Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joseph Wood Krutch: Baja California

Joseph Wood Krutch's Baja California and the Geography of Hope is a very unusual book, in that it's hard to explain just what it is. It's a Sierra Club Publication (copyright 1969), and my copy is a large format paperback book. It's getting rather decrepit, so one of these days I'm going to search for a hard back copy.

It has text by Krutch, some of which comes from other works by him, photos by Eliot Porter, and lines of poetry by Octavio Paz, translated by Muriel Rukeyser. The color photographs are taken in Baja California. I don't know if Paz's poetry is specifically about Baja, but they do seem to be about a desert landscape, so they are appropriate. I'm doing a search now for the book from which Paz's poetry was taken to see if I can learn more. Krutch's text varies: some of the commentaries are about Baja while some seem more to be inspired by Baja than specifically about Baja California.

I am going to make several posts about the book over the next few weeks. Rather than attempting to tell you about the book, I'm going to let Krutch speak for himself. He does a far better job than I ever could. Baja California and the Geography of Hope is part travelogue, part philosophical musings, part societal commentary, and part . . .?

"I can understand how an astronomer may conclude that God is a mathematician. The planets seem to know where they are going and what they are about. Theirs is a formal, unvarying dance which moves in accord with an abstract scheme of delightful regularity; and the mathematical physicist seems to have discovered that the microcosm is, despite the disturbing presence of certain principles suggesting indeterminacy, a good deal like its big brother the system of heavenly bodies. But the world of living things exhibits no such co-operation of part with part, no such subordination of the unit to the whole. The God who planned the well-working machines which function as atom and solar system seems to have had no part in arranging the curiously inefficient society of plants and animals in which everything works against everything else; and the struggle between, let us say, the mouse which would continue its species and the owl which would feed its young goes on inconclusively millennium after millennium."

-- Joseph Wood Krutch --

Los huesos son relampagos
en la noche del cuerpo.
Oh mundo, todo es noche
y la vida es relampago.

Our bones are lightning
in the night of the flesh.
O world, all is night,
life is the lightning.

-- Octavio Paz --

There is much talk today about disturbing the balance of nature or the web of nature or ecological networks, while others use system theory when they talk about the environment. Are these really out there in the environment, in nature, or are these abstract constructs applied by us? I wonder if we lose anything by using these models.

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