Monday, May 7, 2012

Edward Hoagland on the Multifarious Joys of Creation

"I never totaled a car (machines may not have interested me enough) or broke my bones, and had an upbeat view of life, experiencing the kindness of many strangers when I hitchhiked, for instance. I speculated as to what the anthropological purpose could be of the brimming, broad-gauge affection people like me felt when watching a wriggling tadpole or clouds wreathing a massif—sights that have no reproductive or nutritional aspect. Call it 'biophilia' or agape; it wasn’t in response to a hunter’s blunt hunger, or kinship-protective, or sexual in some way. Was it a religious wellspring, then? Silence and solitude are fertile if the aptitude is there, and love in its wider applications is also, I think, an aptitude, like the capacity for romantic love, indeed—stilling for a few minutes the chatterbox in us. That massif wreathed in clouds, or the modest pond that has been left in peace to breed its toads, is not a godhead. Like sparks flung out, each perhaps is evidence instead (as are our empathy and exuberance), but not a locus. And yet a link seems to need to take hold somewhere around nine, ten, or eleven—about Mowgli’s age, in Kipling—between the onset of one’s ability to marinate in the spices of solitude, in other words, and puberty, when the emphasis will shift to contact sports, or dress and other sexual ploys and fantasies or calculations. . . .

"I loved metropolises and saw no conflict between exulting in their magnetism and in wild places. Human nature is interstitial with nature and not to be shunned by a naturalist. This accidental ambidexterity enriched my traveling because I enjoyed landing and staying awhile in London on the way to Africa, or exploring Bombay and Calcutta en route to Coimbatore or Dibrugarh. Didn’t just want to hurry on to a tribal or wildlife wilderness area without first poking around in these great cities, which I rejoiced in as much. Although there are now far too many people for nature to digest, we are all going to go down together, I believe. We are part and parcel of it, and as it sickens so will we.

"In the meantime, joy is joy . . .

"Awe is not a word much used lately, sounding primitive, like kerosene lamps. What’s to be awed about—is this the Three Wise Men following the Star?—what hasn’t been explained? Actually, I don’t know what has been explained. If we are told, for example, that 99 percent of our genes are similar to those of a mouse, does that explain anything? Apprehension, disillusion, disorientation, selfishness, lust, irony, envy, greed, and even self-sacrifice are commonplace: but awe? Society is not annealed enough. Trust and continuity and leadership are deteriorating, and the problem when you are alone is the clutter. Finding even a sight line outdoors without buildings, pavement, people, is a task, and we’re not awed by other people anymore: too much of a good thing. We need to glimpse a portion of the axle, the undercarriage, of what it’s all about. And mountains (an axis, if not an axle) are harder to be glib about than technological news reports. But if you wait until your mature years to get to know a patch of countryside thoroughly or intimately, your responses may be generic, not specific—just curiosity and good intentions—and you will wind up going in for golf and tennis and power mowers, bypassing nature, instead. . . .

"You may prefer the ubiquity of electricity to seeing fields of stars after dark, but losing constellation after constellation in the night, and countless water meadows along uncontoured rivers, and bushy-tailed horizons, may be a titanic change. Our motors similarly wipe out the buzz and songs of insects, birds, the sibilation of the breezes that hunters used to front, always stalking into the wind and studying the folds of the terrain for how it flowed, because meals were won by knowing the intimacies of the wind. To lose moonlight, and compass placement, and grasshoppers telling us the temperature by the intensity of their sound, poses the question of whether we can safely do away with everything else. The ecology of solitary confinement on this planet may be calamitous: not to mention the sadness. To assuage the emotional effects, already one notices an explosion of plant nurseries, pet stores, computer-simulated androids, and television animations. We’ve boarded up our windows so as to live interiorly with just our own inventions—though sensing too that we are in the grip of a slow, systemic illness, somehow pervasive—as meanwhile chimpanzees are being eaten up wholesale in Africa as 'bushmeat,' the elephants butchered, the lions poisoned. . . .

"Nature throbs in us through our digestive gases, sweaty odors, wrist pulse, unruly penis or bloody vulva, and nervy tics. We flinch, gasp, fuck, cluck, grin, blink, panic, run, fight, sleep, wake, and wolf a meal like animals. Our official seven deadly sins are rather animal, too, and so is bliss, I think: not only lust but that out-of-body happiness you may feel when being quite still, yet aware and self-contained. Nature is continuity with a matrix and not about causing a stir in the world, and as we destroy our links to other forms of life, it's like whittling at our heels and shins and toes. You can do it for a while until you cut a tendon, nick a bone, and find you limp. And we've now done that. . . .

"Glee is not complacency—in the middle of a roaring city it may seize you—and I think of it as possibly generated at life's origins, like a filament from, or footprint of, that original kick. Nature seems more than Evolution, punctuated or otherwise, and the Creationists may be onto something when they insist that it is an effusion of God's glory. Their god isn't mine, but glee may be a shard of divinity. . . .

"We reach for where we came from, our older folk a bit homesick: the nights not being starry anymore and distances not quite real. Is there anything untoward that we don't take a pill or press a button for? Nature envelops us, nonetheless, in the piquancy of cottage cheese, the giggle of thunder in the next county. Our lewdness and acquisitiveness bray to prove how recidivist we are, still with our feet in the primal muck. I love alone at the moment, and would smell piquant after a stroke, if I weren't discovered immediately. Nor, when I laugh, do I feel in the twenty-first century—I could be Babylonian. And my rapport with friends is more a refinement of ancient habituations than contemporary. Nature, when abused, may react eventually like a tiger whose tail has been pulled. We shall see, indeed, if that is the case. We will definitively find out. But in the meantime we live like those amphibians: sometimes on the dry beach of modernity and sometimes swimming in the oceans that were here eternally before."

—Edward Hoagland, Sex and the River Styx (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), 12, 13, 15-16, 21-22, 24, 28-29, 31

1 comment:

  1. I can not really discern what Mr. Ed Hoagland really enjoys in life. I googled his name today with this question, "Was a Edward Hoagland a Christian?" This is where I came. I am in college forced to read his blatant hatred of modern times. It upsets me that of course in college we get this "Political" tirad of SAVE THE WORLD. I believe this world is OK to live in and will be preserved only by the Grace of God. But, there are those who distort the truth of nature and our living conditions. Sure, we, as men and women, must be good stewards of all natural things; however, to be extremely outspoken about the failures of modern times is repulsive to God. God is and will always be in control for our universe.

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