“We’ve got to go someplace, find something.”
So says narrator Sal Paradise, speeding down a country road in Dean Moriarity’s ’49 Hudson, up the Eastern seaboard. A haunting little line that shadows the whole of Kerouac’s On the Road, it sums up the incessant, restless, cascading wanderlust driving the inner lives, not only of Sal and Dean, but much of post-war America.
Fast-forward a generation to another Beat writer, and not much has changed. When asked what people should do for the Earth, poet and one-time Kerouac-comrade Gary Snyder replied, simply: “stay put.” Elsewhere, he says:
I have a simple suggestion that if followed would begin to bring wilderness, farmers, people, and the economies back. That is: don’t move. Stay still. Once you find a place that feels halfway right, and it seems time, settle down with a vow not to move any more. Then, take a look at one place on earth, one circle of people, one realm of beings over time, and conviviality and maintenance will improve.
The Mesa Life Project is a shared vow, as a Snyder poem encourages, to
learn the flowers
Uninspired by the specious “freedom” offered by American ultra-mobility, the Mesa Life Project is a commitment, instead, to staying put. We are rooting our lifeways among known oaks and pines, familiar winds and waters and walking paths, fellow dwellers of every kind on this north-sloping Colorado mountainside.
We look deeply back in time to the original inhabitants, and far ahead to our own descendants, in the mind of knowing a context, with its own kind of tools, boots, songs. Mainstream thinkers have overlooked it: real people stay put. (Snyder,“Things That Really Work”)
We are gradually learning the right “tools, boots, songs” for this fragile, fertile, high desert community. With luck, and patience, and probably no small measure of grace, we may live up yet to our calling as “real people,” people grounded finally, and firmly, in the real world.