Words Gone Astray in a Landscape of Grey
December 28, a Sunday
The dogs and I head out early because they refuse to walk in a dark rainy forest. They think I can make the weather change simply by driving them to a different place. Grey has settled in across the valley. Landscape and sky have merged. The town is deserted, an empty shell adorned with Christmas lights—but no flood waters at the Nehalem intersection. At the Bay, I am pleased to see the waters are out far enough to leave a beach for walking.
The dogs run wild. I slog along, surrendering to the wind and rain, a lone black silhouette in a landscape of gray. Then I notice that the grey, in blurring out detail, has given me lines– where mountain curves against sky and the swell and pulse of water is etched against the sand. I wonder if there is a word for the edge of water; a word for the imprint of water rhythm in sand. Sometimes these imprints look almost like hieroglyphs. I like to think that they are the signature of the Author. Perhaps I should say the signature of Water on a day when water, sky, and earth join in grey.
I am thinking about words today. I am troubled by the news that we are losing the vocabulary that describes nature, whereas words related to computers and technology are increasing rapidly. “Even in a single generation,” says Robert McFarlane, “an unremembered vocabulary impacts what we see, what we pay attention to, and what we know.”(LANDMARKS) It is hard to see something if we don’t have a word for it. The forest floor looks like a mat of green—not oxalis, lily of the valley, adders tongue, moss, fern…. Conifers are just trees, not Hemlock, Cedar, Spruce, Douglas Fir… But if we do not experience nature and have no relationship with it, we don’t need words to describe it. Nor, I suppose, do we miss it much when it is gone.
Then I am chilled to think that we may be seeing a symptom of this in the language of Oregon Department of Forestry. Are they losing the word “forest” with all its complexity in choosing to describe the terrain with words like “tracts” and “younger class stand”? (See their statement on the Homesteader Forest). Long ago, S. I. Hayakawa warned us that the map was not the terrain. Have we become fixated on the map of our own making and lost the experience of what actually exists?
Words are not only useful in helping us to see, they also carry a powerful emotional charge. So, of course, describing a forest with an abstract term like “Tract” makes it a lot easier to clear cut than if you described the plethora of plant and animal life that weave together to make it a “forest” and that you will be destroying if you clear cut it.
Equally upsetting is the way the name of the ancient Goddess, ISIS, has in the last year been turned upside down to carry the meaning of violence and terror. ISIS is the Greek name given to an ancient archetype of the Feminine Divine, known as Au Set to the Egyptians. Associated with the Star Sirius, sun of our sun, She is a channel of Light, Truth, Beauty. From an invocation: “I listen to the dawn and hear the heartbeat of Great Isis arising as Sirius. Her heartbeat is all around me. In the breath of the sky. In the song of birds. In the wind moving through grass and trees. In the flowing of the waters. In the thrumming of the great deep Earth. I listen and find the rhythm of the heartbeat of Isis. I find and am aware of that rhythm.” She is the magical body of nature (a word whose root is “alive”). In Her personalized stories she is mother, lover, sister, healer, magician.
Egyptians believed that the Name of Deity had such power that if you “called” it, especially using vibrational tones, you would invoke the particular qualities of that Deity. To call on the name of ISIS then is to invoke Beauty, Truth, and Light. To walk in her Light is to walk in the way of Loving Kindness. Ironically, this is the powerful “weapon” that can heal the world of violence. So when you speak of “Terrorists,” call them terrorists, people who use violence. When the word ISIS comes to your mind, think Beauty, Truth, Loving Kindness. I like to think because this Goddess is thousands of years old and rooted deeply in people’s hearts and heritage that She will survive this recent denigration of Her Holy Name.