Wednesday, April 5, 2017

John Muir: Destruction or Creation?

No. 66

How lavish is Nature, building, pulling down, creating, destroying, chasing every material particle from form to form, ever changing, ever beautiful.   


.  .  . One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made.  That this is still the morning of creation.  That mountains, long conceived, are now being born, brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.  That moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants .  .  . while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening far out to sea, is being stored away in the darkness, and builded, particle on particle, cementing, and crystallizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other landscapes, which, like fluent pulsing water, rise and fall, and pass on through the ages in endless rhythm and beauty. 

All quotations are from John Muir: In His Own Words 

It certainly is a different way to view nature, especially when in a mountainous area.

Is there a difference between the acts of nature--earthquakes, landslides, storms, volcano eruptions, mountain building, etc.-- when what was there before is gone and replaced with something else on the one hand and taking down old buildings and fine old neighborhoods whose only sin is that they are old and replacing them with condos, apartment complexes, big box stores, and parking lots?

But, I guess I will be told that that is progress, and that one shouldn't stand in the way of progress,  should  one?


  1. "Progress" is not the word. It implies a moving-towards something, but with Nature there is no "something" to arrive at. (For that matter, progress shouldn't be applied to politics unless there is a clear idea of what we are headed towards...progress towards tyranny, progress towards liberty, progress towards order, progress towards inanity...)

    But to the author's point, it is exhilarating to realize that the Cosmos is still being shaped around us. In our own lifetime, islands may appear and disappear because of vulcanism!

    1. Stephen,

      Progress may not be the right word, but it's what I'm told when I object to the destruction of old buildings merely because they are old and because someone can't make as much of a profit as they could with a condo or a strip mall or a parking lot.

      Yes, I agree. We tend to see the world as fixed and immutable, but changes are still taking place, just as evolution, as Loren Eiseley so eloquently argues, is still going on.

      And, as you point out, the volcanic islands are perfect examples of changes we can see.

      And novas are taking place, resulting in the death of one star and the birth of new stars.

    2. right on Stephen... that's more of a geological perspective, wherein change over a million years or so is considered but a moment in the ongoing evolution of the planet...

    3. And the universe, the cosmos, is changing also, although frequently on a time scale that is so long that we can only infer it.

  2. Yes! Stasis is over-rated, and (unfortunately or fortunately) we as humans have limited perspectives on the scope and rate of change around us. Thank you for sharing the excerpts and your thoughts. What follows, a poem I discovered this morning at The Writer's Almanac website, seems relevant:

    Yes, yes, you can’t step into the same
    river twice, but all the same, this river
    is one of the things that has changed
    least in my life, and stepping into it
    always feels like returning to something
    far back and familiar, its steady current
    of coppery water flowing around my calves
    and then my thighs, my only waders
    a pair of old shorts. Holding a fly rod
    above my head, my other arm out
    for balance, like some kind of dance,
    trying not to slip on the mossy rocks,
    I make my way out to the big rock
    I want to fish from, mottled with lichen
    that has dried to rusty orange, a small
    midstream island that a philosopher
    might use to represent stasis
    versus flux, being amidst becoming,
    in some argument that is larger
    than any that interests me now
    as I climb out dripping onto the boulder
    and cast my line out to where the bubbles
    form a channel and trail off in a V
    that points to where the fish might be,
    holding steady amid the river’s flow.

    "The Same River" by Jeffrey Harrison from Into Daylight. © Tupelo Press, 2014.

    1. Tim,

      Thanks for posting the poem. It's a classic example of how memories affect our perception.

    2. very nice allegorical imagery... tx, Tim...

  3. These are very interesting excepts and you raise some very interesting questions.

    I am often positive about many forms of progress.

    However, pulling down old buildings and neighborhoods and building superficial places seems like a very bad thing. With that, some of this is likely necessary and unavoidable. "some" seems to be the key here. I think that our society often goes to far and we can would benefit if we preserved more of the old things.

    1. Brian,

      I agree--profit shouldn't be the only motive for doing or not doing something.

  4. architecture: i've seen older buildings with decorative art and designs that must have demanded an extraordinary amount of patience and imagination to create; even more admirable when contrasted with the concrete monstrosities thrown up by "modern" constructionists...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Unfortunately those don't increase profits, so that won't come into consideration.

    2. Hi Fred,

      It reminds me of when I was visiting Seattle. I was in an old Historic church that was so beautiful with ornaments and filigree all over the Greek Revival structure.

      A brochure informed visitors that they were planning on tearing down the building in favor of a more modern structure. The church hardly had any members and I think they thought a "modern building" would encourage more people to attend.

      I doubt it.

    3. Sharon,

      I doubt it also.

  5. it's difficult to see an aesthetic in a block of concrete...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Perhaps that's because there is none?