weekly challenge: WATER

Photo: StockSnap

Greetings all,

As earthweal slowly wheels out its well for the global commonwealth of Earth, how wonderful to see participation from such corners of the world! From England to Australia, South Africa to India to Canada and Sweden to the USA, with way-stations ranging from Michigan to Florida to Pennsylvania to Michigan to Oklahoma. Does this forum begin to feel to you like a global hangout for local muses? Keep it coming—and keep including your port of call in your link.

On to earthweal’s third weekly challenge. In these themed prompts, poets are asked to submit a poem with local perspectives on global events and / or illustrate it through the lens of your artistic expression and development. The weekly forum sails forth first thing on Monday and remains open until Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST when the earthweal’s open link weekend kicks off. Feel free to contribute multiple times if helps scale the theme.

Next Monday, Sherry Marr takes over the reins with a weekly themed challenge on ANIMALS. Our wild world needs some poetry to envoy their presence! She will return again with future prompts as well.

If WATER is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A dive into the theme follows.

Anchors away!

—Brendan

 

 

 

Photo of Earth by Voyager 1 from 3.6 billion miles away, June 6, 1990, as the probe was leaving the solar system.

 

earthweal week 3 challenge: WATER

The space probe Voyager 1 has been a busy camper since it left the Earth in 1977. It passed Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980, sending back to Earth the first detailed images of our largest solar system cousins. Though the mission had only intended to work that far, Voyager 1 kept sailing—it’s now about 14 billion miles out—and as long as nothing bigger collides with it, the probe will take about 300 years to reach the Oort Belt in the outermost ends of the Solar System,  another 40,000 years to get within 1.6 light years of the star Gliese 445, and 300,000 years to pass by the porches of the MTV star TYC 3135-52-1.

As Voyager 1 was leaving the solar system in 1990, it was commanded to turn its camera back for a last shot of Earth in the vast expanse of space. If you check out the photo which began this section, you can just make it out inside the bright vertical band toward the right. When he reflected on the photo, the astronomer Carl Sagan labeled it Pale Blue Dot and made that the title of a book exploring humanity’s relationship with the Earth and cosmos. Human pride made us Earth-centered, he writes, but astronomy eventually pulled our gaze away, helping us see that we are not the core of the heavens. Sagan concluded that if we are to survive, we must thrive elsewhere as well in space.

The pale blue color of Earth observed in the photo comes both from the scattering of sunlight in the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the massive sprawl of oceans which 70 percent of its surface. Air and heat and water and voila, Pale Dot Earth. Before we leave this planet—spat out into the ether like watermelon seeds and/or some errant virus—let’s take a warm soak in one of our defining elements and look for new poetry there.

First, this confession: I’m a water baby. Maybe my mother’s uterus was just so damn comfy. Maybe the sound of her voice over the sea when we visited Jacksonville Beach made crashing surf sound like a welcome. Maybe a spell of wonder permeated my waking conscious mind when at 3 years old I fell into the deep end of a swimming and hovered there amazed at the shifting blue til a frantic lifeguard’s hook retrieved me. Who knows.

I agree with Fiona MacLeod: If you get splashed a certain way by the wave, yearning becomes part of you, your story, your song. I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean off Melbourne Beach in Florida when I was 14, and the wave that washed over me while I was submergedwashed my entire soul.

Falling in love was like rebirth in water.

My tarot card is the Page of Cups.

My thirst for firewater comes from the burning abyss.

My poetry blog is named after a mythic well on Dun Manannan on the Island of Iona.

My online namesake is a hybrid of voyager and seal-man.

The sound of rain on the tin roof of this house has the murmur of blessing.

The ocean waves crashing harder and louder against the shores of my state of Florida are disturbing.

If you want to understand water, you should get to know the sea. One of the great books for this education is Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us. Published in 1951, the science has evolved some since—current cosmology has our Moon an errant planetary visitor, where Carson’s time believed it was born from depths now occupied by the Pacific Ocean—but as a poetic book of scientific wonders, you can’t get more satisfying draught.

To paraphrase the tale of water from Carson:  Two billion years ago, after our Earth had cooled enough from its formational fury, rains began to fall, steadily and incessantly for years, millennia, aeons, slowly filling the ocean basins and flooding higher ground. As mountain ranges eroded, minerals flowed back into the waters and the seas slowly turned saline. Life began to brew in the fertile soup, feeding first on inorganic matter and then developing chlorophyll, the process by which carbon dioxide in the air could be mixed with water to build organic substances. The oceans greened with undersea forests. Other life evolved to feed on this aquatic plant life, building shells from carbon stored in the water, followed by life which fed on plant eaters, then bigger life to prey on that life: And so the food chains evolved.

About 600 million years ago life crept ashore and the bare rock of dry land slowly turned green with plant life.  Some life grew lungs to breathe on land, legs to move about and wings to navigate an ocean of sky. Reptiles grew huge while tiny mammals evolved in their shadow. 50 million years or so some animals returned to the sea, becoming sea lions and dolphins, seals and whales.

Life on Earth rose and fell five previous times due to cataclysmic events like meteor strikes or major volcanic eruptions and the massive release of methane stored in seabeds, vastly changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. The most devastating was about 250 million years ago in the Late Permian Age, when 70% of all land life and 96% of the sea life went extinct. (The prevailing theory for that extinction event was that massive releases of volcanic gases resulted in a killing acid rain.)

All the while, water circulated in the oceans, evaporated into the sky and fell back down again as rain or snow. 100,000-year cycles of glaciation occurred as atmospheric CO2 rose and fell. At the height of the last glacial period in the Pleistocene, ice sheets covered vast areas of North America and Europe and the oceans were about 400 feet lower than they are now.

Humans appeared late in this story, only 3 million years ago, and it’s only been in the last 10,000 years have we developed tools which have allowed us live and thrive just about anywhere on Earth. To accomplish that, we have had to beat water at is work. Fire and flint spears kept us alive in frozen Paleolithic caves; irrigation provided water for agriculture; boats carried us far over the oceans; aqueducts fed cities with water; lighthouses helped voyagers navigate perilous shores; barrels stored drinking water; fermentation turned water into whoopie parties.

There is water in the ocean as old as the Earth. Ocean currents circulate water from surface to abyss and around every continent, so that the entire ocean—and most of Earth’s history—is represented by one drop. The salinity of ocean water is exactly the same percentage as what’s in our blood; we are more ocean than we think. As human embryos develop they lose vestigal fish-tails, and gills form into ears. Freshwater supplies derive from lakes scoured into place by past glaciations, and snowmelt from mountains which erode via rivers into the sea.  About a million billion snowflakes fall every second, yet each ice crystal bears the signature of the wholly unique.

Water is a mystery and sacrament, the very font of life and a tidal rhythm strummed across the Earth. It is also deeply part of our peril on a changing planet. Ice cores taken from Antarctica in scientific missions of the latter 20th century revealed dramatic changes in the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries; carbon dioxide levels were rising dramatically due to industrialization and burning fossil fuels, creating greenhouse conditions which would warm the atmosphere, melt the polar ice caps, dramatically raise sea levels and create a host of interwoven climate impacts, from more intense storms, drought, wildfire and freshwater loss, reduced growing seasons to a massive die-off of life in a sixth extinction event. The very thing which allowed humans to master their environment is now killing off and long-term chance of its survival, and the human ape proving exceptionally bad at foresight and care of its future.

We don’t have far to look for local news. Jakarta has been flooding from torrential rains, and spring rains last year caused massive agricultural disruptions in the American Midwest. Major cities around the world have had water crises, including Cape Town in South Africa and Chennai in India, with Cairo, Sao Paolo and Mexico City headed there. The recent Australian brushfire catastrophe is the result of a three-year drought and record high heat. Giant kelp forests offshore the southeastern corner of the content have been killed by record heat in the ocean, and blob of hot ocean in the northeast Pacific is said to have killed a million seabirds.

Without drastic steps to cut fossil fuel emissions over the next three decades, global warming will unleash upwelling impacts for centuries; we talk about sea level in 2100 as possibly ten or fifteen feet higher—flooding many coastal areas—but as Greenland and the Arctic and Antarctica melt, oceans will rise more than 250 feet in the centuries to come (bye bye, Florida), and large swaths of the world, including Australia and most tropic regions, will be uninhabitable due to swelter, storm and fire.

In their speculative fiction The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future, scientists Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tell the story from 23d Century—200 years from now—unfolding the tale of scientific discovery, climate denial, catastrophic events, government collapse and retreat and retrenchment into human world reduced to half a million people living in the northern reaches of Canada, Europe and the Russia, the final temperate islands on a flooded Earth.

There are those who are earnestly seeking technological fixes to this massive problem, from carbon traps to interplanetary geoforming missions as Carl Sagan imagined. Maybe one will come along in time. Nearby places like Venus and Mars are poor substitutes for Earth, the former an 800-degree nightmare example of runaway climate change, the latter a dry, cold and barren rock, having lost most of its atmosphere due an opposite effect of climate change. It’s a long, long way to our nearest star neighbors, and science fact is distant from runaway fictions of star ships zipping around the universe. More like crossing the monstrous Indian Ocean in thimble with a shingle for a sail.

For those stuck here in the early 21st Century, we have to deal with a changing relation to water. Seas are rising, storms are intensifying, rivers are flooding, plains are drying out and burning, clean drinking water is getting harder to find and summer swelter has a killing edge to it.

For this week’s challenge, write a poem about water in one of its myriad manifestations—in sea or river or bath; in tides and waves; falling from the sky or upwelling from down under; as rain or snow or sleet or hail. Write about water as thirst quenched and parched; as porch to voyage or adventure; as common element in womb and heart and brain and liver; as drainage and effluent, sweat and lubricant and abyssal reach and frozen edge.

How is water changing your Earth?

 

earthweal open link weekend #3

Icelandic poppies. Photo by my brother Timm, who loved filling his camera lens with flowers.

 

NOTE: For those of you came by first thing to link, sorry that Mr. Linky was expired. FIXED.

Welcome to Earthweal’s third open link weekend. Our linking free-for-all kicks off every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the theme of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where in the Earth choir you’re singing from.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. The Jan. 20 Monday Challenge will be WATER.

Would love to read your thoughts and responses in the comments section. Conversation has fruitful and communal.

—Brendan

 

Poet Mary Oliver, who joined the deep blue fray a year ago today, 1/17/19.

 

Thanks again to all who have been coming by to link and comment. You magnify the hive with so much charged pollen in the form of dreams, angst, insights, rants, grief, poetries. It’s still very early, but earthweal shows promise as a place to hurt and heal under the canopy of changing Earth.  We have much, much work to do …

In his new book This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, Jedidiah Purdy (a professor of law at Columbia University) makes the case for “a new narrative of civic friendship” of shared resources and common purpose which is based on land—the very thing which holds us together and tears us apart. The wealth of the land is something we have shared and fought over; in many places, our common weal has become the wealth of the few. As we waken to the nightmare produced by our extractions, the way forward is the way back—toward a renewed sense of bonding, not only by the human community but with the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms we reside among.

Purdy writes,

In a commonwealth—which we might also call a democratic Anthropocene—value will lie in work that does what is necessary and sustains its own conditions of possibility, in rest that contemplates a broken but still wondrous world, in play that keeps joy vivid among monuments and ruins and helps ensure that new life will grow there. No one can choose these values alone because they depend on the shared commitments of others and on the shape and terms of a built and shared world. The heroic work of building that world must clear the space for living humbly. (150)

Heroic work, perhaps, but as I’ve previously quoted Wendell Berry, “its hardship is its possibility.”

The thought of a building a world for humble living gives me hope in the face of so much climate despair there is to carry. I read a piece in The Guardian online yesterday, “How scientists are coping with ‘ecological grief.'”  In it, Steve Simpson is a professor of marine biology and global change at the University of Exeter. For decades he participated in diving expeditions into the Great Barrier Reef, studying marine life and the coral ecosystem. Though coral reefs take up only .1 percent of the ocean’s surface, more than a quarter of marine species live in them. “They’re rainforests of the sea,” he says.

But the oceans have been warming due to climate change, and in 2006 he observed the first great bleaching event. A vast and vibrant ecosystem “had turned into a graveyard.”  “It looked weird,” said Simpson, “because the fish were still brightly coloured, like someone had gone in and painted them on an otherwise black-and-white photograph. It was completely devastating to see individual corals that we knew and loved and had spent so long studying, now dead.”

Asked how he was dealing with his grief, Simpson replied,

We come back from our field seasons increasingly broken. You can either think: I can’t do this, I’m going to have to change the science I do; or you might try to internalise all of that pain that you feel. Lots of scientists do the latter – they feel we should be objective and robust, not at the mercy of our emotions.

Increasingly, we’re realising that we can use that emotional response to form new questions. Working on the bleached and dying coral reefs is enormously important to understanding how those environments are changing. There is a real urge to want to do something about it, rather than just chart the demise. And that’s where our research is heading now. We’re trying to restore some coral reef communities, or a fishery, or replant a mangrove forest. We’re just trying to find ways of protecting pockets of really diverse, vibrant life, which might reseed much larger areas when we tackle the big issues.

Grief of loss on such a scale we’re seeing also in the Amazon rainforest and global smokedrift from the burned Australian bush, in mountains whose gracious crowns have been ripped apart for clearcut mining and the polluted haze of New Delhi. Pick a place, you don’t have far to go. Lovers of the Earth today have to be tough-minded, like scientists, understanding that raw sights and sad vistas are part of life everywhere on the planet. But along with that damage there is much still to embrace and love and work to save.

Simpson was then asked what advice he could offer to those also experiencing climate grief:

It’s really important that we find ways of communicating the grief that we’re feeling and work together to support each other. Then we can become stronger, we can start to develop the science that takes our knowledge and turns it on its head – turns it into a solution, rather than just a negative story.

I think that finding any way of fostering a love of the natural world in the next generation is critical for them to be part of the solution.

Earthweal’s despair is also its possibility. It is a place to shoulder our common grief and then turn our eyes onto the world which is still alive and present and embraceable.

In that sense, venting that despair is like singing a sad country song—heartbreaking but you feel better after listening through, less alone and strummed by something wild and deep inside. I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel eager to get back to work.

So sing your despair, ask your questions, praise the world and give some hope!

POPPIES

Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t

sooner or later drown
in the indigoes of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But also I say this:  that light
is an invitation to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?

(from New And Selected Poems: Vol. 1, published 1992)

(Looking for Mr. Linky? Top of the post.)

 

weekly challenge: GHOSTS

 

The other night I had a strange dream. I was observing some kind of tournament staged atop the world’s tallest building. Game officials tell one of the teams to station players closer to the building’s edge, in accordance with game rules or just to make the play more exciting. Then an announcer cries: “Peter’s gone!” As the crowd roars in surprise and shock, the dream’s camera pans fast toward the building’s edge, where we see a female teammate kneeling in shock, the sky’s incredible fatal falling distance just beyond. I woke thoroughly spooked.

At this 4 AM — the witching hour I normally write by– the spectral Wolf Moon shines over all, a brilliant echo of Friday night’s penumbral eclipse—passing behind the Earth, the moon dipped through our planet’s outermost shadow. For us it was a fleeting, ghostly encounter with our dear dead orbital; for the moon, well … one suspects is was business as usual, shining its ruined face for us all.

Ghosts have always crept about the edges of our culture; haunting stretches from my father’s pipe still redolent with Borkum Riff to Paleolithic cave-paintings of aurochs speared for the feast. We have cartoon ghosts, movie franchise ghosts and spookies risen from horror fiction and, of course, the Internet’s boundless bourne. There are haunted houses and caves and beaches. Ghosts take the semblance of departed loved ones, and you can never be quite sure who’s walking in the door of our dreams. They come in moonlight, icy in visage yet so real, almost there where we can’t let them go …

I’m thoroughly haunted by the eerie advent of the Anthropocene, spooking in from the edges to eclipse human life. And what’s so weird about it is the speed, accomplished not over millions of geologic time but over the latter portion of my tiny life. Twenty years ago I was a suburban hopeful with poetic ideas commuting 25 miles to daily work and returning to my little plot of Florida paradise and the inner satisfactions of home where good cooking and nightly TV assured a dreamless sleep. That life is still here; but five years of increasingly dire climate news, that life has the sound of a haunted carousel.  I have a hard time comprehending that I once took as the soundtrack of the good life. The edge of a shadow has passed over, and it’s growing more spectral every day.

It doesn’t help that spiritous waste from Australian brushfires now drapes the ghosts of a billion animals, willowy and particulate, around the world. A shroud which grows and creates its own bad weather …

Arts of Living On A Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters provides some imaginative and useful metaphors for working with ghosts. Published in 2017 by the University of Minnesota and edited by Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt, anthropologists, biologists and environmental scholars observe the ghosting of one world and the monstrous entanglements emerging in the new one.

An introduction co-written by the editors has three paragraphs I’d like to quote as points of departure for this Ghost challenge.

First, in the Anthropocene, ghosts are composite entities of loss:

As life-enhancing entanglements disappear from our landscapes, ghosts take their place. Some scientists argue that the rate of biological extinction is now several hundred times beyond its historical levels. We might lose a majority of all species by the end of the twenty-first century. The problem is not just the loss of individual species but of assemblages, some of which we may not even know about, some of which will not recover. Mass extinction could ensue from cascading effects. In an entangled world where bodies are tumbled into bodies, … extinction is a multispecies event. The extinction of a critical number of species would mean the destruction of long-evolving coordinations and interdependencies. While we gain plastic gyres and parking lots, we lose rainforests and coral reefs. (G4)

The Australian brushfires provide us witness to such a mass extinction event in real time. Australia is considered megadiverse, with 70 percent of the world’s species on just 10 percent of the world’s landmass and many unique to that continent: 15,368 vascular plants, 376 mammals, 851 birds, 880 reptiles and 224 amphibians. Along with the incomprehensible loss of life, habitat has been destroyed so widely that for animals who have survived, there is little for them to live on. Mammal life have suffered widely — the loss of those cute koalas–but other animals too—the Corroboree frog, the glossy black cockatoo and southern grass skink. Australian insect populations are vital, so vast that only about 30 percent of them have even been identified. Worldwide, insects are vanishing so fast that there are places eerie with the silence of their absence, and behind that silence there is a greater vanishing and lost as animals dependent upon them are also lost. As Australian ecosystems may be tipped forever out of balance if they lose their bugs.

We are only just beginning to understand the importance of assemblages we must now wave farewell to. The Australian brushfires are a proscenium to this farewell. How are the ghosts moving in and what do they tell us about what has been lost? We ought to learn something here, because far more is coming. We need a more resonant notation for transcribing these ghost choirs …

The second passage has to do with ghostly landscapes.  Two centuries of industrial-scale mining, damming, deforestation and agriculture has reshaped the earth. Mountaintops are stripped away, and vast tracts of prairie are turned into moonscapes for shale oil extraction. Fracking is creating new earthquake zones. Suburbs invade wetlands, increasing the potential for flood and damage. CO2 emissions are largely falling into the oceans and slowly turning them acidic. As a result we are losing the Great Barrier reef and giant kelp forests in Australia, and so so much we miss because its down from a moony heaving surface.

“As humans reshape the landscape,” the editors write,

we forget what was there before. Ecologists call this forgetting the “shifting baseline syndrome.” Our newly shaped and ruined landscapes become the new reality. Adding one landscape to its biological entanglements often entails forgetting many others. Forgetting, in itself, remakes landscapes, as we privilege some assemblies over others. Yet ghosts remind us. Ghosts point to our forgetting, showing us how living landscapes are imbued with earlier tracks and traces.

As spectral moonlight washes my suburban street tonight, I wonder what do the ghosts of your local landscape tell you? How has the ostinato  of driven human existence virally erased that which was thriving and extending and singing Yes and Yes to sun and moon?

During a moment of that moon’s full height and glory, a corner of a shadow crossed the Earth. Some call the present moment the advent of the Penumbral Age, “the period when a dark shadow began to fall over humankind. You’re living at the start of a new age, a new counter-enlightenment.” The third passage sings for the advent of ghostly time.

Ghosts remind us that we live in an impossible present — a time of rupture, a world haunted with the threat of extinction. Deep histories tumble in unruly graves that are bulldozed into gardens of Progress. Yet Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet is also a book of weeds –the small, partial, and wild stories of more-than-human attempts to stay alive. Ghosts, too, are weeds that whisper tales of many pasts and yet-to-comes that surround us. Considered through ghosts and weeds, worlds have ended many times before. Endings come with the death of a leaf, the death of a city, the death of a friendship, the death of small promises and small stories. The landscape grown from such endings are our disaster as well as our weedy hope. (G6-7)

So much is mixed in the watery mortar of dream—yesterday, myth, the future I’m not smart enough to read, the emotional struggles I can’t resolve, last night’s pasta and a poem about ghosts.  Endings precipitate ghosts which fall and fertilize a new Earth. It only looked like disaster from the tower’s falling edge.

For this week’s challenge, write a poem about ghosts in a changing Earth. Write a poem about ghosting, spectrality, haunting, moonshadows, living on, living through. Bear witness the haunting of your neighborhood or region. What would your ghost look like in a later century? Where would you find the ghost of an animal gone extinct, perhaps in the Australian bushfires? What voices seep melting Arctic permafrost and issuing up through earthquake tremors? Are they from our past or future? What happened to our past? our children? our pets? What do the ghosts of the opioid crisis have to say, or the gun violence dead? Do they mingle in those incredibly sad miles of clear-cut boreal forests, bare in full moonlight? Who are the ghosts of the Great Recession? the digitally disrupted? or climate change’s great derangement, squawking on all-night talk radio?

All of these ghosts are out there, crossing paths, murmuring with the lament of the dead. Perhaps they have something  to say about what we dreamed last night. Perhaps the next door of the dream has something more to tell us. Take a breath—the air is saturate with full moonlight and distant smoke—and give us their song.

Click on the Mr. Linky icon below and you’ll proceed to another page where you can enter your link. If you would, enter your location after your name in the link

The Ghost challenge will be remain open Monday til Friday afternoon Jan. 17. Contribute as many times as you see fit and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment. It was wonderful to see so much rich commentary in this past weekend’s open link forum. Let’s grow a vibrant community!

Friday afternoons at 4 PM EST earthweal hosts its open link weekend, with a themed challenge the following Monday.

Happy fruitful ghostly posting!

— Brendan

For more details about earthweal, see the Jan. 1 2020 opening post or click on the “about earthweal” link at the top.

 

earthweal open link weekend #2

Welcome to Earthweal’s second open link weekend. Every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST an open link challenge kicks off, inviting all comers to share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the spirit of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Open-forum links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. The Jan. 13 Monday Challenge will be GHOSTS.

That’s all you need to know to get started today. If you’re itchin’ to post, click on the Mr. Linky link which follows. Ifyou don’t mind, put your location after your name in the link so we know where the report is coming in from. For Earthweal to take root, we need global voices!

Homily follows. Would love to read your thoughts and responses in the comments section. Conversation has been so energized and heartfelt!

Fruitful posting and reading and commenting—

Brendan

 

These days, the pace of world events keeps the news on a fast spin cycle.  Coverage of the Australian fires has been eclipsed by war-thunder in the Middle East. Residents of Puerto Rico still slowly rebuilding from Hurricane Maria are without power—again—after a series of earthquakes. A new coronavirus from the dreaded SARS family is spreading in China and the East Coast of the USA is experiencing unseasonable heat with temps more than 30 degrees above average. Here in Florida, after a few cool nights earlier in the week it now swelters like there’s no tomorrow. And so the world races on.  Bitter cold snaps are coming, then drenching spring rains, then tornadoes, then hurricanes, then summer heat and drought, wildfire and more big storms … you all know the reel: We just can’t tell how much climate change is magnifying and speeding things up, a warp drive powered by something monstered by human intervention.

Still, many of us though are not ready yet to leave the immense devastation of fire in Australia. The backstory always takes a while to filter in. People are just returning to their homes and trying to decide whether to rebuild or leave. Fire management practices are being assessed with lessons to be learned from Aboriginal methods. The scale of devastation to non-human life keeps growing by magnitudes, and whatever number we come up for the dead—more than a billion, some scientists now say—there is an even greater shadow number of survivors who won’t be able to live on in what’s left. Some species are sure to go extinct.

And the fires keep coming back. Kangaroo Island is ablaze again, with a third of its 1,700 square miles already burned including Flinders Chase national park and Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat. Home to many unique animal species and some 60,000 koalas, the island is becoming an ecological disaster. Welcome to the nightmare of the Anthropocene, no longer down the road.

A tipping-point is a fact of life which consumes all the facts we can summon to describe it, a growling magnitude of multiplying dimensions. The spectral red glow of those fires brings into consciousness a new and perhaps unstoppable weather whose catalyst is itself.

“It’s like the fire is a sentient being,” said a New South Wales writer whose husband and son are volunteer firefighters. “It feels like it’s coming to get us.”

What is fast eroding is any believable sense of resilience against such stacked events. Climate change is creating unliveable zones. The thought of adaptation in the manner we’d prefer is as behind our present moment as climate change denial was five years ago. That’s how fast geologic time is now smashing through real time.

If that is so, where is the hope? Without something to have faith in in the midst of this, something to believe in and work for, despair becomes the only conclusion and distraction an opiate, dulling pain and clouding vision with obliviousness. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will be gone. Party like it’s 1999.

But as Holderlin says: where there is danger, salvation grows as well. Much of the old dominant human order may not be worth saving, but new sources of earthwealth may become visible as the old ones burn away.

Jeb Bendell asserted in a 2018 paper a way of working through the fall of the human world we are witnessing. He begins by asserting that runaway climate change will result in societal collapse within the next few decades. However, that is unthinkable and untenable only if we cannot let go of the civilization and order which created it. We can’t manage our climate now that tipping points are passing, nor can we maintain status quo in our politics, economy and social structures; however, we can strive for a deeper adaptation which can provide hope and meaning in the maelstrom.

He writes,

Reflection on the end of times, or eschatology, is a major dimension of the human experience, and the total sense of loss of everything one could ever contribute to is an extremely powerful experience for many people. How they emerge from that experience depends on many factors, with loving kindness, creativity, transcendence, anger, depression, nihilism and apathy all being potential responses. Given the potential spiritual experience triggered by sensing the imminent extinction of the human race, we can appreciate why a belief in the inevitability of extinction could be a basis for some people to come together.

Remember in Poe’s classic tale, boats are easily devoured by the Maelstrom, but it is possible to survive if one clings to rising shapes, even if they make no sense for sailing.

“In abandoning hope that one way of life will continue, we open up a space for alternative hopes,” Tommy Lynch recently wrote in Slate.  Can our grief for so many animals extinguished or rendered homeless by the Australian brushfire act as a whetstone for a sharper, more insightful clarity about the difficulties ahead and work that is still worthwhile?

There is always productive work to be about, even if its larger end is a future not as hot as it could be without that work. Humanity will probably fail to keep warming of the world under 2 degrees C by the end of the century, but we can avoid 3 or 4 or 5 degrees C, maybe. Green New Deals are possible. We can drive less, consume less meat, transition to alternative energy. We can vote and encourage others to do so. Jedidiah Purdy, a legal scholar with a fine mind for politics in the Anthropocene, writes in The Atlantic about his decision to have children and teaching his son “to wonder at the world before he learns to fear for it.” I’m not as game as he is for keeping the world populated with the likes of us, but we do need voices of welcome.

Predictably, those who are too in bed with former orders and their powerful lobbies will hunker down further and hurl invective on the prevailing digital wind (Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper The Australian is an appalling case in point). Don’t expect the fossil fuel industry to become like the apostle Paul, struck Christian on the road to Damascus. Expect the trolls to continue pushing climate misinformation like methed-up sex offenders. And then there’s US President Donald Trump, who, during at an event yesterday to announce his administration’s rollback of requirements of the National Environment Policy Act, sent his love to Australian PM Scott Morrison, proclaimed love for the environment and clean air and clean water and adoration for jobs, jobs, jobs. Another head-spinner for a future which will hold us all to account.

The danger of despair has already woven its dark thread into this forum; it this only about despair, who has the fortitude to keep coming back for fresh buckets of black water? But behind that despair there may be doors; temporary houses can still be located where inconceivables become pantry stock.

The only thing I know to do is keep writing.

So here goes.

Weekly Challenge: FIRE

Wildfires rage under plumes of smoke in Bairnsdale, Australia, Dec. 30, 2019 (AP)

 

WONDERFUL to see so many of you turn out for the first open link forum at earthweal! We should all feel encouraged and affirmed that so many are willing to bear witness to a changing earth. I don’t know about you, but reading everyone’s comments on each other’s posts made it feel like a real community is helping to carry a very difficult burden. Thanks for participating and please help get the word out. Now on to earthweal’s first weekly challenge …

It was New Year’s Eve when I begin laying out the foundations of this first earthweal challenge. The latest climate news on the media radar is the wildfire season ravaging Australia. After an awful few weeks burning out of control in New South Wales, record heat returned to the tinder-dry southeast and the fires took off again.

In Mallacoota, on the coast near Melbourne, temps the morning of New Year’s Eve were at 49C (120F) and fires burned so close that thousands of residents took refuge on the beach. The eerie orange glow of midnight had replaced at daybreak an absolute darkness of smoke and ash. Sirens went off and emergency personnel directed residents into the water where they huddled or were picked up by boats.

From the town came the sound of gas bottles exploding and houses burning down. This past weekend, the fires have whipped up with greater ferocity with entire communities evacuated and most of the continent in smoke and on edge. The fires have grown so large and intense they are creating their own weather, with anvil-like pyrocumulonimbus clouds rising 10 miles high, creating unpredictable winds and spawning fire tornadoes. One firefighting volunteer was killed when a fire tornado lifted a 12-ton truck and crushed him.

In a New Year’s Day video, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraged his countrymen to be brave, praised the work of firefighters, lamented the loss of human life and said that Australia was still a fine place to raise one’s children. Later in the week, photo-ops with the public staged for Morrison ran afoul of residents who had lost everything in the fires. Rupert Murdoch’s flagship Australian newspaper has been tellingly silent in its reportage, and far-right elements of the ruling Liberal Party have continued to beat their drum for Christ, Coal & Cops—the trinity of extraction politics.

For the past several years, wildfire has been a leading climate storyline across the world, on every continent and in both hemispheres.  And for many where heat and drought are increasing, it is an ever-present, ever-rising concern—the next bad wind away.

Cracks are widening in the cultural denial which have kept us asleep as the dream of civilized progress devolves by fire into nightmare. “For a time we had come to believe that civilization moved in the other direction—making the impossible first possible and then stable and routine, ” David Wallace-Wells writes in The Uninhabitable Earth. “With climate change, we are moving instead toward nature, and chaos, into a new realm unbounded by the analogy of any human experience.”

In Borneo, illegal agricultural fires have eaten up 3,500 square miles of jungle to clear land for plantations making the palm oil which goes into half of all supermarket products. (releasing 626 megatons of carbon). Nearly a million Indonesians were treated for acute respiratory distress from the smoke. Critically endangered orangutan populations have lost habitat and less than 15,000 are believed to be in the wild.

Around the same time in Brazil, 80,000 fires were burning across the Amazon rainforest, many of them started illegally for agricultural clearing. President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-business policies have greatly weakened environmental regulations. 300,000 indigenous peoples are being forced from their land by encroaching development. The lowland, wetland rainforest is less able to contend with wildfire; less mobile animals like sloths, lizards and anteaters are perishing wholesale. The Amazon forest is the largest terrestrial carbon sink and plays a significant role in mitigating the effects of carbon change, but scientists warn of an imminent tipping point where enough rainforest is lost and the area transforms to drier savannah with far less capability for storing carbon. Some scientists warn that that tipping point immanent or passed.

Social media feeds of the panic and horror of these cataclysms unfolding in real time have lent a new sense of global witness to decimated fields and forest, homesteads and animal life. The 2018 Camp wildfire in Northern California erupted at the center of our cultural lens. Thought to be sparked by a faulty transmission line, the fire raced down hills into developed area, consuming the small town of Paradise, where cheaper housing had attracted retirees and working families.

The fire charged through the town so fast that it literally caught evacuees in their tracks, melting their sneakers as they ran and immolating others in their cars. For those who escaped, they recorded the hellish burning landscape with their cellphones and fed the footage into the social media firestorm.

The panic and despair of an irreversible change made it feel like instead of a new century of progress and achievement, we were entering a time of The Fall.  The Camp Fire killed 85, destroyed some 11,000 houses and $16 billion in losses—a quarter uninsured. Most of the survivors have moved to states where property is cheaper; some live on in the ruins of their former dream homes.

Wildfires in the past several years also raged in Siberia, British New Columbia, Lebanon, California, Greece, the Congo Basin, Bolivia, and India, where smoke mixed with industrial pollution to create smog in New Delhi three time worse than the “hazardous” level of the global air quality index.

Wildfires are erupting so frequently now that it is becoming eerily normal. The Australian fires have been burning since September, and in California the fire season grows toward year-round. The frantic desperation of fleeing residents during the Paradise fire in 2018 is becoming an ostinato, a terror never that far and immanent. The sickening pall of smoke is now part of our common atmosphere, with megatons of climate-heating carbon is released by each new fire and the spectral remains of the dead settling silently over us all.

Maybe because the Australian fire catastrophe is so far away and has been burning for so long that for its scale—at present 14 million acres, 90 times larger than the Camp Fire—the cultural awareness has been fleeting. There’s always a next big bad event happening somewhere else, and if it isn’t at our doorstep, we don’t take much notice.  Or won’t, until it’s our own house that burns, our own beloved local nature which vanishes.

Such fleeting attention is surely dulled by social media opiates and fossil-fuel industry ads for the happy suburban (commuting) life. We’re taking too many selfies for that world for the big picture of the real world to come into focus. It doesn’t help either that Iran and the United States are currently involved in some flashy saber-rattling.

Maybe what is coming to view is just too difficult to envisage. David Wallace-Wells, again:

… California governor Jerry Brown described the state of things in the midst of the state’s wildfire disaster: “a new normal.”

The truth is actually much scarier. That is, the end of normal; never normal again. We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, in an unsure and unplanned bet on just what that animal can endure. The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilization, is now, like a parent, dead. And the climate system we have been observing for the last several years, the one that has bettered the planet again and again, is not our bleak future in purview. It would be more precise to say that it is a product of our recent climate past, already passing behind us into a dustbin of environmental nostalgia. (ibid 18-19)

How does anyone carry that dawning information? Can anyone carry it alone? What can the world’s poets do?

Earthweal’s first weekly challenge is Fire. How have you seen fire changing the world YOU live in?  Maybe wildfires have come close or roared through. Maybe you are encountering smoke from distant fires. Personal witness of these events in the media have been shallow (has anyone seen accounts from indigenous Australians? Or read how their traditional methods of managing wildfire demand an intimacy with landscape?)

Is there something in the history and myth of fire you find compelling? Have you been burnt badly by fire or its emotional equivalents? Drank too deeply the vintage of what the Greeks called “the fiery drink of the black mother”? Perhaps you care to sing for a species of life which was devastated or vanished in the Australian fires, the koala or wombat or dunnart, the mountain pygmy possum or rufous scrub-bird or plants like the blue-top orchid found nowhere else in the world. What is signified by a burning tree?

Give us your news!

Click on the Mr. Linky icon below and you’ll proceed to another page where you can enter your link. If you would, enter your location after your name in the link.

The Fire challenge will be remain open Monday til Friday. Contribute several times if you like and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment. It was wonderful to see so much rich commentary in this past weekend’s open link forum. Let’s grow a vibrant community!

Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST earthweal hosts its second open link weekend; the second weekly challenge follows on Jan. 13.

For more details about earthweal, see the Jan. 1 2020 opening post or click on the “about earthweal” link at the top.

If you’re having difficulties or have would like to comment offlline, you can reach me at earthweal@gmail.com.

—Brendan

 

earthweal open link weekend #1

 

Welcome to earthweal’s first open link weekend. Every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST an open link challenge kicks off, inviting all comers to share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the spirit of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Earthweal is designed to gather voices from around our Earth with news of how things are changing, what we are seeing, fearing, loving, hoping, grieving. Bring your local tidings or share your deep vision.

The twenty-first century’s third decade begins with a disturbing clarity about how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing, the intensified weather and its impacts on human and nonhuman communities. Predictions of these changes by climate scientists since the 1970s have been unerring, but the time grows increasingly uncertain as feedback loops created by melting Arctic sea ice and permafrost or deforestation due to agricultural burning intensify into weather patterns difficult to anticipate and endure.

These feedback loops are now affecting daily life worldwide so dramatically that the world which is coming into view bears little resemblance to the one many of us grew up in. Seas are rising, wildfires burn out of control, temperature norms are shattering, animal orders are going extinct, traditional forms of government and society are disrupting and swelling migrant populations are on the move.

For those of us who grew up in the middle decades of the previous century, the sudden upsweep in the pace of these events is disconcerting. In a matter of a few years an entire worldview and habitation has come into question. Geological and human time scales which have had little to do with each other are confounded. Strangeness irrupts into the daily. Bewilderment, terror and grief are close, and it feels a bit like waking from a long dream.

But how shall we wake? In his book-length essay The Great Derangement, the novelist Amitav Ghosh points out that literary arts, particularly the novel, have been strangely blind and deaf to the changes of the Anthropocene, rapt in a personal human narrative increasingly distanced from nature and the World. He asks,

In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities like Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they find them, what should they—what can they—do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into modes of concealment that prevented people from realizing the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the Great Derangement. (11)

As a good friend says, poetry is cheaper than whiskey; but to the degree it is also agency of distraction and evasion of the essential bond between writer and world, it can become litter in a tornado of white noise.

 

The timing of this first open link night is sadly propitious as a major climate catastrophe unfolds in Australia with wildfires burning out of control. Since September, nearly 12 million acres of forest, bushland, fields, scrub, homesteads, recreational areas and habitat have collapsed into walls of flame. Australia is a hot spot on the climate change map, both for its vulnerability to drought, high heat and fire, as well as for a political leadership with deep ties to the country’s coal-exporting interests.

Decades of refusal to address the nation’s role in rising carbon emissions bring us now to this. Whole towns are now being evacuated in New South Wales and Victoria, and already some half a billion life forms—not including insects and plant life—have been killed. A 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change demonstrated 467 pathways in which climate change was adversely affecting human life on earth, and concluded that if greenhouse emissions aren’t capped by the end of this century, many people will face between three and six concurrent climate catastrophes on a par similar to the Australian wildfires.

Elsewhere in the world today, flash flooding in Indonesia have displaced more than 400,000, and present MIddle East tensions—Iran and the US are closer to open conflict following the drone killing of an Iranian general who ran military operations in Syria and Iraq—have smoldering roots in climate change, as the whole area heats and dries threatening water and food security across a region in which fossil fuel extraction has been the dominant economy.

Here in Florida, Holodcene-era politics is enacting a Clean Waterways bill with gentle regulations for water conditions which have worsened out of sight. It’s pretty and fair today—no scent of burning in our air—the but seas keep warming and the next hurricane season promises to be worse than the last.

How will we measure such magnitudes, alternating so weirdly with the everyday? This forum is named earthweal for the coinage’s dual sense of an Earth-wide community’s hope and wounds. May there be a balance of both; as Wendell Berry writes, hardship is possibility. I don’t know the task is too late or difficult, but the hope is that we can train our collective vision on the space between human and world and grow roots there, even if the product is damaged, fleeting, and forever incomplete.

Share a poem and visit your fellow linkers and comment. As with other forums, please be respectful of each other. Remember we are emissaries of the wider Earth community.

Open-forum links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. Not surprisingly, the Jan. 6 challenge will be FIRE,

Click on the Mr. Linky icon below and you’ll proceed to to another page where you can enter your link. Help this forum show the breadth of your participation by putting your locale also in the link.

For more details about earthweal, see the Jan. 1 2020 opening post or click on the “about earthweal” link at the top.

If you’re having difficulties or have any comment, you can reach me at earthweal@gmail.com.

Now let’s get this party started!

—Brendan

hello earth!

Image: StockSnap

 

Welcome to earthweal, a poetry forum dedicated to global witness of a changing  Earth. Here is a place to report that news in the language closest to the dream, that we may more deeply appreciate the magnitude of those events. It is intended as a place for all related emotions—love and rage, grief and hope, myth and magic, laughter and ghost whistles—and belongs to the entire community of Earth as mediated by its human advocates.

Every Monday a climate-related challenge will post, and participants will have most of the week to mull over and fashion their own contributions. Responses should address the challenge in the form of new poetry, but if there is something more suitable in your archives, that’s OK too. 

Friday will kick off a weekend-long open link forum; post whatever you like from your present or past work. Look for the open link weekend to kick off this Friday, Jan. 3, at 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

* * *

The word weal has a complex etymology. In one sense, weal is wealth, riches, boon, benefit, a happy community. It derives from Old English wela “wealth, well-being” and Middle English wele. Weal as well, that which is best for something. Weal imagines the healthy and prosperous state of the commonwealth.

All good, but the context of commonwealth fairness and equity usually refers only to the local human community. Earthweal suggest a global community, not only of humans but animals, plants, bacteria, minerals, water, air. For a sense of scale, the recent Australian brushfires have resulted in the loss of homes and several human lives, but some 450 million animals have perished as well.  

Earthweal is a place where the whole Earth community can share context and purpose.

To survive, commonwealths depend on ordering principles. (For an example, see the charter of The Commonwealth, a global organization of 53 countries devoted to democracy and peace.) One sense of the Middle English root wale is a planking which holds a structure together, gunwales are the outer planking of a ship, as are chainwales, from which the word channel arrives. Strength comes from limit; members of a community sacrifice some measure of personal freedom for the whole. Earthweal has a defined purpose, a center of gravity which belongs to the planet. It takes many planks to define that boundary; hopefully, poems from around the world submitted here will suggest the magnitude(s) of that world.

But achieving the “complicate amassing harmony” (which Wallace Stevens called the ultimate end of poetry) in global terms—and where it is most essential—is exceptionally difficult. I’ve noted how international voices inform poetry forums like Poets United, D’Verse Poets and Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, albeit limited to the language of English. That is a quality earthweal takes a step further, its ecosystem of verse dependent upon global voices.

And while the forums mentioned above do exceptional work, there is no place specifically dedicated to a changing Earth.  Now that climate change is beginning to wreak havoc around the world and is expected to intensify for centuries, local indices of that change appeal to a collective loom where the entire tapestry can be seen.  A second etymology weal comes from the obsolete root wheal meaning “suppurate”: a raised, longitudinal wound, usually purple, on the surface of flesh caused by a stroke of a rod or a whip. It is also landscape feature; Old English walu, “ridge, bank; rib, comb; the metal ridge on top of a helmet; a raised rib in a knit of fabric.”

We cannot write of the Earth these days without bearing witness to its great Anthropocene wounding. The only way to the greater community embraced by earthweal is through its wounds. By those stripes may our changing world be found.

If that seems like a cruel task, let us remember Wendell Berry’s clarity in his poem “Work Song”:  “This is no paradisal dream. / Its hardship is its possibility.”

The root weal is also sonically related to three other favorite words, and they too can be applied to the handle: EarthWheel for turning, EarthWell for depth, and EarthWhale for deep aquaean harmonies to the more evident terran birdsong.

Many planks for one song: your local news is important. How is climate change affecting your neighborhood?  I can write abstractly about wildfires in California or the Amazon or Australia or Indonesia, but my local experience is with hurricanes bearing down on Florida ever larger and wider and wilder. Hurricanes develop slowly and take days to march across the ocean, increasing local anxiety as they near; there are runs on groceries and storm supplies at the food markets and big box hardware stores; there are more days as the storm’s track changes somewhat, the center moving over a different proximity. Many times the worst passes, hammering coasts elsewhere, flooding someone else’s streets; and yet it is a shared experience, gathering hurricane supplies for our houses, wondering if the generator will crank and how long it will be before power is restored.  There are not small anxieties any more as hurricanes whip up to Category 5 strength or, with Dorian this year, even worse. Carbon emissions pump unabated, the oceans are heating and becoming storm-smiths of awful magnitudes.  

Monday challenges will center on one or another aspect of climate change: wildfire, draught, heat, cold, the jet stream, the ocean currents, animal extinction, sea level rise, etc. Each of these changing conditions has a local story, and earthweal challenges aim to give voice to them all.

The timing of Earthweal’s launch is important for several reasons. Climate events are multiplying and magnifying, yearly, seasonally, daily, and there needs to be location for poets around the world to register these events in their timely collective voice. Second, a vacancy has opened with the end of Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, the magical and imaginative forum hosted by Kerry O’Connor, and earthweal hopes to help fill that void. And finally, launching earthweal on the first day of a new decade is a good way embark on a journey which will take us through many things we don’t understand and can’t anticipate any more.

A word about me. For years I have posted under the screen name of Brendan MacOdrum at the blog Oran’s Well. I am named after the Irish navigator and an old figure from Scottish myth, a seal-man haunting the shores of Iona. I can’t decide whether to switch to a more local handle, like Porky or Swamp Thang, or go with my real name of David. We’ll see; for now Brendan sails this ship.

As earthweal grows, others will be invited to carry some of the load or submit occasional challenges. Tasking Florida alone to the crow’s nest makes for a solitary view, hardly the intent of this blog.

As earthweal begins, I quote Wendell Berry’s poem in full here as the hope I plant in its foundation:

          Work Song, 2: A Vision

If we will have the wisdom to survive, 
to stand like slow growing trees 
in a ruined place, renewing, enriching it… 
then a long time after we are dead 
the lives our lives prepare will live 
here, their houses strongly placed 
upon the valley sides… 
The river will run 
clear, as we will never know it… 
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down 
the old forest, an old forest will stand, 
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots. 
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened. 
Families will be singing in the fields… 
Memory, 
native to this valley, will spread over it 
like a grove, and memory will grow 
into legend, legend into song, song 
into sacrament. The abundance of this place, 
the songs of its people and its birds, 
will be health and wisdom and indwelling 
light. This is no paradisal dream. 
Its hardship is its reality. 

(from Clearing, 1977)

See you this weekend!

— Brendan