JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
On-the-road edition issued from
Palenque, Chiapas, MÉXICO

October 8, 2017

On this trip I have turned 70 years old. I am defining these days of travel as a “node time” for myself – a time to pause with my life’s general flow, to re-examine what I am doing, how and way, and to shift course if need be, and if I can. That is why this Newsletter is different from those before it. Having explained that, let me tell you about some reading I have been doing on my little Kindle.

Last week I finished Willa Cather’s powerful One of Ours. Like all good novelists, Cather knew how to mention natural events or features in order to intensify feelings or moods being established. “Inevitable sweet sadness” surges with the mention of late summer´s blackberry leaves turning red. The sense of suspenseful, eager anticipation sharpens with the mention of sparkling slivers of ice forming on a stream´s rocky banks. For me, these associations are rooted in the principle that Nature offers paradigms/metaphors/models that echo throughout all levels of our lives.

Often I speak of these paradigms as helpful for giving insights into life´s complex problems. The way that Nature deals with or structures Her situation offers guidance for how we might handle a similarly structured circumstance in our own lives. Nature craves diversity and always recycles, so we should honor that guidance. Willa Cather says, remember reddening blackberry leaves, and you will know better how our hero feels.

This week I´m reading Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, in which the use of natural metaphors is taken to a higher level. Whenever an emotionally powerful event occurs, his characters in ancient Japan write one another poems. In ancient Japan, among literate people, allusions to natural events were so frequently employed that the whole process was formalized, the allusions serving as code words with very specific meanings. Mention insect songs among the reeds, and everyone felt the moment’s poignant sadness. If this happened on an autumn night, the sadness was unbearable.

I have just returned from a night spent in a tent in the village of Frontera Corozal, Chiapas, across the Usumacinta River from Guatemala. Awakening to reddish sunlight flooding onto a fog bank just below me, I wrote:

Last night, the town’s boom-boom music
troubled my sleep.
When it stopped, monkeys roaring nearby
brought good-natured dreams.

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.