My kids keep on teaching me. I just returned home on Sunday from my son Nick’s graduation from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Nick has earned a degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis on Ecological Design. My son and I are both setting off on new life adventures: it’s going to be fun to watch what he does with his degree just as it will be fun for him to watch what his dad does with Torrey House Press. Our paths and goals are enjoyably parallel and I have benefited from quizzing him about his courses and even reading some of his course material. On the trip to Arizona I finished reading one of Nick’s required texts, Max Oelschlaeger’s The Idea of Wilderness. The book is a demanding examination of the history and philosophies behind humankind’s relationship with the natural world. It’s a door stopper and now inked up with circled words I had to go to the dictionary to decipher. When I was done hefting it and the dictionary, however, I had a better idea of who my son has grown to be and an improved perspective of my own place in the cosmos.
In fact, Oelschlaeger’s last chapter is titled, “Cosmos and Wilderness.” After a long history and philosophy lesson the author makes the stimulating conclusion that humankind may be on the brink of a new age of understanding our place in the cosmos and that our view and experience of wilderness will be key in getting us there. Thoreau got this idea started in America. In his essay, “Walking” Thoreau famously wrote: “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Oelschlaneger’s concluding proposition is that meaning and significance can best be sought and found in nature, and here’s the part I liked best, the way to promote this fact is through literature and philosophy in dialogue. This is a new kind of creation story taking hold that easily capture’s young peoples’, such as Nick’s, imagination. “Wilderness,” Oelschlaeger says, “appears to undergird a new paradigm for understanding humankind as embodying natural process grown self-conscious.” It is fun even for old folks like me to sit and ponder that notion for a few moments, especially, say, under a dark, starry sky. A modern thinking person, however, is not going to just settle for more New Age prattle. To be convincing any new paradigm for understanding meaning and significance will have to include, according to Oelschlaeger, “ . . . both scientific plausibility and religious distinctiveness.” I like that phrase. I’ll blog about many of the ideas in more detail later. For now, it’s nice to have the confirmation that Torrey House Press — as a source of literature promoting the value of natural landscape — is on the right track.