Reading: Linda Hogan’s Dwellings

A Spirtual History of the Living World Dwellings: A Spirtual History of the Living World by Linda Hogan

I just finished reading this book, which is so beautifully and gracefully written. Linda Hogan’s prose is indeed filled with poetic language, in which she reminds us of our connectedness to the natural world, of the natural world’s connectedness to the spiritual and mythical world, and that every action, however small and insignificant to us, has the most profound effect on others. So here, not only are we humans and animals alive; the mountains, the trees, the water are also alive, and they contain memory of everything that has ever touched them. Imagine, old as water is, how far it’s traveled, what it knows.

This means, then, that we should live mindfully. She tells us of her everyday actions, from performing a small ritual with sage for a dead elderly and decrepit porcupine on her street, and from which maggots emerge from its decaying body, and rapidly developing into so many different kinds of insects, which, upon reaching the other side of the street, are quickly devoured by the ants awaiting them there. So from one death, so much life, whose deaths feed more life.

Hogan telescopes (or microscopes) in and out, from these sorts of details in a finite space and time as above, to the geological time it takes for water to carve a canyon through a hill, and what layers of life burrow their way into what is now cliff face. How this cliff, this half a hill hums with the collective sound of bees nesting within it.

In her “Dwellings” essay, she tells us of the fallen and abandoned bird’s nest outside of her home, which is woven with old grass, sage, threads from her old skirt, her daughter’s hair from an old hairbrush. How it is that the strands from her life and family become a shelter for these other lives. Throughout this collection of essays, Hogan continues to pull back, widen the view, until we are presented with the planet, which is the nest in which we have made our home, this nest resting in branch of a larger tree that is our galaxy.

Still, let the above not stand as a new age-y or uncritically Utopian message of “we are all one.” I especially appreciate about Hogan that she is not blameless nor transcendent of human behavior. When she speaks of a “we” who has lost touch with indigenous ways of knowing, including knowing how to live as stewards of the life on this planet, she includes herself as a part of this modern human culture. She is simply doing her best to remember, and to reconnect. In this way, there is a message of hope, that each and every one of us and our seemingly little deeds of saving and honoring lives, can amount to something significant. She cites all manners of other voices; artists, poets, scientists, who have in common that they have paid close attention to the physical, spiritual, or mythical world, in order to hear its many voices. It’s important to be mindful, Hogan is telling us, to live mindfully, to respect all life, as we are connected to them as they are to us.

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