Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Four-Cornered Falcon by Reg Saner - Excerpts

The Four-Cornered Falcon: Essays on the Interior West and the Natural Scene. Reg Saner. 1994. ISBN 1-56836-049-5


The journal was private, and yet – like all journals – it secretly hoped for a reader.

Western terrain had long stirred in me a fairly passionate impulse to witness. There were also abiding curiosities that had wanted satisfying. That meant going to look. In turn, that meant taking time which – or so my conscience kept hinting – should’ve been spent on less grandiose enterprises than trying to see what I was part of. On the other hand, a lifetime has always seemed too rare, too surreal an opportunity to throw away on success.

A ravenous hawk; a slightly ludicrous bag of fat fur. Appetites that have learned how to repeat themselves. To what end? None that any living creature – now or to come – ever will know. To be. Each to do its kind.

We survive by not believing what we know. Is that because our unconscious knows something truer than fact? Maybe it knows that what we most admire can’t die, including the best of ourselves – which we don’t invent, merely inherit or borrow. And which, like the world, is nobody’s possession.

Daily dutiful habit is our way of keeping possibilities small.

When we take a person into our memory his dying doesn’t in any way evict him.

I’m here now perhaps because as a Midwestern boy I’d have loved it but couldn’t. Had no idea. By just hiking here I amaze him.

Heady pine-scent from trees leading the hardest of lives makes me wonder why so much of humanity’s smell is sorrow.

We admire wild places because their forests and mountains meet us as exactly what they meant to be; blessedly forlorn, among many strange ways in which the world keeps its promise.

Sharp as a blade, distant skyline meets the eye through miles of thin air. I listen. A soundlessness whose smallest effect is awe; hermetically pure, a speaking stillness. Like good composers, mountains never play the same silence twice.

Strange – this nostalgia for ourselves as inanimate mater, of which my brain consists, enlivened for a while by some solar quirk.

Against one’s own brain, what defense comes to more than a shrug?

Any “This, Here, Now” so entirely taken with being exactly itself can’t help arresting a lone skier, just as any mind that arrives there takes one look and stops mumbling. Stops cluttering itself with thoughts. Hasn’t a name, isn’t anyone. Becomes what it hears: mountain snowfall in which silence ripens.

Why should raw bigness summon the deepest, oldest feelings we life forms can have? Perhaps by the very size of indifference. Because mountains scorn the astonishments they give rise to, because they pretend to live entirely within the limits of the visible, because they despise our memories, we respect the hugeness of their refusal to confide. Which awes us.

Among fellow humans we’re merely superfluous at best; at worst, part of the competition. But winter mountains enlarge the needle’s eye of our tiny brains and their labyrinthine trivialities. Thanks to the rude unity of winter’s fourteen-thousand-foot peaks, we feel our insignificance expand like a strange prestige – which makes being alive a kind of magic, easy as being not quite real. Small wonder that wherever terrain permits, primitives go around filling their habits with mountain gods.

“Where are our sacred places?” None natural, I think, none untouched. Instead, all human-centered; a battle, a birthplace, a document. Well and good, as far as humankind goes. But where not one natural space is held sacred, what gods will be found?

… in humankind’s continuous heart the impulse to sow the landscape with gods may be our one oldest urge.

“Daily you have to pump gods back into the scenery; so you can breathe. You can’t breathe just scrub woodlands and yucca and cactus and rock.”

From juniper, as from many another life that water takes on in deserts, I learn the trick of surviving even technology: “Be a tree not worth cutting down.”

Meanwhile I tried very hard to learn every which way a Douglas fir might grow that a white fir couldn’t mimic. And vice versa. It was a process teaching me how much of what we call eyesight is wanting to see. Small wonder that, cytologically speaking, retinal tissue and brain tissue are cousins. Eyes seem to be the mind leaning forward.

Worldwide, in fact, various myths reflect the feeling that a thing can’t fully and properly exist without its name.

More important perhaps than a name’s cover-up of details is its blurring of the fact that each thing is really an event, thus a confluence of forces still in motion; forces traceable – if we’ve time to reflect that far – back toward the time our solar system was fog, the sun not yet resolved to a focus with hydrogen fusion at heart. To see beyond language may be to receive flashes of a luminous whole; to feel an obsidian chip, for example, change into its molten past or vaporized forever even as the sperm and egg we once were stoop to pick it up.

Fear is often the threshold of knowledge, but the rate at which our species dares to know itself seems brachiopodally slow.

The ruckus we kicked up over being blood cousins to apes and monkeys was the strident denial of a six-year-old whose playmates have just told him how babies are really made.

… the truth: nature as one self-sufficient machine where anything that can die is called “life”, and ourselves the losses we agree to live out. It’s as if the atmosphere suddenly vanished. Without a vapor of illusion to absorb its lethal radiations, the sun pours down a ruthless clarity denying everything I’d like to be true.

Desert canyons at night are anything but voiceless. Yet peaceful, supremely. In such canyons your own presence can feel like the human race down to one person – which is to exist more actually than any other way I know.

An even greater poverty than seeing “mystery” where there is none might be not seeing it where there is.

… the more carefully I look at specific conifers, the less apt to their individualities become syllables like “spruce” or “pine” or “fir”.

As children we wondered, “What am I doing? And why am I doing it here?” We couldn’t guess, then, how wide these questions were, or that merely to ask them was to be more than merely ourselves.

Thus on a peak whose shattered granite is indeed blunt as ruin, I clamber around gazing off into all points of the compass, then lunch with no other company than the stones’ rude stares – their way of asking, “Why breathe? Why bother? Why come?” … Proud of their mindless immortalities – compared with anything married to oxygen – the massive slabs seem bored with human pretensions.

Unfortunately, the very adaptability that made us human may be our most lethal gift. Our shifty species is supple enough to call anything “home sweet home”, no matter how befouled. Thus adaptability, having made Homo sapiens boss of all vertebrates, may undo us. What blight can’t we get used to, project ourselves into, and love? Our progeny will call desolation “nature” if that’s all they’ve known.

A deer god? “How could an animal the Anasazi killed and ate be a deity?” A few generations ago this seemed credulity fit only for primitives; and seemed especially so to high-toned Christian people who killed their god very year on Good Friday, then ate him.

Vaguely we sense that those ruins are related not only to us but also to what we’re doing here, and have been doing for days: trying to see the life now passing through us, as it has through those who once lived.

… that’s the High Southwest. Colored distances like nowhere else I know, unbroken by any made thing. And skies that change you to a person worth being there.

The question every victim asks of its destroyer is “Why?” The answer varies endlessly yet is always the same, “Because I can.” Pollution: a display of power. Negligence: disregard of what’s sacred; refusal to connect one thing with another.

Our grand Western spaces are, instead, an empty plentitude. On the thoughtful person they confer depths beyond any thing humans can ever put there. The middle of nowhere is a power, a moving unity of spirit in us, one that habitation can only break up, never enhance.

[Order from by clicking this link:]
The Four-Cornered Falcon: Essays on the Interior West and the Natural Scene (Kodansha Globe)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Phil Cousineau Quotation

Have you ever made a vow to go someplace that is sacred to you, your family, your group? Have you ever imagined yourself in a place that stirred your soul like the song of doves at dawn? If not you, then who? If not now, when? If not here, where?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Quotation

Considered in its concrete reality,
the stuff of the universe cannot divide itself but,
as a kind of gigantic atom,
it forms in its totality the only real indivisible.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey - Excerpts

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Edward Abbey. 1968. ISBN 0-345-32649-0


Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite.

I have tried to create a world of words in which the desert figures more as medium than as material. Not imitation but evocation has been the goal.

I must confess that I know nothing whatever about true underlying reason, having never met any. There are many people who say they have, I know, but they’ve been luckier than I. For my own part I am pleased enough with surfaces – in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance.

Like a god, like an ogre? The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good. I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.

But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled, and I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great still ness – for there are a few sounds: a creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of the watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding, overwhelming peace. A suspension of time, a continuous present. If I look at the small device strapped to my wrist the numbers, even the sweeping second hand, seem meaningless, almost ridiculous. No travelers, no campers, no wanderers have come to this part of the desert today and for a few moments I feel and realize that I am very much alone.

The fire. The odor of burning juniper is the sweetest fragrance on the face of the earth in my honest judgment.

There’s another disadvantage to the us of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him.

Once inside the trailer my senses adjust to the new situation and soon enough, writing the letter, I lose awareness of the lights and the whine of the motor. But I have cut myself off completely from the greater world which surrounds the man-made shell. The desert and the night are pushed back – I can no longer participate in them or observe; I have exchanged a great and unbounded world for a small, comparatively meager one. By choice, certainly; the exchange is temporarily convenient and can be reversed whenever I wish.

Yet the springtime winds are as much a part of the canyon country as the silence and the glamorous distances; you learn, after a number of years, to love them also.

I’m a humanist; I’d rather kill a man than a snake.

All men are brothers, we like to say, half-wishing sometimes in secret it were not true. But perhaps it is true. And is the evolutionary line from protozoan to Spinoza any less certain? That may also be true. We are obliged, therefore, to spread the news, painful and bitter though it may be for some to hear, that all living things on earth are kindred.

I’ve had this tree under surveillance ever since my arrival at Arches, hoping to learn something from it, to discover the significance of its form, to make a connection through its life with whatever falls beyond. Have failed. The essence of the juniper continues to elude me unless, as I presently suspect, its surface is also the essence.

A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us – like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness – that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.

We are preoccupied with time. If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are now obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men.

Aloneness became loneliness and the sensation was strong enough to remind me (how could I have forgotten?) that the one thing better than solitude, the only thing better than solitude, is society. By society I do not mean the roar of city streets or the cultured and cultural talk of the schoolmen (reach for your revolver?) or human life in general. I mean the society of a friend or friends or a good, friendly woman. Strange at it might seem, I found that eating my supper out back made a difference. Inside the trailer, surrounded by the artifacture of America, I was reminded insistently of all that I had, for a season, left behind; the plywood walls and the dusty Venetian blinds and the light bulbs and the smell of butane made me think of Albuquerque. By taking my meal outside by the burning juniper in the fireplace with more desert and mountains than I could explore in a lifetime open to view, I was invited to contemplate a far larger world, on which extends into a past and into a future without any limits know to the human kind. By taking off my shoes and digging my toes in the sand I made contact with that larger world – an exhilarating feeling which leads to equanimity. Certainly I was still by myself, so to speak – there were no other people around and there still are none – but in the midst of such a grand tableau it was impossible to give full and serious consideration to Albuquerque. All that is human melted with the sky and faded our beyond the mountains and I felt, as I feel – is it a paradox? – that a man can never find or need better companionship than that of himself.

In the evenings after work I sit at the table outside and watch the sky condensing in the form of twilight over the desert.

I would like to introduce here an entirely new argument in what has now become a stylized debate: the wilderness should be preserved for political reasons. We may need it someday not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Yellowstone and the High Sierras may be required to function as bases for guerrilla warfare against tyranny. What reason have we Americans to think that our own society will necessarily escape the world-wide drift toward the totalitarian organization of men and institutions?

The city, which should be the symbol and center of civilization, can also be made to function as a concentration camp. This is one of the significant discoveries of contemporary political science.

My God! I’m thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless and degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the businessmen, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back home in the capital, the foul, diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephones - ! ah Christ!, I’m thinking, at the same time that I’m waving goodbye to that hollering idiot on the shore, what intolerable garbage and what utterly useless crap we bury ourselves in day by day, while patiently enduring at the same time the creeping strangulation of the clean white collar and the rich but modest four-in-hand garrote! Such are my – you wouldn’t call them thoughts would you? – such are my feelings, a mixture of revulsion and delight, as we float away on the river, leaving behind for a while all that we most heartily and joyfully detest. That’s what the first taste of the wild does to a man, after having been too long penned up in the city. No wonder the Authorities are so anxious to smother the wilderness under asphalt and reservoir. They know what they’re doing, their lives depend on it, and all their rotten institutions.

Wilderness. The word itself is magic. Wilderness, wilderness … We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.

Paradise is not a garden of bliss and changeless perfection where the lions lie down with the lambs (what would they eat?) and the angels and cherubim and seraphim rotate in endless idiotic circles , like clockwork, about an equally inane and ludicrous – however roseate – Unmoved Mover … That particular painted fantasy of a realm beyond time and space which Aristotle and the Church Fathers tried to palm off on us has met, in modern times, only neglect and indifference, passing on into the oblivion it so richly deserved, while the Paradise of which I write and wish to praise is with us yet, the here and now, the actual, tangible, dogmatically real earth on which we stand.

If a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernal. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams.

Beyond atheism, nontheism. I am not an atheist but an earthiest. Be true to the earth.

Here I am, relaxing into memories of ancient books – a surefire sign of spiritual fatigue. That screen of words, that veil of ideas, issuing from the brain like a sort of mental smog that keeps getting between a man and the world, obscuring vision.

Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the antehuman, the other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse – its implacable indifference.

Men come and go, cites rise and fall, whole civilization appear and disappear – the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break.

Under the desert sun, in that dogmatic clarity, the fables of theology and the myths of classical philosophy dissolve like mist. The air is clean, the rock cuts cruelly into flesh; shatter the rock and the odor of flint rises to your nostrils, bitter and sharp. Whirlwinds dance across the salt flats, a pillar of dust by day; the thornbush breaks into flame at night. What does it mean? It means nothing. It is as it is and has no need for meaning. The desert lies beneath and soars beyond any possible human qualification. Therefore, sublime.

What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like mollusks on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener. Look here, I want to say, for godsake folks get out of them there machines, take off those fucking sunglasses and unpeel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras! For chrissake folks what is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare? Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood! Why not? Jesus Christ, lady, roll that window down! You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it! Dusty! Of course it’s dusty – this is Utah! But it’s good dust, good red Utahn dust, rich in iron, rich in irony. Turn that motor off. Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs! You sir, squinting at the map with your radiator boiling over and your fuel pump vapor-locked, crawl out of that shiny hunk of GM junk and take a walk – yes, leave the old lady and those squawling brats behind for a while, turn your back on them and take a long quiet walk straight into the canyons, get lost for a while, come back when you damn well feel like it, it’ll do you and her and them a world of good. Give the kids a break too, let them out of the car, let them go scrambling over the rocks hunting for rattlesnakes and scorpions and anthills – yes sir, let them out, turn them loose; how dare you imprison little children in your goddamned upholstered horseless hearse? Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like women! like human beings! and walk – walk – WALK upon our sweet and blessed land!

… we must beware of a danger well known to explorers of both the micro-and macrocosmic – that of confusing the thing observed with the mind of the observer, of constructing not a picture of external reality but simply a mirror of the thinker. Can this danger be avoided without falling into an opposite but related error, that of separating too deeply the observer and the thing observed, subject and object, and again falsifying our view of the world?

Of course I have my reasons which reason knows nothing about; reason is and ought to be, as Hume said, the slave of the passions. He foresaw the whole thing.

The finest quality of this stone, these plants and animals, this desert landscape is the indifference manifest to our presence, our absence, our coming, our staying or our going. Whether we live or die is a matter of absolutely no concern whatsoever to the desert.


Balzac, Honore de
In the desert there is all and there is nothing. God is there and man is not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reg Saner Quotation

Desert canyons by night are anything but voiceless.
Yet peaceful, supremely. In such canyons
your own presence can feel like the human race down to one person
– which is to exist more actually than any other way I know.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Robert Louis Stevenson Quotation

The schooner turned upon her heel, the anchor plunged. It was a small sound, a great event; my soul went down these moorings whence no windlass may extract nor any diver fish it up; and I, and some part of my ship’s company, were from that hour the bond slaves of the isles …

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Umberto Eco Quotation

But what if there is no Cosmic Plan?
What a mockery, to live in exile when no one sent you there.
Exile from a place, moreover, that does not exist.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Henry Wadsworth Longellow Quotation

Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves
that break upon the idle seashore of the mind.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reg Saner Quotation

We admire wild places because their forests and mountains
meet us as exactly what THEY meant to be;
blessedly forlorn, among many strange ways
in which the world keeps its promise.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Arthur Eddington Quotation

Physics is the study of the structure of consciousness.
The stuff of the world is mindstuff.

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