Carl Von Essen writes in his book “The Hunter’s Trance: Nature, Spirit &Ecology” (Lindisfarne Books 2007) that since he was a child he was beguiled by the sight and sounds of nature. He realized the import of the natural world; the primal, spiritual and physical experience it brings to a life. Von Essen realized that he was not alone. Many people had ecstatic experiences in the wild, be they scientists, fishermen, or mountaineers. With an eye on the negative impact civilization has had on the environment Von Essen writes:
“A vision evolved that a spiritual bond with the natural world can be a potent path toward environmental healing. That vision, undoubtedly shared by many, has taken shape in this book.”
Von Essen, a retired oncologist wants to explore, “… the roads and byways of mystical experiences as they relate to our evolutionary, biological and psychological connection with nature.”
And indeed Von Essen does this and does this well. He uses liberal doses of poetry from Emerson, Longfellow, Whitman, and other poets, as well as the philosophical musings of William James, personal anecdotes about ecstatic experiences in the wild; not to mention hard research data from respected scientists, to illuminate his point.
Von Essen, ideally wants the reader to approach nature in a “Hunter’s Trance.” He writes:
“The hunter’s trance is a total mental and physical concentration whereby extraneous signals internal or external are quenched or diverted, enabling the psyche of the hunter to perceive his quarry and its world with a supernatural alertness. The merging of the world into the mind allows the subject to experience a comprehension that extends beyond the everyday dimensions of perception.’”
This is prudent advice considering all the “white” noise in this febrile world that keeps us from a true meditative sensibility.
Von Essen is a world class traveler and explorer with many exotic locales on his long resume. Provincial in my own travels, be it to a lack of funds, time or ambition; I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to experience some of what Von Essen experienced on a verdant part of Highland Ave. rather than the Himalayas.
Still the book is written in a very accessible manner, with very telling selections of poetry, philosophy, etc… In a way Von Essen mourns how far we have moved from our primitive selves, when we were not as divorced from nature as we find ourselves today. He quotes Wordsworth:
“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh or grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt a presence…
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and living air,
And the blue sky, and the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought.
And rolls all things…
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.”
Von Essen wants society to reconnect with the wonders of the natural world. He hopes when we realize what we have missed and what we will miss, then perhaps this will jumpstart us to stop the rapid destruction of our environment.