What exactly do I mean by participatory perception and interaction with the living landscape?
This kind of interaction with nature is nonverbal - it is not comprised of conceptual thinking or intellectual experiencing, which inherently places "me" as the main character and the tree over there an inanimate, secondary object that I am separate from and disconnected from as I observe it (I’m standing here looking at a tree over there) - an experience falls flat, leaves me empty at it’s end, when I return to my car and drive home and find myself still disconnected from something meaningful.
Rather, the kind of participatory interaction with nature that we are uncovering is far from conceptual. It is deeply visceral. An awareness in which the tree and I commingle, commune, participate with one another. I sense from afar the smooth white texture of the aspen bark, and soften my breathing so that I begin to notice the sound of the tree tops shimmying, ripples of glossy green leaves, lightly tapping, fluttering into one another. And my eyes, diffusing their focus as I relax, begin to sense the shifting pools of sunlight that scatter across the forest floor so that I have to pause and gather my footing to know where I’m stepping next, in relationship to shifting forest floor, the rustling of the tree that, as I approach with attentive, slow movements, causes me to arch my neck upward to take in the magnitude of the tree’s height, it’s long supple poise, my face tilting to the sky. And with the next shift in the rippling of leaves above, the sunshine above floods through, spilling warm pools of yellow light onto my upturned cheeks. My eyes shift again to absorb this sudden brightness, and in doing so I hear the cooing of a small bird off to my right. My feet become softer, absorbing the feel of the mud and pine needles beneath me as I shift a slight degree to the right, so that the bird coo resounds more clearly in my ear drum. And now, from this spot, I the tree in front of from a whole new view, and it’s Aspen white trunk nearly glows in this slant of sunlight that slathers it's bark from this direction. I become quieter as breathe in the sweet, damp scent of the air.
In this interaction, this participatory interaction, the rhythm of my breath slowing down to sweep away conceptual thinking, the softening, quieting of my footsteps, slow, meaningful attentive to perceive the shifting sunlight dappling the forest floor as I navigate moment to moment the changing subtleties and meanderings of the terrain to approach the bigness, the surrounding vastness and knowingness of this tree that invites my neck to arch as my eyes explore it’s elegant length, which invites the sunshine to tickle my face, warming my temperature, shifting my movements again to attune to the chatter of a bird nearby…this, this is the surrounding landscape and I in a reciprocal, gestural duet, a participatory experience of movement, texture, color. Interacting, shifting subtleties without language or conception. Pure, participatory perception with the interconnected web of nature.
And this, this participatory interaction, when I get in my car and begin to make my way home, it has already changed me. The sunlight has filled my skin receptors, warmed me from the outside in. The sound of the tree leaves rippling continues in the softness of my breathing. And my eyes, the way I use my eyes and absorb the quality of the light, the shifting of the shadows, the immensity of the clouds above... my eyes stay attentive, and I return home, still connected to my landscape, spreading out in every direction alongside, above, below and around me. I find myself filled, whole, deeply gracious because I’m in a process of continual learning and interaction with my surroundings, and even when I find myself back in 5 o'clock traffic, the blue sky is vast and vivid and spreading above me and I feel connected, living and breathing in a web of wholeness with the myself and my wild surroundings.