Alexander von Humboldt,
credited with first diagnosing global warming some eight generations ago, as well as the concept of Nature as “all that there is” and the living Earth, Gaia herself …
Native plums and Cherries, North Okanagan Valley
..wrote a series of works called Kosmos, in an attempt to express the unity of all phenomena, a project limited only by his death at 90 years of age in 1859.
The work was rapidly translated across Europe and in the United States. We live, in a sense, in the concept of Nature that he spoke of. The only thing is, is the concept we live in actually the one he spoke of? Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on Ecology, one of Humboldt’s descendants:
Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, “house”, or “environment”; -λογία, “study of”)[A] is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms with each other and with abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services. Source.
Is that what he meant? Ecosystem services? Let’s have a look at his introduction. First, in his words, and then translated and interpreted.
Ein anderer Naturgenuß, ebenfalls nur das Gefühl ansprechend, ist der, welchen wir, nicht dem bloßen Eintritt in das Freie (wie wir tief bedeutsam in unserer Sprache sagen), sondern dem individuellen Charakter einer Gegend, gleichsam der physiognomischen Gestaltung der Oberfläche unseres Planeten verdanken.
~Alexander von Humboldt
Here’s the 1851 English translation by E.C. (Elise) Otté, published in London. (Elise also translated the Elder Edda.)
In reflecting upon the different degrees of enjoyment presented to us in the contemplation of nature, we find the first place must be assigned to a sensation, which is wholly independent of an intimate acquaintance with the physical phenomena presented to our view, or of the peculiar character of the region surrounding us.
~Alexander von Humboldt, tr. Elise Otté
Great stuff! But, wait, compare that to a literal translation:
Another pleasure of Nature, equally corresponding to feeling, is that, which we can thank not the simple step into free space (as we say meaningfully deep in our language) but the individual character of a region and at the same time the physiognomical organization of the surface of our planet.
You can see that Elise was wise enough to try to unravel that. She did so, however, in mid-19th century English terms, focussed on the following scale:
Nature is out there>it offers different degrees of enjoyment when we contemplate it>the primary one is sensory experience>sensory experience is independent of whether we know anything about what we are looking at or not.
In effect, she has interpreted von Humboldt as saying that an orderly understanding of the logical system of nature begins with the pleasure of sensory experience, which gains understanding when coupled with the pleasures of intellectual organization. It’s a very good prescription for extending Empire around the world. Here’s some of that pleasure, in Elise’s 1851 London:
The Cosmos as a crystal palace for viewing pleasure. That describes it well. But let’s look again at von Humboldt. Here’s my stab at an interpretation:
Another pleasure of nature, [not one we bring to it but which it expresses],
one equally attractive
[which draws feeling to it because it is the corresponding form of feeling in the world and so completes it],
is the one which we can thank not the simple step into wilderness
[The German expression “Das Freie” means, cleverly, both ‘freedom’ and ‘open space’, and is used today as a synonym for nature and release from the constrictors of densely-organized and stressful urban life; I think ‘wilderness’ or ‘Nature’ would be contemporary Canadian expressions, but ‘unbound space’ or just ‘space’ could work as well]
(as we say with significance deep in our language)
[note that in a Germany struggling for independence ‘our language’ is “German”, and “German” was understood at the time as a language that sprang from the soil, and was thus used as the foundational argument of a land claim, just as syilx or secwpemc or cree stories are used as foundational claims to land in Canada today. German readers would not have missed the deep correspondence between political freedom and this deep expression of language-as-land. Note that he rejects this political claim.]
but the individual character of a region
[he is given the Earth life outside of human scope and making it primary]
which itself expresses the phsyiognomic (an assessment of character from facial characteristics) organization of the surface of our planet.
[He is, I believe, indicating that the individual character of a region is the same as its phsyiognomic appearance: that a region is expressed by a force, which also expresses its appearance. One force, two simultaneous and intimately-linked manifestations.)
So, again, to unpack that:
pleasure>attracts>and gives rises to feeling>which is not freedom from bondage or the freedom of entering the body or wilderness or nature>but the force expressing the character of a region and its surface appearance>ie our feeling in a place is an expression of the force that expresses the appearance of a place.
For that, stepping into wilderness will not do. Nor will freedom. Nor wilderness. It’s more like touching a lover with your eyes closed and, really, not feeling a separation between you and them. For this, photographs will not do, yet with some generosity they can hint at it.
But to do that, they need the context that Elise discarded in her attempt to express these multiple levels of unity. Did she understand them? I think so, within limits, but we all we have limits. A bit of generosity is welcome! One of hers was that she had to publish as a man. That meant a lot, I think, but here’s the thing: I have to publish as a man, too, when I’d rather publish as the Earth. Still, there are non-European paradigms that don’t create these unnecessary distinctions. What would Humboldt look like in such terms? I can’t speak for syilx culture, but I can make a stab at it from my deep knowledge of this land. It should be a good start. Let’s try that tomorrow. Until then, why not just some pleasure. Fall yarrow being most attractive, perhaps…
… or a marmot trail/slide/place-of-glee maybe: