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The following essay by Francis Weller captures so much of what I feel about nature, the natural habitat in which we live, how it shapes and grounds us, nourishes and inspires, and moves us beyond ourselves while at the same time giving us a deeper sense of who we really are.  

You can read the whole essay at his website Wisdom Bridge – Modern Pathways to our Indigenous Soul.


The Poetics of Place

by Francis Weller

“Getting intimate with nature and knowing our own wild natures is a matter of going face to face many times.” ~Gary Snyder

Place, to indigenous cultures and the indigenous soul, is a living presence. Familiar watering holes, majestic mountains, sacred groves of trees, painted rocks and caves where initiations were held, added another dimension to life that is quite foreign to modern consciousness. To live within a sentient geography is to find oneself embedded in a rich and engaging terrain; a land that speaks. To our ancestors, and many indigenous cultures today, the landscape was another voice, a territory imbued with mystery and power. What this offered was another way to encounter the sacred and to enliven the imagination. This fertile exchange between place and psyche established a bond with the land, which, in turn, created an ethos of respect for the land. When the ground holds value, when it is the dwelling place of the spirits and the ancestors, when magic swirls through the canyons and across the plains, the relationship between the people and the land becomes sacramental.

Place is sensual, particular, felt as a presence offering itself to us for connection and spiritual sustenance. In traditional cultures, specific and revered places were saturated with stories, the ground filled with mythological rumblings, for example, the well-known storylines found in the landscape in the Dreamtime myths of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Likewise, the Western Apache in Arizona can name hundreds of sites where events took place “in the before time.” To their ancestors, these pathways marked the ways of survival. They led to water and food sources, but even more, they also provided a palpable way of encountering the sacred through geography. To know the world this way, as a living icon, is to know in your body that you are walking upon holy ground. The Aboriginal peoples knew this quality as djang. James Cowen explains what this word meant:

For them djang embodies a special power that can be felt only by those susceptible to its presence. In this way my nomad friends are able to journey from one place to another without ever feeling that they are leaving their homeland. What they feel in the earth, what they hear in the trees are the primordial whispers emanating from an ancient source. And it is this source, linked as it is to the Dreaming, that they acknowledge each time they feel the presence of the djang in the earth under their feet.

Read the rest HERE

The “wildness” I sense in our natural habitat and about which I write is that “living presence” and “mystery and power” he speaks of, even in rocks and streams, wind and fire, in things which do not grow or breathe.  It speaks to us, and shapes our language, how we communicate with each other, and articulate ourselves.

Weller continues:

The wild undoubtedly shaped our original words: imitations of animal sounds, wind, thunder, the music of ocean and river. This lustrous blend of sounds quickened the imagination of our ancestors . . . . Jay Griffiths writes, “Metaphor is where language is most wild, spirited and free, leaping boundaries, and it may be no surprise that Amazonian languages can be as matted and dense with metaphor as the forest is tangly with vegetation. The Amazon seems a place of boundless allusion, this unfenced wild, where meaning is twined within meaning; words couple and double, knotted together.”

In a very real way language and place are synonymous. Words reflect what we inhabit, where we dwell. Thomas Berry said that our imagination is only as rich as the diversity of the life around us. If we inhabit a terrain of microchips, cell phones and video monitors, we speak two-dimensionally, abstractly because there is nothing sensual about these realities.

If, on the other hand, our daily round includes sunlight, fragrances from the green earth, songbirds, tastes of berries picked from the bush, then our sensual minds stir and the words become as richly textured as the terrain. Our language has an ecology and it is as varied as the experiences it is given. Jay Griffiths speaks to this in her book, Wild: An Elemental Journey, “All languages have long aspired to echo the wild world that gave them growth and many indigenous peoples say that their words for creatures are imitations of their calls. According to phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, language ‘is the very voice of the trees, the waves, the forest.’” (pg 25. Wild) . . . .

I want to see our words jump off the ground, erupt from a sensual earth, musty, humid, gritty. I want to taste words like honey, sweet and dripping with eternity. I want to hear words coming from my mouth and your mouth that are so beautiful that we wince with joy at their departure and arrival. I want to touch words that carry weight and substance, words that have shape and body, curve and tissue. I want to feel what we say as though the words were holy utterances surfacing from a pool where the gods drink. . . . . My language must be redwood speech, watershed prayers, oak savannah, coupled in an erotic way with fog, heat, wind, rain and hills, sweetgrass and jackrabbits, wild iris and ocean current. My land is my language and only then can my longing for eloquence by granted. Until then I will fumble and fume and ache for a style of speaking that tells you who I am.

I too long to sculpt words from rock and stream and trees, from birds and bees and the howl of coyotes, from wind and wave and the scent of earth.

How does your habitat speak to you?  How does it inspire you to speak?