Archive for the ‘Edward Abbey’ Category

Ruminations on Place


currently reading: Desert Solitaire A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey

I have always thought of places as existing in a category separate from people. People are portable, self-contained. Places are not portable, and they are connected physically to every other place in existence; no place is truly self-contained. Four chapters into Desert Solitaire, and I am questioning this fundamental separation.

“There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary.” (p.15)

Perhaps place is not external. The boundaries the light of a flashlight creates sever the user from the environment. To be severed, one must have been connected in the first place. Place and person are one, as if all the creatures running around the surface of the earth are limbs, or at least extensions of the earth. I realize this is an obvious concept to a seasoned naturalist, but I am new, and although I’ve experienced a deep connection with the land while hiking or stargazing with my back against soft, damp grass, firm sand, or once, the cold asphalt of a deserted two lane road, I’ve never tried to articulate that connection.

We as humans are ambulatory and cognizant, therefore changeable and free. Yet, it is common for us to hunker down, make a nest, and establish a place that is not portable, that for the most part does not change. The vast majority of humans run patterns as predictable as a hamster’s. There’s a center, our home, from which we venture out and away from for varying lengths of time and varying distances. If we drew it, it would start to look like a flower with a dense center and thin petal paths shooting out and back in again, sometimes one would shoot far enough away for another, smaller flower to sprout, with a hotel or hostel or campsite as its center.

I think I could make a valid argument that this pattern is a capitalist function. It is because we have stuff that we think is valuable but that we do not always want to carry. We must have a central, unchanging place to leave it, and we return to that place simply to retrieve or exchange our stuff. But I am more inclined toward the argument that we instinctually know that we are incomplete without a stationary part of ourselves. Most of us choose to create a stationary part of ourselves that seems self-contained to us, that is small in the face of the entire earth. We prefer bedrooms, houses, cities, even states to call home. It is quite beyond my comprehension now to imagine feeling at home anyplace on earth, or in the universe. I suspect I’ll always need a building with a bed and pictures of loved ones on the wall to feel at home, but I like this concept as something to strive for: I am human, therefore the earth is my home.