Tag Archives: ecology

The Spell of the Sensuous

The Spell of the SensuousFor those of us who care for an earth not encompassed by machines – a world of textures, tastes and sounds other than those that we have engineered – our task is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of the things themselves – to the green uttering-forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have the rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again, sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page to inhabit these coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valleys and swamps. Finding phrases that place us in contact with the trembling neck-muscles of a deer holding its antlers high as it swims toward the mainland, or onto the ant dragging a scavenged rice-grain through the grasses. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf.

The rain surrounded the cabin…with a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside…Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks, I am going to listen.
~~ Thomas Merton

Our strictly human heavens and hells have only recently been abstracted from the sensuous world that surrounds us, from this more-than-human realm that abounds in its own winged intelligences and cloven-hoofed powers. For almost all oral cultures, the enveloping and sensuous earth remains the dwelling place of both the living and the dead. The “body” – whether human or otherwise – is not yet a mechanical object in such cultures, but is a magical entity, the mind’s own sensuous aspect, and at death the body’s decomposition into soil, worms and dust can only signify the gradual reintegration of one’s ancestors and elders into the living landscape, from which all, too, are born.

This cycling of the human back into the larger world ensures that the other forms of experience that we encounter – whether ants, or willow trees, or clouds – are never absolutely alien to ourselves. It is, paradoxically, this perceived kinship that renders the difference, or otherness, so eerily potent.

Gradually, then, our senses awaken to the world. We become aware of the thoughts that are thinking all around us – in the bushes, under the tumbled stones. As we watch the crows, our own limbs begin to feel the intelligence of feathered muscles adjusting to the wind. Our toes listen to roots sending capillaries in search of water, and our skin replies to the lichens radiating in slow waves across the surface of the upthrust bones of the hill. Walking along the pebbled beach, we notice the ground itself responding to our footfalls – the hermit crabs all diving for cover – and sense the many-voiced forest listening to us as we speak. And so we adjust our own speaking, taking new care with our gestures and actions…

Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner – what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming
~~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Excerpted from The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram.

A brief summary of animism at Anthropik.

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Thinking Like A Mountain

Thinking Like A MountainAldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) was an American ecologist, forester and environmentalist. He was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation. He has been called an American prophet, the father of wildlife management, and one of most strongest advocates for conservation.

Thinking Like a Mountain , by Susan Flader, professor of environmental history and policy at the University of Missouri, was the first of a handful of efforts to capture the work and thought of America’s most significant environmental thinker, Aldo Leopold. This account of Leopold’s philosophical journey makes brings much-deserved attention to the continuing influence and importance of Leopold today.

Thinking Like a Mountain unfolds with Flader’s close analysis of Leopold’s essay of the same title, which explores issues of predation by studying the interrelationships between deer, wolves, and forests. Flader shows how his approach to wildlife management and species preservation evolved from his experiences restoring the deer population in the Southwestern United States, his study of the German system of forest and wildlife management, and his efforts to combat the overpopulation of deer in Wisconsin. His own intellectual development parallels the formation of the conservation movement, reflecting his struggle to understand the relationship between the land and its human and animal inhabitants.

Drawing from the entire corpus of Leopold’s works, including published and unpublished writing, correspondence, field notes, and journals, Flader places Leopold in his historical context. In addition, a biographical sketch draws on personal interviews with family, friends, and colleagues to illuminate his many roles as scientist, philosopher, citizen, policy maker, and teacher. Flader’s insight and profound appreciation of the issues make Thinking Like a Mountain a standard source for readers interested in Leopold scholarship and the development of ecology and conservation in the twentieth century.

“My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”

Aldo Leopold Archives

Wolf Eyes

Balance: Art and Nature

Environmental art is a catch phrase that includes land art, earth-sensitive art and artists working with natural materials. Land art is a phenomenon of the ’60s and ’70s, with artists like Robert Smithson who made his Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake, Utah, one of those grandiose environmentally insensitive works that transformed the landscape.

Earth-sensitive art is smaller in scale, integrating an assemblage or sculpture in a natural setting, and there is art made with natural materials, which is usually exposed indoors.

~~ John Grande

Art and NatureArt critic John Grande writes about environmental art in his book, Balance: Art and Nature

Believing that artistic expression can and does play an important role in changing the way we perceive our relation to the world we live in, art critic John Grande takes an in-depth look at the work of some very unusual environmental artists in the United States, Canada, and -Europe.

Grande contends that the egocentricity of modern western society and its infatuation with technology and consumerism have increasingly separated us from the natural world. That separation has an impact on the way our art is conceived, formed, marketed and even displayed. Grande proposes that art return to being more “ecocentric,” reminding us that we are derivative and essentially dependent on natural processes. “In developing a nature-specific dialogue that is interactive, rooted in actual experience in a given place and time, and giving these elements an equal voice in the creative process,” he writes, “we are ultimately respecting our integral connectedness to the environment.” Holding such a vision, we will come to see that “nature is the art of which we are a part.”

John GrandeTo develop a dialogue more in touch with nature, Grande argues that artists should favour their specific culture and the diversity of the ecological communities in which they live rather than the homogenizing pressures of internationalism. He asserts that contemporary artists’ preoccupation with international “market recognition,” often reinforced by museums and funders, promotes a “product standardization” that takes precedence over any desire to represent one’s own culture and bioregion. In such a horizontal milieu, artists and their works consequently become easily interchangeable. The attendant appropriation of Third World, tribal and extranational art styles not only mirrors acts of economic expropriation but also often ensures the commercial success of the collusive artists. Such appropriation barely pauses to appreciate the source culture’s context and meaning.

As an alternative, Grande proposes that we celebrate the cultural diversity naturally intrinsic to each ecological community or bioregion. Such a preference would nourish the artistic expression of the cultural symbolism and spiritual values unique to that region. It would enhance an intuitive dialogue with nature in the creation of art, encouraging a healthier relationship with the local environment.

John Grande website

I think, a lot of art has as much to do with fashion and the look of things as it has to do with a kind of search for breakthroughs or a higher meaning. In a way we almost have an over-production situation where art is fine and society is in bad shape. It is one of my main concerns right now, The programs are working. Artists are producing. But the actual society is breaking down in many ways as a collectivity and becoming sort of digitalized. We have become digitalized producers and consumers.

Nature is the house that supports us all. We sometimes forget that. The same thing can be said for the world of art. What really nourishes art, more than ideas, is the physical world, and it is the main sustaining feature of any kind of aesthetic, even so-called immaterial ones.

Interview with Mike MacDonald

Interview with John Grande at Green Museum

EcoArt Network

Tiger Swallowtail

Art critic, writer, lecturer and interviewer, John Grande’s reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in Artforum, Vice Versa, Sculpture, Art Papers, British Journal of Photo-graphy, Espace Sculpture, Public Art Review, Vie des Arts, Art On Paper, Circa & Canadian Forum. He is also the author of Balance: Art and Nature (a newly expanded edition by Black Rose Books in, 2004), Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998), Jouer avec le feu: Armand Vaillancourt: Sculpteur engagé (Lanctot, 2001), and his most recent book, Dialogues in Diversity: Marginal to Mainstream published in Italy in 2007 by Pari Publishing.