What's with the Name?

People sometimes ask, "Why These Words Like Rocks?"

I explain briefly that it is from Gary Snyder's poem, "Rip Rap," a personal fave. It comes from a person, a poem, and a place (of mind) that continue to feed the fire for what I write and create. In the spirit of Earth Day/week, I'm gonna indulge my craving to go more in depth with the origins of this journal's name. 

Gary is an OG, (as in original gangster, and yep, we're totally on a first name basis). Philosopher Max Oelschlaeger once called Gary "the poet laureate of Deep Ecology." Deep ecology advocates that all living beings hold inherent value apart from their use to humans.

The philosophy promotes the legal right of environments to flourish, and that ecosystems can and should be utilized to meet vital human needs (obviously), but that excessive resource extraction causes harm to all life, including humans. 

Gary's writing and the deep ecology it embodies came to me in a turning point in my life. After quitting basketball my freshman year of college, I was struggling with body image issues and mild-grade depression. I wasn't clinically depressed, per se, but I didn't feel content with who I was or what I was doing. I had been a basketball player since fifth grade, and although I knew I didn't want to play anymore, without it I felt lost.

Sophomore year I took an environmental studies course as an elective. I had little exposure to environmental thinking prior to this point. I enjoyed hiking and had spent a lot of my early childhood in the woods and fields by my house, but things like deep ecology were not on my radar. 

The view from Blackmore Peak, one of my first long hikes in Hyalite Canyon near my childhood home. 

The view from Blackmore Peak, one of my first long hikes in Hyalite Canyon near my childhood home. 

One class requirement was to volunteer for an environmental group. I signed up to do trail work on a backpacking trip. We hiked to a mountain lake and did some campsite maintenance.

I remember sitting by the teal waters after cleaning up fire pits, my hands dirty, the sun setting the sky afire, and feeling more at home in my body than I had in a long time, if ever. A few of us ladies jumped into the lake the next morning sans clothes. I was a wild animal, and I loved it. 

At another alpine lake nearly a decade later (photo by Jarred Pickens)

At another alpine lake nearly a decade later (photo by Jarred Pickens)

"Nature lovers" usually have a story similar to this one. There's something both extraordinary and trivial, sacred and mundane about being in wild places. I believe we come back to ourselves when we spend time in the natural world, our place of origin.

Soon after this backpacking trip I began climbing. I also began reading more poetry. I was just your typical Missoula hippie, wearing my thrift store threads with pride, leaving my pant leg rolled up after biking so everyone knew I had biked (half joking here). I consumed books with an appetite only equalled by my hunger to climb. 

I had discovered a new lifestyle, a new sense of self, and they were very much enmeshed with time spent out of doors. Gary's writing spoke to this new ethos, further educating me in human-nature interconnection. 

"If evolution has any meaning at all," he writes in Poetry and the Primitive, "we must all hope to slowly move away from such biological limitations, just as it is within our power to move away from the self-imposed limitations of small-minded social systems. We all live within skin, ego, society, and species boundaries."

Said more simply, the you/me, them/us, human/animal binaries are "self-imposed limitations." I think part of the discontent I felt and sometimes still feel comes from disconnect from life with a capital L.

When I spend time in the natural world, I feel more whole because I feel more connected and less limited. My boundaries expand because I bear witness to the hugeness of life--whether in the mountains, by the ocean, or even in an aspen grove I frequent near my home in Bozeman. 

To me, the poem "Rip Rap" seeks to connect the physical world to our emotional and intellectual worlds. The first few lines read, "Lay down these words / Before your mind like rocks. /     placed solid by hands"

The stories I offer here on this journal largely stem from my love for nature and time spent climbing rocks or just sitting and enjoying some sunshine. They come from physical experiences and are in celebration of that feeling I had by the lake on that backpacking trip. It's a feeling I continue to seek in my everyday life, one I experience while climbing, hiking, and eating good food. 

Photo by Jarred Pickens

Photo by Jarred Pickens

On an ending note, Gary was also a climber. In Lookout Journal he wrote, "Don't be a mountaineer, be a mountain." I think that's largely the goal with any physical activity--to cultivate a state of mind where we're in the flow, as unthinking as a mountain. 

And that's why These Words Like Rocks fit this collection of stories: it's a celebration of those moments when we feel truly at home in our bodies on this wonder-full planet.