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% Re-Inhabitation, by Gary Snyder
% This essay was typed from the version that appeared in
% his book "Old Ways" (City Lights Books, 1977).
%
% This online version is, hm, illegal, or at least sort of. I haven't
% asked for the permission of the author because I was afraid he would
% say no for hairy legal reasons... But I've been mentioning this
% essay to so many people over the last years, and I think that its
% contents are so important, that I finally decided that it should be
% made more easily available, and I took the pains to type everything.
% So: read it, LaTeX it (it is a LaTeX file), print it, give it to
% friends, and *please*, if you like it do show your gratitude to its
% author in the standard ways: buy that book, or another one called "A
% Place in Space" (see <http://www.serve.com/ecobooks/placspac.htm>;
% it has five of the six essays in "Old Ways", plus a lot (24?) more),
% and, I know that this expression sound ridiculous but I love it, do
% your part and save the world...
%
% Version: 2003mar08
% URL: http://angg.twu.net/LATEX/reinhab.tex
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% http://shop.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=1887178279
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{\bf Re-Inhabitation}

by Gary Snyder

\medskip

I came here by a path, a line, of people that somehow worked their way
from the Atlantic seabord westward over a hundred and fifty years. One
Grandfather ended up in the Territory of Washington, and homesteaded
in Kitsap County. My Mother's side was railroad people down in Texas,
and before that they'd worked the silver mines in Leadville, Colorado.
My Grandfather, being a homesteader, and my father a native of the
state of Washington, put our family relatively early in the Northwest.
Yet we weren't early enough. An elderly Salish indian gentleman came
by our farm once every few months in a model T truck, selling smoked
salmon. ``Who is he?'' ``He's an Indian'' my parents said~---

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Looking at all the different trees and plants that made up my
second-growth Douglas fir forest plus cow-pasture childhood universe,
I realized that my parents were short on a certain kind of knowledge.
They could say ``That's a Doug Fir, that's a cedar, that's bracken
fern...'' But I perceived a subtlety and complexity in those woods
that went far beyond a few names.

As a child I spoke with the old Salishan man a few times over the
years he made these stops --- then, suddenly, he never came back. I
sensed what he represented, what he knew, and what it meant to me: he
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knew better than anyone else I had ever met, {\sl where I was}. I had
no notion of a white American or European heritage providing an
identity; I defined myself by relation to the place. Soon I also
understood that ``English language'' is an identity --- and later, via
the hearsay of books, received the full cultural and historical view
--- but never forgot, or left, that first ground: the ``where'' of our
``who are we?''

There are many people on the planet, now, who are not ``inhabitants.''
Far from their home villages; removed from ancestral territories;
moved into town from the farm; went to pan gold in California --- work
on the Pipeline --- work for Bechtel in Iran. Actual inhabitants ---
peasants, paisanos, paysan, peoples of the land, have been sniffed at,
laughed at, and overtaxed for centuries by the urban-based ruling
elites. The intellectuals haven't the least notion of what kind of
sophisticated, attentive, creative intelligence it takes to ``grow
food.'' Virtually all the plants in the garden and the trees in the
orchards, the sheep, cows and goats in the pastures were domesticated
in the Neolithic; before ``civilization.'' The differing regions of
the world have long had --- each --- their own precise subsistence
pattern developed over millenia by people who have settled in there
and learned what particular kinds of plants the ground would ``say''
at that spot.

Humankind also clearly wanders. Four million years ago those smaller
proto-humans were moving in
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and out of the edges of forest and grassland in Africa; fairly warm;
open enough to run in. At some point moving on, catching fire, sewing
clothes, swinging around the arctic, setting out in amazing sea
voyages. A skull found in Santa Barbara has been dated at 50,000
years. So it may be that during the middle and late Pleistocene, large
fauna hunting era, a fairly nomadic grassland-and-tundra hunting life
was established, with lots of mobility across northern Eurasia in
particular. With the decline of the ice age --- and here's where we
are, most of the big game hunters went out of business. There was
possibly a population drop in Eurasia and the Americas, as the old
techniques no longer worked.

Countless local ecosystem habitation styles emerged. People developed
specific ways to {\sl be} in each of those niches: plant knowledge,
boats, dogs, traps, nets, fishing --- the smaller animals, and smaller
tools. From steep jungle slopes of Southwest China to coral atolls to
barren arctic deserts --- {\sl a spirit of what was to be there}
evolved, that spoke of a direct sense of relation to the ``land'' ---
which really means, the totality of the local bio-region system, from
cirrus clouds to leaf-mold.

So, inhabitory peoples sometimes say ``this piece of land is sacred''
--- or ``all the land is sacred.'' This is an attitude that draws on
awareness of the mystery of life and death; of taking life to live; of
giving life back --- not olnly to your own children, but to the life
of
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the whole land.

Abbé Breuil, the French prehistorian who worked extensively in the
caves of southern France, has pointed out that the animal murals in
those 20,000 year old caves describe fertility as well as hunting ---
the birth of little bison and cow calves. They show a tender and
accurate observation of the qualities and personalities of different
creatures; implying a sense of the mutuality of life and death in the
food chain; and what I take to be a sense of a sacramental quality in
that relationship.

Inhabitation does not mean ``not travelling.'' The term does not of
itself define the size of a territory. The size is determined by the
bio-region type. The bison hunters of the great plains are as surely
in a ``territory'' as the Indians of northern California, though the
latter may have seldom ventured farther than 30 miles from where they
were born. Whether a vast grassland, or a bushy mountains, the Peoples
knew their geography. Any member of a hunting society could project
from his visualization any spot in the surrounding landscape, and tell
you what was there; how to get there. ``That's where you'd get some
cattails.'' The bushmen of the Kalahari desert could locate a buried
ostrich egg full of emergency water in the midst of a sandy waste ---
walk right up and dig it out, ``I put this here three years ago, just
in case.''

Ray Dasmann has useful terms to make these distinctions:
``ecosystem-based cultures'' and ``biosphere
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culture.'' By that Ray means societies whose life and economies are
centered in terms of natural regions and watersheds, as against those
who discovered --- seven or eight thousand years ago in a few corners
of the globe --- that it was ``profitable'' to spill over another
drainage, another watershed, another people's territory, and steal
away its resources, natural or human. Thus the Roman Empire would
strip whole provinces for the benefit of capital, and villa-owning
Roman aristocrats would have huge slave-operated farms in the south
using giant wheeled plows. Southern Italy never recovered. We know the
term ``imperialism'' --- Dasmann's ``biosphere cultures'' adds to
that, helps us realize that biological exploitation is a critical part
of it too --- the species made extinct. The clear-cut forests.

All that wealth and power pouring into a few centers had bizarre
results. Philosophies and religions based on fascination with society,
hierarchy, manipulation, and the ``absolute.'' A great edifice called
``the state'' and the symbols of central power --- in China what they
used to call ``the true dragon''; in the West, as Mumford says,
symbolized perhaps by that bronze age fort called the Pentagon. No
wonder Lévi-Strauss says that civilization has been in a long decline
since the Neolithic.

So here in the twentieth century we find occidentals and orientals
studying each other's Wisdom, and a few people on both sides studying
what came
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before both --- before they forked off. A book like {\sl Black Elk
Speaks}, which would probably have had zero readers in 1900, is
perceived now as speaking of certain things that nothing in the
Judaeo-Christian tradition, and almost nothing in the Hindu-Buddhist
tradition, deals with. All the great civilized world religions remain
primarily human-centered. That next step is excluded, or forgotten ---
``well, what do you say to Magpie? What do you say to Rattlesnake when
you meet him?'' What do we learn from Wren, and Hummingbird, and Pine
Pollen, and how. Learn what? Specifics: how to spend a life facing the
current; or what it is to perpetually die young; or how to be huge and
calm and eat {\sl anything} (Bear). But also, that we are many selves
looking at each other, through the same eye.

The reason many of us want to make this step is simple, and is
explained in terms of the 40,000 year looping back that we seem to be
involved in. Sometime in the last ten years the best brains of the
Occident discovered to their amazement that we live in an Environment.
This discovery has been forced on us by the realization that we are
approaching the limits of something. Stewart Brand said that the
photograph of the earth (taken from outer space by a satellite) that
shows the whole blue orb with spirals and whorls of cloud, was a great
landmark for human consciousness. We see that it has a shape, and it
has limits. We are back again, now, in the position of our Mesolithic
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forebears --- working off the coasts of southern Britain, or the
shores of Lake Chad or the swamps of southeast China, learning how to
live by the sun and the green at that spot. We once more know that we
live in a system that is enclosed in a certain way; that has its own
kinds of limits, and that we are interdependent with it.

The ethics or morality of this is far more subtle than merely being
nice to squirrels. The biological-ecological sciences have been laying
out (implicitly) a spiritual dimension. We must find our way to seeing
the mineral cycles, the water cycles, air cycles, nutrient cycles, as
sacramental --- and we must incorporate that insight into our own
personal spiritual quest and integrate it with all the wisdom
teachings we have received from the nearer past. The expression of it
is simple: gratitude to it all, taking responsibility for your own
acts; keeping contact with the sources of the energy that flow into
your own life (i.e., dirt, water, flesh).

Another question is raised: Is not the purpose of all this living and
studying the achievement of self-knowledge, self-realization? How does
knowledge of the place help up know the Self? The answer, simply put,
is that we are all composite beings, not only physically but
intellectually, whose sole individual identifying feature is a
particular form of structure changing constantly in time. There is no
``self'' to be found in that, and yet oddly enough, there is. Part of
you is out there waiting to come into you, and another part of you is
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behind you, and the ``just this'' of the ever-present moment holds all
the transitory little selves in its mirror. The Avatamsaka (``Flower
Wreath'')
jeweled-net-interpenetration-ecological-systems-emptiness-consciousness
tells us, no self-realization without the Whole Self, and the whole
self is the whole thing.

Thus, knowing who and where are intimately linked. There are no limits
to the possibilities of the study of {\sl who} and {\sl where}, if you
want to go ``beyond limits'' --- and so, even in a world of biological
limits, there is plenty of open mind-space to go out into.

\bigskip

\centerline{\sl Summing Up}

\medskip

In Wendell Berry's essay ``the unsettling of America'' he points out
that the way the economic system works now, you're penalized if you
try to stay in one spot and do anything well. It's not just that the
integrity of Native American land is threatened, or National Forests
and Parks; it's {\sl all} land that's under the gun, and any person or
group of people who tries to stay there and do some one thing well,
long enough, to be able to say, ``I really love and know this place,''
stands to be penalized. The economics of it works so that anyone who
jumps at the chance for quick profit is rewarded --- doing proper
agriculture means {\sl not} to jump at the most profitable chance ---
proper forest or game management means doing things with the far
future in mind --- and
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the future is unable to pay us for it right now. Doing things right
means living as though your grandchildren would also be alive, in this
land, carrying on the work we're doing right now, with deepening
delight.

I saw old farmers in Kentucky last spring who belong in another
century. They are inhabitants; they see the world they know crumbling
and evaporating before them in the face of a different logic that
declares, ``everything you know, and do, and the way you do it, means
nothing to use.'' How much more the pain, and loss of elegant cultural
skills, on the part of non-white fourth-world primitive remnant
cultures --- who may know the special properties of a certain plant,
or how to communicate with the Dolphins, skills the industrial world
might never regain. Not that special, intriguing knowledges are the
real point: it's the sense of the magic system; the capacity to hear
the song of Gaia {\sl at that spot}, that's lost.

Re-inhabitory refers to the tiny number of persons who come out of the
industrial societies (having collected or squandered the fruits of
8000 years of civilization) and then start to turn back to the land,
to place. This comes for some with the rational and scientific
realization of inter-connectedness, and planetary limits. But the
actual demands of a life committed to a place, and living somewhat by
the sunshine green plant energy that is concentrating in that spot,
are so physically and intellectually intense, that it is a moral and
spiritual choice as well.

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Mankind has a rendezvous with destiny in Outer Space.'' Some say. We
are already travelling in space. This is the galaxy, right here. The
wisdom and skill of those who studied the universe first hand, by
direct knowledge and experience, for millenia, both inside and outside
themselves, is what we might call the Old Ways. Those who envision a
possible future planet on which we continue that study, and where we
live by the Green and the Sun, have no choice but to bring whatever
science, imagination, strength, and political finesse they have to the
support of the inhabitory people --- natives and peasants of the
world. Entering such paths, we begin te learn a little of the Old
Ways, which are outside of history, and forever new.

\medskip

[Based on a talk given at the ``Reinhabitation Conference'' at North
San Juan School, held under the auspices of the California Council of
the Humanities, August 1976.]


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