Friday, September 3, 2010

Women Outside: conversations about nature, art & spirit

In Women Outside: conversations about nature, art & spirit, Mary Olmsted Greene has conducted conversations with thirteen women whose lives are enriched by the spiritual qualities of nature.  It is an eclectic group of women with a great variety of things to say about how nature has formed their consciousness. 

One woman rescues wild animals.

Another raises sheep and lives completely outside of the grid.

One woman teaches dance.

Another is a shaman whose training is based on African rituals.

One is an Episcopal priest whose dog is part wolf.

There is a girl who is nine years old.

They all respond to the same batch of questions about their lives, how they were formed by the wild or wilderness, what their thoughts about evil are, and Greene intersperses her interviews with poems that complement the conversations in verse.

The book opens with Greene's own reminiscences of growing up near the ocean,  her move to New York, her youth spent bicycling the streets of Manhattan, her wild days, her glory days, spirited and free.  This opening essay is one of the best things in the book.  She discusses  "nature deficit disorder," a modern psychological problem for those of us deprived of the natural world. From New York City, Greene moved to Sullivan County in upstate New York with her young child and many of the women interviewed in the book come from that region.

Here is Eileen Pagan's response to the question, "what does wilderness mean to you?"
One of the qualities that defines wilderness for me is that sense of quietness, being with water, trees, rocks and sky, and knowing that there are living creatures of all the various sorts that are out there.  The foxes, for instance, which I rarely see. I do see the little chipmunks, snakes, and raccoons, and groundhogs, and all the millions of little creatures in the water in the summertime.  Those beautiful flying neon--what are they called? Darning needles? Down by the waterfall they are magnificent. 

Dorothy Hartz's responds to the question, "What in your life has brought you close to wilderness, or wildness?

I don't think you necessarily have to be in a natural setting to experience wilderness.  It helps a lot, and no doubt most of what we call wilderness encounters do take place in a natural setting, but...To me, wilderness is a state of harmony based on an absence of ego-consciousness.  It belongs to the organic world, to the world of instinct, whether in or out of doors.  We are in the wild whenever we are at peace with that.  We're innocent.

Mary Olmsted Greene
 The book makes me want to live in the wild before there is none left.

I found a website recently by the great environmental artist, Maya Lin.  It is called

What Is Missing?

Lin is a woman who has found a way to give tribute to the beasts and beauty of nature in her haunting audio-visual art.

Greene's book and her poems about nature give voice to what we long for that is not human, but essential to our humanness.

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