Imagination in place
Introduction Folkmarks Notions about nature Intellectual islands Art marks Timemarks Landmarks Environmentalism Printmarks Printmarks Footmarks Education in concord Library
A secular breviary for meditations on ecological meanings and values
(an extension of the Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network)
1 The joy of belonging
One of the key figures in shaping a modern educational movement to end the lonely, often desperate, isolation of Homo  sapiens from other species was the American Joseph Wood Krutch(1893-1971). "We are all in this together," he  concluded in 1949, not long after he finished writing a biography of Henry Thoreau. Once a rather melancholic humanist,  Krutch now became a kind of  pantheist or ethical mystic, caught up in the joy of belonging to "something greater than one's self."
Reading Thoreau again and again was partly responsible for the radical change in Krutch's outlook.  The other chief  stimulus was a self- education in ecological principles. "Every day," he observed,  "the science of ecology is making clearer  the factual aspect as it demonstrates those more and  more remote interdependencies which, no matter how remote they are crucial even for us." Krutch's  self-tutoring in science confirmed him in an organismic sensibility, partly pragmatic,  but more  fundamentally ethical.
It is now widely accepted that we must be a part not only of the human community, but of the whole ecological community.  We must acknowledge some sort of oneness not only with our neighbours,  our countrymen and our civilization, but also  have some respect for the natural as well as the man made community. Ours is not only "one world" in the sense usually  implied by that term. It is also  "one earth." It is abundantly clear that our species requires behavioural adaptations for long  term  survival, based on the political and economic interdependency of nations and communities. It is not  a sentimental but a  grimly literal fact, that unless we share planet Earth with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for  long. This behavioural change will involve making conservation management central to economic development.
Science has led directly to a moral awakening: a new sense of biological relatedness and  communalism. However, Krutch  perceived that ecology, "without reverence or love," could become  naught but "a shrewder exploitation of what it would be  better to admire, to enjoy, and to share in." His own approach to the science helped turn him from the pursuit of self toward  a "sense of the  community of living things." Spirituality makes the connection.
The persistence of this kind of moral undercurrent in ecology as an increasingly quantified  discipline means, for one thing, that mid- twentieth-century ecology belongs to the lay mind to the amateur naturalist the conservationist and 'the man in the street' as  much as to the scientific  establishment. Like Thoreau in his time, it is important that collectively we do not wholly surrender  this science to academic experts.
Ecology has always been unusual among the sciences in its accessibility to the ordinary student of  nature. Throughout its  short history it has been shaped by and responsive to the everyday life of all  sorts of people: farmers, gamekeepers,  foresters, bird watchers, travellers. More than this, it has  consistently appealed to many who are otherwise hostile to  scientific explanations: As long as ecology has a lay input, it can continue to teach the gospel of organic community,  whether or not  this is subject to empirical validation.
In practice this means endorsing conservation as one side of the coin of political economy. The  problem is that a culture that tends towards conservation management of its natural resources  could be a dying culture if others around it do not  adopt the same constraints on consumption.
2 Moral naturalism
The hope that nature will show humanity the way to sound moral values is part of Krutch's faith, and  certainly that of the 'Age  of Ecology'. But this view has long been a beacon for Anglo-American  culture, at least since the eighteenth century. Indeed,  few ideas have been recycled as often as the  belief that the factual "Is" of nature must become the moral "Ought" of man.
Many have contended that a pronounced pattern or observed direction in nature provides man with  all the guidance he  needs for "should-ness." If nature is found to be a world of interdependence,  then human beings are obliged to consider  that characteristic a moral dictum. But if we have to first  follow nature, which road do we take? Whose map do we use?  How can we keep to the road?
The perennial hope has been that science will show the way. In the case of the ecological ethic, its  proponents picked out their values first and only afterward came to science for its stamp of  approval. What is really required is a deeper sense of  integration between man and nature, a more than-economic relatedness and to let all the appended scientific arguments  go. "Ought" might then  be its own justification, its own defence, its own persuasion, regardless of what "is."
With the decline of religion and its moral tradition in our own time, science has become the  universal standard, and for many, it maintains an aura of absolute sanctity. It is seen as an oracle of  objective truth, located well above the shaky ground of moral choice, and therefore a perfectly  trustworthy source not only of knowledge but of value. Others, noting how often scientists reflect  their cultural milieu, are more sceptical of science's claim to detachment; the quality of trust is  strained. But even the sceptics look to science for the validation of certain truths. If science cannot,  by itself, save society,  neither can society be saved without it. The moral values inherent in  scientific models cannot be accepted without  examination, but the guidance such models provide  is indispensable. To judge which of these attitudes is the most valid  requires presenting them  within an educational framework where "Is" and "Ought" are distinct and unique concepts, but which  demonstrates that any attempt to rigidly separate them is probably misguided.
The idea of truth or fact outside the moral context has no meaning for the human mind. Whether  imperialist, arcadian, organismic, or something else, values have always been woven into the  fabric of science. So much so that when scientists most firmly insist that they have screened out  everything but demonstrable fact, the rest of us should nevertheless anticipate  moral  consequences. In his thoughts about his homeland of Concord Thoreau was beginning to assemble  a guide to  attaching moral values to our various uses of the environment. These web pages are a  development of Thoreau's secular  breviary to guide personal actions of atonement that lighten the guilt of humankind for initiating metamorphoses that have  been more destructive than creative.
Another key thinker in this area is Albert Schweitzer with his central ethical concept is "Reverence  for Life". He sees this as  stemming from a fundamental will-to-life inherent in all living things that, in self-conscious beings such as ourselves,  establishes a drive towards both self-realization and  empathy with other living things. Unlike Nietzsche's will-to-power, it is  not egoistic or individualistic.  As living beings we are not only concerned for our own lives and development but also for the lives  of other living beings and the environments in which we live. Along with the inclination towards self-  perfection that this  drive engenders, it gives rise to a nature-centered spirituality and to a form of  ethical idealism. Rather than obeying moral  rules which are conceived of as external impositions,  the soul of the ethical life for Schweitzer is the drive towards fulfillment  and authenticity. Insofar as  we are a will to live, such authenticity will be felt as a need to show reverence for life in all its  forms.  The virtues that this gives rise to Ó which include compassion, gratitude, justice, hope, and the  pursuit of peace Ówill  be understood not as norms or principles to be followed, but as ideals and  values in the light of which particular decisions  must be made creatively and sincerely. Martin's text  is especially valuable in outlining these virtues and showing how they  constitute a body of  dispositions unified by the fundamental attitude of reverence for life.
The nature-centered spirituality which was central to Schweitzer's thought replaced the Lutheran  Christianity in which he was brought up and constitutes a kind of pantheistic faith which led him to  be a precursor of some strands of contemporary  environmental philosophy. Such a philosophy  values nature not just as a necessary resource for human flourishing or even  as a repository of  beauty and revitalization, but as the very ground of our being and source of motivation. Such ideas  also  led Schweitzer to an interest in Eastern religions with their stress on compassion for all living  things.   In this comparative contex there are two time scales, the horizontal and vertical.
3 Poetry of climate change
"Global warming" means the rapid overall warming of the planet because of an increase in the  production of greenhouse  gasses by human activity. Global warming may in turn lead to regional  climate change affecting temperature, humidity,  precipitation, wind, and severity of weather events.  The leading edge of these effects can be observed today. Poets are  keen observers with skills for conveying their environmental awareness into a cultural setting.  For example, it has been  pointed  out by Bill Silverly and Michael McDowell, writing in the journal Windfall, that poets in Alaska and  northern Canada  live where melting glaciers and thawing tundra are evident. Further south, the  north coast of Alaska and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast has experienced increasingly damaging weather events. Tim Flannery, citing the work of Camille Parmesan and Gary Yohe,  writes: "[Since 1950] right around the globe, a strong pattern has emerged. This manifests itself as  a poleward shift in species' distribution of, on average, 4 miles per decade, a retreat up mountainsides  of 20 feet per decade, and an advance of spring activity of 2.3 days per decade."  Gardeners have noticed that in recent years spring comes earlier and summer lasts longer. Here  the imagery is at hand that should enlarge the perception and  emotional understanding of us all.
In 2007, after months of dry weather, rain did not arrive in Portland until September 28-and then it  came in a deluge-on what proved to be the rainiest day of the year. One poet, Judith Barrington,  has drawn upon this effect in a poem that appeared  in the spring 2004 issue of Windfall:
Almost Hallowe'en and no rain yet.
Yellow leaves spotted brown like an old hand
clog the creek, congregate at the bend,
pile against rocks which long for a break in the heat.
Too long their dented gray pates have baked
in morning sun. Too long the dipper has landed on rocks,
curtseyed to the maples that handed
her crisp bouquets. Twigs float in her wake.
Somewhere downstream, salmon grow anxious,
nosing into the current, ready and fertile.
I watch in vain for the first thrashings under the bank-
What if there's no rain by Christmas?
What shall we do then-the fish grown prehensile,
boulders sighing for the touch of a silver flank?
The salmon is one of the bioregion's great indicator species. One of the dire effects of global  warming is the increased number of extinctions due to the inability of plants and animals to adapt  to rapidly changing climate and habitat.
Another poem on global warming, by Shelley Kirk-Rudeen of Olympia, Washington, appeared in  the fall 2006 issue of  Windfall. Zumwalt Prairie is located in eastern Oregon near the Imnaha River,  and much of it is a grassland preserve of the  Nature Conservancy:
The shadows of clouds race northward.
Above the shush of wind in pine and grass,
listen: timbers groaning,
the ark creaking to life.
This will be no gathering of two by two.
There will be no one place to call home.
Everything on the move, leaving
to become native to new places
as the old homes change,
traveling by windblown seed, by wing,
by cloven hoof and padded foot,
in bellies and in dung,
in water's flow.
And what of the ones who travel
by rhizome's reach,
by the exquisite slowness of slime trail?
And what of the ones who must stay?
Is it only their names we will carry forward?
Animals and plants "travel" to compensate for global warming, which they do, though some are  slower (plant rhizomes and  snails).
4 Hinduism: a model of spiritual ecology
The human niche is defined as the spatial and social sphere that includes the social partners, perceptual contexts, and resource ecologies necessary for the survival of human individuals and communities. It is the context for the lived experience of humans today as it was for earlier humans and their communities, where they shared biological and social kinship, and ecological histories.  And where they created and participated in shared knowledge, social and structural security, and economic development across generations.
Towards the end of the Pleistocene the human niche came to involve a range of material items that reflect both aesthetic and symbolic actions/perceptions by early humans. This reflects a capacity for the creation of symbols creation and their use that underlies/precedes/forms a basis for our current ability to develop a metaphysical orientation to the world.  This in turn facilitated the emergence of structured religious beliefs.
The anthropologist Maurice Bloch has argued that we can see this transformation in our lineage as the move from a group of beings who engage in transactional sociality, which most animals do, even if in a very complex manner, as do many primates, to the kind of beings that add a suite of transcendental relationships to their mode of social and environmental interactions.  In other words, we have evolved as simultaneously transactional and transcendental beings. This new  reality results in a landscape of meaning and an associated imagination that acts as an ecological system.  It facilitates an array of other symbolic and meaning-laden aspects of human behaviuor and experience that are core components of our current ways of being in the world.
This ecological system is the basis of Hinduism.  Hindu religion's reverence for the sea, soil, forests,  rivers, mountains, plants, birds, and animals stems from its broader view of divinity. Unlike many  other religions, Hindus believe that all things and beings in the world are various manifestations of  the Ultimate Reality(Brahman, and nothing exists apart from It. The whole emphasis of Hindu  scriptures is that human beings cannot separate themselves from nature.
Thousands of years ago, Hindu sages realized that preservation of the environment and ecological  balance were necessary for the survival of mankind. To create an awareness among the common  people for preservation of the environment, the priests taught that earth has the same relationship  with man as a mother with her child. In the Vedic literature, the earth is addressed as Mother Earth  and personified as goddesses. Five thousand years later the world experts addressed earth as Mother Earth for the first time at the Global Conference in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.
In Hinduism each human being, regardless of religion, geographic region,  gender, colour or creed  is in reality pure and divine (atman) clothed in a physical body. Since atman is inherently pure and  divine, every human being is potentially divine. The Hindu view is that a man is not born a sinner, but becomes a victim of  ignorance under the influence of cosmic ignorance, called Maya. Just as  darkness quickly disappears upon the  appearance of light, an individual's delusion vanishes when  he gains self-knowledge.
Hinduism explains that the atman (the Innermost Self) is eternally yearning for perfect, unlimited and everlasting happiness.  But the atman is mistakenly searching for this happiness in the mayic world  where one finds only transitory pleasures  followed by disappointments.
Human life alone gives us a chance to know our true identity, which has its basis in the one true  thing called Brahman. All else has a dependent reality because nothing except Brahman can exist  on its own. Our relationship with God is like the wave in an ocean. The ocean exists with or without  the waves, but the waves have no independent existence without the ocean. When the waves  become enlightened they know they too are water and are liberated from the notions of limitedness. This is called Moksha or liberation, and can be achieved while living. To the Hindu priest,  compassionate love  is the highest vehicle to union with creation. In pursuing creation in this way  one becomes more god-like, and from this inner source comes an outward manifestation of  selfless love for all creation.
5 Imagination and place
As early as 1806, John Forster in his Essays in a Series of Letters to a Friend, trying to define the  essence of the romantic had written:
"Imagination may be indulged till it usurp an entire ascendency over the mind, and then  every subject presented  to that mind will excite imagination instead of understanding to  work; imagination will throw its colours where the  intellectual faculty ought to draw its lines;  imagination will accumulate metaphors where reason ought to deduce  arguments; images  will take the place of thoughts and scenes of disquisitions. The whole mind may become at  length something like a hemisphere of cloud scenery, filled with an ever-moving train of changing melting forms, of every colour, mingled with rainbows, meteors and an occasional gleam of pure sunlight, all vanishing away, the mental like this natural  imagery, when its hour is up, without leaving anything behind but the wish to recover the vision. And yet, . . . this series of visions, may be mistaken for operations of thought, and  each cloudy image be admitted in the place of a proposition, or a reason; and it may even  be mistaken for something sublimer than thinking."
Forster's fears of the predominance of imagination over judgement in the evaluation of place were  not a problem to later  writers. Charles Kingsley's fictional character Alton Locke the Chartist poet of  the Victorian urban fringe, discovers the work  of Tennyson and is overwhelmed by the pleasure of  imaginative recognition.
... he has learned to see that in all Nature, in the hedgerow and the sandbank, as well as in  the alp- peak and the ocean-waste, is a world of true sublimity - a minute infinite - an  ever fertile garden of poetic images, the roots of which are in the unfathomable and the  eternal, as truly as any !..... phenomenon which astonishes and awes the  eye. The  description of the desolate pools and creeks where the dying Swan floated, the hint of the  silvery marsh mosses by Mariana's moat, came to me like revelations. I always knew there was something beautiful, wonderful,  sublime, in those flowery dykes of Battersea Fields; in  the long gravelly sweeps of that lone tidal shore; and here  was a man who had put them in  words for me. This is what I call democratic art - the revelation of the poetry which lies in  common things. And surely all the age is tending in that direction; in Landseer and his  dogs - in Copley  Fielding and his downs, with a host of noble artists - and in all authors  who have really seized the nation's mind  from Crabbe and Burns and Wordsworth to Hood  and Dickens, the great tide sets ever outward, towards that which  is common to many, not  that which is exclusive to the few . . ."
The concept of thin places is at the centre of imagination in place.  Thin places are defined as spots where one feels that their heart is being cleaved open " so that pain can escape and joy flood in". The sensation can come on a long walk in the mountains or in the forest, or standing on a deserted beach and feeling the tide roll over your feet, and can even appear under the harsh lights of a hospital room watching someone dear stoically take a last breath.  The idea is very old.  For example, it is said that the early Celtic Christians believed that there were mystical spaces, called "thin places," where the veil between the holy and the human is traversed. The physical and spiritual worlds are knit together, and if we are so attuned, we can transcend the ordinary for a glimpse of the infinite. In such places of poetry there is a mental jarring of the mind and simply by your presence, you are in someway changed.