6/22/11: The Whiterock Experience

(Dear Travis: I apologize for the Minca-length of this post. I couldn’t help it)

Middle Racoon River and Ancient Sandstone

The Whiterock experience began in preparation for a camping trip at Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids, Iowa. The plan was to travel together to a secluded spot alongside the Middle Racoon River where 100,000-year-old sandstone stands tall and exposed along the meandering river. The Conservancy was once a thriving and pioneering farm -Garst Farm- where hybrid corn and modern monoculture production generated a model of farming that has inspired modern industrial farming practices to be all that they are today. Now the vast acreage that the Garst Family holds serves multiple functions including a nature resort for people like us who want to experience the wilderness of the undeveloped land.

Hollyhock Cottage at Garst Farm

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and discovered that the only access road to our secluded destination was impassible from the rain so “plan B” would need to suffice; this entailed setting up camp right next to the main farmhouse by the main road in a 3-room cottage originally used by the Garst Family, now renovated to house guests. So we pitched our tents on the lawn and accepted our new location between the barn, main house, horse field, and lake. This made our “camping” experience much easier now that we had access to a refrigerator, kitchen stove and oven along with 4 beds and a full bathroom in the cottage. Needless to say, our new and “improved” living conditions made our stay more comfortable and convenient since our meals could be prepared indoors and our access to toilets, cushioned seats and other humans was significantly improved.

Canoeing down the Middle Racoon River

Basic activities for our 3-days and 2 nights “camping” included meals, meditation, talks around the campfire, a canoe trip down the river, and reading selections from Bill Plotkin’s “Nature and the Human Soul.” Our individual experiences were partially self-guided with ample free time allotted to read, hike and explore on one’s own, and spend more or less time around the fire and food.

I personally enjoyed waking with the birds and rising with the sun to be awake and aware of the fresh morning dew; I spent time exploring and observing the environment each morning.

Bison at Garst Farm

I met some of the contained animals on the farm, exchanging a long gaze with one of the grazing bison on the property, feeding the horse an apple in the pasture, and visiting the confined calving operation in the long window-less barn.

Each morning my walk along the trail was filled with mixed emotions from the experience of the contrast between the “Natural” beauty and diversity and mono-cultural degradation of corn and soybean fields. In the clarity of the early morning hours a deep ecological sensitivity influenced my relationship with the experience of the environment and highlighted my transpersonal identification with the other life forms around me. While I experienced the duality of old-growth maples and knee-high cornfields on either side of the walking path I also saw the entire landscape as a continuum of interconnected Earth-space, in which humans participate with all other life forms.

I saw the deep, contaminated and eroding river as a reflection and partial result of the clear-cut and tilled acres that no longer absorb water runoff as native prairie and wild forest once did. At times during the hike I noticed the mind’s tendency to relate to the environment in an anthropocentric way. It would’ve been easy to get lost in the “mindstuff” of a narrow, atomistic and particle-like sense of self. But the meandering presence of the river and the diversity along its banks reminded me to pay attention to the interconnected emergent properties of the life around me. Innocent awareness of the present moment enabled me to notice not only the diversity of sounds, sights and movement in the outer world of “Nature“, but the equally sensational inner world of “nature” including the mental and emotional experience. Attending to my experience at Whiterock in this way helped me relate to and experience the transpersonal and deep ecological qualities of “Being” that Arne Naess, Bill Devall, George Sessions, Warwick Fox, and others have articulated.

So much attention in class has necessarily been focused on our thought-filled human and social concerns. Being (in the ontological sense) in “Nature” throughout this course –and especially this past week- has been a vital part of my cognition of the unified value of humans’ relationship with the “Natural” world. In other words, receptivity to “NATURE‘s” intelligence has been a vital part of my cognition of Deep and Transpersonal Ecology. It has become boldly apparent to me that the depth of each human’s relationship with Earth’s “Natural” ecology significantly impacts modern society’s trends of degrading the quality of all areas of life. I believe it is naive and foolish to disregard and devalue the new paradigm calling for humans to realize our “Great Work” in this “Turning Point” of human and ecological crises. Each of us has the choice to participate in our own unique way, and I am hopeful that the creativity of the collective human Spirit will emerge to realize an exciting new reality.

The various elements of this trip could provide content for more written reflection than most have time to read, so suffice it to say that the human-social dynamics of the trip produced an immense value of experience as well. As I go further into the Plotkin reading, I hope to uncover and express the fundamental connections between our human-social dynamics, relationships with self, and the “Natural” ecological world.

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