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Review of 'Talking to the Ground and Cathedrals of the Spirit.'

Review of 'Talking to the Ground and Cathedrals of the Spirit.'

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Preston's trail companions, his fiancée, Christine, and her daughter, Selene, give this book a sense of intimacy that makes the landscape seem more real. As the trio heads back out of Navajo country, riding toward home, there is this exchange:

"'I can hardly remember what it's like to live a normal life anymore,' Selene says.

"'It's like we're starting life over again,' Christine said. 'On a new planet.'

"'Let's call it Selene's planet,' Selene says. 'Where everything is magical, and ghosts and witches exist but aren't mean, and there are dark forests and beautiful streams and the animals talk just like people, and where there are no televisions or malls.'" The sacred landscape has left its mark on her, and on the reader as well.

In T. C. McLuhan's Cathedrals of the Spirit the text is itself a kind of landscape that you get to know after many visits; there are passages you may return to again and again, and others that may seem cloudy on one reading, but full of illumination on the next. McLuhan sees sacred landscapes as places of inspiration where human consciousness is temporarily set free. Her accounts range from the spiritual and mystic to the down-to-earth and scientific; in McLuhan's landscape you may come across a Persian mystic, a Hindu ascetic or a Buddhist philosopher, but you are as likely to encounter Charles Darwin, or the British botanist David Bellamy, who says of the yew tree, "A yew is just as important as Durham Cathedral, and a hell of a sight older."

There is so much variety to this collection that a review can hardly encapsulate it. But perhaps the spirit of the book is expressed by one of my favorite entries, environmentalist Edward Abbey's confession: "I sometimes choose to think that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun . . . belief? What do I believe in? I believe in sun. In rock. In the dogma of the sun and the doctrine of the rock."

Reviewer Paul Trachtman writes from rural New Mexico.


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