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Creek Running North

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September 15, 2005

Someone else's writing

Edward Abbey, High Country News - August 7, 1995

"Despite the best efforts of a small army of writers, painters, photographers, scientists, explorers, Indians, cowboys, and wilderness guides, the landscape of the Colorado Plateau lies still beyond the reach of reasonable words. Or unreasonable representation. This is a landscape that has to be seen to be believed, and even then, confronted directly by the senses, it strains credulity.

"Comprehensible, yes. Perhaps nowhere is the basic structure of the earth's surface so clearly, because so nakedly, revealed. And yet - when all we know about it is said and measured and tabulated, there remains something in the soul of the place, the spirit of the whole, that cannot be fully assimilated by the human imagination.

"My terminology is far from exact; certainly not scientific. Words like 'soul' and 'spirit' make vague substitutes for a hard effort toward understanding. But I can offer no better. The land here is like a great book or a great symphony; it invites approaches toward comprehension on many levels, from all directions.

"The geologic approach is certainly primary and fundamental, underlying the attitude and outlook that best support all others, including the insights of poetry and the wisdom of religion. Just as the earth itself forms the indispensable ground for the only kind of life we know, providing the sole sustenance of our minds and bodies, so does empirical truth constitute the foundation of higher truths. (If there is such a thing as higher truth.) It seems to me that Keats was wrong when he asked, rhetorically, 'Do not all charms fly ... at the mere touch of cold philosophy?' The word 'philosophy' standing, in his day, for what we now call 'physical science.' But Keats was wrong, I say, because there is more charm in one "mere" fact, confirmed by test and observation, linked to other facts through coherent theory into a rational system, than in a whole brainful of fancy and fantasy. I see more poetry in a chunk of quartzite than in a make-believe wood nymph, more beauty in the revelations of a verifiable intellectual construction than in whole misty empires of obsolete mythology.

"The moral I labor toward is that a landscape as splendid as that of the Colorado Plateau can best be understood and given human significance by poets who have their feet planted in concrete - concrete data - and by scientists whose heads and hearts have not lost the capacity for wonder. Any good poet, in our age at least, must begin with the scientific view of the world; and any scientist worth listening to must be something of a poet, must possess the ability to communicate to the rest of us his sense of love and wonder at what his work discovers."

(Gender specificity in original.)

Posted by Chris Clarke at September 15, 2005 07:30 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Damn, he is good.

And on a related note, I once watched a huge trout, a true giant of a rainbow, rise up through the clear waters of a spring-fed river to take my fly. Only he didn't take my fly, he angled instead for a natural mayfly - e. infrequens, if memory serves - that was floating perhaps a foot to the side of my own feathered offering. Yet at the last second, the trout, unsure that even the real thing was real, snubbed the mayfly - the insect rose perhaps an inch from the swell, so close was the great fish - and then he sank back down to the bottom, having taken neither the true prize nor the fake. I reeled in and headed home, convinced that some prizes are simply beyond our grasp, and that some fish are not catchable.

Posted by: tost at September 15, 2005 10:28 AM
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Too bad 'ol Ed is gone, but it seems some writers are able to fill those empty shoes and run with it . . . hint, hint. And with a bit more usefulness, I might add, if that makes sense . . .

Posted by: Jamie at September 17, 2005 10:37 AM
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Thank you for quoting Abbey, he was a peach. I never thought about it til now, but he might be describing the source of my disdain for artistic, creative, ephemeral minds that appear to be missing a certain, crucial essence, maybe reason is the thing, at any rate, thanks, food for thought--

Posted by: flawedplan at September 22, 2005 09:12 PM
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