*9-13: Since I wrote previously about nonattachment, I read this: “A certain recluse monk once remarked, ‘I have relinquished all that ties me to the world, but the one thing that still haunts me is the beauty of the sky.’ I can quite see why he would feel this.” The writer continued: “You can find solace for all things by looking at the moon. Someone once declared that there is nothing more delightful than the moon, while another disagreed, claiming that dew is the most moving—a charming debate. Surely there is nothing that isn’t moving, in fact, depending on circumstance.” A few sentences later: “Then there is Xi Kang, who wrote how, roving among mountain and stream, his heart delighted to see the fish and birds. Nothing provides such balm for the heart as wandering somewhere far from the world of men, in a place of pure water and fresh leaf.” (pp. 31-32) This is from Essays in Idleness by Yoshida Kenko, an early fourteenth century collection of anecdotes, observations, and commentary that is said to be considered a classic in Japan. It made me wonder if there are certain dimensions of existence where nonattachment is neither possible nor desirable or if the notion may be commodious enough to allow for more than I first imagine. Acceptance implies that I have reached a point where something is beyond my control; I have done what I can and am left with less than I’d wanted but recognize that continued effort or emotional investment is pointless, so it is time to accept the reality and let go. Nonattachment primarily speaks of ego, that the ego aspect of caring for something can be relinquished and it can still matter to me for its own sake and for its moral value. I feel for it and will continue to seek its good but am not dependent on whether I succeed; I seek only to care for and assist it insofar as I am able. (Mastery of ego appears to be central to everything important morally or spiritually.) I see nothing in this that precludes being moved by the sky, moon, or dew; nothing to prevent enchantment by beauty. Certainly nothing to interfere with loving so long as egoistic involvement in it or any of our other moving experiences does not distort our relations with them. Kenko was a monk but not cloistered; after his monastic training he remained engaged with the world and his writing. He and others in his time, as have many others at all times, felt the tension between reclusion and engagement with poetry and beauty; contemplative being and active involvement with matters outside. It seems intrinsic to thoughtful existence, only to be lived and not treated as permanently resolvable in a single direction. But wherever my path leads at any moment, mostly contemplative now, nonattachment should be woven in.
There is light smoke in the Canyon this morning and when I walked by the Ranger Station I saw they’d put out a graph with air quality indices that clearly declined (in quality; the numbers rising to reflect that) the farther you go south, which suggested fire in southern Sequoia NP. I inquired and, yes, there are two still small fires in difficult to access areas that are primed to burn owing to dryness and build-up of woody debris and desiccated plants; so far only the absence of wind has kept down their rate of spread, but Sequoia NP has closed. (This is ironic in a way; on my first trip to the Sierra in 1988 after leaving Yosemite I came to Sequoia and camped near where one of the fires is now. It was alongside a river; a beautiful place with Annie [beloved dog of the ‘80s and ‘90s] along. Then one day as I read in camp I looked up to the northern ridge where I’d hiked the day before and saw smoke and a few hours later they closed the campground. This was before fires were regularly expected.) It is too early to say, and will depend on where the fires go, whether this area will close as well. This (extended) fire year feels different even than last year’s, which burned record acreage. It seems relentless, as if suppression of one fire is only prelude to eruption of another. The conditions are just right for more and more burning and if this is another dry “rain year” that’s supposed to begin in a month or so, I look for my direst forecasts to be realized sooner rather than later. Most forest will be gone and most of the animals who lived there will be homeless and soon also gone. Earth will become lonelier.
… I bring up loss [through deaths of acquaintances and family] to consider what it means to me as I see the forest and desert lands die. These are losses with great meaning to me. They are where my identifications and affections reside, my sparks of spirituality. I made a point of returning to Lava Beds after the fire there last year and I will do the same, as soon as they open, to Warner Valley and Butte Lake in Lassen Volcanic NP, which the maps tell me must have burned totally (and the Park itself looking mostly burned). An extension of my feelings for these places are the lands along Highways 50 and 89 that I have driven so frequently, many miles of which also burned. I grieve these places even though, unlike persons, they will come back to life although much changed and often much diminished owing to continued heat and drought. The reassurance we’ve given ourselves over the years about fire’s place in wildlands ecology is less convincing now since these fires were not so much prepared by Nature as by humans. Pre-ACD fires fit the model and though they saddened me it was more for my loss than the landscapes’, which I imagined accepting it as I must accept my own death but without the resurrection. But that’s not altogether true—I will return as particles within the life that consumes me just as the plants and animals that return eventually incorporate particles of those that were consumed in the fires. A wonderful cycle, but one terribly fucked up now by human egoism and speciesism and heedlessness. When I am laid down dead in a few feet of dirt, unsheltered from soaking rains and subterranean creatures as I intend it, the land will not grieve, only perhaps welcome me back. It has always abided accepting the cycle, but until rejoining I will grieve it. Less for the fires than the culpability of my species.