A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.


"Your recent blog about the tender return of your loved ones to the earth was moving, graceful in words and inspiration. Your words always come from the heart and intellect. A rare and insightful combination." Rolland Smith, former news anchor for WCBS-TV in New York, recipient of 11 Emmy Awards

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Occupy. Immerse. Inhabit.

I want to get better at inhabiting, at occupying my landscape, moment by moment - like the otter below inhabits hers.  Almost completely immersed.  I want to know intimately the physical world where the outer story of my life takes place.  After all, isn't this where our thoughts feel most at home?  How is storytelling any different?

"Coastal Cruising" courtesy wildlife artist Daniel Smith

“Writing the outer story is a matter of sending yourself on the journey, sending yourself through the moment to find the new thing in it…. Don’t think, but watch instead: occupy…” (from Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Graywolf Press).  

Mary Dobbs, Spanish Mustang Collection
No matter how long a horse has inhabited a terrain, if something new suddenly appears, his attention will be riveted toward it.  The boulder that has rolled down the hill during the night to lodge against a sage brush might be a crouching mountain lion waiting to attack his herd. The rogue horse snorting around the edges of the band of mares might be a rival, a challenge to be dealt with immediately.  The physical world is not a passive place.  It demands action. And it demands our attention.  Photographer Mary Dobbs intimately inhabits, even if only for a moment, every landscape seen through her camera lens.  She has taught herself the importance of focused attention. 

When we truly occupy a landscape, moment by moment - aware of each blade of grass stirred by each unsettled thought, and when we describe this physical world for the reader - we create a portal into our story, a way for the reader to enter and begin to co-inhabit the world of our characters.  But first, we must inhabit it ourselves.  We must relearn what it means to be attentive, and we must relearn what it means to be silent.  Only then can we move deeply into a scene and truly occupy it.

The eight short stories in Paul Yoon’s 2009 collection Once the Shore are all set on the same South Korean island.  The stories span fifty years, and each story is linked to the others by landscape.  Immerse yourself in this stunning collection and by the end you will feel as if you have lived among the farmers, rested in the shade of their citrus groves, taken your turn sipping from passed cups of cold barley tea, and spent your evenings watching the lighting of the iron lanterns hung on the arches above the boardwalk in Ido.  (read "The Hanging Lanterns of Ido excerpt on NPR).  

PW photos by Christy Whitney
In the July/August issue of Poets & Writers, Simon & Schuster editor Michael Szczerban asks heavy-hitting agent Eric Simonoff about the future of books.“I do believe there is a persistent and insatiable desire for long-form prose - there is something about the experience of disappearing into a long piece of writing that has enormous appeal... It is that experience of immersion, and the fact that it is both solitary and yet communal - that it requires quiet time alone in an incredibly hectic, overburdened world…and that the great satisfaction of it is talking to other people about what you read - will never be replaced by anything else.” 
Occupy.  Immerse.  Inhabit.  This is exactly what Writing for Peace Founder Carmel Mawle asked writers to do when she sent out a world-wide Call for Entries for their first issue of DoveTalesThe themed title?  Occupied.  "What poured in from across the globe were brilliant and creative approaches," Carmel writes in her editor's notes, "piercing and picturesque, heartbreaking and humorous, and what slowly emerged was a vibrant mosaic of human experience."

Human experience always happens here, on Planet Earth, unless of course, it doesn't. Lyle Balenquah, Hopi member of the Greasewood Clan from the Village of Bacavi (Reed Springs) on Third Mesa, explains in his essay "Connected by Earth" (Thinking Like a Watershed: Voices from the West,Jack and Celestia Loeffler) that human experience has three parts. 

"One part is strictly physical," writes Lyle Balenquah, "putting some aspect of our bodies in touch with the natural world, breathing it in.  Another part is spiritual - having a metaphysical experience or feeling between our natural world that is beyond the physical, but is most like a result of the physical.  And yet one other part can be viewed as a conscious connection - a mental exercise in which without the physical or spiritual contact, we remain cognizant of the simple fact that we are indeed a part of a larger natural world."

So, to inhabit a place means to touch it, to breathe it in and then to let this tactile, physical relationship lead us to a broader awareness.  

Photo courtesy John Gritts
Every time I drive to the grocery store seven miles from home, I turn west into a breathtaking view of the Continental Divide.  The moisture that falls on the peaks of this Great Divide, either as rain or snow, eventually flows either into the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.  

The way these mountains "shed" water, the rivers and lakes and creeks into which the water gathers, make up the watershed of the region, "...within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community..." (John Wesley Powell). 
Playing during Page's River Writing Journey
Inextricably linked - swimming gracefully in the outer waters of our lives so that our inner rivers flow toward community.  Whether it's the landscapes that we inhabit or the settings where our stories unfold, an awareness of our relationship to the world around us, moment by moment and within the grand design, helps us move more deeply into life and occupy it more fully.