Overture (Excerpt from full-length manuscript)
Overture: An act, offer, or proposal that indicates readiness to undertake a course of action or to open a relationship.
American Heritage Dictionary
Each September 28th for the past eight years, I have embarked on a reading of Peter Matthiessen’s classic The Snow Leopard. I work my way through his daily entries on the same date he wrote them in 1973 until, on December 1st, the chronicle of his remarkable journey across the Himalayas and into himself, comes to an end. What I find particularly moving about the book, beyond the beautiful language, profound insights and stunning natural and cultural setting, is the mode of mobility that frames Matthiessen’s experience. It all takes place afoot, which gives the text a rare continuity.
What if Matthiessen (henceforth PM) had driven or flown from Pokhara to the Crystal Monastery and back? No doubt, his journey and resultant book would have been completely different.
This awareness helped inspire my Long Term Ecological Reflections residency. Unlike the other residency recipients to date, I have a relatively long-term (fifteen-year) and multi-faceted relationship with the Andrews Forest. Yet, until last summer, I had always ridden in automobiles to access my various destinations — headquarters, owl sites, vegetation plots, trailheads etc.
Then, while walking long stretches of the H.J.A.’s main roads looking for an invasive grass species — false brome — I glimpsed what I had been missing: the details in between destinations and the resultant sense of continuity akin to that found in The Snow Leopard. “It’s the unpredictable incidents between official events that add up to a life . . .” writes Rebecca Solnit, in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Destinations might be thought of as those official events. And to encounter the unpredictable incidents that add up to a life means filling in the gaps — making the journey itself the destination. Only on foot, does that seem fully possible.
I envisioned my residency as a microcosm of PM’s trek — a week of journal entries instead of two months resulting in an essay instead of a book set in the Cascades instead of the Himalayas. I began the journey at my house in McKenzie Bridge on the same date PM began his journey thirty-six years ago.
Given that the Long Term Ecological Reflections program is intended to continue until 2203, and given that the fossil-fuel driven life will almost certainly become unviable and unavailable well before that time, a foot-rate reacquaintance with the landscape seems in order. It also seems to serve what I see as the broadest mission of the LTER program: gaining “insight into how we ought to live our lives.”
The full story can be read as a pdf here.
Tim Fox has followed a seasonal round through his Oregon Cascades homeland; in summer he’s immersed in wildlife, vegetation and archaeological surveys for the U.S. Forest Service; in winter, writing, reading and frequent family walks among the trees fill his days. His work has been published in the anthologies Forest Under Story and in Dark Mountain Issue 4, Dark Mountain Issue 5, Dark Mountain Issues 9 and 11 (available in spring, 2017), a forthcoming Best of Dark Mountain anthology, Orion magazine and on the Yes! magazine website. And click here to hear a Radio Ecoshock podcast reading of his provocative essay, “Rivershift.”