Plato, in his Republic, imagined what a magic ring that he called the Ring of Gyges would do to justice. The ring would give its wearer invisibility and thus the ability to do anything they wanted without fear of apprehension. Presumably the temptation would be too much for most people to avoid taking unjust advantage of it. I imagine the presence of a comparable ring in people’s relations with Nature, one which has rendered them insensitive to the rich being of other life and focused excessively on self-interest instead, not recognizing that all interest benefits from mutuality. It’s a serious flaw and we see the costs. Construing the myth from the side of Nature, I picture it surrounded by a ring of invisibility insofar as its spirit, intrinsic value, mystery, and life-of-its-own is concerned. Among humans, not seeing is not caring, which becomes thoughtless abuse and exploitation. There’s too much occasion for sorrow.
Today I looked back in one of the notebooks I keep and found something from a couple of years ago when I was camped in Warner Valley in Lassen Volcanic N.P.: “Crossing a stream I saw a large rock with smaller ones embedded within it as if having arrived when it was molten. I had a striking awareness that that rock had a story that told of its origins and movements and arrival in this spot. And so did the tree it leaned against and the shrub across the stream and every blade of grass and busy insect. A world full of stories intersecting here but not ending here. There will, as always, be more change.” I could have added the flowing water and myself observing. There’s nothing terribly profound in this, especially considering this is volcano country with a long history of eruptions and landscape alterations: When was it ever the same for very long? But I remember my imagination erupting in its own way and picturing all the movements, destruction and creation, comings, and goings, that preceded the peaceful scene in which I stood. Momentarily, I had a longitudinal awareness that I don’t commonly access. I was moved by it. Today I’m moved in a different way by more fiery change, this time a massive wildfire that started many miles to the south of the Park and has worked its way north. As best I can tell on the fire maps, it may well engulf that Valley, a place I’ve camped many times and hiked many miles, one of my favorite places. If the fire continues north—and what’s to stop it? —it will almost certainly burn through another of my favorites, Butte Lake, where I camped only a few months ago. As I’ve said before, if these fires were just Nature doing what it does according to natural contingencies, I’d be saddened but accept it as the way of the Earth in forest lands. But there’s no avoiding the knowledge that humans set the table for these fires and before many decades pass a large part of California will burn. Natural incendiary conditions have resulted from unnatural human nature as it now presents itself, a nature that lays waste and kills so much for so little.
Part III on Thursday