Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All at once I’m encountering a slew of writers who address the importance of place. Here is a great quote I read yesterday by Barry Lopez in Crossing Open Ground:

The second landscape I think of is an exterior one, a kind of projection within a person of a part of the exterior landscape. Relationships in the exterior landscape include those that are named and discernible, such as the nitrogen cycle, or a vertical sequence of Ordovician limestone, and others that are uncodified or ineffable, such as winter light falling on a particular kind of granite, or the effect of humidity on the frequency of a blackpoll warbler’s burst of song. That these relationships have purpose and order, however inscrutable they may seem to us, is a tenet of evolution. Similarly, the speculations, intuitions, and formal ideas we refer to as ‘mind’ are a set of relationships in the interior landscape with purpose and order; some of these are obvious, many impenetrability subtle. The shape and character of these relationships in a person’s thinking, I believe, are deeply influenced by where on this earth one goes, what one touches, the patterns one observes in nature-the intricate history of one’s life in the land, even a life in the city, where wind, the chirping of birds, the line of a falling leaf, are known. These thoughts are arranged, further, according to the thread of one’s moral, intellectual, and spiritual development. The interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes.

And aren’t genes just a codified form of our relationship to the land?

Another thing Lopez wrote about was also interesting. He noted that the brightest children are fascinated by metaphor. This ties together with Edith Cobb’s ideas about genius and landscape--we use metaphor to internalize the land--and also with the idea that geniuses are better able to make novel associations. Associations are practically synonymous with metaphor. (What molecule was it that was intuited by the image or dream of a snake eating its tail--benzene?)

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