Sometimes I feel I have an oddball perspective and wonder where that's come from. My freshman year at Willamette University, perspective was one of the key concepts we discussed at length in a philosophy seminar.
Like everyone else, I'd experienced my own perspective, but never had been challenged to look at reality from a different angle. On a physical level, we were reminded to look at an object from various directions, to see how its appearance changed, much as my husband was taught by his father to always turn around when walking and look back to see what landmarks looked like going the other direction. This training gave him an almost unfailing sense of direction.
From early childhood, my perspective has been heavily influenced by books; reading provided me an opportunity to experience different worlds. Some books I admire for the pure beauty and accuracy of the writing. One of the best of the 20th century is "Sometimes a Great Notion" by Ken Kesey. It is the quintessential description of life on the Northwest coast, with a "gyppo" logging family, rain, rain, rain, and Himalayan blackberries strangling everything. My quick description of reading this book is that it's like eating a Napoleon pastry - lots of layers and all tasty. It's a book to send your friend back east or in Texas to explain where you live.
Also set on the northwest coast is another favorite, "The River Why" by David James Duncan. It's laugh-out-loud funny and romantic while exploring serious issues about salmon.
Then there's the dry side of the mountains and "Owning it All" by William Kittredge. This collection of essays focuses on ranching in southeastern Oregon, on the MC Ranch east of Lakeview, where Kittredge's grandfather amassed possibly the largest ranch in the world during the 1930s. It's a bittersweet account of living in a sort of paradise gradually degraded (not only in terms of wildlife habitat, but ranch productivity) by decades of diking, draining, and applying chemicals. Writing with passion and compassion, Kittredge explores what happens when we think we can own what outlives us.
Also on the "dry side" is Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire," a collection of essays based on his experience as a ranger at Arches in southeast Utah before it became a national park. If you're ever headed to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley or Four Corners, this is the book to read aloud in the car. The essays cover everything from dying of thirst, uranium mining, snakes and flash floods to National Park policy.
Then there are books that gave me a new perspective about science. Lyall Watson's 1977 "Gifts of Unknown Things" is a fascinating exploration of the intersection where observable phenomena, animism, and quantum mechanics come together. For example, by tradition an Indonesian rice planting ceremony involved striking a gong a precise number of times per hour. Watson explains that this process apparently "kick starts" rice sprouting by amplifying the earth's own electromagnetic pulse. The interesting question, of course, is how did the ancients realize this?
Konrad Lorenz is famous for the concept of animals "imprinting" on the first thing they see after birth; Lorenz had geese who thought he was mom. "King Solomon's Ring," a collection of essays about his personal experiences with animals, is packed with scientific insights. Lorenz is the person who presented me with the notion that all of us "imprint" on the landscape where we grow up, seeing it as the most beautiful land to be found.
The book that really skewed my attitude about science, however, was Theodore Roszak's 1969 "Making of a Counter Culture." One point of the book was that science is no more objective than any other human pursuit. As physicists have told us, observing even a sub-atomic particle's activity actually changes that activity. At the time I read the book, I was working at a laboratory physics institute, typing a review article for "Science" for a British physicist.
The point of his article was that through a series of human errors, and a proclivity for academic journals to publish only "mainstream" measurements for a given sub-atomic interaction, acceptable research results varied over time. What was an unacceptable measurement one year, was often an academically respectable outcome several years later.
I came away believing that "objectivity" is an elusive, perhaps impossible, goal. Better to be up front with our biases, our perspective, than to believe we can be objective about anything.