New Page Books,US; First Edition edition, Aug 2004
Reviewed by Sky McCain
Jesse Wolf Hardin’s book bears an accurately descriptive title. Gaia, the living, conscious, inspirited Earth, and eros, the love of the Earth. Gaia Eros – Earth love. Its thirty-eight small chapters felt to me more like a collection of love poems than a series of essays. Unconnected by a logical, progressive unfolding of ideas, each is complete in itself like musical variations on a theme – the theme of Earthly love.
In much the same vein as John Muir, Robinson Jeffers, Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau, Wolf writes and talks from out of his personal experience, revealing his love affair with the larger domain of himself. Love for others, and for all of Nature, must be grounded in love of self. Not so much the egoic, personal self, but more the larger Self fully embodied in the sacred skin of the living Earth. ‘Earthen Spirituality’ or ‘New Nature Spirituality’ is what Wolf likes to call it.
All his chapters – or poetic vignettes – are like expressions of the lover speaking from a heart saturated with over twenty-five years spent in the sensual, erotic bower of his beloved canyon. It is a place of cool breezes and laughing waters, thick and luxuriant with a backdrop of forest and stately cliffs rising to lofty crags and pinnacles. Cool boulders of bold design dotted with hardy cacti lie among fallen limbs in and among sand washed down with Autumn thundershowers. “I’m excited,” says Wolf. And having walked the sacred canyon myself, I understand and share that excitement.
Of course, the American Southwest has no monopoly on beauty. Equally, there may be the loveliness of a potted plant, hedgerows of campions interspersed with the withering bluebell blossoms past their prime and forming seed. The joyfully sounding song of the robin shortly before his summer silence or the melodious notes of the blackbird taking a short break from the relentless task of feeding her young; all are equal parts of Gaia. As Wolf puts it, “the interpenetration and interrelationship of all her sacred parts.”
Interwoven with the affirmations of joyful communion with Gaia are several invigorating themes. I’ll just touch on a few. Earthen Spirituality promises no transcendent answer or creed. Where is it that we think we might go? The Tao is within, not out there somewhere. There is no need to look further than our Earthly home for sustenance. In my own words: let us wholly immerse ourselves in the love and beauty of Gaia and let Gaia, who is better equipped, deal with cosmic consciousness. Our connection to the cosmos must come through Gaia. We, as earthling animals, simply don’t have the sensors to deal directly with galactic spirit. And why should we be concerned? Can we not be satisfied with being Earthlings?
Wolf says, “Earth is a spirit-embodied being, sexually charged and reproductive, but also sensitive and vulnerable. In this way our playmate, partner, and lover.”
In Chapter 11, there is a fairly detailed ‘Anatomy of a Quest’ as guided by the residents of the Earthen Spirituality Project in the magical Gila Mountains of New Mexico, USA, once the abode of the Mogollon (‘Sweet Medicine’) people.
A major part of the New Nature Spirituality involves “recreating a practice that is true to our mixed heritage and found homes, true to the current needs of self and earth in these contemporary times.” Avoiding ‘cultural appropriation’, we need authentic rituals that reflect our new understanding of Gaia, (what I call ‘rituals of uncertainty’). These must be pulled from the heart and shared. Early on, in Chapter 2, there is a ‘sweet medicine query,’ a preparatory rite of passage into the book. This mental preparation seems to parallel the two mile walk into the canyon, where the visitor must cross the usually calf deep river seven times.
Some other charming chapters feature such things as ‘Mulberry Truths’ – a collection of affirmations and truths from Nature’s storehouse, and ‘Lessons of the Furry Buddhas’ – things the author has learned from bobcats, such as: “Anytime you’re not actively being pursued, don’t bother being afraid“. Then there is Wolf’s ‘Ode to Wilderness’, an impassioned testimony rather than reasoned argument. In Gaia Eros one also finds a detailed example of restoring and resacramenting land, beautiful suggestions for reclaiming the ever present ‘now’ and several interviews which help the reader to be come better acquainted with the author. These and others are all illustrated with Wolf’s art.
In a culture that is currently threatening to bring about “the end of Nature”, Gaia Eros is a Song of Songs, an inspirited beacon piercing through the darkness.