“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.