Mountains and Rivers [with or] Without End

[ by Charles Cameron — just poetry — Gary Snyder, Han Shan, Dogen, Thoreau, Smokey & MIT ]

Gary Snyder is the fellow in the upper panel with the mountains behind him. Han Shan — whose name means Cold Mountain, which was also the name of the place he lived — is the fellow showing a poem to his friend in the lower panel. Dogen Zenji is the fellow who gave us the Mountains and Rivers Sutra. Thoreau is the fellow who retired for a while to Walden Pond. Smokey the Bear you know. And MIT is where Gary Snyder received the Henry David Thoreau Prize last Tuesday.

All are worthy of your attention, but in combo they’re unbeatable.



MIT’s an interesting place to crop up in an account of Snyder — a poet, a Californian living high and away in the Sierras, and one of the first westerners to sit Zen and study in a monastery in Japan… And yet it’s curiously appropriate. Snyder is not here to banish science with poetry, but to enhance poetry with science, science with poetry, and both with his keen eye for context and honest detail.

He’s interested in weather. Understanding weather is in all our interests, but Snyder is actively interested. He’s interested in mountains and rivers, which comes to much the same thing — and he would surely have been interested in this exhibit that opened at MIT on Friday, just three days after his award ceremony there:

I dropped this image in here because it shows mountains and glaciers — but not without end. The loss of glaciation would concern Snyder — we know he’s interested in such things both immediately and in the long term, not only from his ecological writings in prose, but also because there’s a section of his epic Mountains and Rivers Without End that opens with these words:

“The 15 billion cubic kilometers of water on the earth are split by photosynthesis and reconstituted by respiration once every two million years or so.”

Even on that time-scale, Snyder’s interest in such things is personal: that section is titled We Wash Our Bowls in This Water.

So that’s the MIT part of the package.


Han Shan:

The terrific tale [link includes poems, too] of how a Chinese official learned that Han Shan and Shih-te, his laughing companion pictured above, were in fact great bodhisattvas though they looked like vagabonds could have come straight out of Jack Kerouac‘s Dharma Bums days. The official describes Han Shan:

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