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Swimming With the Current

The trees put forth luxuriant foliage,
The spring begins to flow in a trickle.
I admire the seasonableness of nature
And am moved to think that my life will come to its close.
It is all over-
So little time are we granted human form in the world!
Let us then follow the inclinations of the heart:
Where would we go that we are so agitated?
I have no desires for riches
And no expectations of Heaven.
Rather on some fine morning to walk alone
Now planting my staff to take up a hoe,
Or climbing the east hill and whistling long
Or composing verses beside the clear stream:
So I manage to accept my lot until the ultimate homecoming.
Rejoicing in Heaven's command, what is there to doubt?

This poem, these musings, are so beautiful and pure, so rich in their natural allusions that they could not possibly be written by an American. Why? Because Americans simply, and regrettably, do not regard our natural world with the reverence it so deserves. In fact, there are lines within this poem seemingly directed right at Americans, or more specifically, the city-dwellers, to really take a look at their surroundings and asks them why? Why would you choose this life? With the options of vast, open-field rural life under a blanket of nighttime stars, or a bungalow nestled deep in the lush greenery of a jungle, or a small cottage amidst a meadow of wildflowers, why would anyone choose a ten-foot building in the middle of a stench-ridden city, with the only view being of the building next door? No tall trees, no fields of grass, no flowers or vegetables planted in a garden out front, just noise and trash and sidewalk vendors.

You never hear about the heroic feats of park rangers saving an endangered species or tour guides making discovering a new plant while on a hike in the woods; these topics never make headlines and these people/professions are never lifted up as heroes or celebrities for their work of bettering their natural environment. An older, successful businessman asks the twenty-two year old dreamer with the guitar, "where are you going to go?" The musician responds with the creativity and imagination of nature's impending inspiration twirling in his mind, "Colorado." The older gentlemen scoffs and laughs, "there's nothing for you out there, might as well put down the guitar and pick up a real profession, one that will make you some money" he thinks to himself. What does the older man know? A life of riches: buying big houses to accomodate all of the material "stuff" he has acquired to keep him happy. He might not know what a sunflower smells like or how wet grass smells first thing in the morning, but he sure knows how write a check!

It's the old, successful man that favors money and a material existence that America, as a society of people, lifts up as the example of the "American dream." Well, I have a different dream. One that doesn't involve bright flourescent lights, but natural star and moonlight. One that doesn't involve hundreds of big buildings and skyscrapers squeezed side-by-side, but hundreds of trees and plants growing together in harmony.My dream is similar to the one expressed by the poet in the beginning, who in fact is not an American, but an old Taoist poet, T'ao Ch'ien.

In America, we might ask the silly question, who is more superior? The park ranger in Colorado or the editor of Rolling Stone magazine in New York city? I guarantee the favor will rest in the New York editor's corner. Again, this is where I, as a Green Activist, side with more Taoist themes which "concern the superiorty of rural life to complicated, refined life in the city. In the country one is able to reflect on the beauties of the natural world and live close to the land in such a way that one can cultivate rapport with the nonhuman world. Life in the city, in contrast, is described as stuffy, stiff, and cut off from the enlivening presence of the natural world" (Kinsely, "Ecology and Religon," p.81-82).

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