The Real Work, Interviews and Talks – Gary Snyder

The communities of creatures in forests, ponds, oceans, or grasslands seem to tend toward a condition called climax, “virgin forest” — many species, old bones, lots of rotten leaves, complex energy pathways, woodpeckers living in snags, and conies harvesting tiny piles of grass. This condition has considerable stability and holds much energy in its web — energy that in simpler systems (a field of weeds just after a bulldozer) is lost back into the sky or down the drain. All of evolution may have been as much shaped by this pull toward climax as it has by simple competition between individuals or species. If human beings have any place in this scheme it might well have to do with their most striking characteristic — a large brain, and language. And a consciousness of a peculiarly self-conscious order. Our human awareness and eager poking, probing and studying is our beginning contribution to planet-system energy-conserving; another level of climax!
In a climax situation a high percentage of the energy is derived not from grazing off the annual production of biomass, but from recycling dead biomass, the duff on the forest floor, the trees that have fallen, the bodies of dead animals. Recycled. Detritus cycle energy is liberated by fungi and lots of insects. I would then suggest: as climax forest is to biome, and fungus is to the recycling of energy, so “enlightened mind” is to daily ego mind, and art to the recycling of neglected inner potential.
When we deepen or enrich ourselves, looking within, understanding ourselves, we come closer to being like a climax system. Turning away from grazing on the “immediate biomass” of perception, sensation, and thrill; and re-viewing memory, internalized perception, blocks of inner energies, dreams, the leaf-fall of day-to-day consciousness, liberates the energy of own sense-detritus.
Art is an assimilator of unfelt experience, perception, sensation and memory for the whole society. When all that compost of feeling and thinking comes back to us then, it comes not as a flower, but — to complete the metaphor — as a mushroom: the fruiting body of the buried threads of mycelia that run widely through the soil, and are intricately married to the root hairs of all the trees. “Fruiting”, at that point, is the completion of the work of the poet, and the point where the artist or mystic reenters the cycle: gives what she or he has done as nourishment, and as spore or seed spreads the “thought of enlightenment,” reaching into personal depths for nutrients hidden there, back to the community. The community and its poetry are not two.
Gary Snyder – The Real Work, Interviews and Talks, 1964-1979, New Directions Paper

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