new journal: environmental humanities

Find it HERE. From the website (which is currently under construction):

Environmental Humanities is an international, open-access journal that aims to invigorate current interdisciplinary research on the environment. In response to a growing interest around the world in the many questions that arise in this era of rapid environmental and social change, the journal will publish outstanding scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences.

reflection on a step

Yesterday I finally made it to McConnells Mill state park, where I enjoyed a spectacular 12.4 mile hike on the most pleasant day of this September. The hike, which follows the Western side of the Slippery Rock Gorge, begins at Hell’s Hollow and terminates at Eckert Bridge (below). I took this picture while having lunch in the creek (safely atop a rock).

At one point during the hike, I was moving at a pretty swift pace. At a small stream crossing I planted my foot on a large rock situated at roughly a 45 degree angle. The rock was damp and I immediately felt unsure of my footing, so I froze. In an instant my body registered its uncertainty and took stock of its position, and as I stared intently at my foot I was made aware of three options. Now, as I stared–and I should say that all of this exhibits the kind of knowledge, or ‘practical competence’, discussed by Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception–my mind was pretty much empty. It was too fixated on my foot to think, but nevertheless my body knew the condition it faced. As I am a relatively experienced hiker, I kept my footing and avoided an immediate spill. Such is the nature of my habit body. The three possibilities my body faced were: 1) attempt to move ahead, apply too much pressure and risk slipping; 2) lean backward and disengage the rock; 3) maintain a balance that would enable my body to remain on the rock and eventually step forward. Sensing that the risk of slippage was too great in #1 and #3, I ‘chose’ #2. It was an act of corporeal wisdom.

In one respect, this picture represents the body as an ‘I can’, a competent and able body that is well-adjusted to its environment and capable of dealing with its demands. But on the other hand, one must also see the body in this situation as compelled by an imperative that is commanded by the environment. Lingis is getting at something like this in The Imperative (pp. 67-8), when he writes:

The imperative in our environment is received, not on our understanding in conflict with our sensuality, but on our postural schema which integrates our sensibility and mobilizes our motor forces. It is received on our sensory-motor bodies as bodies we have to center upon things that orient our movements, bodies we have to anchor on the levels down which our vision, our touch, our listening move, on which we station ourselves and move in the heart of reality. It orders our competence.

Yes, as I stood frozen on the rock I was ‘anchoring’ myself; I had to. In that moment, on the rock, it was the rock that dictated my body’s orientation. This is not to say that I was at the total mercy of the rock, for I did not succumb directly to its slick and unpredictable surface. But I must admit that my body was caught somewhere between and ‘I can’ and an ‘I can’t’, which played out as a negotiation between the imperative of the trail and the know-how of my postural schema.

embodied values conferene – edinburgh

Well, if this isn’t a conference I’d love to participate in, I don’t know what is:

Sensory Worlds: Environment, Value and the Multi-Sensory, 7-9 December 2011

It is through our senses that we investigate, navigate and know the world around us and the other beings, forces and phenomena that constitute it in its rich and lively variety. To consider the nature of sensory being is to be confronted by questions that examine the ways in which we engage with our environments and those that interrogate the very nature of embodiment. Constantly at work and yet often undervalued, the sensorium is broader and more complex than the traditional Western classifications of the five senses allow. Intermingling and constantly shifting with our attention and experiences, our senses orient us in the world (though sometimes they also disorient us). We sense the world and are at once both part of it and other from it. Moving through a terrain, feeling the resistance of the ground beneath our feet or the push of the crowd, or smelling the fumes of diesel and the throbbing heat of a machine engine, or quietly tracing the intricate lines of wood carvings made by another hand in another time, or tasting the sharp or bitter flavours of foods unfamiliar to the palate, or re-imagining the suffered pain of an ugly injury; all such episodes and more raise the question of how our senses play a role in human flourishing and well-being. Furthermore, they illuminate the ways in which our actions, values and ways of understanding the world are rooted in our sentience – which is ever becoming and allowing of us to exceed ourselves.

Sensory Worlds engages with these and other issues; considering ‘worlds’ in a particularly ecological light in order to ask: what contribution can a sensorially-engaged Humanities make to environmental thinking and action? The conference will examine the multi-sensory and will reflect upon the historical, contemporary and possible future relations between the senses (from balance to taste to the haptic and beyond). It will be an interdisciplinary, interrogative and exploratory meeting that will make space for sensorially-engaged scholarship and practice, and will facilitate discursive and constructive meetings between a variety of scholars working on themes related to embodiment, ecology and value. Contributions are invited from those working within the humanities, arts and social sciences. We are interested in contributions that will themselves embody alternatives to the presuppositions common to Western twentieth century engagement with the world such as anthropocentrism, mind-body dualism, and isolated subjectivity.

big pocono hike

The last two days were hiking days. Yesterday I did a 4.2 mile loop in state game lands adjacent to Big Pocono State Park, where I did a 5.6 mile loop today. Both trails are next to Camelback Ski Resort, which doubles as a water park in the summer. Incidentally, in the parking lot I ran into someone I went to high school with, always a jarring experience. Yesterday’s hike wound past two bodies of water, Deep Lake and Wolf Swamp (photos here).

From the top of Big Pocono you can see High Point New Jersey, the Catskills of New York (on a clear day), as well as plenty of the Poconos. While the trek yielded neither bear nor rattlesnake, it was perfectly timed for ripened blueberries and raspberries.

hike 7.10.2011

My mother provided me with a love for the outdoors. Yesterday she and I went for a long, 9.5 miles hike in Worthington State Forest in Delaware Water Gap, following roughly the same series of trails I did the other day. The Appalachian Trail passes through this forest, but we stayed off of the AT in favor of a different network of trails. Last summer my mother had reconstructive knee surgery, so this trip was a real test of the physical rehabilitation she has been going through over the last year. She performed beautifully, although both of us were a bit weary by the end of things. Our trek brought us to Sunfish Pond, a body of water notable for its glacial history and mineral composition that sits on the list of National Natural Landmarks.

Apart from the gorgeous weather, and a distant sighting to two black bears and an Indigo Bunting, we were fortunate to run across a healthy crop of ripe blueberries.

Water levels are good this summer due to a fair amount of rain, so the streams and creeks were also in good shape. I will probably hike here a few more times this summer, and at least once with my good friend Jacob Graham, who will be making his first visit to the Poconos later this month.

delaware water gap hike

Tomorrow I’m heading into Delaware Water Gap to hike. Perhaps I’ll have pictures to post. There’s a Pennsylvania and New Jersey side of the Delaware River in Water Gap. I prefer the New Jersey side, where the Mt. Tammany trail affords beautiful views of the landscape at its summit. The Appalachian Trail cuts through Water Gap, which is basically a small village whose highlights include a backpacking supply shop, a bakery, and a diner.

[Update: at the end of my 9-mile jaunt, I was fortunate to see a small black bear scurry across the trail, cross the creek and scale a steep incline before plopping itself comfortably against a tree. All in all a great day.]