Friday, 24 April 2015


...continuing to quote from Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams,

In the following narratives [of Arctic exploration], it is not solely the desire of some men for difrerent sorts of wealth that becomes clear, but the suspicion that North America offered more than material wealth. It offered wealth that could not be owned, like the clarity of the air and the sight of 300,000 snow geese feeding undisturbed on the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak...We seem vaguely uneasy with the notion that a flock of snow geese rising like a snowstorm over Baffin Island is as valuable or more to mankind than the silver, tin, and copper being dug out of the Bolivian Andes at Potosí. These are not modern misgivings;  they daye in North America from the time of Columbus and Cabot...

Apologies for the long passage today. I like the idea of wealth that cannot be possessed, because it makes it a communal asset. If I don't possess A, it means that my friends can also enjoy it. But it does make me wonder about responsibility with relation to possession. If I own, say, a tree in my back garden, I have a responsibility to make sure it is safe and well looked after otherwise it will be my fault if it dies. If there's a tree on the patch of communal land outside my house, whose responsibility is it to protect that tree, to make sure it thrives and grows beautifully old?

Wealth that cannot be owned by any individual cannot be traded. It cannot be bargained for, charged interest on, entered into ledger books or spreadsheets. It makes me think of Oliver's song: "Who will buy this wonderful morning?" The rising sun is one of our most valuable assets and yet completely and utterly un-possessible. Just a thought.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The mind's intercourse with the landscape

In his book Arctic Dreams, the American author Barry Lopez writes:

"...language is not something man imposes on the land. It evolves in his conversation with the land - in testing the sea ice with the toe of a kamik, in the eating of a wild berry...A long-lived inquiry produces a discriminating language. The very order of the language, the ecology of its sounds and thoughts, derives from the mind's intercourse with the landscape."

As I walked to work today, I wondered about the intercourse of minds with the landscape in my own community, and the effect this may have on our language and therefore on our perception of our own environment. (Incidentally, the German word Umwelt, meaning 'environment' but which I translate literally as 'world around oneself' helps me understand better what we mean by 'environment').

If we're not letting our minds interact, study, perceive the landscape, what happens?

It makes me wonder whether it's a vicious cycle. The less time we spend outside, the less we understand; the more language we lose with which to describe our landscape and so more estranged we become from the natural world around us.

Perhaps today, then, I'd advocate spending just a little more time outside, looking, listening and letting our minds explore.

Monday, 6 April 2015


I've been doing some preparation for a church youth group session and hence pondering on the meaning of 'life'. (Not the answer 42, before any Python fans jump in).

What is the word 'life' for us? Is it just our physical existence? Or is it something more?

From the Greek New Testament of the Bible, I've discovered, there are two types of 'life' - bios, the earthly, physical existence; and zoe. Zoe is altogether more exciting.

Zoe is the adventurous, vital, genuine, vigorous, generous, authentic state of being.

What if life is more than simply existing? More than eating, breathing, sleeping? More than having our physical needs attended to? More than consuming and acquiring?

In Barry Lopez's book Arctic Dreams, he often talks about the lifestyle of the people that inhabit the arctic, and there's one particularly relevant point he makes in a passage on Eskimo hunters. Lopez writes:

They [Eskimo hunters] have a quality of nuannaarpoq, of taking extravagant pleasure in being alive; and they delight in finding it in other people. (p.202)

This is existing and much more.

More reading: 
Luke 12:13-15 & 22-23 
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams