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A Place in Space

by Gary Snyder

272 pages, paperback, Counterpoint, 1996, $17.00

29 essays exploring the importance of place to our sense of ourselves and the world. Written over the past 40 years, A Place in Space includes 13 essays written since publication of The Practice of the Wild in 1990.

Praise for A Place in Space

"Snyder has achieved a universality of vision about how human beings, beasts, plants, and other creations on this planet interrelate and interdepend that is astonishing and humbling. He writes of his vision with utter clarity and grace."-- Booklist

"A Place in Space, like a visit to an old forest, offers a refreshingly clear perspective on our relationship to the natural community--and the larger human community as well."-- Seattle Times

"No one has written so forcefully against urban sprawl, pollution, and mechanization. Somehow, Snyder has managed . . . to remain a free man."--The New York Times Book Review

About Gary Snyder

Quotes from A Place in Space

"My family and I decided from early on to try to be here, in the midelevation forests of the Sierra Nevada, as fully as we could. This brave attempt was backed by lack of resources and a lot of dumb bravado. We figured that simplicity would of itself be beautiful, and we had our own extravagant notions of ecological morality. But necessity was the teacher that finally showed us how to live as part of the natural community.

"It comes down to how one thinks about screens, fences, or dogs. These are often used for keeping the wild at bay. ('Keeping the wild at bay' sounds like fending off hawks and bears, but it is more often a matter of holding back carpenter ants and deer mice.') We came to live a permeable, porous life in our house set among the stands of oak and pine. Our buildings are entirely opened up for the long Sierra summer. Mud daubers make their trips back and forth from inside the house to the edge of the pond like tireless little cement trucks, and pour their foundations on beams, in cracks, and (if you're not alert) in rifle-bore holes and backpack fire-pump nozzles. They dribble little spots of mud as they go. For mosquitoes, which are never much of a problem, the house is just another place to enjoy the shade. At night the bats dash around the rooms, in and out of the open skylights, swoop down past your cheek and go out an open sliding door. In the dark of the night the deer can be heard stretching for the lower leaves of the apple trees, and at dawn the wild turkeys are strolling a few yards from the bed."

"The price we pay is the extra effort to put all the pantry food into jars or other mouse-proof containers. Winter bedding goes into mouse-proof chests. Then ground squirrels come right inside for fresh fruit on the table, and the deer step into the shade shelter to nibble a neglected salad. You are called to a hopeful steadiness of nerves as you lift a morsel of chicken to the mouth with four meat bees following it every inch of the way. You must sometimes (in late summer) cook and eat with the yellow jackets watching every move. This can make you peevish, but there is a kind of truce that is usually attained when one quits flailing and slapping at the wasps and bees."

. . .


  • That it be literate--that is, nature literate. Know who's who and what's what in the ecosystem, even if this aspect is barely visible in the writing.
  • That it be grounded in a place--thus, place literate: informed about local specifics on both ecological-biotic and sociopolitical levels. And informed about history (social history and environmental history), even if this is not obviously in the poem.
  • That it use Coyote as a totem--the Trickster, always open, shape shifting, providing the eye of other beings going in and out of death, laughing from the dark side.
  • That it use Bear as a totem--omnivorous, fearless, without anxiety, steady, generous, contemplative, and relentlessly protective of the wild.
  • That it find further totems--this is the world of nature, myth, archetype, and ecosystem that we must each investigate. 'Depth ecology.'
  • That it fear not science. Go beyond nature literacy into the emergent new territories in science: landscape ecology, conservation biology, charming chaos, complicated systems theory.
  • That it go further with science--into awareness of the problematic and contingent aspects of so-called objectivity.
  • That it study mind and language--language as wild system, mind as wild habitat, world as a 'making' (poem), poem as a creature of the wild mind.
  • That it be crafty and get the work done.
. . .

"'Wild' alludes to a process of self-organization that generates systems and organisms, all of which are within the constraints of--and constitute components of--larger systems that again are wild, such as major ecosystems or the water cycle in the biosphere. Wildness can be said to be the essential nature of nature. As reflected in consciousness, it can be seen as a kind of open awareness--full of imagination but also the source of alert survival intelligence. The workings of the human mind at its very richest reflect this self-organizing wildness. So language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back.

"In doing so it goes two ways: it enables us to have a small window onto an independently existing world, but it also shapes-- via its very structures and vocabularies--how we see that world. It may be argued that what language does to our seeing of reality is restrictive, narrowing, limiting, and possibly misleading. 'The menu is not the meal.' But rather than dismiss language from a spiritual position, speaking vaguely of Unsayable Truths, we must instead turn right back to language. The way to see with language, to be free with it and to find it a vehicle of self-transcending insight, is to know both mind and language extremely well and to play with their many possibilities without any special attachment. In doing this, a language yields up surprises and angles that amaze us and that can lead back to unmediated direct experience."

. . .

"I came to the Pacific slope by a line of people that somehow worked their way west from the Atlantic over 150 years. One grandfather ended up in the Territory of Washington and homesteaded in Kitsap County. My mother's side were railroad people down in Texas, and before that they'd worked the silver mines in Leadville, Colorado. My grandfather being a homesteader and my father a native of the state of Washington put our family relatively early in the Northwest. But there were people already there, long before my family, I learned as a boy. An elderly Salish Indian gentleman came by our farm once every few months in a Model T truck, selling smoked salmon. 'Who is he?' 'He's an Indian,' my parents said.

"Looking at all the different trees and plants that made up my second-growth Douglas fir forest plus cow pasture childhood universe, I realized that my parents were short on a certain kind of knowledge. They could say, 'That's a Doug fir, that's a cedar, that's bracken fern,' but I perceived a subtlety and complexity in those woods that went far beyond a few names.

"As a child I spoke with the old Salishan man a few times over the years he made these stops--then, suddenly, he never came back. I sensed what he represented, what he knew, and what it meant to me: he knew better than anyone else I had ever met where I was. I had no notion of a white American or European heritage providing an identity; I defined myself by relation to the place. Later I also understood that 'English language' is an identity--and later, via the hearsay of books, received the full cultural and historical view--but never forgot, or left, that first ground, the 'where' of our 'who are we?'"

Table of Contents of A Place in Space

    North Beach
    " Notes on the Beat Generation" and "The New Wind"
    A Virus Runs Through It
    Smokey the Bear Sutra
    Four Changes, with a Postscript
    The Yogin and the Philosopher
    " Energy Is Eternal Delight"
    Earth Day and the War Against the Imagination
    Nets of Beads, Webs of Cells
    A Village Council of All Beings
    Goddess of Mountains and Rivers
    What Poetry Did in China
    Amazing Grace
    The Old Masters and the Old Women
    A Single Breath
    Energy from the Moon
    Walked into Existence
    The Politics of Ethnopoetics
    The Incredible Survival of Coyote
    Unnatural Writing
    Language Goes Two Ways
    The Porous World
    The Forest in the Library
    Exhortations for Baby Tigers
    Walt Whitman's Old "New World"
    Coming into the Watershed
    The Rediscovery of Turtle Island
    Kitkitdizze: A Node in the Net

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