#2 - David James Duncan - Award Winning Author
David James Duncan is an award-winning American novelist and essayist, best known for his two bestselling novels, The River Why and The Brothers K. In this episode, Duncan announces and reads from his new epic novel "Sun House" for the first time, a project 15 years in the making. He and Mark discuss Convergence and Murmuration; Dualism vs. Contemplation and a Great Salmon Awakening.
Mark Titus 0:00
Welcome to say what you love. I'm Mark Titus. This episode we featured author David James Duncan who wrote The River Why, The Brothers K, My Story as Told by Water River Teeth. These are tomes to me, Bibles almost of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, growing up in love with wild salmon. And honestly, have a big foundational part in kind of the way I see the world and, you know, look at things spiritually.
Mark Titus 0:31
I can't be more proud or excited to bring David onto the show, as a mentor, and as a friend. We're going to talk about how David is looking at the world and seeing things in terms of a spiritual movement toward something bigger than ourselves, which kind of is what we're doing here on this show. And he's also going to read from his new novel Sun House. I've been waiting for 15 years for this. I know he's been waiting for 15 years for this. And I bet a lot of you have been waiting for a long time for this as well. Enjoy the episode today. If you dig this, please give us a rating and tell your friends and we'll see you next week. Here's David James Duncan.
Whiskey Class 1:18
"How do you save what you love? When the world is burning down."
Whiskey Class 1:32
"How do you save what you love when times are getting tough".
Mark Titus 1:53
Well, let's do this thing, man. I'm so I'm so excited. I've been chomping at the bit all morning. And I've been digging in and doing my work. And so just to start this thing off, can you Where are you joining us from this morning.
David James Duncan 2:05
I'm in Missoula, Montana. And it was eight degrees here this morning and it's a balmy zero now with a little bit of sunshine outside. I haven't spoken all day. So I will occasionally sound like a 14 year old adolescent when my voice cracks. But believe me, I am a long way from that adolescent.
Mark Titus 2:28
I'll have some fries with that, sir. Yeah, hey, well, we we had kind of a warm up recently the other day and as you said, I fear an hour, we'll go like a minute. So I'd like to keep the door open. If you're willing to come back down. The trail always says I got a feeling we're probably not going to get it all. But just to start us out here. Can you tell us a bit about your story and how you came to love the things that means so much to you?
David James Duncan 3:00
I was born on a volcano in Portland, Mount Tabor. In the old Seventh Day Adventist Hospital from the windows of which if I could have seen, the Columbia River and St. Helens are a clear view. Columbia is the river of almost my entire lifespan. I first encountered wild salmon when my grandmother who was a realtor, trying to get me to see God's true plans for my life and get me interested in real estate. And she she made the mistake of taking me to what is now the suburb of Gresham 20. And there's a creek called a 26 mile long trip of the Willamette Johnson Creek. That she allowed me to go down to play in. When I was five alone. We did stuff like that in those days, it was a little bit safer world. And I crawled out on a cantilevered log. And I didn't even know what it was, but a massive male coho came right up to the top of the pool and looked me in the eye with its green, black, red white Totem colors and unblinking eye and my mind was completely blown. And I just felt at five. I want to live where these things live. Later, the same year five, I was able to fish for a little while by myself in the jobs and selects Bay, where there were salmon rolling and seals chasing them and I had a little tiny pole and kind of perch solo. And then I caught a 12 inch flounder and the first time you see a flounder when you're five again My mind was blown. I mean it was It was an experience of there are other worlds within the world within this world, maybe quite a few. But the first one I made contact with was the aquatic world. And that love has taken me so many interesting places and allowed me to encounter so many wonderful mythologies to learn that for the tribes, heaven was not celestial. It was marine. And they talked about a totem pole in the center of the center of the ocean, that is the unfollows that means the most important point of the world almost like the creation point, and for them, that would be the the equivalent of a place like Tir Na nOg to you Irishman. And, and, and I just always felt compared to playing harps with angels and the folks I met at church. That totem pole in the center of the ocean sounded mighty. Yeah, it still does.
Mark Titus 6:17
It sure does. Yeah. So water from the very beginning, and the Columbia and it's tribs. And that brings you too now.
David James Duncan 6:32
Yeah, that's the kind of passing over a lot in a hurry. But the other it's really, I have to say that the, the magic wand in my hand, the fly rod, added a whole nother layer when I was eight. And then it learned to cast fly, and immediately put a size 10 mosquito through my right ear lobe. But my dad got it out. And I booked some trout and the phrase in the Bible that even at eight, I loved maybe the best was Christ saying that the kingdom of heaven is in you. And every time I went to church, I felt as far as you can get from that kingdom. And the first time I walked up a little trout stream tributary of zigzag river on Mount Hood. I was in that kingdom is walking deeper and deeper inside it. And yeah, it just, it is. It is where I go to read the unwritten gospel. And
Mark Titus 7:50
I think, Well, yeah, we're connected on on so many levels. And that's certainly one of them. I had the good fortune of one of the early houses my parents had, I think was the second house they ever had was had a it was in what is now Microsoft land in Redmond. But back then, was just woods, and a creek, an unnamed creek that flowed through it all. And I remember, we got in deep one day for my brother and I thought, you know, we and one of our buddies were like, we're gonna get super smart and take all our clothes off to so we don't get our clothes wet and, you know, brilliant, you know, stroke of luck and thinking in our part. And then you know, promptly got home. And that was not a good idea, but bad back in the day. That was where where we found God and found pure wonder. So I so relate to that. We're going to get more into that kingdom of God is within for sure. But I'm going to put the leading story at the front here this time and, and and get the anticipation over with. We'll get to it because I like Legion, other fan boys and girls have long awaited your next novel. And the time is rapidly approaching when there will be a next novel and I couldn't be more stoked. And I know there's a lot of people that are with me on that. And if you'd like I welcome you to read from a piece or the piece of the excerpt of the essay you sent me or if you have something from sun house, which is the new work that would be amazing if you feel like ready.
David James Duncan 9:46
Yeah, I feel like that. So in house is a novel told in two parts need each is a full blown novel in itself. It's actually made of seven shortish novels, but there's a part one and part two In part one, you meet the main five characters and their closest friends. And every one of them, despite their foibles and flaws, is basically intelligent, kind, compassionate, and sometimes heroic, as heroic as really the human beings that I've been lucky and blessed to know my entire adult life. So it doesn't sit well with me. When I look at the Greece Cray cell center, people who dominate the product we call the news, which is actually just the bad news. And in my view, this dismal bias has erased for a lot of people, for a lot of mis educated young as as programs like Head Start are slashed. By insane Republicans. They've nearly lost the sense of what fascinating, compassionate, self giving human beings continue to be. And I've chosen to defend those kinds of humans in this big fat book. Because we can, you know, we can turn on any screen or hit or handheld device and see some self centered tyrant or slander, slinging asshole. And I choose to let my heroes positive traits dominate that huge negative bias and as closely as possible without losing suspense. And the sense of occasional combat that that is life on Earth. "Sun House" is as close as possible to an asshole free zone in which in which -
Mark Titus 11:44
God sounds so good
David James Duncan 11:46
- that these heroes are trying to create the kind of close knit grounded human and animal community twice failed ranch in Montana. And this is the kind of community that the likes of Bill McKibben have said, We must create if we're to survive the curses of climate chaos. It'll be with us for God knows how long so the kinds of stories we tell now matter. And I will contrast in a couple of just a couple of long paragraphs first. The fact that I'm talking about a twice recovered cattle ranch in Montana might make you think that a Western would be a good genre for me, but the western has some problems. I'll read about here. Like the fair, "like the fans of the Verdi, Puccini or Rossini. The bread libretto, fans",have got one too many needs in Ross's name. They're sorry. "Like the fans of a Verdi or Puccini, libretto, fans of Zane Grey John Ford, Louis L'Amour Western expect a prescribed storyline performed on an equally prescribed stage. The storylines by and large, derived from the rote, racist masculinist triumphalist 19th century wild west shows and penny dreadfuls from which the genre first sprang the match that ignites a Western is a generic and justice horses lost to rustlers or ranch lost to a loaded deck of cards. Potshot in the back over his mining claim cysts separated from her scalp or cherry while trying to hang laundry, inaugural rape, death or pillage that ignites a hero so operatically, mannered in his means of vengeance. The John Wayne becomes a veritable Luciano Pavarotti and Gary Cooper Placido Domingo, as tempers combust horses get rode hell for leather and hot lead begins to fly. In a Western we know in advance that retribution will be enacted by quote 'peacemakers' and quote 'gunplay' upon a sage brushed, bouldered red, white and blue sky canvas. We know the nutty sidekick will win our hearts just long enough to prick them when he runs out into a crossfire and gets shot dead. We know we'll either side with lust or squirm with embarrassment according to our personal sexual politics the instant we cite the heaving bosom of the optionally sultry or feisty female love interest. We know the rich, corrupt patriarch will be protected by a militia of toughs, who will fire hundreds of festively inaccurate rounds that our hero while our hero fires back with an accuracy that over the subterranean groans of the hack Western actor ronald reagan keeps Hollywood stuntman employed, unionized and pensioned to this day. The genesis of the community in my novel can't be a Western because by that genres, proto Call, my heroes would be seen not as eccentric seminal founders of an interlocking vibrant circle. But as alien hallucinations from a galaxy we'd need three or four shots of rooster Coburn's whiskey. To help us forget this, this story can't be a Western because Zane Grey condition visitor motoring on to the ranch property would be flummoxed to find shining greenhouses, where the moon door outhouses should be a barn that serves as a combination Town Hall, concert halls and dough dumpster Catholic Cathedral where the Hey mouse arrows and dead tractors should be and a bunch of other qualities. This story can't be a Western because in a Western, there's a west to be one where the residents of this community are conducting, as I have, and my friends have the labor intensive recovery of a West decidedly lost first by its natives to a human invasion from Europe, then by its settlers to a stacked deck of East Coast robber barons, then by the majority of its residents to a hodgepodge of corporate fantasies and big energy or Defense Department Earth rapists whose ravages are seeing everywhere across the actual West. But nowhere in genre Western. Just one more sense of that our story can't be a Western because the population of the West today is 87% urban. The horseback cowboys and family ranches that once hosted the genre have all been disappeared. And the enemy wiping out cowboy and ranching both is a politically hotwired anything but free market juggernaut that long ago stopped leaving behind coined Western ghost towns like Shaniko, Oregon or Bannock, Montana and started creating ocean dune death rose out of entire low elevations, cities, countries and coastlines". So yeah,
Mark Titus 17:06
David James Duncan 17:07
Yeah, we could talk about the dark side. And then there's another riff that is the counter. The counter to the Western is what I call or my character, really, my characters kind of invent things on their own, called an Eastern Western. And that riff is about as long as the one I just read, so maybe I should say, Well,
Mark Titus 17:28
let me ask you that. Yeah. Let me ask you this. And then I think we can add, you know, volley the eastern Western into it. The soul white hero archetype, John Ford, Zane Grey, like you're talking about going it alone? Where is this brought us? And what precipice do we find ourselves on in Sun House?
David James Duncan 17:51
Well, Sun House from the beginning, is portraying people who are extremely aware of the importance of exploring their own psycho spiritual depths. And of trying to maintain some kind of a practice. Whether it's freely wandering, high mountain ridge lines, or zen meditation, or there's so many different things that can be and -
Mark Titus 18:26
wandering a trout stream.
David James Duncan 18:28
Yeah, wandering a trout stream and the, the direction the novel takes really does take seriously I really wanted to create a feeling of permission for people who are trying to, to develop a spiritual practice or recover one that they've lost because of their disenchantment with religion, or also people trying. One of the really heartening things that I also consider a practice is despite the dominance of massive, powerful lobbyists, reinforced agricultural, agricultural Petro Ag in the United States, that's compacting soils and washing them down in the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific, etc. You know, you know, the crimes. There's this amazing grassroots food movement that also in franchises just local thinking and local communities, and that's huge to me. Because my daughter Ellie, is one of those farmers in Bellingham Washington, farming two acres and started a farm stand in a food desert and she and her partner are local heroes and to watch her close, hear from her get wonderful, you know, accounts of what their struggles are. are amazing amount of back breaking late labor clever tools support by the community. It's it's exactly analogous to the kind of thing her dad's been trying to write about for 14 years. But she's in that enviable position of actually doing it while her dad sit in a chair.
Mark Titus 20:26
It's gonna say, Man, it's gotta be a Marvel to you to see that manifest, not only just in another human, but in your own progeny. I mean, what a what a delight.
David James Duncan 20:39
Yeah, my other daughter too. She's, she's working with kids who have special needs, like autistic kids, and which is closely connected to the massive amounts of mercury that were dumped into our atmosphere by coal plants. And, yeah, so they're both right in the thick of it. And so it's my artist, wife, I've had these unusual things happen in my life. In early Oh, when I was 19, I spent 100 days mostly alone, seven and a half miles from the nearest road and will our mountains and was reading wisdom literature there. And early on, I recognized the connection between mythology, wisdom lit a tree, and landscape. And I've had some amazing texts in high desert, Oregon, river canyons and high up in the mountains, deep cedar groves, along the nearly extinct salmon streams of the upper Clearwater in the snake. And it is added something that's very different than the kind of mindset you get locked into, for example, if you're a passionate biologist, painfully learning that the huge amount of material you know about something like wild salmon, carries no weight in our current politics, for those who just decided to blow it off, as you as you know, from your experience, battling the Pebble Mine. It's been very comparable, trying to defend creatures that are be being annihilated by four dams on a river that we do not need that create absolutely deadly slackwater with host predators and all that. We know the story and we'll be telling it, but I'm trying to in the novel, I'm trying to ground it. I feel that our situation mark is more mythological than it is political. So that a book like say Lao tzus, down to Ching is what is more important than the latest political screed by either side of the huge divide that we're that we're experiencing, and it feels really urgent to me.
Mark Titus 23:28
Yes. And I think there's a giant craving for it to
David James Duncan 23:31
Yeah, yeah, to remind people how wonderful human beings are by dragging a host of them into this into this novel with my characters so that you can, you can hear the way jonatha cross talked about Mother Nature. You can hear the way. Zen master Dogan talks about the intimate relationship between wise people and mountains, saying that the mountains actually love those people and love when they enter them. And that it does things to the rocks, it does things to every plant and animal for that marriage between the mountain and the mountain laundry and sage to exist. And there's incredibly beautiful poetry out of Dallas, China, and both Shinto and, and Buddhist, Japan that celebrates all that and for a culture starved American to stumble on some of that can really you talk about wonder. It can really be a source of, of added depth and wonder to go to those wisdom sources that are free to all of us. It's like we're all trying to write a fugue that will save the world but not listening to Johann Sebastian Bach first. We need. We need the maestro. And yeah,
Mark Titus 24:56
I this is the sense I have from Reading the essay last night, before prepping for the conversation today that you know, especially as somebody in recovery, who understands what isolation does, there has been this mythos of going it alone, showing no vulnerability, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and by God getting yours. And what struck that that kind of struck me as the the Zane Grey kind of archetype in in the writing. But what's, what's the other side of that? What's the eastern Western that you're trying to bring into the world in Sun House?
David James Duncan 25:50
I really think Mark, this is a perfect time for me to read a couple of paragraphs, perfect. "We're all in the midst of having our world reduce, and our hearts repeatedly broken by a human assault on the planetary tapestry of life. That's fast building toward an inconceivable climax. The magic of an Eastern Western enters through our hearts very brokenness. When East touches West, many hearts don't simply break they break down into far older and greater ways of being. When East touches West, is hard to break in this way, we're suddenly renters, on a glorious planet owned by no conceivable white guy, and the fierce fierce is possible love for Earth landforms living waters, living creatures, and every embodied soul, human and non becomes entirely justified. When East touches West, no word deed or thought is free of spiritual consequences. And those consequences are our Stern, guiding light. When East touches West, earth, fire, water, ether and air, not only give us life, they continually manifest and unborn unseen geillis perfection that rules our world. you punish shots. When he's touches West Bodhisattvas begin begin saints displays Tibetan and indigenous sages and holy fools, no so many things that the likes of Zane Grey, Ronald Reagan and general Phil shared and never dreamed of that the ladders bogus knowings don't distract us from our true purposes for more than a few seconds. When he touches West, the central struggle is against cosmic illusion. All blame is best driven into oneself. That's he hi Dugan, founder of Soto's in all creatures in their pre existing forms have been divine life forever. That's Meister Eckhart who the Catholic Church condemned although he has been redeemed as the greatest mystic in that whole tradition. All solid. Yeah, man. Yeah, we've been talking. You got a head start. Oh, all solace lies hidden in the indestructible soul. Krishna. The law of karma is impartial and inexorable. Bhaag Bhagavad Gita, and the Justice unleashed upon a posthumous human spirit. After a skene of subhuman investments in say, Terminator seeds, fracking, tar sands, greed spawn corporate run disinformation machines are bogus derivatives may have salvific necessity, lead that self betrayed spirit, to the darkest of Bartos to a short brute incarnation is a paint huffer trapped in one of the hellholes. their financial triumphs helped create when East touches West nature, the soul, the intellect and enraptured angels. This is a quote from a Sufi nature the soul, the intellect and enraptured angels, all proceeds from the one mini Allah He all kafir. And if the one many were to grant you every last thing for what you could think to act truly, his kingdom would be no more diminished than is the sea diminished by a needle dipped in the sea. That's Eben Harvey. When he stretches West, the first noble truth is suffering. The last frontier is unassailable bliss. Our enemies are our teachers, and a bad guy in quotes is likely to be shot through with light as was lead. When East touches West, a river spliced Montana Meadow might be visited by an infinite guest that telescopes down into the heart of a vulnerable female Trespasser in closing her and an invaluable presence that converts an armed and mounted attacker into a stunned feature of his own interior vastness. When East touches West, a high elevation Lake stilled to mirror a billion stars might drop a mountain wanderer to his knees, pierced to see the depth, it's height, Eckhart. And elevation is a blessing, not a conquest, Edward hoga. And there is no democracy in any love relation. Only Mercy, Gillian Rose. And knowledge is erotic. Jane Hirshfield. And the Universe by definition is a single gorgeous, celebratory event, Thomas Berry, and sky and sky whether it's over Montana or over Tibet, Tibet, Jetsam, Nepal, Mo, and all the way to heaven is heaven, Catherine of Sienna. And we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. Thomas Merton, and I was just a container of love till love smashed the container. And the uncontainable came gushing out jervis mograph. Early each morning here on the Elk Moon, every man, woman, child, plant creature and geographical feature casts a westward leaning shadow are the same silent reason, reason, sunrise in the east. So I asked you, has there ever been a Western without an Eastern, Western, beating like a gloriously broken open heart inside it?"
Mark Titus 31:56
I am grateful for you're sharing this with us. And there is so much to unpack in there. I read I read this two times last night because I wanted to savor each word and this is one of those pieces of writing that you can't just blow through. You have to savor each word there's so much in there. But what thematically what I'm getting out of this is a convergence. East West, the line about your enemies being your teachers, we're we're in this moment of unparalleled polarity. And finding this convergence, I think is what's going on when I'm hearing this from you. And it certainly feels like an imperative to me. You and I talked at length for a while last week about synchronicity and convergence. And I was struck by a line it's a I think another line in later in the book that you sent to me and it's I'll read it here. It's coming from Elk Moon Valley, Montana, June 21 2016. And it's the letter X, which I assume is 10. Running Hand, right? And it goes it's a it's a poem from Tom Crawford from the Eucharist. And it goes, "When the light is just right. If you squint, you can make out the wiring to the one bird, they all are 1000s of swarming black starlings, going, suddenly vertical stalling, doubling back on themselves. In China, it's called running hand, this brushstroke that flows over the paper, nobody in charge".
David James Duncan 33:55
We just had another convergence Mark. I was like, Damn, I forgot to get that Crawford quote, I wanted to read that to you. And you just read it to me. It's very nice.
Mark Titus 34:05
I, of course, had to pick and choose from the research for this conversation. But that one, of course, needed to be in here. So the question I have for you in this idea that we're exploring here, what's a murmuration? And how does this frame this conversation of convergence for us right now in this moment, because as I mentioned earlier, I feel like there is a hunger a deep hunger among individuals for a convergence.
David James Duncan 34:38
Barry Lopez was a distant but dear friend, a son of the McKenzie as I've been a son, a couple of rivers, the bitterroot these days and, and the upper salmon streams of the snake and the Tom Crawford thing you just read It is a beautiful definition of a murmuration. In England especially, but in the Willamette Valley and other places that are really Starling heavy, they fly in these vast patterns that literally black in the sky. And it seems impossible when they form these shapes that that like, literally hundreds of 1000s of birds can be reacting with incredible skill. And Barry Lopez did a beautiful interview with another friend of mine, Fred bahnson, in the sun magazine very close to the end of his life 2018. And Barry says, outright talking of convergence mark that human beings need to become murmurations we knew we need to learn to respond, how starlings do it is they're responding to six or eight birds that are right next to them, literally coordinating the flaps of their wingbeats so that they don't crash into each other and break each other's wings. And if you look at some of the YouTubes of murmuration of starlings, some magnificent ones filmed in Europe, and you will see Falcons attacking these huge flocks. And it's amazingly hard. There's, there's, you know, there will be 100,000 birds blackening the sky, the Falcon will shoot right through the middle of it. And the starlings are so skilled at reacting in unison with great speed, that it's damned hard for a falcon to catch a freaking little Starling. Which if you watch one fly alone, it's not very impressive, same as humans. Zane Grey Starling is not a very interesting character. But 100,000 starlings, constantly forming and re forming and those running hand murmurations is just a site that can bring tears to your eyes. And I love it that I was able to write to Barry, after I read his his call for a murmurations of humans, and quote, The Tom Crawford that you just read, from a book from a poem to that was appropriately titled the Eucharist because that kind of responsiveness as a Eucharistic a salvific quality to it, that we are hungry that humanity is starving for. So,
Mark Titus 37:52
Yeah, I have taken your veneration for the Eucharist, the idea of sacrament and explored that in my own work, obviously, with salmon, and this idea of taking something that is so demonstrably Christ, like in its giving of itself so life itself can continue. And what does that mean, when you take that in together and community? I feel like there is this, especially right now, in this COVID time when we are all isolated, and it's so acutely pointed, how isolated we are this need for connection for convergence. And so that image of a murmuration of birds moving in synchronicity, and what I've just kind of naturally observed, and you've pointed out to me as well, that there's a awful lot of us, there's an awful lot of people that are craving, a spiritual depth, that and a connection to each other, that we maybe have been disenfranchised from, or isolated from or through our own trauma disconnected from, is that part of what you're trying to achieve in Son House his grasp onto that notion?
David James Duncan 39:23
Yeah, there's a wonderful phrase that my friend, Fred Bahnson, has been writing some wonderful essays in Harper's, in The Sun, Emergence, about what is becoming of people seeking for exactly what we're discussing. When Protestant churches tend to be in a state of pretty near collapse. So many of them have been turned into community centers or just yoga studios or churches turned into many other purposes. Done events. Quite a few of those. And there are the phrase that Fred uses to title a wonderful essay of his about this phenomenon in a recent Harper's is the gate of Heaven is everywhere, which was said by Thomas Merton. And one of the implications of that is I've done work with groups of people who were literally resurrecting totally screwed. Urban streams that had lost their salmon runs. Most of the work I did on this was in watkyn. County. And when you watch them, get rid of the canary grass, and bring in woody debris from it would have just been slashed burned that login sites and get that wood back in the river and bring viable runs of coho and chum, and occasionally Chinook salmon in these small streams that were dead down to nothing for decades. And it all came back because they started doing things that low that simply lowered water temperature and created more aquatic life. It is it's impressive. It's, that's Eucharistic to the salmon. I was also thinking as we were talking that, you know, what is what are the beautiful movements of sockeye since they move in unison, up those Alaska streams that you know, so well, what is that but an aquatic murmuration? And so, yeah, sky and water on land, we're losing the last, migrations, you know, the great migrations of African herds. Because water issues in a lot of places, some wildebeest are still moving around good numbers become very hard for elephants. But yeah, these things are these things are what Earth created. And one of the things that really got out of whack was shortly after the beautiful description of creation, in the first paragraphs of Genesis. There's this one sentence about giving mankind dominion. That has been a real well run amok word, it created Manifest Destiny, it created genocide, globally. Yep, it is a it's a disaster word and the word that was actually used ra da ra da H doesn't mean any of the kind it simply, it means stewardship and and what kind of stewardship disobeys the mosaic scriptures and drives things to extinction. That is not RDA. That is run amok. Manifest Destiny. And that's Tom Crawford has another wonderful poem about how we, we cannot let Christopher Columbus drive the car anymore. We got to get that guy out of there. And I don't know what send him back to. Whatever back to Portugal.
Mark Titus 43:42
Well, yeah. And you know, it this, this leads me down another tributary here about the way I was raised. And I know you were and a lot of folks who are about dualistic thinking, you know, good, bad, Republican, Democrat, black, white, one or the other. And in that losing, like you're talking about the the definition of that word, like dominion, therefore, we must go out and subdue all the earth. And that was manifest destiny. That was the imperative based on the writing that you shared with me from your friend, Fred bahnson. In that article in Harper's, about finding, finding God everywhere, there is this idea of dualism versus contemplation and coming back to a more contemplative way of living in the hunger for that and that is seeming to happen as almost a murmuration all over the place. And for me, I know I had a personal experience of an awakening. I know. Fred talks about it in his article, and I know you've had you talk about it here at the head of the podcast, coming to presence with that coho that silver salmon and that AI and awakening to something much bigger than yourself. I had something like that when I was a young guy, I was reading your book, The brothers K. in Bristol Bay, I was working in the processing plant in the summertime. And I had the real blessing of meeting a mentor, then a friend of mine named uncle Lenny, who told me when I said, I just want to be part of this thing, I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I'm reading all of these Native American wisdom texts and all of these other pieces of writing. And I want so badly to be a part of it. And he said to me, little brother, all you already are, all you have to do is say thank you, when something happens, that allows you to see the world as it is. Very next night, I was working up on some scaffolding, and it's 11 o'clock at night. Because it's you know, sunlight there all the time in Alaska that time of year. And a swallow came and clipped My dear, as I was taking in this grand tour of the belugas in the river and the sun, the golden light on the water. And I this just happened and I said thank you. And so then I think that that sort of awakening brought me into a different stage of consciousness. And then to go one step further with that, as a guy in recovery. I've been told that you've got this amazing paradox, you have to give it all away to have everything. So imagine if you found the mother lode of all the gold, or a keys to a cheese shop or brewery, whatever your your gold happens to be. But you must mine it every day, and then give it all away. You have access to it all, but you must give it all away. So with this as a backdrop How do you see this movement and this time we're in about this dualism that we've been led to grew up with versus a contemplative life?
David James Duncan 47:25
You Yeah, one way the sentence I think I wrote in the Mickey Mantle Cohen, only the spirit as as the spiritual experience. So we're talking immediately the spiritual experience passes through us, it feels like our experience, then it's over. And that's when I think are the murmuration duty is sharing. Sharing any sense you might have of what created the space that allowed you to get the hell out of your hot little head and allow something that the earth is trying to say to you to enter. And so when speaking of dualistic thinking, trying to own any such experience, trying to claim it as yours, trying to think that makes you some kind of spiritual authority is a tragic mistake that's likely to turn you into a spiritual snake oil salesmen if you follow it very far.
Mark Titus 48:39
Exactly. That's the giving away part.
David James Duncan 48:41
Yeah, it is not yours. It's every once right and no one's so yeah, just leave your leave your dualistic thinking. I don't know what drop it off next time you're near Wall Street. let it wash down a gutter in East River. Yeah,
Mark Titus 49:05
Well, here's another. Another wonderful description of this from the same article but Thomas Merton quote from New Seeds of Contemplation, "The highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life is the contemplative life. It is that life itself fully awake, fully active, fully aware, that is that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life of being". That that was what I felt in that moment with a swallow. I'm guessing that head was something something akin to that moment with a coho with you. Moving into the next realm here of our conversation, how does this idea of spiritual wonder, the spontaneous or at the sacredness of life of being, how does that connect? verge with our shared off for and love of wild salmon.
David James Duncan 50:06
It reminds me of I would say I've read a sage who said there's no goal beyond love. I would also say there's no goal beyond wonder if something is allowing you to enter that state. aspiration has come to an end, you're there. Like your elder friend told you. When you asked the question you already are, all you have to do is look and say thank you. And it's a little something I wrote to conclude a project that Rick bass and I did when a bunch of series of Wild and Scenic Rivers starting with oil and also the Columbia and the snake were threatened by Exxon Mobil wanting to create a direct connection between Astoria Portland shipyards, and the Alberta tar sands, the largest industrial project on earth, and one of the most, if not the most devastating. And the last two paragraphs I wrote, I just been experiencing my region in a very different way, identify the end of the book, with a beautiful with the Irish creation story. And this just came out that I think, is not a bad way to wrap up what we've been talking about. "Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana are a weave of places, weathery forces, flora and fauna, wild intricacy, to which people from all over the world flock like grateful birds, simply to see Earth being Earth. See wildness intact. See the earth dreaming of beauty. Today, we call these places ours. But the Northwest and Northern Rockies are a weave of life forms and mysteries. We did not create and cannot recreate once the wilds ability to weave is ravaged. These great regions were pre American, and we'll be post American. They are what enable biodiversity to diversify natural selection to naturally select. Generation after generation of kids to muck around and river shallows with frogs fingerlings and caddis fly casings. These regions are governed not by such creatures as governors, but by elemental and celestial harmonies as powerful as Earth spinning yet as intricate as an orb weavers do be decked web these places and forces to put it the ancient way. Our our mother to living terrain, her body, the floor, her clothes, the lakes, rivers, reels her blood and arteries, the seasons and weathers her moods, the birds, fish, fauna, humans, all equally her offspring. And every man woman and child striving to defend her life in the lives she supports. Even in poverty, or political impotence, even against seemingly hopeless odds, is not only a hero, but an integral part of her every bit as holy as she who may seek to defend".
Mark Titus 53:47
Thank you for reading that. That that was from Heart of the Monster?
David James Duncan 53:54
Ya the last last paragraph of mine, then Rick Bass will beat it out of you with his essay. It's such a grimm book.
Mark Titus 54:03
I remember Yes. It's hard. But yeah, you know, it's hard, but it's, it's necessary, it's necessary. And honestly, you know, that I wanted to touch on one one last thing before we start wrapping it up here in terms of that hard but necessary. And we have this moment in Bristol Bay right now of reprieve and it's it is just a moment. We still need permanent protection for Bristol Bay. We need the EPA under the current administration to veto the pebble project that would put North America's largest open pit golden copper mine in the headwaters of the last fully intact salmon system. But, you know, we do have this moment of reprieve but those same forces, whether it's pebble or some other guys manifestation of it. If we're to succeed in a real convergence, what are we to do when those wolves come back howling at the door of a place like Bristol Bay, or when people like the likes of Tom Collier, who was the CEO of Pebble and folks in China now say the same thing, you had your chance at the brass ring, the chance to have it all in a sort of, you know, capitalistic sense in a self centered sense. And now we're taking ours how if there's a convergence happening among people wanting to live a better way? How do we defend ourselves against those forces that are going to continually come knocking, as you point out in the heart of the monster?
David James Duncan 55:56
Yeah, the the scale of the destruction of which someone like the pebble CEO are capable, can easily kind of overwhelm our thinking, and it's good to ground yourself. In simple statements like Mother Teresa's saying we can do we can do no great things, only small things with great love. And along with that statement, if you're talking about contemplative grounding, and if you read a lot of wisdom, that I've recently read dhammapada, one of the Pali Canon scriptures, it's all the Buddha's words. And he advises us mark to keep our, to keep our practices together. And to, to share the company of people who, who are doing the same. And to care for each other. And to do things, I mean, many people have said, What good is a constant fight to defend nature if you never feed yourself on what you're fighting to defend? And? Yeah, I think we, I think we have to be wary, talking about the dichotomy, you know, the solo Western hero, we have to be wary of that in ourselves and in our activism, too. We don't, we aren't going to accomplish anything without huge murmuration of us gathering to defend. And so I just think, again, of the way starlings are looking at six or eight birds, that they're just literally almost woven into making the same movements, split split split seconds apart. And that's how the whole thing harmonizes and doesn't crash. And to go totally a big picture, looking at the size of China and the depths of its ignorance and the ruthlessness of its methods which were preceded by the ruthlessness of all European colonial countries against the rest of the world. It's too much, it's too much to think about, I don't think it's helpful. One of the things I need in my heart to be effective is, is a little hope, and a lot of love. And as often as I can find it, that state of wonder, so I would, I would not spend too much time having done it myself when we face down Phelps dodge trying to put a cyanide heap Leach goldmine on the Blackfoot, on Norman Maclean's river, and the size and power of that enemy. And it just reached a point where we each did what we could and suddenly amassed a center of gravity that caused the scales of justice to come down heavily on our side, and those incredibly powerful sentence is went home. And it's really the migrate frustration with what you face. I can't believe we still have the 1872 mining law. Right, which was created to bring settlers West, you know, so we could Yeah, it was just it's just so incredibly outmoded that it's now being used to benefit completely cynical piles of money called corporations, and has nothing to do with the reason it was written. But our government won't touch it because we're a corporate run.
Mark Titus 59:56
Well, on the other side, I have that I wanted to wind this down with a little piece a little summary that you gave me about The River Why, which was my first great love of your work and it all of your work has awakened me in various ways and introduced me to and become aware of loves. I didn't know were possible. But you said this about the river why recently and I, I thought it was something new for me. And I think it's a great way to kind of bookend what we're talking about here today. You said in the in the book. I also like it that she was hooked. She you're referring to Eddie the protagonists girlfriend in the Gus his girlfriend in the book. I also like it that Edie was hooked by a woman on a line so light that after the woman handed the archaic sapling rod and belly reel to former aspiring white hero Gus, he feels the hunter prey paradigm dissolve like blood and water. And only unadulterated love sustains the connection between him and this astounding creature, this wild salmon he's connected to in this scene, the fly the fishing hero of virtually all hooked and bullet literature. And Ernest Hemingway to ceases to be a fisherman at all his heroism is in his self effacement and total adoration of the most Christ like wild creature in nature, the great self sacrificer wild salmon that to me, brings us around full circle to this this love that we share for this wild creature that gives of itself so that life itself can continue and also little acts that you were just talking about do little acts with great love. So with that in mind, kind of a little rapid fire thing here for you want to put your paint a picture for you here. Now, don't get to PTSD on me here. I know you've dealt with fires in your region. But if you can imagine if your if your house was on fire, you obviously get your loved ones out first, but in addition to them what's the one physical thing you save from that fire?
David James Duncan 1:02:27
Well, when Adrian and I face to fire it came closest taken our house came within a quarter mile, burnt 80,000 acres in straight line to us and just miraculously, we went from strong prevailing winds sending it right to us the wind turned around and it went the other way and burned back on itself. She was preparing for a show in Seattle, and was working incredibly difficult conditions doing work with wax and caustic having to wear a respirator in extreme heat in our studio, adding the heat of the material. And we were evacuating each sculpture as she finished it at the same time while the same time I had evacuated. I've worked on a lot of different much simpler all simple all simple books compared to the one I'm just finishing which I will never try to do anything like this again. I evacuated the simple books. So they were in a safe place. But it I mean really the first thing we took care of all our animals including the chickens were evacuated certain little, you know, family treasures, but, each other I mean, yeah, people. Yeah, Pete the ones we love, man that's and making sure as best you can. Your neighbors are okay, then so moved. By the way, when we've had two bad fires. Friends, I hadn't even called or appear in the driveway asking what they can help us move or helping me cut pine trees that were getting too big and creating fuel load too close to our house or you know, all kinds of different. Really, I've been more the recipient of the kind of question you asked me I've been more the recipient than the giver of that because the fires have been so daunting. That could have easily had an event. Like, like Barry Lopez had the end of his life losing his Grove, Mackenzie and his archive. Yeah, lifetime of beautiful journals. Nobody kept a better journal and burying they burned right toward the end.
Mark Titus 1:04:54
Well, that's that's the spoiler is that that's my answer to it. I've got my journals is the one thing i would i would i would pull out. But let's not call it your spiritual house is on fire. Or it could be what are the two most important things about your life, your spiritual house that you you take with you could be part of your practice?
David James Duncan 1:05:24
Well, I would I would take I mean, I'm a penultimate pessimist. But I'm an ultimate optimist, because there's this thing that makes us alive called the soul that way wiser people than you and I say, is indestructible. So there's something in us that's indestructible, and the stance I have toward having powerfully sense that so that I have faith in that truth is gratitude. And I would try to evacuate my gratitude along with me, wherever life takes me. I want to take the thank you with me or a friend Eckhart. The only prayer you ever say is the word Thank you isn't nothing. Yep.
Mark Titus 1:06:21
I heard in the rooms of recovery to the three most important prayers are Help, Wow, and Thank You. Lastly, if there's one thing you'd leave behind in this purifying and potentially destructive fire, what would that be?
David James Duncan 1:06:48
Oh, I could leave. I don't even know where they are. Every I call it honorific. hoo ha. When you win awards. You know, my college diploma means nothing to me. Anything that, you know, like a good shrink might put on the wall in their office. I don't have anything like that. So, you know, it is honorific. Ooh, hi, wood shed. And also, I think the honorific hoo ha that lives in my ego. Yeah, I would, anytime the situation makes that beastly little creature that is sheer illusion, when we have the moments that are deepest. Anything we can do to diminish the egos. It's a good move.
Mark Titus 1:07:41
So yeah, that an honorific who ha,
David James Duncan 1:07:44
yeah, those are the things.
Mark Titus 1:07:45
I will take that along with me. Well, my friend, I'm so grateful for this time with you, David, James Duncan, author of the river wide brothers K, my story is told by water and the upcoming forthcoming Sun House, how can folks follow along and find out when they're going to be able to get their hands on this book and follow the work that you do?
David James Duncan 1:08:12
That information will be emerging in the next few months? But it's some of it. I mean, the important details aren't yet determined, because those are conversations that my editor and I will be having soon, but haven't had yet. And if I were any good at prognostication, I would guess that it will be sometime in 2022 that the book will emerge because it is a fat one and will, will require a lot of thought in editing, copy editing, Little Browns, a great publisher, so yeah, sometime in summer, fall 2022 is my best guess. But I, I will be putting material on my website. And I'm now speaking openly about this book. It's caused a lot of people to think I must have croaked about 10 years ago.
Mark Titus 1:09:03
Oh my god. Well, we have faith in 2022 is shaping up to be a hell of a year with hope and but for 2021, let's stay in touch. And if people want to go to your website, what's the URL to go to?
David James Duncan 1:09:16
It's you know, it's it's just davidjamesduncan.com. But it's it's really in a total disrepair the whole time. I've been working on sun house, I haven't given it the time of day. And I'll be doing an update in a couple months. So this this kind of question that's just frustrating in an interview like this, you're at this audience and I'm saying, hey, wait, just wait a minute. I'm not quite ready. Wait.
Mark Titus 1:09:41
That's cool. I i had i God, dude, I've had that happen a million times. Like I'm the websites under construction. So yeah, we'll we'll put we'll put in the show notes too. You know, they can people can always get information from us as well. Obviously. I'll post it. Any kind of notes that Coming up when they are so until next we meet. Thanks for the time, David and best of luck in Montana. And here's to the convergence.
David James Duncan 1:10:11
Yes, Here's to the murmuration of humans.
Mark Titus 1:10:15
Indeed. Till next time.
Mark Titus 1:10:17
Whiskey Class 1:10:19
"How do you save what you love? How do you save what you love?"
Mark Titus 1:10:34
Thank you for listening to Save What You Love. If you like what you're hearing, you can help keep these conversations coming your way by giving us a rating on Apple Podcasts. You can check out photos and links from this episode at evaswild.com. While there you can join our growing community. By subscribing to our newsletter, you'll get exclusive offers on wild salmon shipped to your door, and notifications about upcoming guests and more great content on the way that's at evaswild.com. That's the word save spelled backwards wild dot com.
Mark Titus 1:11:07
This episode was produced by Tyler White and edited by Patrick Troll. Original music was created by Whiskey Class. This podcast is a collaboration between Eva's Wild Stories and Salmon Nation and was recorded on the homelands of the Duwamish People. We'd like to recognize these lands and waters and their significance for the peoples who lived and continued to live in this region, whose practices and spiritualities were and are tied to the land and the water and whose lives continue to enrich and develop in relationship to the land waters and other inhabitants today.