Tuesday, September 11, 2007

River Places

'Place is what takes me out of myself, out of the limited scope of human activity ... A sense of place is a way of embracing humanity among all of its neighbors. It is an entry into the larger world' (Robert Michael Pyle interviewed in Pearson, 1996).

This comment from Robert Michael Pyle underlines the intertwining themes of this blog, that there is something larger, such as the complex interworkings of the ecosystem and something other - our neighbours be they animal, plant or river. This assumption threads an animistic perception of the cosmos with what ecophilosopher David Abram calls a 'sensorial empathy' with the living earth.

By this he means the engagement with all our senses, a heightened awareness of nature through taste, touch, smell, hearing and feeling which brings us into a deep empathetic moment, one that, through the body's responsiveness to the natural world, can stimulate or awaken a sense of responsibility for the earth.

I watched today as joggers, locked into their electronica, zipped past the jewelled blue wrens singing in the day, and perhaps too were oblivious to a magical happening taking place beneath the bushes along the riverbank.

The Brush Turkey has built a huge mound of earth and leaves, a nestling place for eggs. Father Turkey, resplendent with his bright yellow wattle and bright red headdress, was carefully watching over this ecological incubator. His mound is about 2 metres round and almost a metre high. Very grand. The decaying foliage generates heat and keeps the eggs a constant temperature of around 33C. Add more dirt and leaves when it gets cold. Slough them off when it gets warmer. Father Turkey has prime responsibility of this site and needs to keep predators at bay.

Being witness to such wondrous events links me more deeply to the movements of this river-place. Each day there is more to see and more to learn. David Abram (1995:314) suggests such places offer 'vital sources of nourishment'. Separated from such places, we not only lose access to those 'vital sources of nourishment' but also perhaps we lose a sense of who we are. Who we are as nature as well as human is paved over within a high density urban habitat, swelling traffic and an increasingly internalised and indoor lifestyle.

The other evening, at a different river place, I watched joggers and exercisers encased behind glass at the local gym. No one was out running along the river bank or walking their dogs. No one was simply out for an evening stroll. It was a warm still night and the river was glorious as the urban lights twinkled their reflection on the water.

Abram David, 1995, 'The Ecology of Magic,' in Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes & Alan D. Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth. Healing the Mind, San Francisco, Sierra Club.
Abram David, 1998, 'Trust Your Senses,' Resurgence, 187, Mar./Apr., 13-15.
Abram David, 2004, 'Earth Stories.' Resurgence, 222, http://www.resurgence.org/resurgence/issues/abram222.htm
Pearson Michael, 1996, 'Robert Michael Pyle,' In John Elder, ed., American Nature Writers, Volume 2, 733-39, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons.