“Being in the world is primarily an erotic encounter, an encounter of meaning through contact, an encounter of being oneself through the significance of others—humans, lovers, children, but also other beings, companions and competitors.”
-Andreas Weber, Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology
I was once asked to write an “autobiography of place.” A glorious charge. Place had been such a guiding and rewarding force in my life, and at that newly married and slightly more settled moment, I was happy to revisit a few of my more beloved homes and adventures.
Right away I thought of Slough Creek, of camping and river-bathing in the third meadow under Bliss Pass during annual work trips with my Yellowstone crew. How we’d sit on stumps around a campfire, story-swapping, drinking beer we’d iced in the creek. I thought about the faces around that fire, people I love and miss, people with that spark of wildness in their eyes.
I realized that I cannot easily separate Yellowstone the place from these particular Yellowstonian people. Then I thought more generally about the place-sunk people I have been lucky enough to meet: the kokopelli-wearing desert-woman who first set me on a rangering path; Southerners intimately connected with their Georgian forests and sandhills; Italians washed by the Po River and the sea.
My “autobiography of place” became a collective biography of my places and their people, my people and their places. Through a haze of long-lingering thoughts, a truth about myself, and about “selfness” in general, began to emerge: that “I” am nothing more, and nothing less, than a blurry-edged collection of experience, interaction, and transformation.
Ask me where I come from, I wrote. I’ll tell you: I come from a circle of storytellers. I’m a patchwork of people and their places, of places and their people, and a mountain owns a piece of my body.
It’s the truest thing I’ve ever felt or written. A radical truth, the sort of understanding that penetrates, weaves roots and suckers into the way you live your life. The more I think about it the more sure I am that I begins where the surety of individuality dissolves. And it is not humble, not a martyr-game. I am a baby-bearing bosom, a writer and reader of words that move through and beyond me, a breather of my philodendrons’ exhalations. A cutter and a planter. A friend and interlocutor, identified and made better, more developed and unique, more “me” by each of these interactions.
Think, for a second, of all the whos you are, of all the whats you do and wheres you belong to. Dr. Seuss was on to something. By owning our blurry edges, celebrating our participatory natures, a new way of being in the world becomes clear, one that stands in contrast to a Western individualistic paradigm. Let’s call it an ecology of love.
“Life is the constant, creative transition from controlled situations to new openings that cannot be controlled.”
“Cultivating a practice of love that tries to remain close to the ecological Eros therefore means caring for oneself but also remaining vulnerable, a balanced center always open to new connections.”
-Andreas Weber, Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology
My world has been set spinning by a recent read: Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology by Andreas Weber, translated from the German by Rory Bradley.
It’s a text (from the earth-friendly ecological press Chelsea Green, which publishes all manner of life-loving books about permaculture, living foods, and animal wisdom) that dives between philosophical argument and love letter to place. In it Weber writes that we exist only, or at least primarily, in relation. I am only an I because I relate with other I’s. Selves are not bounded, defined, impermeable individuals, but rather, active and interactive clusters of cells and energy, shaped and developed into unique occurrences (that which we more traditionally think of as persons) by meetings and joinings and even the smallest brushes, with all the other subjects in the biosphere. He writes (and I know) that anthropogenic destruction of the wild natural environment can only occur because we have forgotten this basic interactive, interdependent reality. The prescriptive and hopeful end of this logic is that we might ultimately fix things by remembering.
Weber writes that love is the way to know the world. He defines love as participation, vulnerability, subjectivity, and inter-being: we love a thing by knowing it, which is to say, by sensing it, processing those sensations, and allowing the encounter to change us. Love—that is to say, life—is a give-and-take, “the principle of a fulfilling equilibrium between the individual and the whole.” He writes that during the dash between birth and death, all that our cells and even our molecules want to do is interact, swapping bits with the bits of other beings and altering both “selves” in the process.
He writes that love is the practice of leaning toward life, toward beauty and vibrancy. Love is “indeed nothing other than the inexhaustible drive of both life-forms and the ecosystem to grow and to unfold.” Love and life are not things to be obtained or owned, but rather, fed and stoked. If we weave ourselves into the fabric of love, of life—participating as warp or weft, rather than owning the experience as weaver—we receive support, joy and color from all sides. And our “own” color still shows, still contributes. By subjugating self that little bit, we become part of something so much more immense.
I recommend with full wild heart this lovely book. And in the tradition of sharing, of networked existence—if you do not mind passionate margin notes—I will even mail you my copy!