Saturday, October 23, 2010

Derrick Jensen & Jesse Hardin

---Jesse Wolf Hardin’s work and life are all about feeling. He has written that “we know that we live in order to feel- and feel in order to praise and celebrate that life. We sense and relate to the world through the complex symbiosis of emotion and instinct we call the heart, through the ‘five senses,’ and those unmeasured faculties like intuition and precognition that scientists have lumped together as the ‘sixth sense.’ While we can benefit by learning the “facts” about any chosen bioregion or terrain, we can never really know a place by reading a book on the subject, or by thinking about it. We only come to know it like a baby, humbly and appreciatively touching and tasting the world we’re a physical, integral part of… Our natural response to our being born is to pull the substance and meaning of the world closer to us, by grabbing a hold, to pull ourselves ever closer to it. In this way life ‘makes sense,’ and our senses make the experience of life.”----

Derrick Jensen: You’ve written: “To become native again is not to emulate Native American or any other past or existing cultures, but instead to recall and relearn our own connection to and responsibilities to the regions where we presently reside.” What does that mean?

Jesse Hardin: We’re native to the degree that we enter into reciprocal relationship with the living land we’re each an integral part of. To the degree that we are not only in love with- but loyal to- the place that supports, nourishes, sustains, informs, and inspires us. To be native is to give back our full sentient presence and artful acknowledgement, our protection and affection to repay the gifts of food, home and wisdom with personal activism and heartful prayer, with restoration and celebration; to repay with our fullest living of life, while we’re alive… and with our bodies when we die.
What is essential is that we be open to the directives of the ecosystem. That we become conscious of its needs and troubles, character and flavor, integrity and health. Conscious of the essence and spirit of place.

DJ: Let’s back up a second. It seems that before we can talk about inhabiting a place, we need to talk about home.

JH: To “lose our place” is to lose our way home. Home is the heart in deep relationship with the land. And it is the place that calls us most insistently, instructs us loudest and best. The place we inevitably miss when we leave, the partner to our pain, and reason for our joy. Home is not only where you want to live, but how you want to live. And it is the place where you want to be when death finally claims you.
Let me put it this way: the source of all psychological, social, and environmental dis-ease is our illusion of separateness. And the first step in mending that artificial schism- that deep, damn wound- is to try to bring ourselves back to a place of engagement with our authentic beings, in the vital present moment.

DJ: I don’t understand.

JH: The opening to the experience of the universe, is through intimacy with a living planet, Gaia. The doorway to the experience of Gaia is through our sentient animal bodies and our feeling hearts. And the journey- the work, the realization- can only happen in immediate present time. Reindignation begins with reinhabitation of our awakened bodies and roiling emotions, in the “now”. Much of the natural world, and our own wild spirits, are dying as a direct result of our alienation and abstraction, from what I call our “great distancing.” And perhaps most tragically of all, we are dying without having fully lived.

DJ: That reminds me of a quote you use from H.G. Wells: “One can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed.” What does this mean?

JH: It’s all too easy to acquiesce to the status quo, to the latest trends, and to our habits and fears. To give up our dreams for a meaningless career. To seek distraction in the television set and salvation in the sky. To compromise on a mate, and to pretend we’re a victim of something called fate. To reside in the busy mind, and thereby avoid the pain of the neglected body and the anguish of an untended heart. To flounder around in the superficial rather than risk the frightening depths. To accept and acquiesce rather than discern and confront. To settle for comfort and safety instead of sensation and response-ability. We civilized humans are as tourists in our animal bodies except during certain moments in the midst of the sex act… or when scared for our lives. All too often, it’s only when we face mortal or psychological destruction that we come back to the body that feels, runs, retaliates, or relieves. Back to ourselves, back home.
Clearly social and environmental activism isn’t enough, unless we can somehow change the way we as a species perceive and relate to the natural world, to land and place. We can claim all these small, short-term victories but the fact is that the world is being deforested ever faster as we speak. More toxic chemicals are being released into the ground and water than ever. We’re changing the climate. And genetic engineering poses what is perhaps the single greatest threat to the health and integrity of life on Earth.

DJ: Are we losing?

JH: I’m afraid so, at least in the short term. But the trick to right relationship- and to really being worthy of this blessing called “consciousness”- is to do what is right, what matters most, regardless of the visible results. We seldom see the ramifications of all the good we do, but more importantly, we need to make the grand effort not because we imagine we’ll succeed, but because it’s right to do so. Because it really, deeply matters to us! And in a way, even discouragement and disgust are potentially good signs. They’re evidence of an awareness of the odds stacked against us, and it is acting in spite of them that makes one’s life heroic.

DJ: Are you saying results don’t matter?

JH: Of course they matter. But we watch for results in order to figure out the best actions to take, not for a reason to act. And sometimes we’re able to accomplish the impossible. When Crazy Horse saw his family and village under attack by the U.S. Army, he could see that the odds were stacked against him, and that any resistance could be futile. In spite of this he unsheathed his weapon and rode headlong into the fight, inspiring other braves to follow his example, and breaking the enemy ranks with the sheer intensity of his effort, his investment and risk, his life and love.
To keep from feeling discouraged it helps to look past the nest two generations of getting kicked in the teeth again and again. What I live for is the realization of an epoch after technocivilization has met its ignoble end, blowing itself up, or slowing wasting away. For a time what wildlife takes back the ruins of our cities. When wild creatures stalk the shells of office buildings and malls, when the plants start growing up through the cracks in the pavement. We can’t expect to see that.

DJ: But we do. You see it all around yourself. You got the cows off of this land, and the cottonwoods and willows have come back. It’s beautiful.

JH: True. In a way I’ve been able to protect and restore more wilderness by working my butt off for it- by standing up to trespassers and developers and every other threat for all these years- than I ever did blocking logging roads. But even this single victory remains in jeopardy. I can’t find a land trust willing to take on this special riparian refuge without an attendant bank account for monitoring it. I can’t sign a conservation easement, if no one will accept it. It’s protected for now, through sweat and threat, dumb luck or an assist form the spirits. And more than that, it’s reveled in, honored, restored and resacramented… and yet there are no guarantees it can last. The best we can do is to wake up each and every day, giving thanks for being alive and aware in this enchanted place. Being who we really are, and doing everything we possibly can, for all the right reasons.

DJ: I’d like to go back to the notion of reinhabiting one’s body.

JH: Your door to the entire world is located where your feeling body touches the giving ground. Your bare feet, your rear end, the few square inches of absolute contact are points of connectivity between yourself and millions of years of organic process. And the way to fully experience that connection is by disengaging our mental tape loops, our voice tracks, the constant commentary that keeps us perpetually anticipating the future or criticizing our self about the past rather than tasting the muffin we’re eating right now. Then we can experience the world around us- as well as within us- like the awakened, hungering, feeling, responding, caring creature selves we really are.

DJ: So reihabiting one’s body is tied intimately to reinhabiting the present moment.

JH: We can’t feel our connected to the sentient body, or participate in the processes of the natural world, anywhere but “here,” and “now.” And we can’t really be either if we’re forever residing in our brains, engrossed in the movies of our minds. All the while reality waves its arms and wings and cloud forms like flags trying to win back our attention, trying to give us back our lives. I mean, there’s a reason why they call it a “present:” because it’s a gift we’re fools to miss.
Most of us have read that old science fiction classic where the professor departs his basement shop astride his “time machine,” leaving nothing behind but a ring in the dust on the floor where it once stood. In the same way civilized humanity is often out of touch, absent, unreachable by a world of unfolding presence. Our bodies remain in place like that impression in the dust, while our minds orbit backwards and forwards through the years, inhabiting every period of time but now, and every place but here. Too often we dwell on our desires and worries, rather than dwelling in the present, in place. And meanwhile things like industrial development and environmental destruction are largely accomplished out of time, by future-looking planners and bureaucrats who are oblivious to the purrs and the pleas, the rewards and challenges of the beckoning present. What we need is a conscious, collective high-dive into the always decisive moment- reimmersing ourselves in the sensations and responsibilities of the real world- now!

DJ: How does one begin to do that?

JH: Reach out to what is real- a leaf, a chair, a friend- emissaries of the present glad to reconnect us to the now. If something exists for the sense, it exists in present time. Wake up from the nightmare of past events and far away places, peer into the gradations of black in the unlit bedroom, focus on the pressures of covers against skin, or give yourself over to identifying any smells making their way to you through darkness. Try showers hotter and colder than you think you can stand, focus on the lover you’re with until there are no others. And if all else fails, there’s nothing like a loud boom, the sudden screeching of brakes, or a genuine near-death experience to bring us back into bodies ready to run or have fun.
There’s so much distraction and obstruction we have to remain fiercely focused and totally insistent. Because almost everything in society calls you away from yourself. The clamor and bright lights, standing in lines or working in offices, going to movies or making small talk. For the unplacated few, our society can seem like a very lonely place. The average Joe doesn’t seem to want to smell as deeply or love as much. Or to risk deeply caring, because it might mean he has to act on those things he sees and feels. Even the friends you’ve known forever might not affirm something that is a little bit heavier, a little deeper, than they may want to go. Maybe you becoming more of who you are mirrors something in themselves they don’t want to deal with, and so they try to keep things light. Becoming yourself makes you momentarily the loneliest person on earth, but as you walk through that door you realize that you’re part of everything. And that in the end, it’s impossible to be alone. That’s the kind of assurance and wisdom that nature affords: intimate knowledge of this moment, this tree, this place, this home.

DJ: And it seems to me to take a long time. I’ve been living on the same land now for about three years…

JH: And you’re just starting to get introduced.

DJ: Yes.

JH: This courting and bonding requires not only commitment but presence and attention, day after day after day. If we’re only home seasonally, or if we’re gone five days out of the week, it’s not the same. Deepening relationship requires we get to see the sun come up in a slightly different place each and every day through each of the four seasons. I’ve got so many friends who live in cities, who work all day indoors, and some of them don’t even know which way the sun sets. Until we’re oriented, until we know where we are, until we know what direction is East, how can we know what direction to take our lives? And it takes time to recognize the ecological cycles, as many of them are long. There are seven-year cycles for different insects, and there are different flowers that come up only every four to eight years. Patterns of rain and drought. New species moving in or disappearing. Miss a single week in this enchanted canyon, and you could miss the bulk of the wild mulberry season. No single sunset will ever be repeated again, quite the way it shined today.
This intimacy of relationship, this narrowing down of focus actually expands what it means to belong and to be alive. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that such a deep relating and reinhabiting will ever be compatible with making an income or covering one’s medical insurance.

DJ: Why not?

JH: They require we do work that takes into account the integrity and needs of our bodies, our communities, other species, the air, water and land… and that’s a hell of a way to try and make a living. This System rewards its citizens who acquiesce, compromise and conform. We’re usually paid not only to do what we’re told, but to “look the other way”- away from the effects of our tasks on our bodies, our families and our world. In fact, the more meaningless or destructive the position, the more money and benefits we can make. Corporate heads and politicians, geneticists and nuclear engineers, army generals and real estate developers are highly paid. Writers and dancers, preschool teachers and counselors, environmental activists and those who run food programs for the poor, wilderness restorationists and sage poets are lucky to be paid at all. Or else they’re volunteers.

Bu there’s an upside to this. Since the fields that require caring help pay so little, they tend to attract the most sincere people. People who are doing their service for the purest of reasons.

DJ: What’s your story?

JH: There never really was a time when I felt like I fit in. There was never a moment I didn’t feel alienated from the social agreement.

DJ: What social agreement?

JH: That if we mind our “p’s” and q’s” everything will be alright, medicine will find a cure for death, science will erect bubbles over our cities to purify the air, we’ll meet Mr. or Ms. Right, the oil companies will come up with new forms of inexpensive energy, taking away our privacy is their way of protecting us, building more missile systems will make us safer, Social Security will really take care of us when we get old, and we can all have lots of babies with no serious effects on the environment or our quality of life. And in the end, if we play by the rules we’ll all go to heaven where there are no endangered species or slaughtered Hutu tribesmen, nor wives being beaten by husbands with no self-respect.
The agreement is that we’ll smile even if we don’t like someone or something, and gather on Christmas and give presents even to those family members who happen to resent us the rest of the year. That we’ll ignore the child abuse we know is going on across the street, and have secretive affairs rather than be honest with our spouse about our feelings and needs. That we won’t talk about the effects of pesticides we sprayed in our well trimmed yards this afternoon, the percentage of poor uneducated kids in the military, or the reasons for unwed mothers and chemically deformed babies.
Do you remember a magazine in dentists’ offices when we were kids, called Highlights? Do you remember the page where they’d show a picture with something out of place, like a hammer hanging from a tree, and you were supposed to figure out what was “wrong with the picture?” From the time I was a toddler it’s felt like that to me. It’s like tapping on the rocks and discovering they’re hollow, finding mold marks and seams once we look close enough at trees. It’s like we’re all living in a big theme park… and we have to pay to get out.
When I started running away from school at age fourteen, I found bouts of hunger more stimulating than daily doses of tasteless frozen dinners, and liked being lost better than always thinking I knew where I was going. Safety was a numbing straitjacket, so I embraced risk. I welcomed the pain, because I couldn’t stomach denial anymore.

DJ: Are you talking emotional pain? Physical pain?

JH: Both. The pain of feeling isolated and misunderstood. Of empathy- for mumbling bag ladies on the streets, Hispanics jacked up by the police, the little kids that no one takes the time to listen to. Empathy for the forests cleared, for expatriate wildlife and seeds left crying beneath four inches of pavement. Even getting in fights or falling from a motorcycle had a certain refreshing honesty, functioning as calls to sensation, as adamant reminders that I was alive. Anything to know I’d escaped the paradigm of comfort, pretense and denial.

DJ: At what point did that process of cultivating pain turn over? When did you start reaping the benefits of being present?

JH: Immediately. It’s clear that the more we’re willing to feel our pain- and the agony of other people, other creatures- the greater our capacity for bliss, communion, and love. The eyes that willingly look into the faces of the suffering are more likely to take notice the value of a smile, the shifting shapes in clouds above, or the poetry of a falling leaf. Ears that find sirens unbearable, can better appreciate the whisperings of a river and the quiet squeaking of grandma’s rocking chair. The heart that really knows the meaning of bliss has been sensitized by despair.

DJ: Let’s talk about this place. (Where Hardin lives..)

JH: The Sweet Medicine Sanctuary is a restored riparian wilderness, an eighty acre inholding surrounded by millions of acres of Aldo Leopold’s Gila forest, in mountains that were one of the last refuges for free Apaches including Victorio and Geronimo. This particular bend in the river is place of power, and served the Mogollon pithouse dwellers as a site for ritual and worship for tens of thousands of years. Since the willows and cottonwood trees filled back in, we’ve seen the return of herons and ducks, owls and eagles, deer and elk, lion and bear.
When I first saw this land I fell helplessly in love with it. I sold the engine out of the school bus I lived in in order to get money, with no idea if I could get up the rest of the down payment that I’d offered.

DJ: How did you know this was the place you needed to be?

JH: Finding our home, like finding our destiny, is a matter of getting in touch with our intuition and instinct, and then learning to trust it and follow it. You can’t pick a home by comparing the facts and maps in some atlas anymore than you can find your “medicine animals” by drawing cards from a deck. Home, like adventure, is something that becomes possible whenever we suspend our plans and criteria and feel our way to where we most belong. It’s not only the place our souls need, but also the place that most needs us.
The events leading me to find, buy and preserve the Sanctuary have been nothing short of miraculous, convincing me without a doubt that I was meant to be here serving this place. And anyway, we can sense where we belong in the compass of our bones. Whenever we leave home we feel like we’re going the wrong way. And when we turn back, we know in every cell of our being that we’re headed in the direction of home.
As a youngster I preferred multiple affairs to lasting communities, variety of experience over depth. I tried to love every place I traveled through in the same way, finding the “goddess” in each, promising to none. Coming here was the end to that, the moment of pledging allegiance, of marrying the land, entering into a reciprocal agreement that demands as much from me as it gives.

DJ: You’ve written that we can’t own the land, that land owns us. What is your contract with this canyon?

JH: How can we own that which contains us, predates us, and outlasts us? I didn’t contract for this place so much as with it. We enter into a relationship sealed in blood and tears, sweat and semen, an equitable giving and taking that’s clearly spelled out, and duly sworn to. The land is pledged to give wholly of its authentic self, to offer home and shelter, beautiful groves and stunning Mountains, the food and water we need, inspiration and instruction. We promise gifts in return, like our attention and presence. We promise to try and feel her needs, and meet them. To support her in her fullest flowering. To defend her integrity and honor from all threats including those that come from ourselves. To appreciate, and celebrate.
It is, as much as anything else, a marriage contract, bound by love rather than law. I’ve stood before these orange and purple cliffs many times and repeated my vows. That I’ll do everything I can to restore her.

DJ: This may seem strange, but when I was walking down this canyon, before I came up here to do this interview, the one thing that was missing was a lover. Had I been here with a human lover, we would have had no choice but to make love.

JH: Of course! Everywhere we look we see the eroticized natural world both consuming itself and making love to itself through its constituent parts: pollen-laden flowers pierced by wild bees, the mating calls of the sex-addled elk, insect orgies and intertwining grape vines. We’re drawn to participate in this lusting and cuddling, inspired to add our own variations of partnering and pairing. There exists what Terry Tempest Williams and I call an “erotic’s of place,” the charged field we evolved from, and that we subconsciously long to penetrate again. My wife Loba lost a woman lover moving here to this paradise, but the canyon has become her feminine paramour. You can see it in the way she touches each lichen-padded rock on the way down to the trail. The hurt look on her face if she breaks the grasses she steps on. Her look of ecstasy as the shallow river carries her slowly downstream. And the way her voice rings out on a moonlit night…

DJ: When she asked what would be required of her if she stayed with you here, one of the things you said was, “Sing praise to the canyon.”

JH: The land doesn’t just need us defending it. It needs our hands-on care. Needs us to sing ritual and prayer, gratitude and celebration. From the time my sweetheart first got here, she’d stand above the river in front of a small wind cave, and sing out a cascade of trills and bars. I feel the whole canyon rising to take it in, the way a cat raises its back when you reach down to stroke it.

DJ: One of the things I love about your work is that activists generally do restoration, some new age types sing praises, but you do both. It’s very evident how much work you’ve done here.

JH: You’re a gentleman for saying so. Restoration and resistance can be arts, just like music and poetry- if we infuse them with passion and prayer.
The most adamant and beautiful work seems to emanate from the reptilian cortex, from caring souls and expectant flesh. From the Earth, and Spirit. The rational mind really only serves this work to the degree that it functions as an honest translator.

DJ: You said that people come her on quests…

JH: We offer resident internships, retreats with fasts and shelter, and wilderness quests: quests for a deeper experiencing of life and truth. For clarity. For ways of being, and doing. We don’t’ call them “vision quests,” partly because the people who come here are already equipped with a vision, or they wouldn’t have made it this many hundreds of miles from the nearest airport, and several river crossings from where they parked their car. The quest allows them to be away from the distractions of that other world. Out of this intentional experience, one hopes, comes a deeper recognition and acceptance of who they really are, their real feelings and useful intuition. If people can capture that here, hold on to that and take it with them, then the right path will be obvious, and their choices clear.

DJ: What do they physically do?

JH: Counsel. There is a day of purification, of slowing down the prattle of the mind, focusing on presence, gathering for the sweat lodge, infusing every rock, every piece of wood with our intentions and prayers. A night of tending the fire beneath the sacred cliffs, causing a sweat so hot it pushes us out of our minds and into body and earth. We get all the way into the cold river after each round. We stand in the first dawn light with the steam pouring off our skin. Then up to four days and nights of fasting and opening in a favored spot near the water or up on a rocky peak. We suspend our disbelief, exceed our imagined limitations, and open up to the experience and instruction of the seamless whole.

DJ: You talked earlier about finding a “place of power.” What does that mean?

JH: All of the Earth is sacred, with an accessible spirit and persona, and every place offers the same essential body of wisdom. But there have always been locations with a special ambiance, such as the confluences of rivers, mountain peaks; landmarks where the energy seems more palpable, where our feelings, fear and hopes are reflected back to us. And where the lessons are harder to avoid. This canyon is like that, which is why it was a place of ceremony for the Sweet Medicine People for so many generations. These are places that need to be protected from encroachment, commercialization, and misuse.
At the same time, by focusing on the Black Hills and Machu Pichu, Mesa Grande and Sedona, we risk missing out on the magic of the familiar and mundane, the miracle of outlaw dandelions pushing their sunny little heads up through the cracks in the pavement, and the living character of a neighborhood park.

DJ: In your book Kindred Spirits you write about learning from the land, and the lessons are far from the Disneyfied version where nothing or no one ever gets hurt.

JH: Wilderness is a largely benign and beneficial experience, but it has its dangers that force us to be fully awake, to be careful, full-of-care. Our strength is a product of those challenges we pull against. Our ancestors’ speedy reaction time resulted not only from running after food, but running away from trouble. The experiences that are most unforgettable are intimations of death, and reminders to live. We were never more alive, never more fully present and aware as when we were stalked by cave bears and giant cats.
I’ve often stepped a few feet off a mountain trail, to let a noisy covey of hikers pass. I smile as they shuffle by staring at their feet, talking loudly about the next peak they’re going to “bag,” or the last woman they “had”- without them seeing me there, standing in plain sight. In grizzly country, they could end up lunch meat. It only takes one look at a grizzly’s claw marks high up a tree to get us to pay a little more attention to our surroundings. Eyes alerted to spot bear tracks are more likely to notice the little flowers budding up through the clover, and the way the wind passes through the tall grass. Ears listening intently for the sound of the great bears, are more likely to hear the tinkling of a rain seep, and recognize the subtleties in a river’s song.

DJ: How does death fit into this picture?

JH: Fear is a reason for increased awareness, and potentially, fuel for movement and change. In the same way, death is an ally that constantly reminds us of the real world around us, and of what’s most important. If you think you only have a few weeks or months to live, you’ll unlikely want to spend any of that time under fluorescent lights, quibbling or worrying. You’ll try to spend time in your favorite places, or where you most belong. You’ll revel in the moments you have with your loved ones, savor every scent and sound. But if you think you have several years left, you’re likely to loiter in your mind, put off that trip to your beloved ocean or desert, suffer the cubicle lights to pull in a few more paychecks, miss precious hugs and giggles and winks with your kids and lovers. The more time you think you have, the more likely you’ll postpone your spiritual work, your assignment, your purpose… the very living of life.
We already have a hard time being present and in-body- already treat the Earth as if it were a lifeless and limitless resource- knowing we’re lucky if we have seventy years of relative good health. Just imagine how careless we’d be with our lives, and the lives of other species, if we could count on biomedicine to guarantee us fifty to a hundred years more. Sensitivity, compassion and gratitude are rooted in the awareness of mortality.
In this way, the big bears are our Buddhas. And even viruses are agents of humility and love.

DJ: We’re not the top of the food chain.

JH: Dirt is at the top… because it gets to eat everybody! If we really want to feel like part of the endless cycles of life, we need to get used to thinking of ourselves as food. In this society people usually live their lives as though they were somehow separate from nature, and then they employ embalming fluids and metal lined coffins to try to keep nature out after death. Attempts to forestall decomposition, like science’s search for immortality, signify our unwillingness to surrender to the very processes we arose from, extend our of… and return to.

DJ: Facing death, like facing life, takes a lot of courage.

JH: Courage is being willing to feel, no matter what the costs. And doing the right thing- acting on those feelings- in the face of all obstacles. If we are courageous it is because we love something enough that we’d take risks to save it, help it, nourish it. The ultimate courage comes from the certain knowledge that we are an inseparable part of the Earth. We must learn to live lives that, like death, affirm the sacred connection between us and the land.

DJ: I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as anything separate from land.

JH: There’s no such thing as separate. That’s the whole point. Every problem in the world, every social dis-ease, every environmental imbalance, every screwed up personal problem is because we’re somehow able to imagine separation between our mind and our heart, between our mind and our body, between our body and this place, between ourselves and our loved ones, ourselves and our community. There is no original evil, only original imagined separation. The cure for that is love. And the way to manifest that love is through the courageous embodiment of our decisive responsible selves. Our natural selves, in partnership with what’s natural in this world.

DJ: For the longest time I tried to define what is natural, and here is what I finally came up with: an institution or rule or artifact is natural to the degree that it reinforces our understanding of our embeddedness and participation in the natural world, and it’s unnatural to the degree that it masks all of that.

JH: Exactly. And we’re natural, to the degree that we embrace our embeddedness, and act out of that animal/spiritual sense of connectedness, interdependence, and inseparability.

DJ: When you say there’s no separation, do you mean that everything is good? Do you mean that chainsaws and corporations are…

JH: I mean there is no separation between physical and energetic bodies of the Earth destroyers and the Earth defenders, though we might wish there were! We will all be rejoined in fact, stirred and folded back into the great Gaian soup. Likewise the metals in the chainsaw will in time corrode back into seams of earthen ore, and even the abomination called plastic will break back down into native sediments and organic gases. That doesn’t make the callous developer or arrogant geneticist any less accountable, or the Tupperware parties any less bizarre. But responsibility comes from the awareness of interdependency. In the long run, we’ll need to make the corporate polluter and de-forester aware of their place in the web, and the results of their acts.

DJ: And you also, presumably, want to stop him.

JH: The moment we’re aware of an injustice, we have a responsibility to do absolutely everything in our power, legal and extralegal, to prevent or rectify that wrong. But we shouldn’t kill a plant or animal to eat without feeling empathy for its death, without feeling both intimacy and sadness, because you know you are connected to what you eat. By family. By flesh. And similarly; we shouldn’t strike a blow against an enemy, no matter how egregious his acts, without recognizing the degree to which he is of us, and in us.
We do this work of activism, social change and wilderness restoration in the most compassionate, graceful and aesthetic ways possible.

DJ: What is the role of art in cultural transformation? Where does art come from?

JH: There’s a spirit in all of us that likes to draw, handle a sharp pencil, splash water colors or get our hands into sculptor’s clay. That longs to make a statement, and have an impact. It’s rooted in the creative urges of a planet, imbued with the passion of evolution. One never really manufactures either adventure or art. We are confronted by it, consumed by it, and remade within it. It always has a purpose, and is willingly given away. Life mortal flesh. Like these golden cottonwood leaves. Like Hopi sand paintings intricately crafted, and then blown and blended by the wind. But then it’s not in the completion of some project that we become fulfilled. It’s in the making of our art, in the living of our lives that we’re made whole.
Some art reflects what is, good and bad, and forces us to engage or confront both. Other arts are ways of living grace and balance, dancing them into the hearts and minds of an audience that has forgotten what it is to be Gaian respondents and participants in beauty. It’s for us to make sure our arts are not only decorative but meaningful, contributing to greater awareness, sensitivity, understanding and response. And that our every act, from civil disobedience and litigation to the way we live or make love, be as artful and significant as we make them. Deep art comes from deep seeing, and deep feeling. It becomes a deliberate mission to express our authenticity, our experience, our connectedness in a way that is as beautiful as possible. And then to give even our lives away. The result again is reconnection, as our art and practice weaves us back into the material of our experience. Together with the ritual efforts of others, we co-create the living fabric of culture, jointly paint on that fabric the story of our struggles and accomplishments, our love and our hope. And it’s so important to recognize the art, beauty and meaning in the mundane, the simple, the plain. We’re surrounded by art every day. And it’s trying, like the rest of natural world, to communicate with us. What we need is not only the ability, but the willingness, to recognize it for what it is.

DJ: Walking up the canyon I took a friend to smell a ponderosa pine. At the base were some ant lion cones. He’d never seen one before. We hadn’t noticed them as we were walking, until we stopped to pay attention. The patterns of their cones were so beautiful. Everything seemed so utterly alive. Lately it’s seemed to me that even fires are just as alive as hummingbirds or humans. Have you ever thought about this?

JH: Everything that’s a part of the living whole must in its own way be alive. Mute energies, unthinking rocks, all part and portion of a life: Gaian Earth. And in turn, that Earth is a part of a larger universe that must also be alive. I don’t sense any awareness in fires, but I don’t measure life by whether it’s conscious or not. People have the capacity to be ultra-conscious, but we can be some of the least enlivened.

DJ: I’d like to change the subject. You’ve said that you lilve in one of the most famously anti-environmental counties in the country. What’s that like?

JH: This is one of the few counties where folks have talked about seceding from the Union, and the Catron County Ordinance asserting local jurisdiction over federal agencies has been adopted by several other Western communities. Of the Mexican Gray wolves recently reintroduced into this area, a half dozen have been shot by locals afraid for their livestock and their livelihoods. The local saloon advertises Spotted Owl Stew.
It’s been difficult, being the only self-confessed tree-hugger for miles around. I suppose if I’d been looking for alternative community I might have ended up in Cave Junction, Oregon, or Asheville, North Carolina instead. But I was looking for wilderness, adventure, magic… And in the end it wouldn’t have mattered what I wanted, because I was being called here.
I had little respect for carpenters until I had to figure out how to build this cabin, or for mechanics until I tried to keep our truck running. Then over the years I grew to see the value in a farmer’s early morning schedule and the attention he pays to the rain. As upset as I get over the effects of public-lands grazing, I look up to the way the old-time ranchers ride the range everyday, do what they need to do without whining, and can fix almost anything with fencing pliers and a coil of bailing wire. In addition, these folks are quicker to express their true feelings. They’re generally honest. They do what they say they’re going to do, and they expect me to do the same. And there are ways that they’re in touch with the land that my city environmentalist friends will never be. I would even support their resistance to being governed by a distant and out of touch elite, if only they wouldn’t take advantage of their liberties to further strip the old growth forest, or kill off the native predators.

DJ: Freedom without responsibility is tremendously destructive.

JH: Teaching responsibility and inspiring stewardship is part of the assignment. And the only way to accomplish this is through an exploration of common ground.
The majority of the articles I write are in magazines for an audience that are already believers. Folks read Talking Leaves or Earthlight because they love the environment, or they’re interested in spirit, or they’re moved by personal and social change. It’s more challenging to teach about sense of place in a piece for Backpacker, or sentience and sacrament in a food magazine. And the hardest pieces have been those written as a columnist for the local paper, trying to reach the hearts of my rural neighbors.

DJ: What kind of responses have you gotten?

JH: Mostly positive, oddly enough. I don’t know how deeply I touch them, but I know how important it is to try. I call attention to our common threats, like condominiums and gentrification. I advocate wildness, by reminding readers of their respect for the unbreakable stallion, and explain the interdependency of nature by comparing it to the cooperative bonds of a healthy family. In one article I pointed out how easy it is to diss the old homestead as soon as they can afford a new doublewide- but then how much they’d miss it if the bank called in their loans, or if for some reason it burned down. Suddenly they’d recall the handrailings burnished smooth by their grandparents’ hands, and remember the story behind every mark on the walls. I talk about how we may not fully appreciate a home until we’ve lost it, or a spouse until they’ve died or left us. And how it’s the same with the loss of the last wild places.

DJ: Common ground is an interesting subject.

JH: I’ve always had a soft spot for honest confrontation because it polarizes things, and thus makes the choices clearer. But I’ve also come to see the advantage of focusing on those values and priorities that we share.

DJ: I think that before we can even talk about commonality we need to acknowledge polarities that already exist.

JH: I see common ground in terms of the actual land we share: our settings, ecosystems and environments. As a community we’re all affected by what affects our watershed. We breathe the same clean or dirtied air. We face the same basic threats. We depend on the same sources of food. And we hopefully have a very similar love and affection for the place that we call home. It’s this necessity, and this affection, that can bind us together.

DJ: I work a lot with independent loggers and farmers, and I’m always honest with them: we both want to take down the big corporations, and I want to take down civilization. So we work together in the short run, and in the long run maybe we don’t.

JH: I have a vision of a world that is so wild that it can survive even our mistakes, even our insensitivities. We won’t get that again until long after the fall, long after the population drop. Until then, we’ve got to individually make our lives a quest for reconnection, a quest for right livelihood and right living- even if we lose our credibility and careers, the support of our parents, the acceptance of our children, or the understanding of our mates- in the course of regaining our lives, our passions, our souls.

DJ: That’s a hard sell.

JH: It will always be more popular to hand out “blessed” chocolates and get-into-heaven-free cards, and no call to sentience and responsibility can compete with selling prayers for angels that are willing to do all the karmic work for you. Hardly anyone wants to be told that they’re in charge of their own lives, and that the fate of the natural world will largely depend on what we do or don’t do.
I offer students and visitors nothing but the truth, and their self: authentic and responsive, empowered and assigned, content and fulfilled. But they have to be willing to pay the price of admission to this, “the real world, muchacho!” The truth can seem to “cost us everything,” but it gifts us with who we really are, and gives us back the fullest experiencing of the world we’re part of. This is insight with no borders, no convention, no pretense, no apologies. I don’t ask for perfection or enlightenment from those I work with, only whole and heartful effort, a fierce focus and love. And a willingness to get up when you fall. We’re a “no ropes” course: a chance to be aware and responsible, with nothing holding you down, and the knowledge there are no nets to soften our mistakes. It’s supposed to hurt, so we know where and when we went wrong. Instead of “12 Steps,” we’ve narrowed it down to two: Rebecome your most authentic, feeling self- and the manifest that self for the good of All. Therapists want you to have the “skills” to keep your traumas and unment needs from interfering with your ability to “function productively” in society. I have no intention of making it easier for anyone to tolerate the hypocrisy and meaningless around them, or to ignore their needs and wounds. I try to give them back the will and power to resist what needs resisting, change what needs changing… and feel absolutely all.
There are schools happy to take your money year after year without graduating you. Priests will absolve you, and gurus give you a mantra to help you transcend. Counselors will process you endlessly, and never demand any major shifts. Not so with the teachings of the inspirited Earth, of primal instinct and intuition… and not so with us. Every “class” results in graduation, every lesson put to work for the good of not only one’s self but other people, other species, and the sacred land. You can be redeemed and fulfilled, but not absolved, for the aware have a responsibility. We will ask you not to transcend but engage. And we will expect you to change- into becoming more who you really are: needy as well as giving, vulnerable as well as strong, physical as well as spiritual, angry as well as happy, determined as well as afraid. I will do my best to keep any politically correct timidity or New Age escapism from interfering with your fullest realization, even if it occasionally discomforts you, insults your sources, or threatens your preconceptions and plans. It’s the least I can do.

DJ: What worries you most?

JH: The epidemic insecurity of our kind. We’re in some kind of collective denial about the fact, but there is no single greater influence on our activities, no single greater factor in the repression of our native humanness and the distortion and destruction of nature. The drunk in the gutter, and the extrovert developer, are both responding to gut-wrenching self-doubt. The building of absurd skyscrapers and the beating of wives, are attempts to compensate for a lack of self worth.
The world would be a saner, healthier place if only we could learn to really, truly love ourselves. But this self-love can only come when we begin to recognize and experience our lives as truly, deeply significant. It grows proportionately with every challenge we rise to take on. It roots and strengthens with each difficult, selfless quest we see to completion. And it bears noble fruit, as we being to fulfill our most meaningful purpose. Real self worth is determined by our capacity to share, not by how much we own- not by the amount of skills we have, but by the ways in which we employ them.

DJ: How do you define “secure”?

JH: One can’t be secure “from” something, only “in” something. We’re never truly secure from pain or poverty, hatred or harm, abandonment or libel, death or disease. We can be secure in who we truly are, in the reality of our weaknesses as well as the truth of our gifts. In the innocence of our hearts and the sanctity of our souls. We can be secure in the love we have available to give, if not always in the affections we hoped to receive. In our connection to all that is, to all that ever was, and to all that will ever be. In our blessings, our love, and our purpose.

DJ: What else scares you?

JH: The idea of a world robbed of wilderness. An end to the playground of evolution. The neglect or destruction of those places of magic and instruction that could lead us back to health and balance, self and home. We’re rapidly losing the openings, the opportunities for personal reconnection and assignment. My fear is that the last natural places will be commercialized or destroyed, and that even words reflecting and spreading this earthen wisdom will be lost. That there will no longer be a demand for things wild and real, in a culture of artificiality and control. And that we may soon lose the capacity to tell the difference. The coming generations will be starving not only from lack of food and space, but an absence of grounded advice… and the forgotten lessons of inspirited place.

DJ: What about hope?

JH: I expect nothing… and hope for miracles. I find hope in Loba’s unflagging compassion. In the faces of little children, the angst and anger of troubled teens, and in the determination of Zapatista women. In the efforts of Indian traditionalists, neodruids, and radical pagans, spiritual activists and environmental ethicists. In small presses and regional zines. In urban gardens, and herbicide-resistant weeds. I find hope in the insistence of my students, and the concern of our resident interns. In my dear apprentice Scot, and the promise of a renewed lineage of protection and sacrament. And of course, I find it incredibly hopeful- that after the worst that technological civilization can do, life will spring back in all its diversity and glory for as long as the sun shall shine!

DJ: I’ve got a line in a book: “Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.” That’s because salmon are dying not from a lack of words, but from dams. Does writing help?

JH: It helps- at least to the degree we raise a reader’s awareness of the pain and bliss of life, and help incite their honorable responses. If we remind them not to let any intermediary stand between them and God, or between them and direct experience. If they’re more empathetic and grateful after reading our words, more likely to dance and less likely to “sit this one out.” If they cry more, laugh more, feel more. If they never knew how to have fun, and they play more afterwards. If they were never serious about anything, and they end up dealing with the really heavy shit. If we can keep them from stubbing their toes on the same obstacles twice, and get them to chance new mistakes they can learn and grow from. If they read about all the things we learned from a certain mulberry tree, and then go out right away and eat berries! If they’re a little less tolerant of evil and the artificial, and a little more willing to take risks. If we provoke or seduce them to go barefoot, taste their food, say “I love you” more often, or discover divine creation in even a single backyard flower.
It’s an old metaphor, but we’re all planting seeds. And this takes us back to the question of whether we can hope for results. A person putting our seeds can’t stand around and wait and see what grows in every situation. Sometimes they might come up the first year. Others might take ten or fifteen generations, and come up when there is just enough sunshine, just enough moisture, just enough compost for the seed to sprout and bloom.
But these are just words. The essential thing is to re-become who we really are, opposing the destruction and lies, embracing the natural world, working and playing as if life itself depended on it. Once we do that, there will be no more quandaries, no more need to “process,” no confusion about wrong or right, or wondering if we’re on our path of heart. We’ll feel, we’ll care, we’ll respond. We’ll express this wholeness in acts of integrity, and beauty. We’ll give everything… and that will be enough.

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