Friday, February 2, 2024

#33 / Is Our Land A Beast To Be Bought And Sold?


Trudy Wischemann, who sometimes goes by "woodworker," writes columns for a couple of newspapers published in California's Central Valley, The Foothills Sun-Gazette and The Mid-Valley Times. Her thoughts come to the public under the title, "Notes From Home," and I recommend them to you.

Thanks to Wischemann, I have become acquainted with Gerald Haslam, who is pictured above. Haslam was a  writer, and he was also an emeritus professor of literature at Sonoma State University. He died in 2021. Clicking the next link will take you to a Wikipedia page devoted to Haslam

And let me give you another link to click, as well. Clicking on the following link will take you to a website maintained by the University of Nevada Press, and give you an opportunity to buy this book by Haslam: 

I am recommending you do that - or that you hunt the book down in your local library and read about the Central Valley, and about the people who have lived there in the past, and who live there now. 

When I worked for the Planning and Conservation League, based in Sacramento, I traveled through the Central Valley on a weekly basis, commuting to and from "home," in Santa Cruz, California, on the coast. I learned very little about the Central Valley as I passed through it. Haslam's book has helped increase my understanding. 

This specific blog posting, coming to you in early February 2024, was stimulated by a particular line in one of the essays contained in The Other California, a book I finished reading right before the end of last year.

The familiar vista of the Sacramento Valley from an airplane reveals more than a physical contrast. Obvious are roads, canals and fence lines slashing below, straight and measured geometry assignments. Equally obvious is the lurching course of a great river, feeder streams squiggling into it like a mad artist's doodling.
Less obvious when viewing those features from above is that they represent opposing visions of the place. The canals, the roads, the fence lines are proprietary, profane reflections of contemporary American beliefs; the streams are familiar and sacred reflections of Native American assumptions. 
In what sense profane? The Valley was not the ancestral home of Europeans; they had no enduring link to it, so it was in no way sacrosanct. Moreover, they assumed theologically that nature was somehow the enemy of people - a beast to be domesticated, bought and sold (emphasis added).

Those of us who have been concerned by what is sometimes called "land use," will understand what Haslam is talking about, suggesting that the lands we inhabit can be seen as "a beast to be bought and sold." Haslam's writings celebrate both of the realities he urges us to consider - the "sacrosanct" reality of the natural world and the "profane" reality of the "human world" we have carved out from the "world of nature." Haslam's writings, which are poetically expressed, teach us about the right relationship of these "two worlds" that we call home. 

The words you are reading here - for anyone who is reading them - are posted to a blog that I maintain, "We Live In A Political World." Each daily entry in that blog is preceded by this introduction: 

We live, simultaneously, in two different worlds. Ultimately, we live in the World of Nature, a world that we did not create and the world upon which all life depends. Most immediately, we inhabit a "human world" that we create ourselves. Because our human world is the result of our own choices and actions, we can say, quite properly, that we live, most immediately, in a “political world.” In this blog, I hope to explore the interaction of these two worlds that we call home.

For those, like me, who were born in California, who call California "home," Haslam's writings are essential. They speak to all of us who want thoughtfully to consider what it means to live here, and to take seriously our obligations to this place, and to those who live here with us. 

While Haslam does call us to our obligations, he reminds us, also, how right it is joyously to celebrate the good fortune that has called us to be alive, right here, in California, right now. 

Gerald Haslam: recommended!

1 comment:

  1. I had forgotten this classic distinction Gerry made there, and felt immediately how it informed all this homeboy's writing on his place. Place over property. We all need to see this distinction, and start treating the land on which we live, work and lay our heads as holy. He truly was a great word worker who rang every bell he could (see "Anthem" in this blog a few days back.) Thanks for telling your world about him.


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