, while useful as a piece of practical information, remains as a markedly unsettling notion for the human mind to initially conceive of; much less work with. It’s this sentient apathy of the living essence of the planet which both Snyder as well as Carson have struck upon within each of their works and, in consequence, prompted me to begin mulling over as I digest the precise means by which they each go about articulating their perspectives regarding it. While Carson utilizes her own respective background as a scientist to magnify the natural world to the degree to which the sheer magnitude of quantitative evidence regarding the systems of life which both explicitly and implicitly effect each other on earth renders humanity vastly less extraordinary than previously thought; Snyder meditates upon the happenings of the natural world which preceded humanity in a sort of quiet acknowledgment of our species’s relative lack of consequence in nature, and these sentiments both lend themselves to improving upon as well as further widening my perspective in relation to the natural world’s near un-consideration for human beings.

Not far into her book, Rachel Carson writes, “The new environmental health problems are multiple—created by radiation in all its forms, born of the never ending chemicals in which pesticides are a part, chemicals now pervading the world in which we live, acting upon us directly and indirectly, separately and collectively.” While at the surface this might seem less than indicative of the natural world’s apathy towards humans, however if one chooses to focus upon the fragment towards the end of the quote, this almost innate notion of omnipresence with regards to both the earth as well as all life which it inhabits is clearly present. While Rachel Carson may be talking specifically about those chemicals and pesticides which humanity has made use of and, as a result, been working with so as to bastardize the creation of organic life within nature; these manufactured chemical products which act directly upon the natural world are an imperative example of how one singular step in the wrong direction could spell disaster for humanity’s continued existence on earth; and it’s this exact larger-scale perspective which should always be taken into account by humans with regards to our place on earth.

Gary Snyder’s poem ‘What Happened Here Before’ from his collection, titled Turtle Island serves to illustrates a similar awareness of the utter vastness of the varying amounts of natural processes which occur regardless of humanity among the natural world. Snyder utilizes vivid imagery as well as metaphor and a strong amount of alliteration so as to go about communicating this point of relative indifference by nature in respect to humanity as a whole. Upon opening, the first lines read,

“First a sea: soft sands, muds, & marls/—loading, compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/ several times lifted and submerged./”

Again, it’s the ends of these lines which speak the loudest to this point; the specific imagery of the phrase ‘several times lifted and submerged’ works to make me think about the processes which occur underneath the earth’s surface; at the floor of the ocean or when a volcanic eruption of some sort occurs. It’s these consistent larger-than-life activities of the earth which serve to first remind us that we do not control everything, and almost more importantly, that those processes which we do control, while somewhat consequential for both us as well as the earth, aren’t always the end-all-be-all, magical keys-to-the-universe which we so arrogantly like to assume upon a new scientific discovery or breakthrough of our own. Along with the litany of other verbs beforehand, ‘…compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/’ both of these images call to mind a certain hierarchy, an order among the world; of which we should take care to remember: we were never at the top.

Later in the poem, a slightly more subtle yet equally as effective device makes itself known; a temporally-based metaphor which both through its description as well as through its consequence, allows for a more wholly-realized idea of how this poem works to improve one’s understanding of humanity’s relative irrelevance in the grand scheme of the natural landscape on earth. The line reads,

“Warm quiet centuries of rain/ make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface,/”

What I previously meant by ‘its description’ refers to the ‘warm quiet centuries of rain’ which undeniably details the elongated period of time with which this rain is occurring, automatically forcing the reader’s perspective to widen; and what was intended by my phrase ‘its consequence’ is in reference to the later lines ‘make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface/’ that inarguably illustrate the process of erosion over such a large period of time, that the surface is actually degraded by two whole miles from where it’s previous elevation lay. These lines serve to illustrate the sheer magnitude of all that which occurs on earth, completely regardless of humanity’s involvement with it.

How Snyder and Carson have struck upon these notions of largeness in comparison to humanity’s relative smallness, while potentially somewhat unsettling depending upon one’s previous perspective, have nonetheless allowed for me as a thinker; a certain amount of ease of tension, a sort of peace of mind. Because, while it’s important for humanity to have certain goals and purposes while alive, it’s also important for us to bear in mind; any pressure which we feel to be this great, hulking, top-of-the-food-chain apex predator of a species that can never hope to shy away from its role of necessity among nature as the only species to possess consciousness, is a somewhat self-inflicted endeavor. Because, while we do have defining characteristics which separate us from other animals, there are still things about us which are inarguably animalistic, as well as things which we do not maintain any dominion over whatsoever. Important things. Things which have always reminded us that our own self-proclaimed largeness can always be rescaled. It’s these things which I believe to be nature’s balancing act; earth’s discrepancy in biodiversity for our hubris with usage of pesticides; a century of rain for our ego; two miles of surface worn down for our mind.

The natural world has always worked in this sort of uncanny symbiosis, this back-and-forth, this principle of equivalent exchange. As an inherent part of nature, we should take care to remember that while we’d like to imagine ourselves as the ones meant to solve this problem, this conundrum, this seemingly impossible equation of purpose; there seems to be a great deal which is attempting to tell us: we’re merely another factor within it. And that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Humanizing The Earth

The monkey wrench gang as a work illustrates several personal parallels which both deepen as well as elaborate upon the inherently human nature of the world in relation to how it’s treated by it’s inhabitants. I don’t necessarily mean that the earth is by our definition sentient, of course; simply that on a much larger scale, much like the way a human will respond negatively when it’s mistreated; so does and so will the planet. Not only will it respond, it’ll accomplish this in ways directly contradictory to the means by which humanity is used to recognizing any sort of retaliatory behavior: simply by introducing the absence of it’s own abundance. What I mean when I say ‘ways directly contradictory to the means by which humanity is used to recognizing any sort of retaliatory behavior’ I’m referring to most other living things’ usual response of hostility & aggression at the prospect of being seriously threatened.

A specific and yet subtle tool is used throughout Abbey’s work which I believe parallels this same nature of a more withdrawn response as a result of constant battering by an opposing force. As a novel, this work bursts with an abundance of dialogue; so that one as a reader becomes heavily embedded in each character’s specific idiosyncrasies as well as their own internal thoughts and feelings the same way one might be able to hone in on these amidst an actual face-to-face interaction. Now, while these might sound like one’s average, run-of-the-mill qualities of a work which merits publishing, if one takes care to notice the syntactical structure of almost any instance where 2 or more characters land themselves in a voracious back-and-forth, litanies which separate themselves from what one would otherwise characterize as adequately descriptive language for a novel become increasingly apparent.

Your plans? What do you mean your plans, you ignorant, pig-headed, self-centered schmuck.”

And in response, “I’m not sure I trust him.”

Again, almost immediately following, “A pair of weirdos. Eccentrics. Misfits. Anachronisms. Screwballs!”

“Now now, they’re good boys.”

It’s both these repetitive vocal litanies as well as the consistently terse, punctuated responses which meet them that directly parallel the planet’s reaction to widespread destruction among its natural resources and other forms of fruition. Just as these sentences batter and bash and berate the other conversationalist with what almost comes across as a kind of verbal assault, only to be met with a minimalistic, almost-disappointingly-lacking response; so do earth’s inhabitants, and earth’s only retort as a result is a morbidly scarce version of itself. This parallel serves to illuminate Abbey’s work’s overall focus on humanity’s strange & faulty relationship with the more than human world.

It’s this seemingly human reaction of the planet to negate it’s own life-giving and ever-reproducing nature as a result of rampant abuse by those species which primarily inhabit it that both unites as well as juxtaposes the separate personal tales of the members of the monkey wrench gang. Just as the earth reacts in a ‘human like’ way to how it’s treated, so do the members of the monkey wrench gang as the happenings of the novel take their course. This near-anthropomorphization of the earth as a human-like being (or at least one with certain human-like tendencies) takes care to highlight the undeniably human qualities of the members of the group as they interact with one another. Consequentially this leads to a more nuanced understanding of both these individuals as islands unto themselves as well as their roles and relations to one another among the group, which additionally deepens the experience of the novel, as it centers upon this group and it’s happenings within.

The Humanity of Cancer

On page 58, Williams’ narration details 5-6 separate means of potentially solving the water crisis afflicting the Great Salt Lake, each with it’s own set of pitfalls as well as positivities, both financial as well as otherwise. These parallel both in level of impact upon the afflicted body as well as in number of desirable/feasible options, the anatomical crisis which so centrally plagues Terry’s mother throughout the narration of Terry’s memoir, Refuge.

This parallel of destruction lends itself to a consistent deepening of the ways in which one understands the multiple ramifications of these diseases which affect both the human as well as the land’s “body”. Cancer, as far as humanity can tell, is simply the inability of the cells within an individual’s body to self-detonate at the end of their life cycle, in order to make room for new, developing cells. Now, while natural land masses certainly don’t possess this same characteristic trait of self-maintenance, they are subject to the same finitude of the human body, when met with certain degrees of widespread corrosion & harm with regards to their physical matter. It’s this finitude that both humans as well as their environment are inherently possessive of, which is highlighted by Williams’ mother’s struggle with the disease as well as her own sympathies towards the treatment of the environment around her place of origin.

Circling back a bit towards the idea of cancer; it poses a certain cultural connotation likened to that of a boogeyman or some other fictitious creature intended to scare; but it’s particularly the unknown origin of this fear which gives cancer it’s specific air of insidiousness as well as a certain animosity. Almost as though the disease possessed a consciousness of it’s own, humanity’s language with which it describes its ‘fight against cancer’ certainly allows for a narrative to be articulated as time passes and other facts are found out about the affliction, which I think in part helps us to be able to stomach it’s strange and peculiar nature. Strangely enough, at least functionally speaking, cancerous cells are almost entirely healthy. They perform literally every function that a cell should be performing for it’s body; all except the pre-programmed death which all cells eventually meet as a result of their genes. And so eventually, the body ends up with more physical ground to cover in terms of supplying it’s cells with necessary nutrients like oxygenated blood from the heart, as well as ATP for fuel, etc. which it would need in order to survive, until the demands made by these immortal cells outweigh the actual biological resources of the body to the point where total death becomes inevitable. It’s this failure to die by the affected cells which allows the ominously connotated affliction all of it’s power. To think immortality, a notion which humanity has been obsessed with as a result of its own fear of death; has been achieved at the microscopic level by none other than some bizarre genetic accident; and it directly threatens our lives as we know them. Oh, the cosmic irony.

Still, it’s this parallel between the life cycle of the cell and the life cycle of humans which is directly struck upon by Williams throughout her memoir, allowing for a more multi-dimensional view of just what exactly ‘life’ may be, by more than one definition. When one begins to make a shift from thinking about life in terms of its seeming endlessness (the way I’d like to assume most healthily-minded and generally fulfilled people would go about thinking of it) and instead begins to look upon it in regards to its inevitable end, something very interesting begins to happen in terms of dynamics. The way almost everything begins to relate to each other is markedly changed. As illustrated above, in the context of humanity, an endless life might not seem like a bad idea at all to many; however, if one were to zoom in a few thousand nanometers, into the world of the cell, the characteristic takes on a completely adverse meaning for the being as a whole. It’s this almost paradoxical parallel which invites the reader to think about humanity as potentially cancerous or even about cancer as maybe, in some ways, more human than one might expect at first glance.

The Wild: Humanity’s Hope/Hell

“Here was a man who would not let the mere threat of cultural extinction stand in the way of his values…In the world of his people, never over-populated, rich in acorn, deer, salmon, and flicker feathers, to cleave to such purity, to be perfectionists about matters of family or clan, were affordable luxuries.”

Upon learning of one of the only other humans on earth to’ve spoken his native and near-extinct language, Snyder is remarking upon this man’s complete and total lack of interest in any sort of interaction with this woman of similar linguistic origin as he. This almost sarcastic use of the word ‘mere’ to indicate an intentionally understated meaning serves to highlight the degree to which this individual prioritized his own values above those of the world or society or culture which might contrast with his opinion; that it’s better to preserve his own feelings of solitude and non-interaction than to potentially salvage an almost-completely-eradicated linguistic tradition. It’s this prioritization of personal over popular which characterizes this individual’s relationship to that which humanity refers to as the “wilderness”, with particular regard to the vast expanse of simultaneously liberating as well as terrifying freedom that comes in tow with it.

“It’s also clear that the humanist is not necessarily an agnostic. Socrates’ last act was to ask that his promised offering to the spirit realm be carried out: ‘I owe a cock to Asclepius.’ The philosopher might despise mystification, but will respect mysteries.”

Snyder’s making a clear characterization between humanism and spirituality as anything but mutually exclusive, through the illustration of one of the most universally practical minds throughout history as one who even on his death bed, showcased a certain respect and one might even be able to say reverence, towards that which humanity cannot explain, for all it’s self-obsession and apparent disdain for its own lack of consequence. Through this illustration Snyder implies that even those who champion human agency as a pinnacle of existence within life as one understands it, should take care to learn as well as regard the blatant fact that humanity is far from the apex predator of the world which it so comfortably likes to categorize itself as.

Both of these instances lend themselves to the idea of the wild as both an extra-human force as well as a space with an almost inequitable kind of personal freedom; one which allows for a completely individualistically-shaped mode of thought, if one so desires, as the stimulating yet simultaneously overwhelming buzz of dense human habitation isn’t to be found among the wilderness.

Uncle Sam: The Wizard Behind The Tortilla Curtain?

“…You heard Jack Cherrystone speak to the issue, and nobody’s credentials can touch Jack’s as far as being a liberal is concerned, but this society isn’t what it was — and it won’t be until we get control of the borders.”

While this might seem a bit minute as well as slightly out of place to some, I’m going to argue that this short piece of dialogue given by Jack Jardine while encountering Delaney in the supermarket, illuminates one of the more central aspects of this work’s dynamics as a text: the degree to which an individual’s politics is shaped by their worldview as well as the necessary ‘credentials’ (or non-credentials) that one requires of somebody of any labelled ideology. In saying this, practically, the interpretation is of course that Jack Cherrystone’s public reputation is such that no one would scrutinize the labelling of him as a liberal. However, it’s both the syntactical structure of this sentence as it’s uttered as well as the specific word ‘credentials’ which highlight this purposeful misuse of the term. Of course, one doesn’t ‘apply’ to be a liberal or a conservative in the same way one ‘applies’ for a part-time position at a local business or whatever other overtly capitalistic means Jack might feel appropriate in invoking here; no, the ‘credentials’ which Jack Jardine is referring to here are pre-meditatively non-applicable. While one could argue that there’s a certain creative figurativity given by Jack Jardin here, for my purposes I’m going to be treating his use as purely literal. Because while it would definitely behoove a politician to gain ‘credibility’ in the eyes of potential voters, that’s more-or-less where the buck tends to stop: after they’ve been given that great abstraction of approval which so many citizens so willingly hand proven liars and crooks of almost every governmental level throughout constant election cycles within the US. The difference between this political context which Jack is wrapping around the word, and the practical one which is known by anybody who’s ever worked a day in their life, is simple: a deficit in the product of this ascribed status which we know as being ‘credible’. What I mean to say is that while a politician is concerned with having credibility simply within the eyes of the voters (because that’s all they would need in order to perform their job; getting re-elected), somebody who’s applying for an entry-level job needs to both establish that same credibility in the eyes of their potential employer as well as maintain that reliability throughout the execution of their job as well, so as to keep it. That’s not to say that politicians can’t speak to their own credibility using the products of their labor as well, however, there are multitudinous other power structures as well as control systems at play which usurp the popular sovereignty of our coveted democratic process, and besides, I think most of us can agree that at least in the political arena, this outright method of “show & prove” leaves a good amount to be desired where the latter half of the phrase is concerned. This purposeful application of a condition which indeed isn’t at all necessary in order for the mind of one individual (Delaney, in this case) to understand another individual such as Jack Cherrystone as a liberal, is directly indicative of the inherently manipulative nature of political language as well as a certain ethos which surrounds the political sphere; that the arbitrarily highfalutin nature of the position we call ‘politician’ automatically bears actual practical constraints of the same unnecessarily upper-class attitude. It’s this exact idea that anybody’s in need of any real ‘credentials’ in order to pursue the actual definitional meaning of politics; which is the want & concern for the improvement of one’s community where any individual might see fit, that strikes a brilliantly resonant chord which reverberates throughout the entirety of the text itself; this unabashedly fear-driven means of massaging the mind of any individual with enough of a deficit in personal agency to give the actual job of representative government to someone who might ‘do it better’. As if caring for one’s fellow man at the communal (and in this text’s cases, the locally developmental level) required anything other than some semblance of a working participation in the community as well as even the most miniscule capacity for basic human empathy. It’s both the existence of this ambiguous and ominous mystique of the way in which politics plays upon even our most innately crude and malformed means of interpreting the inhabitants of the world around us, as well as some of the directly negative results of this utilization of subtle yet completely intentional social-cleavages via clever words & phrases that stand as central to the problems of race and resolution which are illustrated by this text.

In-Between Worlds

Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms does a multitudinous amount to define the self in direct relation to the metaphysical world which we as humans long to be able to observe & test, despite our failure to. This heavily deepened definition of the self (and as a result, what the ‘whole’ is outside of the self, as well) is illustrated within the work through specific portions of text which handle these extrasensory concepts in order to further convey all that the human ‘self’ entails. Furthermore, this aided definition of the self directly builds upon the inherent connection between the women depicted throughout the course of the story’s unfolding.

“…The truth was that Dora-Rouge had fought gravity and won…That was why she weighed so little and why she heard what no human heard and saw what none of us could see.”

This interpretation of Dora-Rouge’s awareness of the world beyond the physical unearths an interesting quality about humanity; the metaphor of ‘fighting gravity’ acting as a catch-all in order to represent the hardships of her life which she’s endured so as to reach the old age that she currently occupies implies a sort of unseen struggle with the natural world as well as it’s laws. The main one being invoked here standing as 9.8 m/s squared or, as it’s more commonly known, gravity on planet earth. This figurative ‘battle’ with gravity treats her humanity almost as though it were a commodity; something that when given up, also promises something of equal value in return, ironically enough paralleling another natural law that humanity characterizes its physical existence by: the law of conservation of matter. But it’s this near-commodification of a portion of Dora Rouge’s humanity (whichever piece she’s given up in her old age which, as many cultures believe, only further ushers her into the undetectable ether from which all life springs) that works to build upon one’s definition of the self by illustrating a function of that which we can rationally prove (the mortality of man or, perhaps more aptly in this case, woman) against that which we cannot, and despite the two domain’s inherent differences, also takes care to highlight an undeniable exchange of some sort between the two as one nears what humanity refers to as the end of one’s days on earth. By extrapolating a spiritual sort of context around humanity’s otherwise non-spiritual or at best, semi-spiritual existence, Hogan implies that the ‘self’ is not, in fact, an island unto itself like so much of humanity voraciously rushes to believe when categorizing it as a concept, but is instead more akin to a channel or tributary of sorts, partially connecting us with other planes of existence apart from the primary one which humanity likes to recognize as the physical realm.

“…And when I slept I dreamed I fell over the edge of land, fell out of order and knowing into a world dark and primal, seething, and alive as creation, like the beginning of life.”(p. 54)

The connection drawn here between the world of dreams and the ‘beginning’ treats one’s mind as a starting place, and emphasizes the inherence of life within humans as well as life throughout nature, building upon this idea of perpetuity amongst canvases of life in the natural world. It’s also very interesting that this dreamscape is characterized by an inherent sort of chaos and disorder, contrasting heavily with the world of the fully-conscious (I simply mean this to read as those who aren’t literally sleeping) in a way which highlights an innate sort of duality among sentient life; that in order to be able to surely recognize one thing as itself, one must also be able to recognize the existence of that same thing’s opposite; a reciprocal of sorts, what Newton referred to as ‘every action’s equal and opposite reaction’. Even if that ‘action’ is simply the act of being. This duality between the less-than-conscious and fully-conscious planes of observation not only continues the work’s thread of playing with the natural laws of humanity’s physical world but also works to further deepen one’s understanding of the self as not separate but instead, a portion of a much larger picture.

“A person must be careful what they say about the animals. They have another kind of listening. They can even hear your thoughts.” (p. 84)

This exclamation of a certain awareness about less-fully-conscious forms of life illustrates a version of the self which is characterized by its belonging to a community larger than itself (a contradiction however still existent nonetheless). Furthermore, it directly touches upon the omnipotent presence of other life outside of humanity among nature, and how we as the only truly contemplative, self-aware species, deal with that. How as a result of our possession of minds, we may have lost through equivalent exchange (the law of conservation of matter) our ‘6th sense’ so-to-speak, our intuition about all life within nature, our intrinsic knowledge that all life is connected and as a result must be treated accordingly. It’s this consistently metaphysical thread as well as Hogan’s ability to play with the boundaries of the physical world which lend themselves to the ever-growing and comprehensive definition of the self as detailed through the events and passages of Solar Storms.

 

Derivatives Of Nature

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring illustrates a necessity of consistent understanding among the ways in which we effect the environment as well as its subsequent effect on us, thereafter. Most importantly, with regards to chemicals such as DDT and other ‘advances’ which humanity has made so as to increase its agri-business’s cost-efficiency with little-to-no regard for it’s long-term ramifications upon the earth and it’s inhabitants. Shortsightedly concerned merely with that which will fit regulations and legalities of the present moment, in conjunction with the propagation of paychecks, humanity isn’t leveraging its’ concern for itself with its concern for all other living things on the planet, and almost every trend followable points towards a near & ominous ending, after accounting for our misgivings as a species.

“As we have seen, soil and the living things in and upon it exist in a relation of interdependence and mutual benefit. Presumably the weed is taking something from the soil; perhaps, it is also contributing something to it.” (Carson, 78)

This quote touches upon exactly that quality which humanity has overlooked in terms of its’ relationship with the more than human world: these notions of interdependence and mutual benefit. The particularly operative word here being ‘mutual’. In this quote’s acknowledgement of the potential for duality within living organisms’ functions, it illustrates the piece which humanity has omitted from its own equation; that of understanding both nature’s ebbs as well as its flows, its generalities in tandem with its idiosyncrasies. There’s a reason there’s an ethos of ‘balance’ associated with nature; all of its inhabitants boast some kind of inherent dualism which characterizes it as a member of that domain. This inherent dualism illustrates the kind of fluidity of thought which must go into attempting to truly understand the natural world, as well as work it to ones (and simultaneously, its own) advantage. To put it one way, nature, in order to advance itself, is in love with a certain harmony about all of its inhabitants; whereas humanity, to accomplish the same means, lusts to play only a singular melody. It’s this understanding of those processes with regards to the treatment of nature which might turn out favorably for all involved  in conjunction with humanity’s imperative acknowledgement of its’ own incomplete perspective which might be able to provide some clarity as to how to go about solving some of the issues plaguing our environment.

It strikes me as strange that in it’s search for productivity, humanity’s nature has seemingly rendered it incapable of forecasting the possibility that the most productive process might also happen to be the most mutually beneficial process. We seem to have conflated one as the exact opposite of the other, when in actuality the two don’t seem to have any correlation whatsoever. Rachel Carson’s text underscores humanity’s hubris against a ticking-time-bomb of a backdrop, the former standing to perpetuate the latter at an alarming rate, taking care to illustrate potential sources of error across humanity as well as how to reverse engineer some of those errors so as to attempt to find a solution of some sorts. Humanity is so caught up in the logical differences between the singular concepts of ‘answer’ and ‘question’, it’s forgotten to stop and ask; what if one could be found within the other? And if so, where should we begin looking? It’s these questions of derivation which Carson’s work emphasis necessarily so; in the hopes that humanity possesses the wherewithal to continually analyze why we think the way we do, as well the degree to which that very thinking might be able to be improved upon.

 

Ecological Crisis & It’s Receptacles

Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling Of America accomplishes a great deal in necessitating one’s contemplation upon the relation between ecological crisis & character. One striking quote reads,

“I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction.” (Berry, 20)

Citing this simple sentence might seem a bit lackluster to some, however I believe this possibly-obvious notion of collective guilt to be a fairly large linchpin in the predicament of attempting to find as many possible practical solutions as possible where the danger of the natural world is concerned. This understanding of both one’s singularity with regards to our earth’s ecological crises in conjunction with the plurality of the whole (when all can accomplish both the aforementioned singular grasp as well as the latter perspective) is imperative to create the kind of large-scale changes in everything from the small details of a household’s everyday living habits to more zoomed-out operations such as how large businesses and corporations deal with their undoubted amount of seemingly-useless waste products. When confronting ecological crises, one’s character is called into question inherently, however this individualistic means of perception simply won’t solve any problems. The only way to affect large scale change is to understand that through maintaining oneself as an environmentally responsible individual, as well as encouraging it among others.

The relationship between ecological crisis & agriculture:

“The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it into neatly into two problems” (Berry, 67)

Here, Berry is speaking of the practices of farmers-gone-by when spreading large amounts of chemical manure across their lands; the solution being the creation of the manure (in thought) itself, and the problem then being the manure’s effect upon other portions of the property it was spread upon, such as the water supply, as well as the inherent dependence upon ‘large quantities of commercial fertilizer’ as a result of requiring it’s spread to begin with. This illustrates the relationship between ecological crises and agriculture through a temporal comparison between past practices and current problem-solving mechanisms, cleverly pointing out the complete and utter counter-productivity of others who’ve either simply missed the problem or weren’t aware of it enough to affect change regarding it.

The relationship between ecological crisis & culture:

“One of the fundamental interests of human culture is to impose this responsibility, to subject fertility to moral will.” (Berry, 140)

Through understanding fertility both within ourselves and among nature, with specific attention to nature’s state of being during ecological crises, one can come to a much deeper and more nuanced comprehension of the idea among both contexts. Berry’s analysis of culture as containing fertility and also inherently having to impose a will upon it gets directly at the crux of this issue; humanity’s seeming obsession with it’s own agency. While this idea in and of itself isn’t exactly detrimental to the environment or fertility among nature as well as humans, it does tend to be the engine through which humanity as a whole has landed itself upon many a slippery slope in the past. And so, it should be judged with careful consideration when assessing this relationship. Furthermore, the fact that this imposed will is that of a moral construct does at least appear to lessen one’s worries on the surface, with regards to the fate of the natural world. However when one then begins to consider the idea that this morality is merely a work of humanity, and not exactly that of nature, its relevance is again called into question. When the vast majority of our instruments as a species exist so as to help orient ourselves with the natural world, we very rarely stop to question the reverse; what if the natural world wasn’t meant to or doesn’t care for our orientation with itself at all? What should we do then? Berry’s understanding of this innate contradiction between the human mind’s sentience and subsequent indecisiveness as well as nature’s intrinsic processes which appear to never falter in the slightest, at least when kept within their own system, serves to clarify this relationship thoroughly.