Sunday Morning

I remember the Koyukon people’s keen awareness of changes in the terrain around them, based on what they had seen during their lifetimes and what the old-timers had seen before them. In the village of Huslia, people could remember when their cabins stood where the middle of the Koyukuk River runs today. All along its course, they had seen the river bite into its banks, cut through meander loops, build islands and move them gradually downstream, make new channels and abandon old ones. They had watched lakes become ponds, ponds become bogs, bogs become forests. The land came alive through their gift of memory and their long experience with this one part of the earth. Koyukon elders expressed this sense of change in the metaphor of a riddle:

Wait, I see something: The river is tearing away things around me.

Answer: An island, becoming smaller and smaller until it is gone.

I wish someday I might know a place as they do, might have their same visceral understanding that the land I move on is also moving. That nothing, not even this pyramid of mountain, is the same today as it was yesterday. That nothing, not even this island, exists for a moment without change.The great storm rages at this brittle edge, tore earth and rock from the shore, and washed them away beneath the surf. But what it took from the island above the sea, it laid down on the island’s underwater slopes. Recognizing this, it’s hard to say that anything was lost, or that the island was made less rich, less complete, less beautiful. An island grows old so gracefully.

Sometime in the distant future, the last remnant of Kluksa Mountain might stand amid the swells, a black spine of rock where cormorants roost and gulls rest in the wind. And after another millennium of storms, every trace of the island might disappear beneath the sea. Even the smallest grain of sand under my feet will likely be here when I’ve made my last track. A rock in the soil above this beach will probably outlast me a thousand times over. A nameless knoll above Peregrine Point may stand long after humanity has vanished from the earth. The thought makes me feel insignificant, ephemeral, and frail. But the island and I face the same inevitability of change, death, and transformation, and in this sense we belong to the same larger, less bounded world that encompasses us. We share a common life. We are a place and a person; but each of us is a process, a moment, and a passing through.

~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within (Vintage Books, April 1991)



  1. I love this! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too! Thank you.


      • I’m now reading all your Richard Nelson posts. I have to get this book!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I highly recommend the book. Jim Harrison quote on book cover describes it for me: “On the borders of consciousness as in Matthiessen and Lopez…a holy book…a text to help us understand ourselves in the natural world.”. A holy book…yes. That’s it.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Here’s another:

          I’ve often thought of the forest as a living cathedral, but this might diminish what it truly is. If I have understood Koyukon teachings, the forest is not merely an expression or representation of sacredness, nor a place to invoke the sacred; the forest is sacredness itself. Nature is not created by God; nature is God. Whoever moves with the forest can partake directly of sacredness, experience sacredness with his entire body, breathe sacredness and contain it within himself, drink the sacred water as a living communion, bury his feet in sacredness, touch the living branch and feel the sacredness, open his eyes and witness the burning beauty of sacredness. And when he cuts the trees from the forest, he participates in a sacred interchange that brings separate lives together.

          ~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within (Vintage, 1991)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard, if I needed further reasons to read this book! Really looking forward to getting my hands on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. what a powerful and accepting observation. everything in life is temporary and fluid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes…


    • Even on a quiet day like this, the waves are enough to discourage almost anyone from trying to land. There is never a moment of complete calm here; thousands of waves crest and roll over the surrounding shoals every day, millions every year, billions every century. The numbers alone are beyond fathoming, much less the slow, patient relenting force they represent, wearing at the edges of Peril Island since it rose as a bulge of hot lava thousands of years ago.

      ~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A lovely reflection for today.
    “We share a common life. We are a place and a person; but each of us is a process, a moment, and a passing through.”… 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My weekend has been diverse, my family I’ve decided so diverse. One niece giving birth, one graduating high school and my own daughter preparing our meals, taking over from my sister…guiding the “crazy train” her emotions have her own…simply by making breakfast. And I, I had to slip away just to have a moment and discovered this post and that change is necessary and beautiful and on so very vivid!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reminds me of the Stikine River in northwestern BC. Beautiful meandering river.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another amazing post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Donkey Whisperer Farm Blog.


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