Tag Archives: Gary Snyder

“Because plastic is a sad, strong material that is charming to rodents”

What are today’s household gods? A few days ago, the New York Slime published Gary Snyder’s paean to his Macintosh computer, titled “why I Take Good Care of My Macintosh.” There are several good lines in the poem, and here are two of them:

Because whole worlds of writing can be boldly laid out and then highlighted and vanish in a flash at “delete,” so it teaches of impermanence and pain;

And because my computer and me are both brief in this world, both foolish, and we have earthly fates…

The Roman household gods, the Lares, were less brief and not made of plastic. Yet many of today’s households have small altars devoted to personal computers, we give them offerings of electricity and our attention, and many of us pay obeisance to them on a regular basis; so I’d say at the moment personal computers sometimes fill the role once filled by Lares.

Watching for winter-wet season

I’ve been reading Gary Snyder’s most recent book of essays, Back on Fire (2007). In a couple of the essays, Snyder talks about the two seasons in the Mediterranean-type climate of much of California: there’s the summer-dry season, and the winter-wet season.

It has been odd for me, having recently moved from the south coast of Massachusetts, to hear people in California talk about seasons. We had a cool day a couple of days ago, and I overheard someone in the supermarket say to the cashier, “Fall is finally here.” It doesn’t feel like autumn to me. Autumn means a killing frost, and a changing weather pattern that includes more rain storms, and wide variations between warm and cold. We have not had a killing frost here, nor an increased incidence of rain storms; the earth, where it hasn’t been watered by in-ground irrigation systems, is still hard and parched and cracked dry, and the grasses are still dry and crisp, and the fire danger (as it is every summer in California) is still very high. We are not experiencing autumn here yet; we are still in the summer-dry season.

Somewhere in one of the essays in Back on Fire, Snyder says people living in California should abandon the kind of lawns and landscapes that require heavy water usage in the summer — practices that have been imported from the “Atlantic coast,” says Snyder; although these practices are really indigenous to the English climate, because even on the Atlantic coast lawns need heavy irrigation in the summer in order to stay green. But as a poet, Snyder also gives us new language, so that we can start thinking and acting in new ways. The English language has names for four seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn or fall; these words come from the land where the English language began. In New England, most years have five seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall, Indian summer; we had to invent a new term for that season between fall and winter when the leaves have all fallen and weather gets warm again and there is still plenty of fresh food for humans and other animals to eat. In this bioregion of California, west of the crest of the Sierras, there are just two seasons, which Snyder calls summer-dry and winter-wet; to try to impose the old English terms for the four English seasons is a kind of self-delusion.

So it does not feel like autumn yet, because there is no autumn here, not really. Winter-wet has not yet begun; the hills are still brown, the trees are dull and faded green; we are still waiting for the first big rain storm of the new season. Yet here near the Pacific coast, we can feel that the weather pattern is changing; the fog is not reliable as it is in the middle of the summer-dry season. (And maybe here we need to add a third season to Snyder’s two, because Snyder lives up in the foothills of the Sierras where there is no summer fog. Maybe we need to talk about a summer-fog season which precedes the real summer-dry season; but I haven’t lived here long enough to be able to say.) We’re still in summer-dry season, but winter-wet season is just around the corner.

The Case of the Pointless Paperwork

This afternoon, I worked on organizing my office. I hate organizing my office. It’s boring. I want to be making something happen, not straightening up my desk and filing paperwork. Of course, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and do those mundane office chores. Somewhere, the poet Gary Snyder talks about how important maintenance is — you can’t always be creating things, he says, you also have to maintain what you’ve got. So I tried to tell myself that I was doing Snyderian maintenance this afternoon, even though I think what Gary Snyder had in mind when he was talking about maintenance was more along the lines of sharpening his axe or cleaning out the barn, chores which would have been much more attractive than dealing with paperwork.

In my opinion, the greatest theorist on the subject of paperwork was the great philosopher, Perry Mason….

….Perry Mason regarded the pasteboard jacket, labeled “IMPORTANT UNANSWERED CORRESPONDENCE,” with uncordial eyes.

Della Street, his secretary, looking crisply efficient, said with her best Monday-morning air, “I’ve gone over it carefully, Chief. The letters on top are the ones you simply have to answer. I’ve cleaned out a whole bunch of the correspondence from the bottom.”

“From the bottom?” Mason asked. “How did you do that?”

“Well,” she confessed, “it’s stuff that’s been in there too long.”

Mason tilted back in his swivel chair, crossed his long legs, assumed his best lawyer manner and said, in mock cross-examination, “Now, let’s get this straight, Miss Street. Those were letters which had originally been put in the ‘IMPORTANT UNANSWERED’ file?”


“And you’ve gone over that file from time to time, carefully?”


“And eliminated everything which didn’t require my personal attention?”


“And this Monday, September twelfth, you take out a large number of letters from the bottom of the file?”

“That’s right,” she admitted, her eyes twinkling.

“And did you answer those yourself?”

She shook her head, smiling.

“What did you do with them?” Mason asked.

“Transferred them to another file.”

“What file?”

“The ‘LAPSED’ file.”

Mason chuckled delightedly. “Now there’s an idea, Della. We simply hold things in the ‘IMPORTANT UNANSWERED’ file until a lapse of time robs them of their importance, and then we transfer them to the ‘LAPSED’ file. It eliminates correspondence, saves worry, and gets me away from office routine, which I detest….

[from The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1939.]

In the book, Mason works on paperwork for about ten minutes before a new client walks into the office with another high-speed murder case. I should be so lucky. In my office, I plugged away all afternoon. I kept hoping that a client would walk in the door and want me to investigate a murder case. That didn’t happen, although the chair of the House and Grounds Committee did stop in for ten minutes to let me know how the various building maintenance projects were coming along.

By the end of the day, I had found lots of paperwork that had once been relevant, but was now so irrelevant that I skipped the “LAPSED” file and threw it right into the recycling bin. Such was the sad end of the case of the pointless paperwork.

Oh yeah…

In Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989, I find this from July 7, 1977:

Letters I Wrote That Never Got Answered:…

“Dear Gary [Snyder], I like your stuff too, except for all that Zen and Hindu bull…”

You know what — yeah (except that Gary Snyder’s account of living in a Zen monastery is pretty good journalism, and worth reading).