KELVEN NG

PHOTO: KELVEN NG

“Human persons, too are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, and even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by shifting patterns in the land.
“Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain.
“Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses-once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth-become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality…
“The alphabetized intellect stakes claim to the earth by staking it down, extends dominion by drawing a grid of straight lines and right angles across the body of a continent-across North America, across Africa, across Australia-defining states and providences, counties and countries with scant regard for the oral peoples that already live there, according to a calculative logic utterly oblivious to the life of the land.
“If I say I live in the ‘United States’ or in ‘Canada,’ or in ‘British Colombia’ or in New Mexico,’ I situate myself within a purely human set of coordinates. I say very little or nothing about the earthly place I inhabit, but simply establish my temporary location within a shifting matrix of political, economic, and civilizational forces struggling to maintain themselves, today, largely at the expense of the animate earth.
“The greater danger is that I, and many other good persons, may come to believe that our breathing bodies really inhabit these abstractions, and that we will lend our lives more to consolidating, defending, or bewailing the fate of these ephemeral entities than to nurturing and defending the actual places that physically sustains us.
“The land that includes us has its own articulations, its own contours and rhythms that must be acknowledged if the land is to breathe and to flourish. Such patterns, for instance, are those traced by the rivers as they wind their way to the coast, or by a mountain range that rises like a back bone from the plains, its ridges halting the passage of clouds that gather and release the rains on one side of the range, leaving the other slope dry and desert like…
“Diverse groups of animals arrange themselves within such subtle boundaries, limiting their movements to the terrains that affords them their needed foods and the necessary shelter from predators. Other, more migratory species follow such patterns as the move with the seasons, articulating routes and regions readily obscured by the current human overlay of nations, states, and their various subdivisions.
“Only when we slip beneath the exclusive human logic continually imposed upon the earth do we catch site of this other, older logic at work in the world.
“Only as we come close to our senses, and begin to trust, once again, the nuanced intelligence of our sensing bodies, do we begin to notice and respond to the subtle logos of the land.
“There is an intimate reciprocity to the sense; as we touch the bark of a tree, we feel the tree touching us; as we lend our ears to the local sounds and ally our nose to the seasonal scents, the terrain gradually tunes us in in turn.
“The senses, that is, are the primary way that the earth has of informing our thoughts and of guiding our actions.
“…For it is only at the scale of our direct, sensory interactions with the land around us that we can appropriately notice and respond to the immediate needs of the living world.”
~David Abram from The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
 
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