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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 43 and women, changing shape, speaking multiple languages, inter- marrying, traveling to the sky and under the earth. The great myths and folktales of human magic and nature’s power were our school for ten thousand years. Whether they know it or not, even modern writers draw strength from the wild side. HOW CAN ARTISTS AND WRITERS manage to join in the defense of the planet and wild nature? Writers and artists by their very work “bear witness.” They don’t wield financial, governmen- tal, or military power. However, at the outset they were given, as in fairy tales, two “magic gifts.” One is “The Mirror of Truth.” What- ever they hold this mirror up to is shown in its actual form, and the truth must come out. May we use that mirror well! The second is a “Heart of Compassion,” which is to say the abil- ity to feel and know the pains and delights of other people, and to weave that feeling into their art. For some this compassion can extend to all creatures and to the world itself. In a way, nature even borrows the voices of some writers and artists. Anciently, this was a shamanistic role where the singer, dancer, or storyteller embodied a force, appearing as a bear dancer or a crane dancer, and became one with a spirit or creature. Today, such a role is played by the writer who finds herself a spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song. This could be called “speaking on behalf of nature” in the old way. Song, story, and dance are fundamental to all later “civilized” literature. In archaic times these were unified in dramatic perfor- mance, back when drama and religious ceremony were still one. They are reunited today in the highest and greatest of performance arts: the grand scale of European opera, the height of ballet, the spare and disciplined elegance of Japanese Nô theater, the almost timeless dance-and-story of Indonesian Gamelan, the wit and hardiness of Bertold Brecht’s plays, or the fierce and stunningly beautiful intensity of Korean P’ansori performance. Performance is of key importance, because this phenomenal world and all life is of itself “not a book, but a performance.” For a writer or an artist to become an advocate for nature, he or she must first stumble into some connection to that vast world of energies and ecologies. Because I was brought up in a remote rural district, instead of having kids to play with, I had to entertain myself by exploring the forest surrounding our farm, observing the dozens of bird species and occasional deer, fox, or bobcat; sometimes hunt- ing, sometimes gathering plants that I could sell to herb buyers for a few pennies, and camping out alone for several days at a time. Heavy logging was going on in the nearby hills. Even as a boy I was deeply troubled by the destruction of the forests and the careless way that hunting, both of waterfowl and deer, was conducted. At fifteen, I got into the higher mountains of the Cascade Range in Washington State, starting with the ridges and high meadows around the snow-covered volcano called Mount St. Helens, or Luwit, a 3,000-meter peak just north of the Columbia River. Here is what I discovered back then, and finally chose to write about in my recent book, Danger on Peaks: NOV 40-47.indd 43 NOV 40-47.indd 43 8/29/07 2:09:47 PM 8/29/07 2:09:47 PM