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Wild Comfort

Posted by Gena Goodman-Campbell at Aug 08, 2012 09:55 AM |
An excerpt from Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore, a professor of philosophy and environmental ethics at Oregon State University.

Excerpt from Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

West Little Owyhee
West Little Owyhee River.
Photo: Jim Davis

I close my eyes and listen:  Western tanagers, yellow warblers, the thrumming creek, and now the cooing mourning dove, always an overture so dependable you could set your watch by that soft sound, an hour before dawn.


"There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature," Rachel Carson wrote. "The assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter." I have never felt this so strongly as I do waiting here for the sun to warm my back.  The bottom may drop out of my life, leaving me astonished and shaken.  But still, sticky leaves emerge from bud scales that curl off the tree and sail downstream on glassy creeks as the sun crosses the sky, and darkness pools and drains away, and the curve of the new moon points to the place the sun will rise again.  There is wild comfort in the cycles and the intersecting circles, the rotations and revolutions, the growing and ebbing of this beautiful and strangely trustworthy world.

I settle back on the rock and drag my sleeping bag over my knees.   Diffuse light silvers the creek, so I can just make out a dragonfly nymph that crawls toward the surface with no expectation of flight, beyond maybe a tightness in the carapace across its back.  No matter how hard it tries or doesn't, there will come a time when the dragonfly pumps the crinkles out of its wings, and there they will be, luminous as mica, threaded with lapis and gold.

No measure of human grief can stop the Earth in its tracks. The Earth rolls into sunlight and rolls away again, continents glowing green and gold under the clouds. Trust this, and there will come a time when dogged trust in the world will break open into wonder. Wonder leads to gratitude. Gratitude opens onto peace.

When I look up from the creek, the boulders on top of the hill are yellow, as if highway crews had sprayed them in passing. Here's the bent trunk of an old juniper, rust against blue sky.  Now a patch of scarlet gilia blazes red.  Slowly, slowly, a rock distinguishes itself from the hill, yellow with a sharp shadow that falls on rabbitbrush that itself suddenly bursts into yellow bloom, first the top of the bush, then the whole glorious thing.

Birds grow restless in the sudden light that floods into the crevice below the stone.  A canyon wren bursts into song.  Its falling notes tumble from rock to rock the way light seems to fall:  Not in any hurry.  Such gifts cannot be rushed, this light shawling down the hill, this descending song. Desert morning comes if you notice it or not, whether or not you are asleep, say, or if your eyes are closed, listening.  But when you look up, there it is.  The spatulas of the prickly pear catch the sun full in the face.  Each crack in the rock is revealed, each bare stem and each stem's shadow. A viceroy butterfly opens its wings, flaps them experimentally, starts up for the day.  Then it flies across the ravines and hummocks of the hill.  Its shadow slides up to meet it, then dips away.


The Keynote Speaker for ONDA's 2012 Desert Conference, Kathleen Dean Moore is a philosopher, nature writer, public speaker, and defender of all that is wet and wild. Her work brings together the art of the essay, the wisdom of the natural world, and the moral clarity of philosophy to explore our place on the planet and our responsibilities for its thriving.

Her newest book is MORAL GROUND: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. It gathers testimony from a hundred of the world’s moral leaders, who call us to honor our obligations to future generations. Professor Dean Moore will deliver the keynote address at 7pm on Friday, September 21 at the Old Stone Church in Bend-- click here to sign up for Desert Conference now!

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