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a conversation with civilization

the work of Barry Lopez is new to me. the idea of a conversation between humanity and the natural world has caused me considerable excitement. i am most excited about ideas. a story published in Orion Magazine,stimulated my thinking about the difference between experiencing an environment and collecting information. i found it difficult to separate the two completely.


first i wondered about my circumstance, being an urban resident. am i able to extend my awareness into the urban environment, (as Barry witnessed about the difference between himself and his guide), while watching a grizzly bear?  the guide experienced the entire space and time they traveled through on an emotional level, experiencing the recent past in the landscape. able to experience the movement of the bear prior to finding it. the guide is in a conversation with the time and place. Barry said of himself, he spent his time collecting information, listing details he observed into a framework of analysis. identifying which bird he heard, instead of experiencing the bird song.  he focused on the bear eating, collecting details such as the size of the claws, the odor, the sound of ripping. the guide was still conversing with the entire place, inclusive of the bear, themselves, the birds, trees and rocks, as a whole experience filled with a present that reached back into the recent past.

my first reaction to the idea was that i must explore experiencing the place i am in. i was on the streetcar. i first noticed that i, (mostly by habit), collected an incredible amount of visual information, which filled my thought process and guided me into my relationship with commerce.  i turned my attention to my other senses. i mostly began listening. alongside the many voices, are mechanical sounds from every direction. i mentally  placed the big sounds into the overall  soundscape . i realized my body experienced the big sounds in a physical manner. sound vibrations are constant in my urban experience. they are physical shock waves pushing matter through space, across time.

i began observing the other passengers more closely. almost everyone was collecting information from digital devices. i wondered about their experience. i began to consider that civilization may be built upon the experience of collecting information. i began to lose excitement about Barry Lopez's idea of a conversation. of course the people i was observing were experiencing collecting information. they were shopping, or learning or listening to music or working or talking with someone else outside this streetcar. we modern urban people are experiencing places so far removed from the place we are . my zen training began to take over in the conversation.



i love the importance Barry places on a conversation. i began to consider that my own practice to be here now, is the way i experience the place i am. my brain is lazy. i am attracted to visual information, so i must spread my awareness of place with conscious effort. i practiced expanding my awareness to the entire space i am in. i unfocused my eyes and turn my attention to my sense of touch and sound and smell.  the present i am in is mostly a matter of experiencing traffic. i walk my dog or ride my bike, and i am traveling across time through space in traffic. i am engaged with people everywhere. and the sidewalk is literally littered with the past. the smokers conversing outside the bars last night. the homeless scrounging through the ruble of waste for something of value or comfort. the past is heavy in the city. i walk past murder sites i know of many times a day.

i am in a conversation with civilization. i asked my tai chi teacher if civilization can exist without a place. he said human groups who are migratory have culture. i believe culture is more valuable to me than civilization. civic means city. it requires irrigation, agriculture, plumbing and streets. my experience is rooted in civilization. civilization aggressively wipes out creatures who require natural space.  on this topic Barry Lopez campaigns relentlessly  for people to return to a conversation with the natural world. on this point i agree whole heartedly. i hope civilization can unhinge itself from the patriarchy. i believe that maternal value could repurpose civilization. i believe a maternal civilization could include a vibrant conversation with the natural world.   

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