For nearly 60 years, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet )
Off the beaten path
Han-Shan, Snyder says he has gained personal and spiritual insights
from his experiences in nature. He is intimately familiar with the wild
landscapes of Japan, where he lived and studied Zen Buddhism as a young
man. And he knows the winding trails of California's Sierra Nevada
mountain range, his home for many years.
"A trail is really a
handy thing," says Snyder. "It's a lot easier to hike on a trail than
it is to crash through the brush. You get from Place A to Place B that
Snyder explains that, in earlier times, before village
agriculture, people went into the woods and fields and the marshes to
gather the various things they needed, such as berries for dye or food.
"And, of course, if you are going fishing or hunting, you know
where to go to a marsh, a lake or stream. So the trail is only useful
to get you to where you're going to leave the trail."
"The trail is not the true trail," he adds with a chuckle. "It's true in life, too."
In his poem, "Off the Trail," Snyder recalls hiking with his late
wife, Carole, and the pleasures of a trackless wilderness:
…We are free to find our own way
Over rocks-through the trees-
Where there are no trails. The ridge and the forest
Present themselves to our eyes and feet
Which decide for themselves
In their old learned wisdom of doing
Where the wild will take us… We have
Been here before…
Rediscovering the natural order
Snyder says there is also a unique fellowship between humans and nature that is embodied in one's "home place."
it can be developed - even in Manhattan - by paying attention to where
you are and by paying attention to what the elevation is, what the rock
outcroppings might be, what birds stop there when they are migrating,
Snyder considers himself "a watershed
bio-regionalist." As such, he says, "I am particularly interested in
where the original streams were, and can we find them again and maybe
'daylight' some of them?"
The term "" refers
to efforts by some urban environmental planners to identify natural
streams that have been diverted or paved over and restore them to their
original state. Snyder says concerns about the natural environment are
especially keen in California, where farmers depend on melting snow
pack each spring to irrigate their fields.
"… And if
global warming causes less snow to fall and to melt faster, and turns
it into just rain so it runs off in the winter, that'd be the end of
California agriculture," Snyder says matter-of-factly. "There were
periods in the past when that's the way it was anyway."
A call for humans to clean up their act
Despite his concern about the enormous damage humans have done to the
environment over the years, Snyder is hopeful such practices are
changing, and he is confident, too, in the power and resilience of
"We can say two things at the same time," he
muses. "We can say we really have to work on improving our style here
and clean up our act, and if we don't, we'll maybe be in very bad
trouble and also cause a lot of trouble for other beings.
then you can also say that, given the longer cycles of planetary
change, nature always bats last. We can hope that will continue to be
Snyder, who was born in 1930, still has a few
more books to write - including a Buddhist memoir - before, as he puts
it, he "packs it away, drinks red wine and watches the sunset."