[SUNDAY LECTURE NO. 9] “The Case For The Watershed As An Organizing Principle” by Freeman House

Freeman House is a former commercial salmon fisher who has been involved with a community-based watershed restoration effort in northern California for more than 25 years. He is a co-founder of the Mattole Salmon Group and the Mattole Restoration Council. His book, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species received the best nonfiction award from the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Association and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for quality of prose. He lives with his family in northern California.”

That’s the biographical note for Freeman House on the Lannan Foundation website. We would add that earlier in his life, Freeman edited Innerspace, a mid-1960s independent press magazine for the nascent psychedelic community; presided over the marriage of Abbie and Anita Hoffman at Central Park on June 10, 1967; and was a member of both New York City’s Group Image and the San Francisco Diggers.

This is the ninth lecture in this series. This series ran previously on this site in 2010-11, and is being rerun now because it’s the right thing to do.

 


The Case For The Watershed As An Organizing Principle

by Freeman House

[I’ve rarely given a talk in circumstances more alien to my life experience. This talk was presented a roomful of county and state bureaucrats charged with implementing a five-county wetlands protection and restoration effort. The five counties were the southwestern-most part of California, stretching from Santa Barbara to San Diego, a part of the state that makes me feel like I’m in a foreign country. As if to accentuate the weirdness, the luncheon was held at Sea World, a theme park in San Diego.]

I’ve had quite a bit of time to puzzle about what qualifies me to be here. I feel a little like a visiting diplomat or more accurately, an anthropologist dropping into a whole other culture. Up in the backwoods of northern California, where I come from, we tend to think of ourselves as living in Alta California. Los Angeles and San Diego seem like another place, although they shouldn’t, considering that the voters around here determine a lot of what goes on in the state of California. Which is where I live regardless of the fact that it’s much easier for me and my comrades to think of ourselves as part of the Klamath Province.

I have worked at watershed restoration for 20 years, but in a drainage where there are no dams, and where there are still three species of a wild salmon population holding on. An eighth of the land base is managed benignly by the federal government as the King Range National Conservation Area, another eighth not so benignly by corporate timber interests, and the rest is held either in ranches or private smallholdings. It has a human population density of less than ten folks per square mile. Not too many similarities. And most of the people in this room probably know more about wetlands biology than I do.

Since it was a book I wrote that inspired the organizers to invite me and the book, Totem Salmon, is mainly about attempts to invoke a new (or rather very old) kind of community identity that lives within the constraints and opportunities of the place it finds itself, that’s what I’ll go ahead and talk about.

It could be my best credentials for being here today is the fact that I was born in Orange County. The earliest memories are of my first five years spent at my grandparents’ home in Anaheim, pre-Disneyland. Set in the middle of town, I had two acres to run in haphazardly planted to oranges and lemons and avocados, and for a long time that Edenic space was my model for paradise. Each weekend, we’d drive in my grandfather’s 1935 Buick sedan for maybe ten minutes to a local farm to buy our week’s supply of eggs and milk and vegetables. When we extended our drive to visit Aunt Florence in Pomona, we drove through 60 unbroken miles of commercial orange groves, another image of paradise. I’m revealing my age when I tell you that the air was wonderful, the light incredible.

Since then, I’ve learned something about the settlement of contemporary Anaheim. The existence of Anaheim is entirely dependent on 19th-century amateur efforts in social and physical engineering. Hard as it may be to believe when trying to find the freeway exits to Anaheim today, it was largely settled in the 1860s by polyglot groups of urban utopians who had few of the skills required for the kinds of agriculturally-based communitarian paradigms they were pursuing.

One thing was clear to all of them, however, and that was that their dreams were dependent on importing water to the arid lands they hoped would support them. Continue reading

[SUNDAY LECTURE NO. 1] ‘Wild Humanity: People and the Places That Make Them People’ by Freeman House

freemanhouse

Freeman House is a former commercial salmon fisher who has been involved with a community-based watershed restoration effort in northern California for more than 25 years. He is a co-founder of the Mattole Salmon Group and the Mattole Restoration Council. His book, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species received the best nonfiction award from the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Association and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for quality of prose. He lives with his family in northern California.”

That’s the biographical note for Freeman House on the Lannan Foundation website. We would add that earlier in his life, Freeman edited Innerspace, a mid-1960s independent press magazine for the nascent psychedelic community; presided over the marriage of Abbie and Anita Hoffman at Central Park on June 10, 1967; and was a member of both New York City’s Group Image and the San Francisco Diggers.

This is the first lecture in this series.


WILD HUMANITY: People and the Places That Make Them People
by Freeman House

Revised in November 2001 from a University of Montana Wilderness Lecture delivered in April 2001

1.
Richard Manning writes in Inside Passage: A Journey Beyond Borders, “…people should cease drawing borders around nature and instead start placing boundaries on human behavior…we should begin behaving as if all places matter to us as much as wilderness. Because they do.” We have not only set wilderness apart from our everyday lives; we have also made a distinction between human life and the very concept of wildness. The effect of this questionable distinction is to put a most dangerous limitation on our potential for adaptive human behavior. As Manning continues, both our parks and our culture set “a line between utility and beauty, sacred and profane. This line is destroying us, as it is destroying the planet.”

A few months ago I heard Florence Krall summarize her late husband Paul Shepard’s life work in a single sentence: There is an indigenous person waiting to be released in each of us. Our genome is “the sum of an individual’s genetic material, a product of millions of years of evolution” (Shepard 1998). The human genome is as wild as the ecological systems out of which it evolved. Basic comfort as a human being requires a conscious interaction with the more-than-human aspects of the textures of life surrounding, just as an infant needs the touch of other humans to thrive. Wild animals can survive for a while in a zoo. Contemporary humans are trained for survival in the zoo of an abstracted, objectified, and commodified world.

The genome demands, writes Shepard, that our cultures constitute a full and rewarding mediation between ourselves and the ecosystems within which we live. By this tenet, our genome, the structure within which our rational processes are embedded, is requiring of us that we recover our niches in particular ecosystems. Strong and mysterious language: the genome demands. It suggests that we are impelled to engage the health of our watersheds and ecosystems as a first step in our search for sanity—for ourselves, for our communities, and for our species.

The title of this series is the poetics of wilderness, but I’d rather be talking about the poetics of the wild. Because it’s among my assumptions that “wilderness” is a social and political construct, while the word “wild” is best used to describe the essential organizational structure of Creation; that Creation is a wild unfolding; and that we humans (as well as all our co-evolved life forms) are both expressions and agents of that unfolding.

Given these premises, it is quite possible that the self-satisfied technological advances of the last 500 to 5000 years of so-called civilization may not represent the pinnacle of evolution we encourage ourselves to believe they are. Continue reading

THE BIOPHONIC MAN: A conversation with BERNIE KRAUSE on the wild origins of human music (from Arthur No. 35)

Originally published in Arthur No. 35, available now in stores and direct from us

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THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound.
by Jay Babcock
Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman

“…The entity’s life will be tempered with song, music, those things having to do with nature.” — Edgar Cayce, the 20th-century American psychic, from a ‘life reading’ given when Bernie Krause was six weeks old, as reported in Krause’s Notes From the Wild (Ellipsis Arts, 1996)

Has any single person—any entity—ever been better situated to explore music’s Biggest Questions—that is: what is it, what’s it for, why do we like it, where did it come from, why does it sound the way it does—than Bernie Krause?

Check the biography. Born in 1938, Krause grew up a violin-playing prodigy with poor eyesight in post-World War II Detroit. By his teens he had switched to guitar and was making extra money sitting in as a session player at Motown. In 1963, he took over the Pete Seeger position in foundational modern American folk band The Weavers for what would be their final year of performances. He then moved west to study at Mills College, where avant garde composers Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros were in residence. Soon he encountered jazz musician and inventive early analog synth player Paul Beaver, who was introducing the Moog to psychedelic pop music. They formed Beaver & Krause, an in-demand artistic partnership that released a string of utterly unclassifiable acoustic-electronic albums in addition to doing studio work with adventurous pop musicians (The Doors, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, etc.) and composing and recording for stylish TV and film projects (The Twilight Zone, Rosemary’s Baby, Performance, etc.). After Beaver’s sudden death in 1975, Krause began to shift his attention towards field recordings of natural soundscapes.

This wasn’t such a great leap. In the late ‘60s, inspired by an idea from their friend Van Dyke Parks, Beaver and Krause had first tried to record outdoor sounds for use on their eco-musical album In a Wild Sanctuary. Now, Krause followed this thread more intensely, traveling to seemingly every far corner of the globe, innovating techniques and utilizing new technology to more accurately capture the sound of what’s left of Earth’s rapidly diminishing wild.

What Krause discovered there, and how it compares to what we now experience in daily life in the un-Wild, is the subject of his latest book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, published last year. Writing with a scientist’s precision, an artist’s poetic wonder and a human being’s persistent outrage, Krause tosses in astonishing highlights from decades of field notes (elk in the American West are into reverb; the sound of corn growing is “staccato-like clicks and squeaks…like rubbing dry hands across the surface of a party balloon”; ants sing by rubbing their legs across their abdomens; the fingernail-sized Pacific tree frog can be heard more than a hundred yards away; “You can actually determine the temperature by counting the number of chirps made by certain crickets”; etc.) as he make several interweaving arguments about the aforementioned Big Questions of Music. One thesis is that the sound of animals in a healthy habitat is organized, a sort of proto-orchestra. What follows from this is the startling argument that gives the book its title: our music comes from early humans mimicking the sounds of the soundscapes they were enveloped in—we “transform(ed) the rhythms of sound and motion in the natural world into music and dance… [O]ur songs emulate the piping, percussion, trumpeting, polyphony, and complex rhythmic output of the animals in the place we lived.” And we developed our music(s) not just by imitating animals such as the common potoo, who sings the pentatonic scale, but also by mimicking other natural sounds: in one of the book’s most striking episodes, Krause recalls hearing the church organ-like sound of wind passing over broken reeds in Lake Wallowa in northeastern Oregon. “Now you know where we got our music,” a Nez Perce tribal elder tells him. “And that’s where you got yours, too.”

This past spring, I interviewed the entity Bernie Krause via the far-from-ideal set-up of two speaker phones. Ah well. Following is some of our conversation, condensed by me, and edited with additional thoughts by Bernie via subsequent emails. Continue reading

[SUNDAY LECTURE] "Wild Humanity: People and the Places That Make Them People" by Freeman House

Freeman House is a former commercial salmon fisher who has been involved with a community-based watershed restoration effort in northern California for more than 25 years. He is a co-founder of the Mattole Salmon Group and the Mattole Restoration Council. His book, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species received the best nonfiction award from the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Association and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for quality of prose. He lives with his family in northern California.”

That’s the biographical note for Freeman House on the Lannan Foundation website. We would add that earlier in his life, Freeman edited Innerspace, a mid-1960s independent press magazine for the nascent psychedelic community; presided over the marriage of Abbie and Anita Hoffman at Central Park on June 10, 1967; and was a member of both New York City’s Group Image and the San Francisco Diggers.

This is the first lecture in this series. Other lectures are available here: http://www.arthurmag.com/contributors/sunday-lecture/.


WILD HUMANITY: People and the Places That Make Them People
by Freeman House

Revised in November 2001 from a University of Montana Wilderness Lecture delivered in April 2001

1.
Richard Manning writes in Inside Passage: A Journey Beyond Borders, “…people should cease drawing borders around nature and instead start placing boundaries on human behavior…we should begin behaving as if all places matter to us as much as wilderness. Because they do.” We have not only set wilderness apart from our everyday lives; we have also made a distinction between human life and the very concept of wildness. The effect of this questionable distinction is to put a most dangerous limitation on our potential for adaptive human behavior. As Manning continues, both our parks and our culture set “a line between utility and beauty, sacred and profane. This line is destroying us, as it is destroying the planet.”

A few months ago I heard Florence Krall summarize her late husband Paul Shepard’s life work in a single sentence: There is an indigenous person waiting to be released in each of us. Our genome is “the sum of an individual’s genetic material, a product of millions of years of evolution” (Shepard 1998). The human genome is as wild as the ecological systems out of which it evolved. Basic comfort as a human being requires a conscious interaction with the more-than-human aspects of the textures of life surrounding, just as an infant needs the touch of other humans to thrive. Wild animals can survive for a while in a zoo. Contemporary humans are trained for survival in the zoo of an abstracted, objectified, and commodified world.

The genome demands, writes Shepard, that our cultures constitute a full and rewarding mediation between ourselves and the ecosystems within which we live. By this tenet, our genome, the structure within which our rational processes are embedded, is requiring of us that we recover our niches in particular ecosystems. Strong and mysterious language: the genome demands. It suggests that we are impelled to engage the health of our watersheds and ecosystems as a first step in our search for sanity—for ourselves, for our communities, and for our species.

The title of this series is the poetics of wilderness, but I’d rather be talking about the poetics of the wild. Because it’s among my assumptions that “wilderness” is a social and political construct, while the word “wild” is best used to describe the essential organizational structure of Creation; that Creation is a wild unfolding; and that we humans (as well as all our co-evolved life forms) are both expressions and agents of that unfolding.

Given these premises, it is quite possible that the self-satisfied technological advances of the last 500 to 5000 years of so-called civilization may not represent the pinnacle of evolution we encourage ourselves to believe they are. Continue reading