Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk. (N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain, p. 83)
I have thought often about these words from N. Scott Momaday since I read his moving book, The Way to Rainy Mountain, which retells Kiowa myths from his childhood and people. I read this book many years ago, and for me, that which has stuck with me all of these years since is this opening line of the above passage: “Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth…”
It is interesting how we may ever so slightly change an author’s words over time to fit into what we need. For me, as I imagined this book passage, I always took it that Momaday was writing about not imagining a piece of earth or landscape, but actually immersing oneself in the landscape, body and soul, at some point in his or her life. I imagined this more like when he wrote about riding a red horse in New Mexico in another passage in The Way to Rainy Mountain. He said:
I came to know that country, not in the way a traveler knows the landmarks he sees in the distance, but more intimately, in every season, from a thousand points of view. I know the living motion of a horse and the sound of hooves. I know what it is, on a hot day in August or September, to ride into a bank of cold, fresh rain. (p. 67)
The important thing that I took from Momaday in his writing is the importance of really knowing the land. This has been immensely important to me over the years and brings me some of my greatest joy. It has helped me to intimately connect with both the land and people in some of the places that I have lived throughout my lifetime.
Knowing the land and its inhabitants can lead one deeper into knowing the Self. When we know a piece of land intimately, we begin to learn about the flora and fauna in the landscape that draws our attention and how these plants and animals may be connected to our current life process. Paying attention to a certain animal, for instance, on the land for a young man, will often be different than that which an older man attends to. A young man may focus on seeing the bull elk, because his psyche is emphasizing masculinity for him at this point in his life. An older man may focus upon coming across the bed of a deer. The deer’s bed and its warmth, is symbolic of his feminine side, the Jungian anima, that he needs to nurture at this time in his life. Knowing these details about the land and its creatures can help us to understand our own psychology and our current phase of life. We need to know these things about our landscape and it helps us to feel a closer kinship with all of life.
Knowing the land, helps us to know the Self. When we are deeply connected to a piece of land and know it as intimately as we know the people that we love, we can feel the aliveness of the earth. We have a greater sense of Self and purpose and we sense our interconnectedness with the land that we live upon.
Immersing oneself in nature and your local piece of land is vitally important at some point in your life. Thoreau discovered this and wrote about his experiences in Walden. What is important is not necessarily moving into the woods at Walden pond for two years as Thoreau did, but that you have regular connection to your landscape. The vital idea is to have a deep connection with the land at least at some point in your life that allows for daily or regular interaction with the land. Interactions with the land that enable you to know at what time of the year the tides are the lowest for your morning walk, or when the maple trees should be at their peak of brilliant colors, or when the snow geese will be migrating through, are important to learn about. But just as important to attend to are the more subtle mysteries and displays of nature that only the most observant and patient are gifted to witness.
As you explore and learn about your piece of land, your earth, you can’t help but get closer to your deeper Self. Your meditative and reflective approach to your outings on this piece of land draws you both outward to the land, and inward, to the landscape of your inner nature and soul. You see, touch, smell and feel the land as your senses take it all in. You are grateful for this time. The land that you get to know so well during this phase of your life, and its essence, will remain etched into your soul for your remaining years. At some point in your life, you will find a way to deeply know the land that you live upon and as Momaday stated, you will strive to know the land, “…more intimately, in every season, from a thousand points of view.”
Momaday, N.S. (1969). The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.