PLACE: THE INREACH
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, Journals
Our program of inreach proceeds in the direction of convergent history, from the world as one whole 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 great human migrations that emerged from Africa more that 50,000 years ago.
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 transcendental Oneness, e pluribus unum, 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.
The elasticity and hope of mankind must henceforth remain
on the Alleghany ranges, or nowhere.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free...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 thisside 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”
We have all been East too long.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letter to Margaret Fuller
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 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. 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.
In the woods we return to reason and faith.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not,
when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
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 logs 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. Asked what is beautiful today in a world where ten thousand things a day 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.
Once seen, they leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe...they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.
We seek a landscape to serve as an epitome of the transcendental experience. The woods we seek for setting are a scene from a John Muir outing or an Ansel Adams photograph: a valley in the High Sierra, a mountain lake, an ocean shore, a redwood grove. An old-growth redwood forest perhaps best represents the spirit we wish to conjure, at once forever young and immensely old. The redwood represents eternal life--sequoia sempervirens--"ever living."
Redwood forests once covered much of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere across Europe, Asia and America. It is among our oldest tree species, dating back to the age of dinosaurs hundreds of millions of years ago, occupying an earlier climatological era. They have gradually retreated with that climate until they occupy now only a narrow strip of land along the coast and crest line of Northern California, from Big Sur to the boundary with Oregon.
And yet they remain our largest and tallest, and among our oldest living things. They are capable of living for thousands of years, of enduring fire and lightening and storm, and standing still as sentinels of the forest, guarding the innermost secrets of its hidden life.
The canopy of an old-growth redwood forest constitutes one of the most complex habitats in the world, similar to coral reefs. Scientists have demonstrated that the redwood absorbs more carbon out of the atmosphere than any other tree, generating clean, cool breathable air. Once logged, that habitat is destroyed and cannot be recreated. Only 5% of the West’s original redwood forests remain unlogged. This greatest living treasure and symbol of eternal life stands today among the world’s most endangered forests.
In every way, Innermost House and the ideal it represents is a creature of that endangered ecosystem. It is built of redwood, it stands among redwoods, it shelters ancient secrets and introduces its guests to forest mysteries. It is outwardly simple, and inwardly complex.
As no other human habitation, Innermost House embodies the spirit of the redwoods in civilized form, drawing into one convergent unity the ancient cultures of Europe, Asia and America. From its “River of Life” door inward, it opens human consciousness into an ever-living dimension of transcendental experience.