If we close our eyes, we can see roads. Try it yourself— for just a moment, close your eyes and visualize the way to Northampton, Pittsfield, Greenfield or Springfield from your front door. It’s not hard to see mental images of roads, is it? They just appear because they are engraved into our neural systems.
We carry the “environment” inside ourselves. The “environment” is part mental construction, part everything else.
This truth is self-evident, but—after studying the ways we comprehend and fit into the designs of nature for over thirty years—I have yet to read much, or participate in many discussions, about it. True: the concept of “nature deficit disorder” has gained currency, which is good; but, the larger issue of getting more than individuals over the disorder—and getting vast populations over it—can’t even be imagined yet. Individuals can take a long hike every couple of days, or garden, and get over it. But how do the people of NYC, or any other urban inhabitation on earth, get over it? Do these populations even want to get over it? Is there a candidate for public office anywhere running on a platform of ensuring that all citizens get over nature-deficit disorder? Is getting over it “good for the economy?” Can it be considered a “market-based solution?” Is there anyway that Wall St. investors can “financialize” the process, or corporations turn it into a product, or universities turn it into a hot new major?
When I started writing this column in 2011, I did so hoping to inspire readers to “make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!” Rivers are all around us, but they don’t form as much a part of ourselves as roads do. Close your eyes again: can you see a river? How far can you follow it? Does it lead anywhere?
This lack of representation inside of us is a problem because we inhabit these mental images as much as we inhabit the “outdoors.” The less these images correspond to the outdoors (which is another way of saying “to things lasting and vital”) the more they are rootless, unfounded, and illusory. It is not healthy or wise for us to have too much future-landfill clutter inside ourselves. Roads define our place, here on a functional local level and, on a global level, as a species. They are our contents, mentally, psychologically, and most probably spiritually.
Roads don’t flow. They don’t generate, contain or nourish life. Tar roads are classified as hazardous waste, as I discovered when I removed my driveway and tried to take the broken blacktop to the Westhampton transfer station. (Imagine that—for about 100 years we and our recent ancestors have been spreading haz waste everywhere.) At the present moment, our economy cannot function without them, however; and that is why they are part of our inner selves. Is it possible that we have paved our own souls? And if so, should we continue to do so? And if we can’t stop doing it, then what have we become?
The word human is derived from the word humus, which is top soil. What do we call ourselves if we are derived from blacktop?
OK, enough of this—I have attempted to bring you out your mind, as your mind has been constructed by roads and the global-warming megamachine they are the circulatory system of. I offer no real conclusion, only another path that is not an illusion or made of hazardous waste.
Nature flows—and generates, contains and nourishes life. The real danger of having a mind constructed by roads instead of by rivers is that we, as a species, have begun a stage of evolution where we will have to adapt to the ever-changing conditions wrought by global warming. We need to have the ability to flow to evolve. And that is why we need to have more river than road inside of us.
Now is the perfect time to find a sturdy walking stick and head out into a watershed and practice streamcrawling, which is a way of using streams as staircases that take you up and down hill and mountain sides. Use the stick to maintain balance as you step on the mossy tops of half-submerged boulders like a leprechaun; unless they are absolutely dry, don‘t step on the top of the boulders for they likely have a sheen of algae on them more slippery than ice.
Streamcrawling does not actually require crawling. I call it this because the idea is to go slow and pay close attention to the microworlds nested in the splashy cascading flow. Look for native brook trout. Notice how water flows, its speed and volume, arranges densities of stones and wood in beautiful patterns, as if Andrew Goldsworthy was there a few days before you.
Any of these green areas on this map have streams perfect for crawling. Use it—through repeated stream crawling experiences you will slowly but surely erode the part of your inner self constructed by the stagnant, inflexible megamachine. You will also experience a heightening of your powers of perception and cognition. This kind of empowerment builds the strengths required to evolve—back into a human.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T. S. Eliot
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family. Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!