As Steven Meyers writes, an odyssey need not involve a long journey, simply a profound one. First drawn to Lime Creek for its fly fishing, this stream serves as Meyers's muse in seven transcendent essays that explore journeys in the discovery of self, of home, and what it means to be human. The essays also explore loss and grief, of finding healing in the powerful presence of nature and in the awareness and experience of natural cycles. The tender eloquence of his writing and his compassion for all living things make for a contemplation of place in the tradition of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Desert Solitaire.
It's funny, this thing we do when we ask questions about “nature,” as if it's something we go to. Something “out there”. Something not us.
We are “nature” no less than the forest. No less than the mountains. No less than all non-human beings. No less than rivers and streams. In that sense, although some might not be aware of it, it makes almost no sense to answer a question like, “How has nature impacted your life?” It would be like asking a mountain how it feels about stone.
Perhaps more than anything else, this is how “nature” has affected my writing --the realization that we are all in this together. That we are separate from nothing, that as much as we have needs, others (including the non-human) have needs, and the denial of anything, the destruction of anything needed by any other being, human or not, involves moral questions only those who live as I've written before, “in an envelope of arrogance,” are able to ignore.
I first learned this from my father who was a fisherman and a hunter. A gifted woodsman. A WWII GI, Airborne Ranger, who was attempting to put his life back together after fighting in the jungles of the Pacific. We lived in the industrial Northeast, a place that had seen its rivers and bays polluted as early as the 17th century. But my father grew up in a time when there were still wild, native trout in the streams and grouse in the woods. He watched their numbers diminish and he always knew the reason: habitat destruction caused by humans.
As he lamented those losses, so too, I learned to lament their loss.
He subscribed to outdoor magazines and belonged to outdoor book clubs. As a child, I devoured those magazines and books. I dreamed I might one day fish for native steelhead in the wild rivers of British Columbia. I dreamed I would meet an elk on a mountain. I dreamed I might spend time in a place so far from a road or factory that it would seem as if those things never existed. I dreamed those and a hundred other dreams, all populated by wildness. All of those dreams have come true for me, and all have become threatened.
Twenty plus years ago, when Earth Day was a new thing, many were able to continue in the delusion that these accumulations of habitat loss, pollution, and human-caused climate change were not the greatest threats ever faced by mankind. Twenty plus years ago the reality that we were living during a period of catastrophic species extinction --and that unlike those that had occurred earlier, this one had identifiable causes that could be addressed --was a fact many had not yet grasped. Today, no educated human being can claim it is not occurring.
Lime Creek Odyssey is, as John Nichols wrote of it, a "love poem to the joy of our remaining wild places, and a cautionary tale that we must act quickly to save what we still have." The book is informed by two fundamental ideas that sit behind every word. The idea of place, and the idea of home. One cannot know to act unless one is aware of the problems. Today, it is almost unimaginable to think that anyone is unaware of the problems. One will not be moved to act unless something one holds dear is threatened. Until we begin to see the specialness of the places where each of us dwells, until we come to truly love the uniqueness of these places, we will not be sufficiently motivated to act to save them. Until we realize that the losses we are facing threaten something deep inside us, the sense of belonging in place, an idea embodied in the notion of home, we act only from intellectual awareness not from a profound fear of personal loss.
This is why I wrote Lime Creek Odyssey. This is why in the introduction to the book I contrasted the sense of place I perceived as being so well embodied in Penelope with the customary perception of her husband, Odysseus, who had gone off to war. After the war, Odysseus struggled to return home. Most who read Homer become enamored with the adventures of Odysseus. This little book, I hoped, would provide the more important message, the reason why Odysseus would brave the dangers, so great for so long, in order to return to the one place where he knew he belonged: his place. His home.
And in this introduction, and in the chapters that followed, it was my hope that no reader would put down the book without knowing that all of the great perils, great joys, great sadnesses we inevitably confront as humans --the births of our children, the deaths of our loved ones, the great joys of solitude and wildness, our confrontations with the non-human --all take place somewhere. They all take place within that interwoven web we are all part of, the all-inclusive “nature” I referred to earlier. They all take place in a place, and if we are lucky, in a place we have come to know long enough and well enough to name it, “home.”
Only then, will we fight with all our might, to protect it.
I will spend Earth Day in a local bookshop, a significant center and gathering place in this place I call home. I will be reading from a new edition of Lime Creek Odyssey, surrounded by my neighbors, my friends and my students who, like me, call the San Juan Mountains home. I will do so with a lump in my throat. A lump partly consisting of joy that we are together; partly of fear that we might lose our home; partly of hope --the very aspiration that inspired the first of Earth Day --that we together might save and protect what we have come to love so dearly.
This Earth. This place. Our home.
Originally published in April E-Central
Book Title: Lime Creek Odyssey
Author: Steven Meyers
ISBN: 9780871083265 | $14.99 | WestWinds Press