I am reading Scott Russell Sanders’ Writing from the Center I like him because he values the land and has an attachment to this relatively ordinary, not too spectacular state of Indiana that I share. Indiana doesn’t have spectacular waterfalls crashing down from sheer rock faces–a modest stream sheeting down at Turkey Run is as good as we can manage. Mountains were planed out by glaciers or God’s hand thousands of years ago. Instead we have acres of land stretching out flat and firm, exposing the horizon, providing a steady rim for the sun to slide below. Patches of woods, thick with old growth trees, punctuate the fields, giving texture and color and height. The sky is a still blue and the wind can sweep in thunderstorms that the mountains of other states snag and dissipate, storms that electrify the sky, charge it with silver light and fierce power. Creeks abound, cutting channels through farm land, through wood beds, plowing trenches that roads pass over. Rasping green blades of corn, crinkled bushes of soybeans, sighing yellow strands of wheat variegate the land. Each crop makes a different sound in the wind. Listen. Corn creaks and rattles as it grows, chafes and clacks when it dries to brittle brown stalks. Wheat shimmies, wisping like windblown bangs, a gentle whispering. Beans are the quietest, swaying only a little in their compact rows, rubbing fuzzy pods against one another.
Sanders begs more of us to be inhabitants rather than tourists of our place. We know so little of our land’s story, and as much as I love my land and, I think, attend closely to its changing nature, i guiltily admit that I do not know its bird song, the names of more than a fraction of its trees, or have a vocabulary for its topo features. “Children who identify a brand of sneakers from fifty yards away can learn to identify trees and bushes, flowers and mushrooms. Any child or adult who can recognize a pop tune from the opening three notes can learn to recognize the songs of neighborhood birds. Anyone who can recite dialogue from a hit movie or follow the plot of a soap opera should be able to grasp the natural history of a bioregion.” Yet we fail even in this simple, basic knowledge. It is work, this learning, but I need to make the effort to name my world, just as I would work to know my students’ names or carefully choose names for my children. Naming doesn’t have to mostly signify ownership, but it can be an acknowledgement of the being of the life around us, the worth of each thing.