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four years on the East Fork of the Wind River

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A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports… but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever. Where the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling what their symbols “mean.” The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts… no one’s sense of the presence of God can be anything more than a function of his own spiritual capacity.

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…All that can be said is that there appears to be a prodigious display of phenomena, which our senses and their instruments translate to our minds according to the nature of our minds. And there is a display of a quite different kind of imagery from within, which we experience best at night, in sleep, but which may also break into our daylight lives and even destroy us with madness… What are they, or where, or why, is an absolute mystery—the only absolute known, because absolutely unknown.

–Joseph Campbell

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We have all seen the ways landscape inspires art, both as medium and subject. But the greatest value of landscape is not as material for art for the same reason friends are of greater worth than material for portraits. A relationship to the landscape offers boundless and self-renewing rewards to the occupant of the landscape. Relationships are high art with tiny audiences, ends in themselves, creative acts that don’t require parallel acts of creation.

Jackson Pollock said, “When I am in my painting I am not aware of what I’m doing.” I feel that way when I engage my surroundings. While I admire the sentiment from which his paintings originated I only value the paintings for reminding me of the feelings– and I covet the feelings but not the paintings. The greatest landscape ever painted was not put on paper. It manifested in no physical product. It’s been enacted innumerable times. It’s the way we set forth into mystery and accept what comes of it.

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The Second Law of Thermodynamics… says that the cosmos is winding down, entropy always increases, the universe and any closed system within it have an inexorable tendency toward disorder. To create order, one must expend energy. The energy must be borrowed from somewhere else. If a fern spreads its special kind of order, sprouting yellow branches across a forest floor or a crevice of lava, it has presumably drained its orderliness from the sunlight that penetrated the shadows. Thus the universe slowly winds down. Its balance sheet cannot be cheated. It heads toward a final, featureless heat bath of maximum entropy—this, anyway, is the fate implied by the Second Law.

As a rule of thermodynamics, the Second Law is undeniable. As a guide to organization and disorganization in nature, it seems to fail. Few scientific subjects so confound specialists with problems of definition. Order, Disorder, Entropy, Randomness—these words are notorious traps. Even the most random-seeming of the earth’s images—the cracks, large or small, that appear in drying mud beds, or the rocks that drift helter-skelter across a mountain’s slope—distribute themselves according to laws that subtly organize the relation of things large and small. Whether the subtly shaped and misshapen needles of an ice crystal are more or less orderly than a cube from the refrigerator ice tray is, at best, not obvious. Still, structure emerges.

–James Gleick

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