Not taking your breath away

| 29 Aug 2014 | 12:17

Truth be told, much of what we experience as “nature” is just really the result, the transcript, of some earlier encounter between the natural world and the forces of human nature. An experience of “primordial” nature is rare and perhaps even a romantic construct. Everything is part of an ecosystem, the rules of which are not all known. I am finding it interesting and provocative to find places, thin places, in the region that are pretty regular, if not just plain. What Spirit of Place dwells there? Here are two I’ve been to recently in Harriman State Park.

Lake Kanawauke is a 186-acre area with three lakes, two of which were man-made when the Stony Brook and Stillwater Creek were dammed up in 1915. With water, picnic tables, views, benches and those beautiful signature low stone buildings, Scout camps around the lakes and miles and miles of hiking trails, this is good old fashioned vanilla park experience. No “aha’s”; nothing overwhelming – and that’s its value. It’s a serviceable access to nature where you have to develop your own understanding and meanings about nature and human nature: recreation? a photo or two? a bite to eat or Something Else?

On the way to Kanawauke from the west on County Route 106 just off Route 17, there’s an immediate turn off on the left for “Ramapo River Access.” I’ve passed it often, never really getting lured to check it out till recently. Wow! A small gravel loop with a few different ways to get to the Ramapo River. (I never knew there was a Ramapo River!) This was more like a visit to a zoo in the 1950s, with depressed logy animals in smelly, cinder block cells. The river is trapped, squeezed really, between two busy highways: Route 17 on one side and the New York State Thruway on the other. The day I was there, the water was sluggish and the sounds of passing traffic jarring. This was the opposite of the romance, the poetics of nature. Yet, there was something. It’s part of what’s getting named “Dark Ecology.” It’s the willingness to encounter nature and human nature in a more feral way, less soothing. Paul Kingsnorth at Dark Mountain and Timothy Morton are shaping the discussion.

In Morton’s Ecology Without Nature, he argues that the real value and service of dark ecology is to examine and embrace the persistent ugliness and filth in nature, perhaps man-made, “to love the disgusting, inert, and meaningless.” Go visit these places and see what you think, and feel. Daniel Mack