Friday, March 25, 2011

The creatures of Prometheus

People ask me why I blog sometimes, and besides blogging being a calling card for me as a writer, I do think of it as a literal web log, similar to the logbook I kept on my boat. Then I tracked the variance of the weather, my location, my mood, and Secret’s mood. When I go back and read posts from the past, they carry me right back to that moment in time, and I’m glad that I kept that record, if only for myself.

Some posts become touchstones, as this one did. I wrote it on the train, when we were home for the holidays from the boat. One of the great things about being back in Maine is that I have access to my old library, including that book, The Spell of the Sensuous, which has continued to be influential in my thought, even as I’ve been away from it for the last several years. My quotes from my last posts were epigraphs from it, and I’ve been rereading excerpts, especially thinking about it in the context of land.

I consistently think about the way he explains the way aboriginal Australians view the earth, as profoundly differently than we do, not as mere matter, but as the literal bones and blood of their ancestors. Their spiritual life takes place in something called “Dreamtime” when, “The earth itself was still in a malleable, half-awake state, and as Kangaroo Dreaming Man and innumerable other Ancestors wandered, singing, across its surface, they shaped that surface by their actions, forming plains where they lay down, creeks or waterholes where they urinated, forests where they kicked up dust, and so on. Eventually, having found an appropriate location, or simply exhausted from the work of world-shaping, each of the Ancestors went ‘back in,’ transforming himself (or herself) into some physical aspect of the land.

“Each Ancestor thus leaves in his wake a meandering trail of geographic sites, perceivable features in the land that are the result of particular events and encounters in that ancestor’s journey, culminating in that place where the Ancestor went ‘back in,’ metamorphosing entirely into some aspect of the world we now experience.”

I find myself wondering as I traverse this landscape, walk across the spine of this land, about the native people who lived here. Who were they? I don’t even know what tribe lived here, how they survived. I can’t imagine living outside during the winter here, yet people must have found ways to cope. That knowledge is completely lost. They must have told each other stories about this landscape, known what people are buried here.

My floundering for a place to belong becomes a larger cultural struggle. My blood is mixed. My grandfather Zodhiates came from a Greek island off the coast of Cyprus, Zodhia. Zodhiates means “of Zodhia.” My great-grandfather Douglas was of the Douglas clan of Scotland, so much so that my great-uncle was named Douglas. My name, Jenks, is Welsh. But I belong to none of those places. They no longer own me. I don’t know their stories, I don’t know the bones hidden in their land.

I’m realizing that being homeless is a larger American symptom, and maybe even a larger global symptom. Here’s the question David Abram asks:

“How did Western civilization become so estranged from nonhuman nature, so oblivious to the presence of other animals and the earth, that our current lifestyles and activities contribute daily to the destruction of whole ecosystems—whole forests, river valleys, oceans—and to the extinction of countless species? …How did civilization break out of the participatory mode of experience known to all native, place-based cultures?”

Place-based cultures. The alternative that we’ve chosen is homelessness. We are a homeless people, who have stolen our land. Maybe my hunt for a place to belong echoes a larger one, our larger hunt as a culture for a place that we belong. Because only when we can find that, when we can begin to look at the land as a living, breathing entity, can we begin to find our way across it as a civilization.

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