With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
Leath Tonino is the author of two essay collections, The Animal One Thousand Miles Long and The West Will Swallow You. He avoids social media, but a friend drafted a fake LinkedIn profile for him: “Leath is a nature sad-boy. . . . He’d make a great teacher for little kids and celebrities experiencing burnout. . . . You’d be an idiot not to hire him to mow your lawn.”
There was a value placed on listening as closely as possible to the mysterious silence that supports existence, which is both the actual silence of the desert landscape and the silence of the self in contemplation.
I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
In this current pandemic the fear and upheaval drove Americans to hoard toilet paper and guns and ammo. Try to imagine a food shortage instead of a scarcity of toilet paper.
What I do is sit with the creek. If it’s hot, perhaps I’ll sit in the creek. Two or three times, assisted by an inflatable pool toy, I have sat on the creek. But the preposition of choice remains with.
With snow falling on blue spruce and a cardinal at the feeder and the fireplace’s crackly warmth easing into your bones and the final pages of a book about bears and the opening pages of a book about monks and no plans for the morning, the afternoon, the evening, tomorrow, next week, the rest of your life.
The reason we act when something threatens our family or our neighborhood is because we love these people and places. Maybe it takes a tangible threat to our home environment to make us realize that we really do love the earth.
I elect a climb of Precarious Peak that made me, and will forever keep me, humble as a pebble.
We think of apocalypse as a moment — a flash of light, then you’re gone — but if we study the earth’s history, we find that it’s not one moment. It’s actually a long process. In fact, it’s hard to see where it begins or ends. Like right now: evidence indicates that we’re experiencing the planet’s sixth mass extinction — a period when the rate of extinction spikes and the diversity and abundance of life decrease. Each such extinction event takes hundreds of thousands of years to play out, and it’s generally 5 to 8 million years before the previous levels of biodiversity return. So are we at the end or the beginning of a cycle? This could just be a temporary spike. The pattern could swerve in a different direction.
I prefer to ask what gifts the land offers. Gifts require a giver, a being with agency. Gifts invite reciprocity. Gifts help form relationships. Scientists aren’t comfortable with the word gifts, so we get ecosystem services instead. These terms arise from different worldviews, but both recognize the way the land sustains life.
But getting back to your question about poetry and prose: Poetry, by moving from line to line, can create shades of meaning that prose can’t. So, whatever else it’s worth, poetry is valuable because it gives us a different experience of language. It gives us an experience that we cannot have by other means. And without that, we live a more impoverished life. I’ve been as moved by novels as I have been by poems, but I’ve been moved by poems in a different way. I’ve been brought to laughter and tears by a different route.
There’s a Wang Wei poem in which an egret standing at the edge of a stream flutters up and then settles back down. That’s it. In the West we think there’s something missing, that there should be more to the poem. But if you remember that heart and mind are the same, then you realize that this perception, this experience of empty mind perceiving with mirror-like clarity, is also an emotional experience. It’s both the observation of the scene and the feeling evoked by the scene at the same time, the two together filling us completely.
Nearly 50 percent of the habitats where I’ve made recordings over the past forty-plus years have been so severely damaged that they’re now either biophonically silent or altered to the point of being unrecognizable.