English 124, The Literature of Wilderness and Exploration

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to my students

 

We live our lives increasingly removed from nature

It’s like we’ve lost touch

Unnatural lives

Come on, human nature is not unnatural

I agree, but surely we can do better

 

If every lion ate only just as many squirrels as he needed to eat,

wouldn’t that be good for both the lion population and the squirrel population?

Yes, but there are always some greedy lions, right?

 

***

 

It’s not perfect, but the Wilderness Act does its job

I’d still revise it

I would too

I’d change the definition of ‘wilderness’ in the Act

I’d dismantle it completely—it only gives us a cop out, like a permission

to trash what is outside its boundaries

Yes, if we didn’t have ‘wilderness’ to fall back upon, we’d take better care of our wilderness

 

Isn’t it strange, these Native Americans saying they have no word for wilderness?

Why should they? It’s home

I think it bothers them, an idea of wilderness that defines itself by separation from the human

In their place, it would bother me too

 

***

 

I don’t want to talk about anything today

I don’t understand how this happened

I was watching the results with my boyfriend and his friend—I had to get up and leave when I heard the reasons why his friend was celebrating

My roommate slept through the night and woke up and asked me who won—I cannot even put into words how much privilege that is, to not care who won

I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep all night

My friend knows a bunch of people who voted third party—because they could!

I don’t see how anything I’m doing matters anymore—what is the point of college?

Yeah, I don’t know who will even hire me when I graduate

Will I graduate?

His policies will stop my scholarship, and I have no other opportunities

He basically wants to electrocute me until I’m straight

Look, we cannot let this define us, we just can’t

 

‘Atomic Dawn’

‘The day I first climbed Mt. St. Helens was August 13, 1945 […] “By

the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens, I will fight

against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to

use it, for all my life.”’

 

He thought the world really was ending, didn’t he?

And he used it

His anger

And his sadness

How old is he now?

He’s still writing

 

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

 

I mean, these are such clichés—but they…

Yes, they work, don’t they?

 

***

 

Eighteen young people in a classroom

in a town travelling into winter

Tomorrow, remember that you had these conversations

Remember your youth, your compassion, your energy

Remember your willingness to stand in a different pair of shoes

and walk in them

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The Holding of Hands

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Seashore

Waves answering—gently—a sky

of cloudy blue that supports

an arrow of birds

straight and true

as free as life ever was

or can be

 

He holds his daughter’s hand

she her father’s

Girl/woman/child/daughter

Father/old man/boy

in love with his best poems

 

He is often unwell these days

 

I don’t know when my

eyes filled with tears

Blink hard

to the salty wind

Shutter

Ranna

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Which means cooking. The best way I know to decompress. I’m being my father’s daughter. He loved to eat, loved to cook, loved to have people over and feed them, and perhaps most of all, loved to have my sister and me around as he pottered about in the kitchen concocting wonderful things. Later, when he became ill, I used to cook for him.

Today, the kitchen is one of my favourite places. Every once in a while, I even take work over and write at the counter. As a dal boils peacefully on the stovetop, for instance.

Two friends, Insiya and Saptarshi, have recently undertaken a labour of love. Excellent at both the exercises of food and photography–the photograph at the top of this post is from their collection–they have started a documentation of the cooking of Calcutta. This post is to celebrate their efforts and their (delicious) achievements. Here is their YouTube channel Bong Eats. You can also follow along on Google+. And read full accounts on their website. If you don’t yet know of the wonders of Bengali cuisine, prepare for a treat.

Autumn

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A tree lies on the river. It fell, or almost fell, some time ago–I don’t know when. It grows now, lying on the river, branches green with new leaves every year. These days, I often take my reading over and sit on the big and beautiful root system, which serves as my bench. It’s a big tree. Not ancient, not huge, but big. The root system is a very ample seat for my book and me. I dangle my feet on the water, touch the trunk that almost touches the river. The wind shakes the leaves from another tree close by. So many colours. The strength of the roots. On to another year.

A River Runs Through It

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I see that I have started calling it my river. As though a river could belong to any one.

Even if it could, mine is many oceans away. It always fills me with joy and sadness in equal measure to think of it. I have walked along my river in my city, Kolkata, just before it met the Bay of Bengal. And I have walked with my river past Benaras and Haridwar and Rishikesh and Gangotri and right on to the massive Gangotri Glacier. You might not believe the colours of the rock and the moraines and the ice piled on snow piled on scree–unless you had seen them. As for the colour of the sky at those many thousands of feet, let me not even try to describe. Only imagine a lift deep in your lungs. And a terrific sharpness of the senses. That is what I remember. More loveliness than I ever knew what to do with.

But maybe the waters of the globe constitute a thread of continuity. And here, in Ann Arbor, I do sometimes call the Huron mine. I then catch myself. Could I have with any other river in the world what I have with the Ganga? But the affection and even gratitude are real. As though to clinch it, there are flowers by the water almost all year long, just as soon as the snow is gone.