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“Four Changes” by Gary Snyder

In July 2016, Jack Loeffler recorded Gary Snyder reading his updated version of ‘Four Changes’ in his home.  This recorded version was prepared for and included in a major exhibition held at the History Museum of New Mexico at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe.

The exhibition was entitled ‘Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest’, and Snyder’s rendering of ‘Four Changes’  aptly conveyed how deeply the counterculture movement helped nurture the emerging environmental movement. The impact of this manifesto is as powerful today as it was a half century ago and could not be more timely.

 

 

Four Changes at Age 50: A Celebration on the Environmental Movement’s First Manifesto of Contemplative Ecology

Introduction by Diana Hadley, Jack Loeffler, Gary Paul Nabhan and Jack Shoemaker

In the months before the first Earth Day in April 1970, mention of a prophetic manifesto seemed to crop up in nearly every serious discussion of what the nascent environmental movement should be and what values it should embody. That manifesto was conceived and shaped in the summer 1969, as poet Gary Snyder toured a number of college campuses around the United States and then entered into deeper discussions with a number of other poets, visionaries and activists in the San Francisco Bay area. Affectionately called “Chofu” by other radical environmentalists during that time, Snyder gradually refined their collective vision into a ten page draft document that became what we now know as Four Changes.

Several features of this manifesto were then, and still are, unique in the canon of writings considered foundational to the environmental movement. Snyder’s literary gifts shine through the manifesto with prescient, poetic and playfully comic qualities to them. The tone seemed as fresh and as “out of the box” as Leaves of Grass must have sounded when Whitman first sowed it onto the American earth a century earlier. The manifesto called for a radical shift in our relationship with the planet through changing the way we perceive population, pollution, consumption, and the transformation of our society and ourselves. In this manner, it foreshadowed later expressions of ecological thought that we now call contemplative ecology and deep ecology.

While it was in many ways anchored in Buddhist teachings, it was also precise in its understanding of modern ecological science and respectful of the place-based wisdom of the traditional ecological knowledge of the many indigenous cultures of the world. It did not privilege Western science over other ways of making sense of the environment, but welcomed dialogue and integration of many distinctive expressions.

Four Changes was also rooted in a mature understanding of the political ecology of power dynamics and disparities in access to resources that were ravaging our planet, its biological and cultural diversity. Parts of it were so pertinent to these issues that it was read into the Congressional Record on April 5th, 1970— two and a half weeks before Earth Day flags were unfurled all around the world. In that sense, it was perhaps the first robust articulation of what we now call a yearning for environmental justice. Still, the tone was hopeful—that humankind could learn to respect, learn from and embrace the other-than-human-world. As Snyder later paraphrased one of the tenets of Four Changes, “Revolutionary consciousness is to be found among the most ruthlessly exploited classes: animals, trees, water, air, grasses.”  It is time to heed the call of the prophetic Four Changes.

A note on the editions of ‘Four Changes’

The recording mentioned above includes Gary Snyder’s most recent revisions of his manifesto. We wish to clarify the historic broadside designed by Noel Young and the four-page booklet version we are including with this packet are among earliest versions from the many released in 1969 and 1970. Including the earliest printed editions that were released by Earth Read-Out, Whole Earth Catalog and The Environmental Reader just before the first Earth Day in 1970, at least a dozen publications released Four Changes between 1969 and 1971. As Gary Snyder insisted noting on the early editions, Four Changes “may be reproduced” as an open source manifesto. Later versions appeared in Snyder’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Turtle Island, in A Place in Space, and in The Gary Snyder Reader.

A note on the broadside of ‘Four Changes’

The 1969 broadside included here was a collaboration among Gary Snyder, designer Noel Young, Unicorn Bookshop’s Jack Shoemaker, and artist Judy Daniel, who worked at  the bookshop and offered the drawing of Evolution Valley. Two thousand copies of the first edition were printed in Santa Barbara, and many of them were hand-signed twice by the author, once as Gary Snyder, and again as “Chofu.” Later printings of Young’s broadside were released by the Whole Earth Truckstore and Plowshare Books.

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This was first published on Bioneers, April, 2020.

 

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