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  • Writer's pictureC. Jensen

Thesis Excerpt

This is a small piece of my big, huge, grandiose outline of a thesis that I 'completed' in Spring of 2018. I am still working through the material that I assembled, expanding certain parts into their own unique poems and essays. I was inspired to use this format of essay and poem vignettes by reading both Maggie Nelson's "Bluets" and Eliot Weinberger's "An Elemental Thing."

I have enormous thanks to offer to my faculty, critics and writing tutors who so generously read, re-read and waxed rhapsodic with me about my writing and ideas, which helped bring it to its current state of not-really-complete but completely-inspiring-and-overwhelming. Thank you Dr. Kevin Richards, Professor Renee Foulks, Professor Kaitlin Pomerantz, Dr. Hubert Cook and Professor Mark Blavat at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as to my faculty at the 2018 Orion Environmental Writer's Retreat and Workshop, Christopher Merrill. You are all incredibly supportive and inspiring!

Since writing this and the other 30 odd pages (single spaced!) I have discovered numerous additional references and inspirations that I hope to add in meaningfully over time. The project is very Tantric— its more is more is more is more, ever expanding. It also is far from perfect, and that makes it perfect to share, now.

Thank you for reading.


"The year of one breath

Someone I trust [because he never calls himself a Master, because he embodies teachings, because others I trust also trust him, because integrity has to do with all of these things]

Said. or wrote, or suggested that,

“Breathing slowly is the key to long life.”

Compare the rapid panting of the dog [certainly an enlightened being, that]

[[7-14 years]]

To the gentle, unhurried aspirations of the tortoise.

[[beyond a century, memories reaching back to wooden ships rocking in waves

Which are the great great great great great great great great grandparents

Of the waves we feel lapping at our feet and ankles today]]

Compare the entire day of inhale and exhale performed effortlessly by trees.

Tree time is








A wise young woman told me to leave the anthropologists and their endless intellectualizations of beings’ being.

And instead, to go to the woods.

That it would take a whole day to get in the space of a tree. [be generous with your reading of that]

To visit for even a couple of hours would be the equivalent of a fly landing on a shoulder, flitting off immediately.

No, to try to learn something real and felt and embodied from a tree, one would need to stay.

Stay for a while. Keeping the palm connected to the bark.

Slowing the breath down to just imagine the possibility of inhaling

Dawn until dusk

Exhaling through the twilight and until the rays of morning say,

“Hello lungs! Rejoice, take it all in.”

Compare the entire year of inhale and exhale performed effortlessly by Gaia.

I saw this beautiful animation of satellite images[1] made by NASA

In which for twenty observed years, the earth can be seen to breathe


A great big inhalation in the late spring and summer

As the northern hemisphere greens well past the equator,

Kissing the green of the south.

A pause at the top of the breath

A slow exhale, a calming in the late fall and through the winter.

A pause at the bottom of the breath.

Maybe its reversed.

A great big inhalation in the late fall and through the winter,

Ice floes and bergs and frozen seas blanching the northern hemisphere,

The green belt of the equator slimming.

A pause at the top of the breath

[that is the moment most pregnant with the power of possibility]

A slow and luxurious exhale, the viridian of life all through the late spring and summer.

A pause at the bottom of the breath, the

Brittle and sweet softening,

Before the next great inhale.

The blossoming of the green beings,

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s kin, an other “they”,

Kin’s leaves like all the mouths of the world


I imagine its a joyous feeling, that Gaia’s many mouths are smiling in a rapture as they take in deep the carbon heavy output of her many legs and arms and eyes

That the joy doesn’t fade for a second,

As they release her great lungs’ gift of oxygen back to us— the rapid-fire bumper car ants and locusts crawling all over her skin.

Culture and Nature: There can be No Difference Between Them

If Gaia is our whole Earth substrate and its energies, our term “Earth” becomes a term for the vessel of her, the matter and meat. The Earth object is comprised of complex systems and relationships, parallels and perpendicularities that we call Nature. Nature gives rise to briefly achieved balancing acts between the fierce upsurges and conflicts of resource competition between different species, and seasonal fluctuations in growth and loss. Nature is constantly redefining herself to us through our perceived understanding, which comes in waves of nomenclature adjustment; “balance”, “trophic cascades”, “keystone species”, “food-web”, “evolution”, “diaspora”…

I think I often hear or read Nature described in much the above way, a sham play at objectivity, keeping forces at work and play a set of dispassionate, even mechanical motions in study and description. There is also a seemingly uninvestigated belief or confidence in the theory of Evolution to have produced in us, humankind, an exceptional animal that has popped outside the bubble of its own influence.

My question (and it is rhetorical, even snarky) is, “If we came from Nature—where did we go, then, exactly?” What I mean to say is, there can be no difference between them— between Nature and Us. You cannot be blood, flesh, desire, animal— and be excepted[2] from desire, from animalness, from the “laws of nature”. No ant, no matter how excellent her fungi farm, is insulated from the powers and forces at work and play on her mind and body. As if our technological prowess and productivity produced lungs that didn’t sputter and cough from floating noxious smoke particles, as if our rational minds were truly capable of overpowering the pull of the irrational, the animal instinct (I don’t equate those, either). Somehow the quantified and categorized experience, and broadly accepted exception, don't feel right to me. It is far too easy to casually distinguish ourselves from our kin in speech, writing and in beliefs that underlie and underwrite our efforts to observe, learn and “progress.”

There is underway in anthropology a seeking to reframe the perspective on the human animal’s building, making, and shaping of its surrounding world. Phillippe Descola, the inheritor of Claude Levi-Strauss’ chair, postures Culture as an extension of Nature herself. So, not a distinguishing feature of our species which marks us apart from the rest of the breathing, bleeding world— but instead the most natural extension of our bipedal, opposable-thumbed, refined-larynx, neuron-firing hyper-self-awareness.[3]

From this view[4], necessitating a distinction between the natural and the cultural is digging ones heels into the sand of human exceptionalism, the belief either religious or humanist that enforces two strict methods of consideration; that of the human world, and that of everything else. Separate. In the context of this project, this glossary, and its accompanying visual work, the union of culture and nature, or the positing of the very natural extension from one to the other, linear or radial, teleological or spontaneous, is perfectly logical and must be entertained. In fact, in this context, no rebuttals to the position will be allowed.[5]

When I say God, you say “How high?”

Gaia, the Divine, Divinity, Totality, God, Goddess, Sacred, Most Holy, Her, He, All. All.

All of these words as they appear in this text and elsewhere are synonymous. They all mean the same thing. Any one reader may have a preferred distillation of this Enormity, an integrated or ingrained mythos about its True identity. I am not here to argue with you about your lens on the Infinite. I would like to put forth a compelling, appealing, appetizing possibility; that of unification amongst those of us so used to confirming our differences in view and belief.

This work does not seek to supplant or make wrong any particular religious attitudes— no, instead I am inviting and even insisting on an expansion of our definition of the spiritual. Can we welcome it outside of our religious histories and institutions, and into our shared experiences? Can breathing air transformed by trees, fed by sunlight and soil function on level with our deities and idealisms; can the very same elemental stuff we walk on, in ignorance or enlightenment, be the blocks upon which a spiritual life is cultivated? I propose an environmentally spiritual consideration, and this work, I hope, has the integrity to inspire such things in others.

So these words and other equivalents, they will appear. All. Her. The Infinite. Shakti. All. They will mean the same thing— they already do. They are not exclusionary, or exclusive, or should not be read thusly. If at any time certain language causes a furrowed brow, tensed abdomen as if to protect from a strike— stop! Don’t worry! What harm can considering alternatives and analogous realities really be? Is your viewpoint, your lens to the stars such a sensationally fragile snowflake that the postulation or pestering of an auxiliary causes melt? How many of these differences between deities and prophets, the sun’s light and the Light of God— are semantic?

When I say we, is it humankind— a motion for unity and community? Or is it we, the special class of visionaries with the potential to energetically revivify culture and the cultured mind with myths, stories and meaning? Both— always both, and more. They are the same. The sheep eats the grass and the wolf eats the sheep and we watch the wolf skulk off into the trees. We are the grass, and the sheep, and the wolf, and the trees. Many of us are munching grass, but we could be fashioning ourselves a wolfskin cloak, preparing for a shamanic journey. However, We can also enjoy the grass and the sunshine, guilt-free, and await the return of the mystic, who will surely regale us with her stories of transformation, peril, and delight. Refresh our love, reverence and awe for the ineffable and ever complex powers and magnitude of the whole thing we find ourselves eking out a small existence within.


[2] Gray, John, “Straw Dogs” pg. 31

[3] see Pillippe Descola’s “Culture and Nature.” Much more can be said and read on this— I encourage my reader to investigate the anthropologist’s writings and the reflections on this “new” theory as they continue to develop and grow.

[4] Clearly its the one I like.

[5] Sorry, not sorry."

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