Posted by: atowhee | November 20, 2020

PEOPLE, STONES AND THIS PLANET

Decades after his death California poet, Robinson Jeffers, is suddenly the poet of out times. Building his home tower of native stone in Carmel-by-the=Sea a century ago Jeffers came to the belief that everything in the universe is god, and all of us from granite to garter snake to Grandma are simply small parts of that god. We hominids do not have favored species status in Jeffers understanding. Life and the planet are and will be, until it is exploded back into molecules in the expanse of the universe.

Back in September a piece appeared in Harper’s describes a visit to Tor House, hand-built by Jeffers and a stone-mason. The article reflects on how pertinent that Jeffers long ago warned that our species was pushing toward destruction of ourselves and others. Click here to read that piece.

I have seen many literary shrines from Dickens’ pub to Samuel Johnson’s home. From Oscar Wilde’s hotel for dying cafes where Hemingway and Joyce had eaten. Been to other homes once occupied by Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Isak Dinesen, George Sand, Jane Austen, Gilbert White, Jack London, Balzac, Goethe. I’ve been in the room where Churchill wrote his volumes of history, and a few miles away the room where Darwin researched and then wrote his revolutionary tomes. I’ve stood on the ramparts at Hamlet’s Castle and seen the jetty walked by The French Lieuntenant’s Woman. None of those places disappoint. None grab you by the heart as Tor House does and will until it falls into the sea.

I wrote a thank you note to the author of the Harper’s piece, Erik Reece:
“I read and nodded in agreement all through your piece on Jeffers and Tor House in the September Harper’s. Thank you for your work and insights.  Coincidentally I recently re-read a short Jeffers biography and begun revisiting his poetry.  Dead for decades he is yet a man of this hour.

“I hope any future writing or speaking you do about Jeffers you will acknowledge the Dark Mountain Project. It has been going for more than a decade now. I have no connection to the project beyond interest and sympathy. Jeffers was not only the source of Dark Mountain’s name but is clearly its poet laureate.

“In opening your fine essay you mention ‘grove of ancient cedars’.  Those were most likely Monterey cypress, a once rare and nearly extinct species.  When Europeans first came to California these trees were confined to two small forests at Pt. Lobos and Cypress Point near Carmel, and were found nowhere else.  This tree’s proclivity to thrive in terrible soil and harsh salt wind has long since made them a landscaper’s favorite in harsh coastal climates around the world. Wikipedia says, ‘Its European distribution includes Great Britain (including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands), France, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Sicily.  In New Zealand, plantings have naturalized, finding conditions there more favorable than in its native range. It has also been grown experimentally as a timber crop in Kenya’.”

Somehow I smile at the thought that Monterey cypress could become an invasive, a benign one I presume. They also have huge groves of coast redwood in New Zealand.

Then I included in my letter to Reece some of the material from the Dark Mountain website (click here to reach that).

HF: Dark Mountain is dark indeed, but then I have come to see the wisdom of Robinson Jeffers and these more contemporary writers…our species has overshot its ability to control its political and technological structures…I  now believe that the invention of the nation-state is WORSE than even nuclear weapons…it allows countries to hate one another and refuse to co-operate for the good of all….all being other creatures, plants, microbes, etc.  I think nature is coming for us without needy intention, simply as it tested trilobites and stegosaurus, we are not inevitable and we are not necessary but not many people can face up to that.

From website of Dark Mountain: “The Manifesto was written by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, it marked a first attempt to put into words the ideas and feelings which led to Dark Mountain. Think of it as a flag raised so that we can find one another. A point of departure, rather than a party line. An invitation to a larger conversation that continues to take us down unexpected paths.

“Together, we are walking away from the stories that our societies like to tell themselves, the stories that prevent us seeing clearly the extent of the ecological, social and cultural unravelling that is now underway. We are making art that doesn’t take the centrality of humans for granted. We are tracing the deep cultural roots of the mess the world is in. And we are looking for other stories, ones that can help us make sense of a time of disruption and uncertainty.

‘Rearmament”

These grand and fatal movements toward death: the grandeur of the mass
Makes pity a fool, the tearing pity
For the atoms of the mass, the persons, the victims, makes it seem monstrous
To admire the tragic beauty they build.
It is beautiful as a river flowing or a slowly gathering
Glacier on a high mountain rock-face,
Bound to plow down a forest, or as frost in November,
The gold and flaming death-dance for leaves,
Or a girl in the night of her spent maidenhood, bleeding and kissing.
I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain. —Robinson Jeffers, 1935

“The myth of progress is founded on the myth of nature. The first tells us that we are destined for greatness; the second tells us that greatness is cost-free. Each is intimately bound up with the other. Both tell us that we are apart from the world; that we began grunting in the primeval swamps, as a humble part of something called ‘nature’, which we have now triumphantly subdued. The very fact that we have a word for ‘nature’ is [5] evidence that we do not regard ourselves as part of it. Indeed, our separation from it is a myth integral to the triumph of our civilisation. We are, we tell ourselves, the only species ever to have attacked nature and won. In this, our unique glory is contained.

“Outside the citadels of self-congratulation, lone voices have cried out against this infantile version of the human story for centuries, but it is only in the last few decades that its inaccuracy has become laughably apparent. We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris. The attempt to sever the hand from the body has endangered the ‘progress’ we hold so dear, and it has endangered much of ‘nature’ too. The resulting upheaval underlies the crisis we now face.”

Others have been nudged to realization by Dark Mountain. Here is link to a piece written several years ago by an American, thousands of miles from where Dark Mountain Project began, but, of course, its whole nature is global and not nationalistic.


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