The Mountain Keeps Up With the Mountain

Isle of Skye, 2013

Isle of Skye, 2013

20 February 2014
9:00 pm

T. —

I’m putting off writing about ‘Her’ for one more day, because I’m trying to organize everything for the trip down South this weekend to visit my Granddad. Granddad’s place is such an amazing, contemplative, reflective space, that I have no doubt the evenings will be conducive to some good writing.

In the meantime, here are some great quotes from ‘Practice of the Wild’ by Gary Snyder that I finished reading this week:

Language meanders like great rivers leaving oxbow traces over forgotten beds, to be seen only from the air or by scholars. Language is like some kind of infinitely inter-fertile family of species spreading or mysteriously declining over time, shamelessly and endlessly hybridising, changing it’s own rules as it goes. Words are used as signs, as stand-ins, arbitrary and temporary, even as language reflects (and informs) the shifting values of the peoples whose minds it inhabits and glides through. We have faith in ‘meaning’ the way we might believe in wolverines — putting trust in the occasional reports of others or on the authority of once seeing a pelt. But it is sometimes worth tracking these tricksters back. (8)


The rocky icy grandeur of the high country — and the rich shadowy bird and fish-streaked southern swamps — remind us of the overarching wild systems that nourish us all and underwrite the industrial economy. In the sterile beauty of mountain snowfields and glaciers begin the little streams that water the agribusiness fields of the great Central Valley of California. The wilderness pilgrim’s step-by-step breath-by-breath walk up a trail, into those snowfields, carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy.

Not just backpackers, of course. The same happens to those who sail in the ocean, kayak fjords or rivers, tend a garden, peel garlic, even sit on a meditation cushion. The point is to make intimate contact with the real world, real self. Sacred refers to that which helps take us (not only human beings) out of our little selves into the whole mountains-and-rivers mandala universe. Inspiration, exaltation, and insight do not end when one steps outside the doors of the church. The wilderness as temple is only a beginning. One should not dwell in the specialness of the extraordinary experience nor hope to leave the political quagg behind to enter a perpetual state of heightened insight. The best purpose of such studies and hikes is to be able to come back to the lowlands and see all the land about us, agricultural, suburban, urban, as part of the same territory — never totally ruined, never completely unnatural. (101)


Mountains also have mythic associations of verticality, spirit, height, transcendence, hardness, resistance, and masculinity. for the Chinese they are exemplars of the “yang”: dry, hard, male, and bright. Waters are feminine: wet, soft, dark “yin” with associations of fluid-but-strong, seeking (and carving) the lowest, soulful, life-giving, shape-shifting… The two are seen as buddha-work partners: ascetic discipline and relentless spirituality balanced by compassionate tolerance and detached forgiveness. Mountains and Waters are a dyad that together make wholeness possible: wisdom and compassion are the two components of realisation. (108)


There’s all sorts of walking — from heading out across the desert in a straight line to a sinuous weaving through undergrowth. Descending rocky ridges and talus slopes is a specialty in itself. It is an irregular dancing — always shifting — step of walk on slabs and scree. The breath and eye are always following this uneven rhythm. It is never paced or clocklike, but flexing — little jumps — sidesteps — going for the well-seen place to put a foot on a rock, hit flat, move on — zigzagging along and all deliberate. The alert eye looking ahead, picking the footholds to come, while never missing the step of the moment. The body-mind is so at one with this rough world that it makes these moves effortlessly once it has had a bit of practice. The mountain keeps up with the mountain. (121)





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