I was nervous about picking up my first Snyder book. One is supposed to like a legend. For a while, I don’t think I was tracking the book very well. There were pieces that interested me about places and spaces (including cities – Snyder acknowledges them as their own kind of wild) and the narratives of nature. I got that he saw a need for us to battle against the fierce appetite of industrial civilization. The essay, “Tawny Grammar,” was the first one that made sense to me. Then the essay “Good, Wild, Sacred” yielded this gem (101):
Sacred refers to that which helps take us (not only human beings) out of our little selves into the whole mountains-and-rivers mandala universe. Inspiration, exaltation, and insight do not end when one steps outside the doors of a church. The wilderness as a temple is only the beginning. One should not dwell in the specialness of the extraordinary experience to leave the political quagg* behind to enter a perpetual state of heightened insight. The best purpose of such studies and hikes is to be able to come back to the lowlands and see all the land about us, agricultural, suburban, urban, as part of the same territory–never totally ruined, never completely unnatural. It can be restored, and humans could live in considerable numbers on much of it. Great Brown Bear is walking with us, Salmon swimming upstream with us, as we stroll a city street.
As an avid walker, I also liked this from the essay, “Blue Mountains Constantly Walking” (105-6):
The Chinese spoke of the “four dignities” — Standing, Lying, Sitting, and Walking. They are “dignities” in that they are ways of being fully ourselves, at home in our bodies, in their fundamental modes. . .That’s the way to see the world: in our own bodies.
This essay also turns on its head the traditional connotations of homelessness in a very profound and provocative way.
Snyder’s point, most succinctly put, comes (I think) in the essay, “Survival and Sacrament.” He writes that “[o]ur immediate business, and our quarrel, is with ourselves.”
* – I kind of enjoy not knowing what exactly ‘quagg’ means, but I definitely plan to use it in Scrabble.