What If We Stopped Reading Books?

What if we read the Earth instead?

Not to collect it or sample it or catalogue or analyze it or fit it into a narrative we already know, but to read it. After all, when we read a book, we don’t dissect it along the spine to inspect the glue that holds it together or the stitchwork, should we have sprung for a nice hardbound edition with a leather cover. Nope, we read the language pressed into the pages by heat or pressure.

Of course, we’d have to give up on the idea that we are writing the books, which would be a drag on egos worldwide, for sure, but wouldn’t we be happier? Wouldn’t we be gleefuller if we laid down language in the earth rather than in books, in which we argue for the preservation of the earth, well, yeah, as long as it lets us keep making books? Or electronic phones, of course, which are, yeah, kind of, like, books with cancerous bits? Sure, we could start with reading the land, lots to read there, lots of place to store and retrieve memory in far more than binary 1s and 0s…

… and move on to reading ourselves there on a cloudy afternoon, crying out, “Stop the car, pull over right here, I gotta read this!”  And being loved enough that our sweetheart does stop, and pulls out a book while we chat for awhile with the Earth with our eyes? Is that so bad?

From there, we could start writing on the land, making edible texts we could walk through. Choke cherries, perhaps? Mmmmm.

I know, I know, nature right, wilderness, indigenous species and all the good things of untrammelled beauty without the touch of human hands, the wild space that rejuvenates us and make us truly human, blah blah blah blah. Haven’t we had enough of that romantic colonial American trancendental nonsense? Didn’t January, 1848 cure us of that? Isn’t it time to bring people back to the Earth? It’s sure better than this muck heap:

This pile of weeds is called “a park” and “farmland” and “natural.” For the sake of Gaia, there is no “natural.” There is what we make, and that’s it, or perhaps better put, what we allow to make us. Glysophate, anyone? Why, just turn around from the image above, et voilà. Tasty!

They call this chemical factory an orchard.

Or maybe wonder.

Staghorn Sumac

Sorry, folks. An invasive species. Not allowed on the voyage. Yeah, right.

What would you rather give your kids? Poisonous drugs like glysophate and a chance to participate in control and sterilization, very cool things for sure, or a chance to be present at creation and the ability to both read it and write it? What? You think these things are free? They come at a price.

Over and over, in the hyper-sensitive social culture of the colonial empire called Canada, people ask me, “How do you know so much about syilx indigenous land use?” And I have to, over and over, answer: “I don’t. However, the syilx became the syilx by reading this land and accepting its guidance. The land is still there. It still can be read. One can walk a parallel path. One can still be guided.” Look at the water leaf below. It has taught me what it is for. Am I going to share that with you? No. You should ask the water leaf.  That’s how this works.

In other words, I have allowed it to write me. Now, maybe young people can’t do this. Maybe they are struggling to create egos as fierce protections against incursions on their selves. Maybe so. Maybe ego is just plain unwilling to read this instead of a book of Canadian poetry or a post on Facebook:


…but is that degree of distortion of being written by the Earth desirable? Shouldn’t we be talking about this? “Be yourself,” people in my culture are always crowing from the nearest algorithm, and “solidarity.” Shouldn’t we be telling them, “let the pine be you?” For Gaia’s sake, there are still pine trees! Shouldn’t we tell kids, hey, get out of whatever has convinced you there are not or that they are not still talking, and listen. Read and be written.

Because, I mean, hey, if anyone can’t read the pine tree above, is that the fault of the pine tree? Yeah, right, it might be the fault of your ancestors, but that’s tragedy. You gotta bite it and swallow and move on with grace. If your answer is, “Pshaw, no, it’s not like that at all,” what are you afraid of? That the Earth will kill you? Hardly. Your ego, yes, it might set that aside, but, hey, the darned thingamajig is a piece of clothing. Can’t you unbutton it now and then and, well, to go all Welsh for a moment, run naked in the fields of the Lord? Or, well, in the cactus and bunchgrass volcanic crumbling slopes of Coyote? So to speak?

Well, OK, maybe with spiritual shoes, but, hey, you can, and you can even be a river, you know. You can go that far, without ego, and still be yourself.

I guess in the colonial world, people might be afraid of that. Best to talk about poetry as a social affair, sipped out of Reidel stemware around a propane fire on the deck, god, I don’t know, I used to love the stuff but it doesn’t talk about the Earth at all anymore, but, hey, fair enough. We all have our stories that have brought us to where we are today, but, still, I will ask this: isn’t it the ego that is afraid? What about you? I’m sure you’re not afraid of this:

Are you? Isn’t it, well, you? I mean, in your dinosaur-with-a-duck-on-its-back days?Can you honestly say,I’m human, you know, not this stuff at all? Ya, I know, likely enough.

I mean, yeah, it’s not easy.


There are pipelines and too many trains, for sure, but, hey, the Thompson River is pretty fine, isn’t it, and full of stories?

If you devoted a lifetime to it, could you say you were done? Well, your ego could, sure, after, I dunno, five minutes, but didn’t we hang that on a fencepost for the crows? Aren’t we headed to the heart instead?

And if not, why not?

Reidels on the Deck, Anyone?

Yeah, power. Violence. Greed. The old triad.


 Let’s talk about some ethical strategies tomorrow. Until then…

… don’t be singular, eh. The Earth doesn’t want that for you.


11 replies »

  1. Harold, you always make my head spin! If we are meant to read rocks, then why continue to write and post blogs? Is it because some of us need translators to help us understand this ‘rock-talk’?


  2. Hurrah. Someone teaching us to take the time to read the earth, at last . . . (btw: it’s glyphosate).


    • It was my hope to challenge writers to think of more than literary traditions. I have, after all, published 70 books and edited 100. I can jest with myself as well. 🙂


  3. One of the few writers (that I know, anyway) that speaks/lives a similar language might be Carl Gustav Jung: “At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.” (from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”)


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