The Earth is Our Teacher, But What Does She Teach?

In school we were taught that a teacher was someone who showed us how things are in the world. Really, it was someone who gave us letters and a means of turning them into signs called words. We copied them until we were convinced we understood the world and the Earth through them, and even that the world was a collection of signs. Here’s one, for example:

Note the moose.

What if this person had been our teacher instead?

Sagebrush Moose in Okanogan County, Washington

We wouldn’t have learned to read, sure, but we would have been given something else. We are not obligated to say what that is. To do so would be our school lesson kicking in. Same thing goes for making a teachable moment out of the moose. Same for “how lucky” or “how beautiful.” Let’s put all that aside.

Moose Pines

Closer to the experience of coming upon the moose would be a bodily understanding of sharing a space between environmental consciousnesses.

It wouldn’t be like that, though. It would be all at once, without any of those words.

It would be without these images, either. Perhaps you can see the boundaries of a problem here? That we’ve been trained to read the world when we’re really reading our bodies? Error is bound to creep in. For example, the moose above, in its world of sage and pine, and the ant on the thistle below, just around the hill in McLaughlin Canyon…

 These exquisite spines are not an obstacle for an ant.

… are the same environment, without being metaphors for each other, and without being represented as metaphor. Same with the Síya? berries on their spring shoots, just after flowering:

That is a teacher. Rather than replacing the world with a series of signs so that we’re left only with the signs, as property…

…we are being given a gift. That gift is a world.

Yes, there’s a relationship between thistle and berry …

… and blackbird…

… but it is not something to read or comprehend. I might say here, “Yeah, the fruit and your mouth are one. They meet in taste,” but that’s not the way of this valley. If you want to live in the valley, this valley…

The Mysterious Similkameen

… you have to taste the fruit. Here is another teacher. It is Interior Douglas fir — in this case, in a spring snow flurry that made me put on 4 more jackets to keep working. Note that the firs didn’t.

I could explain it to you, but you would only understand words… until you went under one of the trees for shelter and met the way the tree doesn’t move; it is there. And after that, I wouldn’t need to explain it to you. In other words, I don’t need to at all, but it would be really great if I could bring you and a fir together. You could have a chat. Without words of course. But then…

… if you want to arrive at a place for which there are no words, the path to it is not through words. Here, let’s explore that. “Fir,” I write. What do you feel? Nothing, I suspect. You might understand something, even important stuff, but that’s different.

This “fir” is only a word. It does, however, take on life when put into context: “I sheltered under the fir during the snowstorm,” and even more when I write “I sheltered under the dark boughs of the fir in the snowstorm.”

Which tree would you shelter under?

We could keep playing this game, but I think you get the point: this tree is a person. It isn’t human, but it is you in the same way the thistle and the moose are one, without being a metaphor. This teacher, too:



Notice that the yellow hills are not sheltering under the firs. They are, also, flashed with balsam roots:

They don’t shelter. This is a teaching you won’t understand unless you are out there in a storm and just have to keep walking with nowhere to hide.

Reading those words is not the same thing. So, if we give up the thought of teaching, and our experiences at being taught, what then?

Either we go to the mountain or sit tight and let it come to us, knowing that we are already there and that when we are sitting still it is the mountain that is sitting and when we are moving…

… the mountain’s call is ours. These words and images won’t teach you that, but maybe they’ll remind you of what you already know.

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