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wild & dao

In 'The Practice of the Wild' (1990) Gary Snyder observes how:

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what - from a human standpoint - it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what it is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals - free agents, each with its own endowments, living within natural systems.
Of plants - self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities.
Of land - a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of nonhuman forces. Pristine.
Of foodcrops - food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of quantities of fruit or seeds.
Of societies - societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist economic and political domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem.
Of individuals - following local custom, style, and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent. "Proud and free."
Of behavior - fiercely resisting any oppression, confinement, or exploitation. Far-out, outrageous, "bad," admirable.
Of behavior - artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. Expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic.

Most of the senses in this [positive] set of definitions come very close to being how the Chinese define the term Dao, the way of Great Nature: eluding analysis, beyond categories, self-organizing, self-informing, playful, surprising, impermanent, insubstantial, independent, complete, orderly, unmediated, freely manifesting, self-authenticating, self-willed, complex, quite simple. Both empty and real at the same time. In some cases we might call it sacred.

Snyder, Beat poet who brought both ecological sensitivity and Buddhist hermits to the mix. (In Beat lore, he was the one who arranged for Kerouac's mountaintop fire lookout job, described in 'The Dharma Bums'.) 'The Practice of the Wild' collects a number of his essays from the 1970s and '80s, on wilderness and ecology, branching out to the indigenous cultures of Turtle Island (aka North-America) and Buddhist philosophy.

Grounded in practical experience, his unsentimental yet fundamental concern for the natural world has been a major inspiration for the deep ecology movement. Even Snyder doesn't manage to completely extricate himself from the contradictions of consumer culture, as when he enthusiastically describes buying mangoes in a 24/7, airplane-supplied supermarket in the middle of Alaska. Then again, he already warned about global warming back in the 1980s.

At its best his poetic writing indeed attains the kind of wild, earthy spirituality of early Chinese Daoism - with all the adjectives cited above.

The wild - often dismissed as savage and chaotic by "civilized" thinkers, is actually impartially, relentlessly, and beautifully formal and free. Its expression - the richness of plant and animal life on the globe including us, the rainstorms, windstorms, and calm spring mornings - is the real world, to which we belong.
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