31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 10 ~ The Territory

A sense of place(2)Welcome to Day 10 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.


Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the void and out of it,
before the gardens and after gardens. (Kabir, A Place to Sit )



I like this essay, “Boundaries,” by Mark Peter Keane in Kyoto Journal (Feb. 1999). An excerpt:

“I have been sitting in this old temple for over an hour, looking out at the garden. … Everything about this place seems to belong here. …  What keeps recurring in my mind, and what has kept me here in this chilly hall for the last hour, is the question of where the mountain ends and where the garden begins. What here is natural and what is man-made? … [W]e ask ‘Is it natural or man-made?’ as if the two defined each other by being opposites. Yet, the moment we breathe those words we separate ourselves from nature, placing ourselves outside looking in, which we are not. However much we may wish to set ourselves apart in some hierarchy among living things, there is no separation. There are some rare moments in our lives when this unity appears to us so clearly that it stuns as it pleases, like the first gulp of air after a long dive. I felt that unity in Canada one night after a thunderstorm cleared the air and an ocean of stars flowed out into the ink-black night sky. … “

grey squirrel
grey squirrel

He then examines how our basest acts — murder, violence, wanton destruction of the environment — might make us unnatural, or how our noblest acts, our sophistication, “our higher achievements in science and arts,” might set us apart; and yet there are — and he cites some — destructive, murderous acts and sophisticated feats in the non-human world that match our own. He concludes that

“those acts are simply our nature. We do them because we are capable of them; they are inherent in us. We kill and ruin not because we are unnatural but because it is within our nature to do so. Likewise …. ‘[w]e design and create not because we are supranatural, but simply because those qualities also are in our nature. … It is in our nature to build and to create, as much as it is our nature to be wild and brute.”

spider web on artists' twig sculpture (VINS)
spider web on artists’ twig sculpture (VINS)

And, he finishes,

“the garden is a place for … all those who visit thereafter to find their way back to a unified world where there are no boundaries. No point where the mountain ends and the garden begins.”

Wave Hill, May 2015
Wave Hill, May 2015


“A unified world where there are no boundaries.”

I need to think about that more, in the garden: Not only about a line that might or might not separate “natural” from “human-made” (I struggle with that distinction, too, as it often feels false but sometimes feels true, and it has its uses in making oneself understood), but also about what boundaries and edges suggest about Separation. Unity. Trespassing. Belonging. Thresholds. Frontiers. Territory. Being Lost.

Blue Mountain Game Reserve, Grantham, NH, Nov. 2013
Blue Mountain Game Reserve, Grantham, NH, Nov. 2013


Rebecca Solnit, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost (which I haven’t read), says that

“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing […in] which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. …[T]o be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.”
Can we really ever be lost if we are in some way unified with the whole of the natural world? Yes, the territory may look unfamiliar, but is it? Perhaps it’s not scenery we’ve looked at before, and yet it’s a place that exists, and always has existed, inside us, but without our knowledge of its contours, its geography, its spaciousness. Perhaps.


Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.


a sense of place(1)This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poemThirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.

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