Thursday, September 24, 2009

Restore / Re-Story

We figure and find stories, which can be thought of as maps or paradigms in which we see our purposes defined; then the world drifts and our maps don't work anymore, our paradigms and stories fail, and we have to reinvent our understandings...
-William Kittredge

At River Rock, September 2009

Gary Paul Nabhan opens his book, Cultures of Habitat, with a story of two maps. A colleague had torn out maps from two different issues of the Atlantic Monthly and placed them before Nabhan for his consideration.

One map was entitled “Staying Put,” and the other was “The Geography of Endangerment.” Both displayed color-coded data, by county, for the entire continental United States, one depicting the relative duration of residency within each county, the other documenting which counties contained the most threatened or endangered species.

Nabhan describes his reaction:

Suddenly I went goggle-eyed: the fit was not perfect, but the correlation between the two patterns was undeniable. Where human populations had stayed in the same place for the greatest duration, fewer plants and animals had become endangered species; in parts of the country where massive in-migrations and exoduses were taking place, more had become endangered.

Of course, correlation is not causation, but Cultures of Habitat goes on to explore the many implications of those maps:

Why are naturally diverse regions also culturally diverse? What allows certain communities to resist harmful economic and social change? Do these communities retain more intact habitats in their homeland because of this resistance?

At the end of the book, Nabhan concludes:

To restore any place, we must also begin to re-story it, to make it the lesson of our legends, festivals, and seasonal rites. Story is the way we encode deep-seated values within our culture. Ritual is the way we enact them. We must ritually plant the cottonwood and willow poles in winter in order to share the sounds of the vermilion flycatcher during the rites of spring. By replenishing the land with our stories, we let the wild voices around us guide the restoration work we do. The stories will outlast us.


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