September 26, 2009
Dispatch from Seattle
I open journals and sand sifts out between pages. I can tell by the grain where I've been, salmon-red of the Colorado Plateau or black of a volcano. Some of the grit, I admit, is from concrete.
If you followed me through this city the last couple days, you would be as lost as I am, journal opened and closed from avenue to alley to street to corner. I approach cities the same way I approach wilderness: hit the ground and move. Cars are boulders. People are wind. The direction reveals itself.
Where does nature end? Does it stop at the sidewalk when it's not pretty anymore, when it is not birds chirping and teeming wildflowers? I contend that nature keeps going, that it is not dead at whatever boundary we lay down. If you are truly committed to nature, you know it keeps going well beyond even the blastmarks of stars exploded to dust, much less beyond here in downtown Seattle.
We like to put up lines, fences, boundaries. They give us definition and clarity becasue god only knows what we might do without them. What would happen if we saw nature everywere, recognized it as if it were as intrinsic as gravity?
I have found myself in the city for a few days giving a talk for a fundraiser for river restoration. As I leave the fundraiser and hit the streets, I see the boundaries we usually ascribe do not hold back nature. Nature is an ugly bitch with an asphalt tongue and tonight I've got $10 to spend at a bar where a decade ago -- I remember it clearly -- some drunk guy tossed a chair at me. This is nature, every turn of the screw.
As I walk down the bright street at night (half moon tilted over the sound), cars and taxis streak past. I pause at the creamy-gray feather of a pigeon on the ground, a reminder that nature goes beyond even this place. It stretches past all that we imagine.
I return to the hostel on 2nd Avenue satiated, human faces lining the halls, trying to tell me this is all there is, but I know better.