A local Zen legend: “Meet the Author” with Jason Wirth | TheUnion.com
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A local Zen legend: “Meet the Author” with Jason Wirth

Brother to Jason Wirth, Nathan Wirth is an acclaimed photographer who has won several awards and responsible for the cover art of the book "Mounatins, Rivers, and The Great Earth: Reading Gary Snyder and Dogen in the Age of Ecological Crisis."
Photo by Nathan Wirth |

People are drawn to this area for a lot of reasons.

It’s the mountain air, the outdoor activities, the people, and of course the beauty that we all enjoy. We have every type of landscape (minus tundra, of course) and with that we draw in a very special type of person.

People who know how to appreciate.

Two people who were drawn to this unique area have recently collaborated on a book called “Mountains, Rivers, and The Great Earth: Reading Gary Snyder and Dogen in the Age of Ecological Crisis.”

Snyder spent 40 years writing his piece before collaborating with Wirth. “Mountains and Rivers and the Great Earth,” a book length poem that he been writing from 1957 to 1997.

First, the author of the book Jason Wirth:

Originally from San Francisco, Wirth went to obtain his degree in the northeast, and worked for 11 years in Atlanta, Georiga, until the Sierra were calling him back.

Wirth is a philosophy professor at Seattle University in Washington, and an ordained Soto Zen Buddhist priest. Even though he resides in Washington Wirth is no stranger to this area.

“It’s a beautiful area, although not very loved historically, it’s a very hopeful place, and it is well loved now. It’s the kind of place that attracts people who value taking care of the area. It’s a special place.”

A special place that is home to the Zen master that is Gary Snyder — Wirth’s inspiration for writing the book.

Snyder’s poetry had captivated Wirth many years ago, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Wirth had never known Snyder personally until a rare coincidence had one of Wirth’s students work at the north San Juan Zen center called “Ring of Bone Zendo,” where Snyder was.

After the student told Snyder about Wirth’s book Snyder followed up with him and the two began collaborating.

“Snyder has been extremely generous in writing this book,” said Wirth, “He is the one who set this all up here in the area.”

Snyder has read the book and is thrilled about the launch. In fact, Snyder was so moved that he will be doing a public reading of his poetry, which hasn’t happened in the area since the 1970s. Snyder has done readings in other areas such as San Francisco and Berkeley, but it has been a few decades since he has done something like this in his home town.

The book is about Snyder and to some extent his relationship to 13th century Dogen, the Japanese Zen master that gave rise to the Soto tradition. Its also about Snyder and Dogen focusing specifically in the context of the unfolding of an ecological crisis.

Snyder had spent 10 years in Japan doing Zen training with the other lineage of Zen called Rinzai.

His work and his training led him back here to the place he calls home.

Snyders work with the indigenous, his ability to go off the grid and be one with the world is something that Wirth believes we all need to be in better touch with.

Wirth feels that Snyder is one of the greatest American poets that has ever lived, which is no small statement.

“Like many people all over the world I find his writing extraordinary. It’s a combination of a deep sense of poetic ability, then the Zen side, the indigenous side, and the Buddhist side all coming together in his shamanic voice,” said Wirth.

After reading the book, the two key takeaways that Wirth hopes his readers come to find are, “Remember who you are by learning where you are, and you’re running out of time to learn this lesson.”

“I would say my book is for that kind of person, a kind of love letter to someone who understands these values,” said Wirth.

You can see Wirth and Snyder at the Open Book at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

This has the feel of a once-in-a-lifetime event as Snyder hasn’t done a public reading since the 1970s. And after the reading, Wirth and Snyder will do a book signing as well.

“The pièce de résistance of the whole event is Snyder himself,” said Wirth. “Snyder is arguably our greatest living American poet. His contribution to world literature is extraordinary. Any chance to see Snyder is increasingly rare these days, so this is a really special treat.”


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