In the woods we return to reason and faith.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
THE MYTHIC LANDSCAPE
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History throughout the European and Asian continents is centrifugal and divergent. From it emerges all the variety and manyness of Old World civilization. History in the New World turns inward toward a transcendental Oneness, e pluribus unum, "many into one," and pursues its inward course of unification even as the centrifugal momentum of Old World history reasserts itself as the exploding culture of the modern world.
I believe that the forest which I see in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly towards the setting sun, and that there are no towns nor cities in it of enough consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness. Henry David Thoreau, "Walking"
SEEKING PLACE: FROM THE WORLD TO THE WOODS
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.
John Muir, Journal
Our program of inreach proceeds in the direction of convergent history, from the world as infinite diversity to the America in which all the peoples and cultures of the world converge; from America to the West; from the West to Woods; from the Western Woods to the Redwoods along the coast of land’s end in California; and from the Redwoods to one foursquare redwood house, Innermost House, introducing into the heart of the sacred wilderness the possibility of a final home for the eastward and westward human migrations that emerged from Africa more that 50,000 years ago.
The physical setting of the Innermost House project is of the first importance, for it provides the context for everything else the Foundation has to communicate. It must stand for the New World, the Mythic Landscape, the haunt of archetypes and spirits, a landscape of dreams capable of seizing the imagination, filling the senses, and for a time, wholly transcending the ordinary world.
Our landscape belongs to the Westward state of mind. America itself is the West. It was the West to exploring Europeans. It was the West to early settlers. It was the West to pioneers. It was the West to homesteaders. It was the West to three hundred years of Westward migrations, from first landfall to the closing of the frontier.
To the West the world has turned with its dreams of wildness, self-reliance, and freedom. The West began in Appalachia more than two centuries ago. Washington Irving proposed renaming America with the native Indian names of Appalachia or Alleghania after the western wilderness he felt truly defined it. From the Near West of the Appalachian Highlands to the Far West of the Pacific states, the West defines the character of the American experience we wish to represent. Westward we go free.
The West is the woods and the mountains and the waters. It is the frontier, the land of native Indians and trappers and pioneers. It is also the imaginative landscape of artists, poets and thinkers. The West represents the Mythic Landscape with which the world associates the transcendental spirit of America. It is a setting for memories and stories, for aspirations, mysteries and revelations.
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.
Every civilization has its inward and its outward elements, its religion of householders and its spirituality of solitaries. In America that religiosity is secularly vested in a political history of time and place, in the repetition of national rituals and holidays, and in what have been called its “secular scriptures.” American spirituality—its inward life of simplicity and self-reliance that continues to speak so powerfully to the world—has long been represented by Life in the Woods.
America reversed the thrust of European architectural and artifactual history by returning to a world made of wood. Its seemingly limitless forests were the source of life from which it was forever renewed, and to which it was forever returning in the voluntary simplicity of pioneer life. America is made of wood, and identifies itself with the woods. It is with the woods that the transcendental spirit of America is still identified by the onlooking world.
Innermost House represents Life in the Woods as a secular expression of New World spiritual life. It stands at land's end in the West as a last looking-back to origins, to the woods once occupied by native Indian peoples, by hunters and trappers and pioneers, and by the world's imagination today when it dreams the dream of a transcendental America.
The woods mean many things. They mean, first of all, the fire of our beginnings, the fire that sustains life. It is log and timber, it is post and beam, it is house and home. It is plate and bowl and spoon. It is axe handle and knife handle and tool handle. It is bow and arrow shaft. It is fence and fence post. It is boat and oar, it is means of movement, it is self-reliance, it is individuality, it is freedom.
The woods are solitude, and contemplation, and spirituality. Ask what is beautiful today, in a world where ten thousand things daily compete for our admiration, the only thing upon which we can agree is that nature is beautiful. Asked what is holy today, and whatever else we say, we say the woods are holy.
In stirring the transcendental fire at the heart of American life, the Innermost House Foundation returns to Life in the Woods as our distinct place-spirituality, the source and destination at once of our ideals, our political life and our native religiosity.