And finally I saw that the very land itself had risen, that the sunbaked land had taken form as something vast and alive, and was in motion. The land walked as multitudes, their strides so utterly of the earth that they seemed the source of the very dust. The cloud they raised engulfed us, seeped into every pore, coated our teeth, seeped into our minds. Both flesh and metaphor. That big. And you could see their heads, like warriors’ shields. Their great breaths, gushing in and out, resonant in the halls of their lungs. The skin as they moved, wrinkled with time and wear, batiked with the walk of ages, as if they lived within the creased maps of the lives they’ve traveled. Travelers across landscapes, and through timescapes. The skin moving like swishing corduroy, textured and rough but sensitive to the slightest touch. The grind of their cobblestone molars as, sheaf by sheaf and mouthful by mouthful, they acquire the world. All the while uttering the contented purring of mounds of memories. Their rumbles rolling through the air like distant thunder approaching, vibrating through the undulating ground and the roots of trees, rallying families and friends from the hills and rivers, sending among themselves greetings and recognitions and news of where they have been; sending to us a sign of something coming. A mind moves a mountainous mass of muscle and bone, the brown eyes light a landscape, and one elephant rumbles in. See her squared brow, trace the tracks of snake-size blood vessels. Heralded by her own trumpet, applauded by her own clapping ears, she strikes us as timeless and a bit sublime, aware and deliberative, peaceful and nurturing and deadly dangerous as needs arise. Wise only within the confines of her capabilities, like us. Vulnerable. As we all are. “Delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted,” wrote Peter Matthiessen of them in The Tree Where Man Was Born, “commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.” Silence. Watch. Simply listen. They will not speak to us, but to each other they say much. Some of it, we hear. The rest is beyond words.
Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?