taking up a new “life style” in a not-here-not-now where everybody gets rich quick in the movies or finds the meaning of life or anyhow gets a good tan hang-gliding.
What the Whites perceived as a wilderness to be “tamed” was in fact better known to human beings than it has ever been since: known and named. Every hill, every valley, creek, canyon, gulch, gully, draw, point, cliff, bluff, beach, bend, good-sized boulder, and tree of any character had its name, its place in the order of things. An order was perceived, of which the invaders were entirely ignorant. Each of those names named, not a goal, not a place to get to, but a place where one is: a center of the world. There were centers of the world all over California. One of them is a bluff on the Klamath River. Its name was Katimin. The bluff is still there, but it has no name, and the center of the world is not there. The six directions can meet only in lived time, in the place people call home, the seventh direction, the center.
“People are always shouting they want to create a better future,” says Milan Kundera, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,
“It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” 3
One of our finest methods of organized forgetting is called discovery. Julius Caesar exemplifies the technique with characteristic elegance in his Gallic Wars. “It was not certain that Britain existed,” he says, “until I went there.”
In order to find our roots, perhaps we should look for them where roots are usually found. At least the Spirit of Place is a more benign one than the exclusive and aggressive Spirit of Race, the mysticism of blood that has cost so much blood.
With all our self-consciousness, we have very little sense of where we live, where we are right here right now. If we did, we wouldn’t muck it up the way we do. If we did, our literature would celebrate it. If we did, our religion might be participatory. If we did–if we really lived here, now, in this present–we might have some sense of our future as a people.
“The activities of a machine are determined by its structure, but the relation is reversed in organisms–organic structure is determined by its processes.” 22