earthweal open link weekend #9

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend Number Nine! (Is that John Lennon echoing in the background?) Link a poem from your ouvre using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location).

Visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and be sure to comment; the thread of late has been looking a little thin.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

Sherry Marr returns on March 2 with a weekly challenge titled BEATING THE DRUMS OF CHANGE.

Get in everybody! The water’s great!

A mural of Greta Thunberg on the side of a building in Bristol, England, on February 27, 2020

 

 

What great responses to the “Clockwork Green” challenge this week! We are creatures of time, though our poetries wind and spring those tempos so variously. Nice job, guys.

Also good to hear that the earthweal wheels keep spinning. In her comment to the post, Sarah wrote, “earthweal is invading my dreams and my writing at the moment.” Not sure that is a compliment, but even as complaint it’s a vote for the work.

Climate change has thoroughly invaded my dreams and writing, too. The other night I dreamed I was trying to figure out how to write a poem about the earth’s looming hothouse—all that carbon and methane we can’t stop emitting from our overpopulated, industrialized and digitally-enrapt existence. What if runaway climate change ensues and we end up like Venus, with all that carbon trapped in the atmosphere and causing the surface to heat to 800 degrees? What would it look and feel like to the soul? Like sexual passion in the middle of a hot humid Florida summer? How do the panes shift and the vortexes whirl and the irruptive facts make themselves brutally clear? To the mind, in the heart?

Short of actually writing a poem about it (maybe I still will), the dream put the problem most clearly to me that we are forced to face off not with a temporal human event (whose clockworks have upsprung into their own chaos, as this week’s contributions have so well demonstrated) but a monstrous geological change dripping with so many unknowns that facing it squarely is more perilous than fleeing off to some earthphobic Lalaland.

As usual, there’s plenty of present evidence. After a vicious round of drought, wildfire and storm—all incensed by climate change, Australia is now experiencing “compound extremes”: one climate disaster setting up conditions to make the next one worse. Sustained high heat creates droughts creating tinder conditions leading to massive wildfires which lead to intense rains the ground is too dry to absorb which leads to flooding which kills fish from ash runoff which further damages ecosystems … et cetera. (Cue Jacob Marley here, rattling his chains at Scrooge and hollering, “you think this mug is bad, wait til you see the guy two ghosts down from me!” —roll on the snare, tap o’ the high hat)  Last year the news was that climate change could whip up multiple simultaneous disasters, now we find out there’s more to every one of them. Yippee.

But the slowly growing growling Event of the Year So Far of course is coronavirus, now leaking like contagion into the greener (as in, toxic-spill green) areas of the imagination. Global stock markets are acting like the news of interrupted business just suckerpunched them, and the Trump administration is falling over themselves like Keystone Cops trying to assure Americans there’s nothing to worry about (while whispering Oh Yes There Is into every dark nook of the conspiratorial fanny). Yes, well. All this goes back to the intrusion of the human into the wild, for the sake of relieving some poor pangolin of its scales in order to ease aching joints. (if not consciences). That and the virus of the homo sapiens tourist.

Climate change-related news continues to interrupt the news cycle (January was also the hottest year on record, spring floods are going from nasty to worse). It makes everything else going on, from Democratic primaries to seem like and the continuing saga of Harry and Megan seem like comic asides.  One really is, but that both like everything else in the normal frame of reference feel weirdly apart from the real news suggests that climate change has surfaced at the center of our cultural awareness.

In his book Defiant Earth, Clive Hamilton gets to the heart of this sense of irruption:

In German, Erlebnis can simply mean an event or occurrence in the course of life, the type of personal experience that was the hallmark of nineteenth-century Romanticism’s appeal to feeling. But it can also refer to an intense disruptive episode, one that makes an indelible impression, changing a life course, the kind of experience not so much integrated into a life but which relegates the old life to the past and inaugurates a new sensibility, “something unforgettable and irreplaceable, something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determination.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 61). Such a realization is not only a powerful emotional event but also one saturated with meaning. The subject often has the inexplicable feeling that the event has some purpose that asks to be understood. It is as if some force has intervened, creating a rupture that has meaning beyond the personal, a universal truth.

What am I gonna do? Keep looking for work, get some projects done around the house, try to be a calm influence in a growing storm and start reading Love In A Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And keep writing. Marquez once told a friend, “’In reality the duty of a writer—the revolutionary duty, if you like—is that of writing well.” I’m not sure it is possible to love or write well in the full bloom of a coronavirus pandemic, but it’s on my to-do list for the new future. How bout you?

Jacob Marley has indeed come calling, and more ghosts are to follow. (Sherry faces off with the ghoul of the Capitolocene in her upcoming challenge.)  Rethinking human and nature is radical work, and much must be uprooted. Time is not on our side. When you consider that the sudden uptick in climate disasters is the product of carbon emissions from 20 years ago—this is what we get with 1 degree Celsius warming since the beginnings of the Industrial Age—just imagine what’s in store for us at 3 degrees C warming, now the low end of projections for the rest of this century.

In her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein wrote that such alarming news about our imminent future is

… the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously. And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one by one. They mean, quite simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species. The only historical precedent for a crisis of this depth and scale was the Cold War fear that we were heading toward nuclear holocaust, which would have made much of the planet uninhabitable. But that was (and remains) a threat; a slim possibility, should geopolitics spiral out of control.

You think nuclear annihilation is bad, wait to you see what else we’ve cooked up! (bada-bing.) That at was six years ago, and back then Klein said we had about a decade to act decisively enough. As wake-up calls go—like all the rest of we keep getting in the news—this one didn’t seem to change voracious global consumption habits one bit. Too many people wanting A/C and iPhones and big farty cars.

How is it that we—me, I mean—remain so fixed in my fossil fueled comfort zone? Am I deranged, asleep at the wheel, or that drunk on memememememememe?

Well, yes. It is exceedingly difficult to see that my cultured upbrining is horribly out of sync with the world as it is now revealing itself. That my what-me-worry? dailiness compounded by 8 billion other Alfred E. Neumanns is pissing of the Earth and how.

I was raised a suburban kid in the 60s, awash in Mayberry RFD and The Beatles, privileged by white male birthright and given all the permission in the world to seek my own pleasure and indulgence. From the time my lips were torn from my mother’s breast, the American Dream was the opioidal alternative I was told give suck to. 60 years later I found out that it was a manufacturer’s dream, a Capitalist roadhouse in which fossil fuel was the hootch and a sprawling suburbia of techno-comforts the prize lady slithering round the stripper pole.

And while I whiled away my privilege squandering everything in sight, beyond self-same walls I refused to look past was a world getting sick very, very fast.

Behind that silicone mask, what an ugly, ugly reality. And how difficult breaking free—like losing one’s life, place, hopes and delusions.

I look that square in the face—and task my work with it—or remain deluded with the sinking part of my humanity.

Amitav Ghosh again, in his book-length essay The Great Derangement:

… We have entered a time when the wild has become the norm: if certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failures will have to be counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure.

Business as usual says bury one’s head and have a drinkadoodledoo. If there’s any waking, someone’s got to start by lifting their head, looking about and connoitering not only the changed landscape but find a healing response to it. And short of that, at least describe the shiftiness of a today that ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Ergo earthweal.

Some of the work feels precipitous, between falling into the same old wah wah despair or embracing lah-lah velds of Disneyesque fancy. Honey, this ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll show: This is adult work. Despair we can fill by the bucket, but hope comes in drips and drabs. What seems evident in the work we’ve done here so far is that every challenge of changing earth demands a capacity for both, and that’s something we need each other for. Our combined imagination is the good work we can achieve, a collective of global voices tuning in to the same growing bandwidth.

‘Nuff said. If you thought climate change was bad, wait till you see what your upcoming season has in store for us!

—Brendan

 

weekly challenge: A Clockwork Green

lloyd clock2

Harold Lloyd in “Safety First!” (1923)

 

Humanity is in a wild crucible where our everyday reality is increasingly irrupted by scales of time a billionfold older than our very existence.

It can make a person dizzy, cry, or change.

Time is a human invention; animals don’t have the same sense of it. Sure, circadian rhythms weave through nature; our cats know when it’s feeding time before we do. But only humans have a god for time — the Titan Cronus (from which we derive our wrist chronometers from), parting the yaw of Hadean eternity to delve forth the first reckonings of day and night, the seasons, the greater cycles of time. (Cronus was kicked out with the rest of the Titans to make for the more timely and modern Olympians.) Science came along eventually and calibrated things more intricately, but its sweep of the ages has faithful roots in human time.

For most of human history, time has moved slowly.  After 2 million years of ape evolution, the first flint tools appeared, and the oldest rock art—signifying symbolic thought—dates back 70,000 years. Thanks to a warm and wan phase in the climate in the Holocene Epoch, agriculture began ten thousand years ago, ending hunter-gather prehistory. Tool in hand, human time accelerated. The first cities were founded 5,000 years ago, cuneiform writing appeared 2,500 years ago. The printing press appeared 500 years ago, the steam engine 200 years ago, the telegraph 125 years ago, radio and cars and airflight 100 years ago, television and atomic power 75 years ago, the Internet 30 years ago.

The spike in human development looks like this:

At some point in this accelerating story, human time began impacting geologic time. The time scales are vastly different—a geologic eras last tens of millions of years, while civilized development stamps its deep footprint over the past 500 years—but in short order, processes like ice sheet melt or the natural carbon cycle which used to take vast time scales to accomplish are now getting down in a geological instant—the past two hundred years, since coal-burning steam machines started chugging away.

As industrial and then electronic civilization has progressed (data farms burn a lot of electricity), the earth has heating up, slowly and then faster and faster, and especially over the past 30 years as countries like China and India increased industrialization and supporting a growing middle class with air conditioners and cars.  The past 30 years has done more to melt the poles and push the Earth toward hothouse conditions than the past 3 million years of deep time, placing us in conditions not seen by our very oldest hominid ancestor.

We can conceive the global warming trend looking like this:

Look familiar? The two graphs make it clear that the human spike—the one we’re so dazzled by—is producing a correspondingly dangerous spike of change for all life on Earth.

The scale of changes now being observed around the world haven’t been seen for all of human existence, and they are unfolding in in real time. (Well, sort of: Whatever we are seeing today—the wildfires and floods and heatwaves and drought—is the result of warming from several decades ago, when there was 10 percent less carbon in the atmosphere than now.) Making it even stranger is that human civilization is evolving faster than our biology. If all of homo sapiens’ 300,000-year history were compressed to 24-hour clock, agriculture started a minute ago and the printing press appeared two seconds ago, and the internet a tenth of a second ago.

 

And if we put Earth’s history on a the same 24-hour clock, the arrival of homo sapiens itself has only been around for the last second. Geology’s time is calibrated by immense spans of time—millions and hundreds of millions of years—and yet the fair 12,000-year Holocene Epoch seems to have come to an end, caboosing the 66 million year Cenozic Era and crossing into unknown and unparalleled span of time now called the Anthropocene, an age in which conditions of the three billion-year old Earth is determined by the folks who got there a second ago.

When you look at the core of this growth—the cognitive clout of the human brain—the rate of change has gone from accretive to hyperdrive. The sum of information from the dawn of human time to the year 2003 was once calculated to be 5 exabytes (1 billion gigabytes). By 2010, that amount of information was calculated to double every two days. In 2009, the entire World Wide web was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes. In 2013, it was around 4 zettabytes (4 trillion gigabytes). With the advent of what we once quaintly called The Internet of Things, the volume of human knowledge began doubling every six minutes. Ray Kurzweil says the rate of increase in our knowledge is so fast that the 21st century will see not 100 years but 20,000 years of progress within its span. By the year 2050, human knowledge will be a quadrillion (that’s one thousand million million) times more advanced than it is now. He also predicts we are headed for a Singularity where artificial intelligence — the mind capable of absorbing all of this information — will accelerate past all human comprehension.

Who wouldn’t feel disoriented, even left behind, by such quicksilver change? One very weird effect of this is that we may have outgrown time. Back in 2003, Douglas Coupland made this observation:

It’s now obvious to people who were around in the twentieth century that time not only seems to be moving more quickly, but is beginning to feel funny, too. There’s no more tolerance for waiting of any sort. We want all the facts and we want them now. To go without email for 48 hours can trigger a meltdown. You can’t slow down, even once, ever, without becoming irrelevant. Music has become more important because music is a constant. School reunions are beside the point because we already know what our old classmates have done. Children often spend more time in dreamland and cyberspace than in real life. Time is speeding up even faster.

Coupland called it “timesickness”:

People are now doing their deepest thinking and making their most emotionally charged connections with people around the planet at all times of the day. Geography has become irrelevant. Our online phantom world has become the new us. We create complex webs of information and people who support us, and yet they are so fleeting and tenuous.”

If you’re like me and find yourself rather helplessly a-cloud in digital media, the online experience is akin to playing poker in Vegas after midnight: there aren’t any clocks in the room, or they have no hands, or are spinning so fast you can’t read them. The only thing which exists is your engagement — the next poker hand’s possibilities and the money you might win — to explain your weariness and dwindling funds. You expect everything and nothing. Online is the fragmentation bomb you keep pulling the pin from, and you go about your online business in a maelstrom of infinite next things pulling at your tattered attention.

Something other is happening as well. Coupland once more:

The voice inside your head has become a different voice. It used to be “you.” Now your voice is that of a perpetual nomad drifting along a melting landscape, living day to day, expecting everything and nothing.

Weirdly, as time is vanishing, so too is our sense of home. Current housing stats bear this out.  Kids coming of age now are either living on with their parents, or live around in temporary, fleeting engagements. Home ownership among millennials is about half the national overall rate, with many waiting much later to make their first purchase. Or they never settle down, living  in a mobile, gig society, where home is where you currently hang your hat and no more.

Timesickness may result in homelessness, and both are very much in the heart of what’s wrong in the edgy fretful technoburb of contemporary lie. Home, Mercea Eliade once said, “is much more than shelter; home is our center of gravity.”  Without a sense of the ground beneath our feet, what is gravity for, anyway? No wonder it’s so difficult to notice what’s happening to our world right when it’s changing so fast.

How much more carbon gets into the atmosphere depends mostly on actions taken by human beings. How many species go extinct—we’re in the middle of a Sixth Extinction event—is up to us. Until now, all of the major events affecting life on Earth have been caused by volcanoes or meteors or both and the billion-year sweep of deep time. Those events can still happen and there’s little we can do about it; but this is the first time in Earth’s history that a species of organic life controls not only its own destiny but also the fate of vast geologic time to come.

And it is here and now, in this present day and the next ten years—a mere nanosecond of celestial time—which will make all the difference in that story. What humans do or don’t over the next decade will decide the course of the next hundred thousand years, possibly much longer than that.

And if life turns out to be as rare a phenomenon in the colossally inanimate and dark realm of the universe, then, the organic experiment may be over, too.

No pressure!

So if you’re feeling betwitched and bothered by climate change, well, join the club.

On the plus side, maybe humanity is being forcefully awakened from its self-deluded dreamtime. Nostalgia for the good life in those happy days of 1950s is really a fast-track much further back to primordial conditions inhospitable to life—not Eden but hothouse Venus with its 200 mph winds and 800 degree temperature. Humans cannot live apart and hunkered down from the rest of living world without imperiling all. It may take decades, centuries even to waken from that dream, but what it points to is a greater merging of the human with the animate and inanimate orders. I, Thou, Bambi, oak, ooze, mountain, starstream, moment, infinity, presence, dark matter, we are all woven of the same fabric.

We might start braking our time-jets by wising up to radically new definitions of home.  Humanity was never alone in this world, and the atomization of that separation in suburban mass comfort is largely at fault for climate change. If humanity is to survive, we have to restore a sustainable balance with the world; we have to make our home with our fellow animals, our inanimate Earth and its huge sweeping time scales. Right-sizing might mean conscious diminishment—shorter lives, fewer people, rejection of more tools and toys, stopping progress in its tracks somehow. Even choosing to die as a species before ending the Earth.

 

I named this challenge “A Clockwork Green” after Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel which Stanley Kubrick later parlayed to the screen. Both provide an utterly riveting and disturbing view of dystopia so prescient of the present moment. (Alex and his thug Droogies are matched today by the sartorial Proud Boys.) Burgess once explained the cryptic title as “the junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet – in other words, life, the orange – and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined.” Life in the technological age.

I think we all have a pretty good idea how human life is faring in that matrix, but what about the confluence of Earth and human time in the present moment? That is the challenge of A Clockwork Green.

Here are some directions you could go in:

  • Irrupt your dailiness with geologic time scales. What’s it like for, say, the beginning of a new romance or the puppyhood of a beloved pet to be on the same time scale of a melting glacier, or the experience a suddenly more violent and changeful seasons?
  • Compare the sort of things which could occur in next decade of your personal life with the Earth’s fate for the next hundred thousand years.
  • Speak for pangolins, who have been around for 80 million years, or sharks (450 million years), both hunted to the edge of extinction so humans can enjoy a few more years of life battening on their scales or fins.
  • How could a poem speak in multiple time scales at once? How is a wildfire or a massive storm both human and geologic?
  • If time is mostly a human concept, what is a day in animal imagining, or an era from the point of view of Earth or space?
  • Is there a moral element to knowing how human time is affecting geological time? Say you’re a Greek of the classic era (600 BCE) who saw a business opportunity which would yield great immediate profit but would damage the world for centuries to come. Is there a moral responsibility for the outcome of human history? Is lack of action today climate change today a moral failure which defines the species? How would the ghost of Plato speak to that, or a dead gas company executive?
  • What happened to time? Spin the clockfaces crazily and get a feel for a present both timesickness and solastalgic.
  • if the human eye has been turning too much inward, how do we start naming and seeing the world outside? What myths turn us toward addressing earth symptoms?
  • If you were a geologist examining the human strata which characterized the Anthropocene, what would you find in the dirt and air and compaction of remains a million years from now?
  • Without time, what is life and living? Where does it step with the other foot and be dead?

OK, nuff said. (Yes, too much.) Get to work, go shake your metric booty, spook your muses and rattle the bones of the ages. Then bring your discoveries back to the earthweal theater in the green so that a good, weird, ghostly and possibly healing time may be had by all.

– Brendan

 

Link a poem relating to time scales using the Mr. Linky Widget above (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend follows this Friday at 4 PM EST.

earthweal open link weekend #8

Welcome to earthweal’s eighth open link weekend! Link a poem of your fancy using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

The Feb. 24 challenge will be A CLOCKWORK GREEN. Lots of weird spinning these days in the Earth’s watchworks!

Take a breath and join the fray!

— Brendan

 

The oaks in my Florida town are now a-flush with vernal green.

 

This forum is dedicated to the work of finding adequate words to describe our changing Earth.

A geological epoch—the Holocene, civilization’s womb—is ending. Climate is changing rapidly, creating atmospheric conditions which haven’t been seen for 3 million years. It’s getting hotter, storms are growing wilder, oceans are rising.  This is rocking the lifeboat, causing a mass extinction of organic life.

One species is responsible, and its existence is equally imperiled, even though most of its present representatives don’t seem to know or care.

The tools we have developed to master our environment, developed over 300,000 years of homo sapiens development, are big enough now to alter geologic time. They have consequences too powerful for our simian brains to comprehend anywhere fast enough. Like some 21st Century sorcerer’s apprentice, humanity is chasing its iPhone through a frenzied clockwork of spinning hands and smoking gears.

 I don’t know about you, but all this comes rather late in my story and it’s a lot to be hit with all at once.

Our self-obsessed human civilization, so unique and independent and separate from everything else (even other members its own tribe), itself is not doing much of a job absorbing the news. The two vast poles of response so far have been denial and despair, and neither does anything to address the problem.

In the week’s news, there’s little to suggest any perceptible change to the better, in the science or politics or culture. The global average temperature for January 2020 was the hottest for that month ever, suggesting that we’re in for another hot one this year. The northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula recorded its hottest temperature ever at 64.9 degrees F, part of a warming pattern in the area that caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers. Torrential rainfall is causing widespread flooding along the southern reaches of the Mississippi River, raising the specter of last spring’s devastating floods in the Midwest. Over in Africa, locusts are swarming in Kenya at unprecedented levels, magnified by heavy local rains (ramped by a hotter Indian Ocean) and rising air temperatures. As farmland is denuded by the insects, food security continues to become more threatened.

Meanwhile climate change denialism continues to grow its weird underground dodo with Republicans in Congress proposing funding for technology which would reduce emissions while avoiding any decrease in fossil fuel consumption. This, at the same time  a recent Nature study reveals that oil and gas production is releasing far greater amounts of methane than previously thought. And of course the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that would eliminate the requirement that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from their facilities, a rollback which by the EPA’s own estimates would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025.

And with the coronavirus continuing to spread, further feeding fears of a global pandemic, the cause is narrowing to pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal which is being trafficked into extinction, imported to Chinese markets for medicine and food. Actually, bats are probably the source, and pangolins are acting as intermediate hosts while being ruthlessly harvested for human consumption. Last year in Hong Kong, authorities discovered a shipment of 14 tons of pangolin scales; about 36,000 pangolins would have to been killed to cull that amount. As usual, in the end there is just an oblivious and greedy human hand, tipping the world’s balance.

Et cetera. How long can one go on in any single week?

A pangolin rescued from poachers in South Africa.

In past weekly challenges, we’ve tried to get a better feel for this changing Earth, searching for local textures of Earth colors like fire and water. We’ve searched for resonance in ghosts and grief and sought ways to reach out to our animal family. We’ve tried to find new ground in renewal and hope.

That our daily language falls way short of expressing the depth and magnitude of these things—surface chatter of frighteningly deep ocean roar—it seems to me that our work as poets must be to find fuller expressions for a changing Earth. And as a global phenomenon, that work must include a diverse ecosystem of local voices.  It can’t just sound like Florida or Vancouver or New Delhi or Cape Town, but it does sound like a combination of all. High tech human civilization has lost most of its roots, so we have to recover nourishing sources and reclaim ruined terrain.

Our vocabulary desperately needs to enlarge and find nuance. Eskimos have many, many words for snow, but I wonder how many new ones are needed to describe the myriad moments and qualities of an Arctic in retreat. Glenn Albrecht—the originator of the term solastalgia which we explored at earthweal a few weeks ago—has a new book out titled Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, and in it he explores what he calls a psychoterratic vocabulary, naming positive and negative perceived and felt states of the Earth. His list includes sumbiology, the study of humans living together with the totality of life; terrafurie, extreme anger unleashed in those who witness the damage of techno-industrial society; and Symbiocene, a coming era in Earth history when humans make no discernable impact on the planet other than leaving their temporary remains behind. (Yay.)

This work of naming is not easy work, and all if it may be moot; the thing we have invoked may be the dragon of our dust. But what else are we to do? Narrow similes in heated rooms—the verbal stereotypy of lah-de-dah business as usual, everything’s fine here—is characteristic of narcotically happy places, those dreamlike suburbs of the real. It is the music of stalemate, the long half-life of decadence, where daily life “is the victim of its success.” (Russ Douthat, “The Age of Decadence”)  I submit that anti-life is killing our poetry as much as it is our world.

What beats so gloriously in a great poem is accidental in one sense—grace is no human invention—but it is also difficult. Online makes publication of anything easy, but poems which get to the heart of things must be carefully and diligently shaped. Farm work is hard labor, but as Wendell Berry writes, in farming and in poetry its difficulty is its possibility.

In one of Rilke’s famous exchange of letters to a young man struggling to decide on the vocation of poet, he writes about the difficult and its importance in our work:

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

Finding sufficient language for a vastly changing Earth—including a radical revision of humanity’s place, importance, and work in it—is damned difficult work. For me, it’s like trying to write a sublime poem that doesn’t rhyme, or says everything in less than ten lines.

Writing a poem that speaks more with the Earth’s voice than mine—that is exceptionally difficult. The spacetime calibrations of meter and rhyme work for traversing the human hell, but what of the wilderness beyond? But if I don’t engage and labor and revise and find, all that’s left for me is drone; easy stuff, like happy hour in an opioid shooting gallery, painless and free, just heart and lungs way low and just either side of mortality’s gate.

Jack Gilbert wrote gorgeous poetry, but he was a relentless, never-satisfied reviser; difficulty was one essential ingredient.  (The patience to wait for the good stuff all the way in back was the other.) Who know how long it took to finish the following poem about getting to the heart of language:

THE FORGOTTEN LANGUAGE OF THE HEART

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

 Who knows: but certainly the result was worth the wait.

Now let’s see what news of our changing world we fine, way back there on the best shelves of our work!

 

weekly challenge: FINDING HOPE

By Sherry Marr

Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere (India)

 

Do not lose hope – we were made for these times. Look out over the prow; there are millions of righteous souls in the water with you. We have been training for a dark time such as this since the day we assented to come to earth.

When a great ship is moored and in the harbor, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts…will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I am glad to note that this sage still believes in the transformation of consciousness on the planet. Whether before or after cataclysm, I suppose mankind will be forced to re-learn the Old Ways of being with the natural world.

Pam Houston, in her book Deep Creek, ponders: “How to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat? How to hang on to that full-body joy and still understand it as elegy?”

That is the dilemma I find myself in. Exactly. Beauty / Elegy.

Pam says it is the best time to write odes to nature, when she is critically wounded at our hands. “I wait to feel a glimmer, a vibration, that says, ‘Hey writer, look over here.’ [It is the way] I have written every single thing I have written. It is also the primary way I worship, the way I kneel down and kiss the earth.”

Me, too. I was happy to read both of these quotes this past week and, especially, Pam Houston’s book.

Clarissa and Pam have put it into words far better than I ever could. These days I feel I am living with the two sides of my heart – joy and gratitude at the incredible beauty of the landscape around me, at the same time feeling such grief and guilt at what our species is doing to Mother Earth in this Age of Extraction.

How do we stay hopeful, yet not in denial, fully here in the present moment?

I have been in love with the natural world all my life, walking with head tipped back, and grinning at the sky. It is a hard thing to see her suffering. A friend, a lifelong environmentalist, told me once, “Mother Earth feels your pain. Let her feel your joy too.” I have always remembered that.

I marvel at how faithfully Mother Earth moves through her cycles, no matter what imbalances are happening. There is so much life everywhere! Everything in the natural world is trying so hard to live. Everywhere there is a wound, I watch little green tendrils begin to grow, to repair and heal the area. One of the lushest places on earth is Chernobyl, which began to thrive once all the humans were gone.

Indigenous people live with strict protocols for how they live upon the land. If they strip bark from a tree for basket making, they leave that tree alone for 150 years to heal. If they take one tree for building a canoe, they leave the entire forest alone for 250 years – they view clearcutting with horror. There is a great learning curve for us in their teachings.

Each walk on the beach fills me with awe. From the tiniest velellas to the wildest winter tides, Mother Earth is alive, constantly in a state of growth, renewal and healing. She needs us to give her some help. And many are doing so, all over the world.

Joanna Macy says “You are alive now for a reason. Because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart.”

An open heart means pain. But a closed heart that turns away doesn’t get anything done. Those of us who are strong enough are called to the work: of bearing witness, of sharing information, of protecting trees, of making conscious choices that help the earth. (In Tofino, we are boycotting buying the CoOp’s avocadoes, since they come from Mexico. Environmental activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez, who opposed destruction of habitat of the endangered Monarch butterfly for growing the green fruit, recently died, likely murdered, as have been 19 other environmental activists, killed by local cartels fighting over the avocado trade.)

One person can do a lot, as we see with Jadav Payeng of India, a poor farmer from a marginalized tribe, who spent thirty years planting trees, turning a barren area into a thriving forest, when he noted snakes were suffering and dying.  Or Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere of India, who protects and preserves India’s indigenous seeds, and encourages farmers to switch to local varieties.

Then, of course, there is Greta Thunberg, one small, humble girl, a clear-eyed truth-teller.

Each of these people gives me hope, showing how much one person, one voice, can do. I see our poems as part of that work – to celebrate and love the natural world, and, sometimes, to write poems that help others see what we see and begin to care, too. Our love of Mother Earth motivates us to do what we can to try to save her.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing of all is looking to the more spiritual side of life. Life is not just physical; when we remember we are Soul and Spirit, and that there has always been a spiritual dimension in all cultures since time began, perhaps therein lies our greatest hope. There is an energy at work in the world that we can align with and tap into. Through Spirit-Eyes, we can envision a more viable world: a world of sustainable practices, of social justice, of clean energy, of rebalancing the earth so all may live. This is how we were meant to live, in harmony with the natural world and other creatures. One way or the other, I believe we will re-learn how to do this. (The indigenous peoples of the world can teach us how.)  The transformation of consciousness is happening. The fact we are discussing this now, in a poetry forum, when five years ago this conversation would not be happening, tells me we are waking up. We are waking to difficult times, but we can clearly see what needs changing.

Today we’ll sing a hopeful song. Tomorrow maybe we will plant a tree! Or a garden that invites bees and butterflies to our yards. We might turn our front yard into a veggie garden, so we can eat local, without pesticides – and in case the system breaks down, as Tofino’s did the other week when the only road in through the mountains collapsed. (I plan to grow kale and scarlet runner beans on my tiny balcony this spring.)

The vastness and power of the sea, the cathedral of the old-growth forest, sunrises and sunsets beautiful enough to break your heart – so much to love! Let’s send our poems out like love songs. Love heals. And hope gives us strength for the days ahead.

How and where do you find hope? Write big picture, if you wish. Or find that tiny miracle that makes you catch your breath in awe. Let’s add our small push to the transformation of consciousness that is trying so hard to happen across the globe. I look forward to reading how you hold onto hope, and we invite you to join in the discussion in the comments section.

— Sherry

 

In earthweal weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday afternoons at 4 PM EST we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely

earthweal open link weekend #7

 

NOTE: Mr. Linky is working intermittently. If you can’t link there, include it in the comments section.

It’s open link weekend at earthweal. Link a poem using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

On Feb. 17 Sherry Marr takes over the reins again with a challenge titled FINDING HOPE. We could sure use it!

Now ladies and gentlemen, start your earthy versey engines!

— Brendan

 

Albrecht Durer, “Melancholia,” 1514

 

It’s hot here in Florida for mid-February; everything is blooming in salvos of color and scent. Hardly a bane for in local creature comforts (we’re still months from full-tilt summer swelter) —but weather in the Anthropocene means the sweet spots have very wide margins. Some ways north of here, all this warmth is translating into heavy Gulf moisture, dumping state-sized jerricans of rain, rain, rain over the South. Lakes, ponds and streams are flooding, fish are showing up in submerged farm fields and millions of gallons of sewage is overflowing from compromised systems. Spring is coming early and fast, bringing with it the spectre of last year’s flooding event, where a million acres of Midwest farmland in nine states were inundated.

And in Australia (of late, climate change’s favorite punching bag), torrential rains are now rounding out a “triple whammy” of drought, wildfire and flooding, affecting rivers in the island nation’s eastern half and creating cascading impacts upon fish, invertebrates and platypus. “There’s a real risk of losing species that we have not even gotten around to describing yet,” said Prof. Ross Thompson, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology.

Lots to worry and grieve. (Current forecast is for 80 percent saline precipitation from weepy eyes.)

But this, too: Lots to look forward to as well. Meaning: There is hope!  You just have to know where to look for silver linings. Peer with care!

I gave Glenn Albrecht’s paper on solastalgia a second read this week; sure enough, I picked up several important points—for this forum, anyway— that I missed earlier.

First, the condition of solsastalgia suggests a treatment. Nostalgia can turned the other way toward a vision for sustainable future:

While some might respond to such stress with nostalgia and want to return to a past state/place where they felt more comfortable, others will experience solastalgia and express a strong desire to sustain those things that provide solace. Solastalgia, as opposed to atavistic nostalgia, can also be future orientated, as those who suffer from it might actively seek to create new things or engage in collective action that provides solace and communion in any given environment. Solastalgia has no necessary connection to the past, it may seek its alleviation in a future that has to be designed and created.  (My emphasis)

Solstalgia helps us celebrate a better future by sharpening our focus on the sustainable. Mental illness is structured in a way that reading it closely reveals the keys to returning from it. A schizophrenic takes a blue pill to live between the lines, the alcoholic reaches for a white chip of surrender. Australia’s burnt-beyond-all-recognition spaces show us the bitter fruit of residents abdicating civil responsibility and governments ruled by powers. Designing a better future is the cure for twenty-first century solastalgia.

To paraphrase Holderlin, the devil is in the details, but salvation is, too. As Jim Feeney put it in his contribution this week, solastalgia can be “a longing for light / hidden under a bushel / at the end of a tunnel.”

Second, though melancholy is a depressive disorder, it is also a disease common among creatives.  If Albrecht is correct in calling solastalgia “Anthropocene-era melancholia,” then there must be creative responses to it.

James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a gifted dancer, but as a young adult she suffered from schizophrenia and was hospitalized frequently, ending up finally in an asylum until her death. After the publication of Ulysses in 1922, James Joyce spent the next 17 years diving into the verbal unconscious with his novel Finnegans Wake. In 1934, Carl Jung treated Lucia. After their appointment, Joyce asked the psychologist,: “Doctor Jung, have you noticed that my daughter seems to be submerged in the same waters as me?” to which he answered: “Yes, but where you swim, she drowns.”

That may be the difference between suffocating solastalgia and the melancholy which broods a better future.

Certainly here at earthweal, we mean to find out!

 

RAIN AT NIGHT

W.S. Merwin

This is what I have heard

at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind

after an age of leaves and feathers
someone dead
thought of this mountain as money
and cut the trees
that were here in the wind
in the rain at night
it is hard to say it
but they cut the sacred ‘ohias then
the sacred koas then
the sandalwood and the halas
holding aloft their green fires
and somebody dead turned cattle loose
among the stumps until killing time

but the trees have risen one more time
and the night wind makes them sound
like the sea that is yet unknown
the black clouds race over the moon
the rain is falling on the last place

from The Rain In The Trees (1988)

weekly challenge: SOLASTALGIA – Vanishing Homelands

Welcome to earthweal’s weekly poetry challenge.

This forum is dedicated to the varied responses to the climate emergency we are all now a part of. The root “-weal” in the title has three central meanings — “welt,” a land scarred by human intervention; “wealth,” the hope of a healed whole-earth community (like the word commonwealth, only critters and trees and rocks partake, too ); and “wale,” a binding element similar to the strip of metal used to bind a barrel or the gunwale of a ship, here as something to hold everything together. Earthweal is a place to both mourn and love a changing Earth. (For more, see the about earthweal page.)

In these weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday night we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely.

If SOLASTALGIA is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A write on the theme follows.

 

After the fire on Kangaroo Island, Australia

 

SOLASTALGIA
Homesick For a Vanishing World

As one who moved around a lot in his earlier years, the eventual finding and making and sustaining of a place I call home has resulted in the most productive and happy chapters of my life.

The longing of my wandering years—a sea-like yearning that one day I might find lasting harbor—was a form of homesickness, much like that of an orphan hoping to one day to reconnect with a lost mother or father.

And now, having formed a deep sense of place over two decades of living at the same place in Central Florida, homecomings are always dear, whether it’s from coming back from a trip (as I did many times visiting my old father in Pennsylvania) or driving back home after another day working in an office at the far end of a commute. Weirdly, now that both father and job are gone, there is a strange homesickness for those places I was present in, too.

I’m very aware how fortunate I am and give thanks for it daily; it is a privilege I do not greatly deserve, and I understand how readily, randomly and viciously the Wheel can turn round the other way. But not today.

More than 65 million people world-wide are refugees, displaced from home and homeland due to political instability, much of that resulting from the disruptions of climate change. Very few—less than a hundred thousand—return to their homes every year, while an equal minute fraction find new homes in next countries. The rest remain in limbo, with no welcome behind or ahead of them. Pity the refugees from Central America fleeing farms no longer productive due to climate change and ravaging gangs; caught before the American border, they are sent to camps where they wait to be returned to the nothing and worse they left behind.

Magnified events displace magnified numbers from their homes. Last year when Tropical Cyclone Idai mowed into the coast of Mozambique, it was the worst storm in the country’s history. displacing 146,000 people, damaging 100,000 homes and destroying 1 million acres of crops. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will generate some 143 more climate migrants, an estimated third of those on the move due to sudden disasters.

Climate change is deeply affecting the destinies of so many within the borders of our respective homelands. An estimated 2.1 million residents of South Florida alone will be forced to relocate due to rising seas, many of them relocating to where I live in Central Florida.  Local homelessness will swell as well due to continuing economic upheaval and widening drift of the privileged class away from the 95 per cent.

The homeless may become the defining demographic of the 21st Century.

What happens to the heart when one loses their home? Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and professor of sustainability, put it this way:

People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.

Albrecht observes that many native inhabitants—Australian aborigines and any number of indigenous peoples around the world—report this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced.

In the Anthropocene, there is another, perhaps more widespread disorientation, because all around the world people who haven’t moved are finding themselves homesick because their homeland is vanishing. So many feel this same sense of “place pathology,” not because they had been removed from home soil, but as their home communities are becoming ruined by development or becoming inhabitable due to climate change.

In a 2004 essay, Albrecht named this condition solastalgia, a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’” Albrecht called solastalgia is a depressive mental condition.

Solastalgia may be the melancholia of the Anthropocene, a hollowing homesickness in a sickening home.

Here in the United States, one can’t help but look on vast corporate farms of corn and soybeans stretching for thousands of acres while small towns across rural America empty out for lack of work; or drive through vast tracts of suburban blight wondering how anyone could feel at home there; or see the opioid epidemic as the cheapest and most devastating remedy to hopeless yearning for home, or witness the soaring suicide rate among both indigenous peoples, farm workers, middle aged displaced and the gig-economy young, and wonder what happened to the future.

There’s an African American church just outside of my town which has sat empty for decades since the last black residents moved away for lack of grove jobs or service work in old Southern homes. (All those groves are now being sold, at great profit, for New South housing development.) I drive by that church every day watching it slowly crumble down and back, wondering what happens to a community when its cornerstones vanish. What happens to the vision of observers like me.

How to treat this new melancholy? Albrecht suggests the following:

All of our emotional, intellectual and practical efforts (must) be redirected towards healing the rift that has occurred between ecosystem and human health, both broadly defined. In science, such a commitment might be manifest in the full redirection of scientific investment and effort to an ethically inspired and urgent practical response to the forces that are destroying ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The need for an “ecological psychology” that re-establishes full human health (spiritual and physical) within total ecosystem health has been articulated by many leading thinkers worldwide. The full transdisciplinary idea of health involves the healing of solastalgia via cultural responses to degradation of the environment in the form of drama, art, dance and song at all scales of living from the bioregional to the global. The potential to restore unity in life and achieve genuine sustainability is a scientific, ethical, cultural and practical response to this ancient, ubiquitous but newly defined human illness.

Whatever ground Professor Albrecht has covered since, hopefully it will have some value and use today as Australians look at their hot, burning, increasingly inhabitable homeland and wonder where there is to go.

Write a new poem on the theme of Solastalgia. What’s it like to be homesick in a sick land, particularly your own? What are you refugee from?  How does your life intersect with migrant humanity, with the homeless, with homeowners who have no home in the future? What is the healthy and sustainable road out from solastalgia? What’s the report, the witness, from your neck of the woods? Maybe we can cobble together here a global witness.

Find out what solastalgia looks and feels like to you: Then bring your discoveries to earthweal.

— Brendan

Postscript

Thank God for Holderlin: Where danger grows, salvation too is on the increase.

Peter Matthiessen’s novel In Paradise, published just after his death in 2014 at age 86,  explores solastalgia in a gas oven. Set in Poland in the mid-1990s, it follows a meditation retreat in the death-camp of Auschwitz. For three days, people of various national, religious and philosophical bent meditate and attempt to bear ecumenical “witness” to one of the most horrifying relics of Nazi Germany’s final solution to racial impurity and the end of a long road from home for some 1 million Jews.

Over the course of this night sea journey Matthiessen raises and dispenses many questions: Can any but a survivor of the death camp experience can bear true witness to what happened there? Can there be any legitimate response to a place of annihilation? And can any true voice or presence of holocaust can still be “at home” there, in one of the most homeless way-stations in human history?

Tough questions, and Matthiessen is sparing in his answers. Auschwitz is what it is, and no one living passes through that morgue of the spirit without catching its chill. A rabbi leads participants in the Kaddish or Prayer for the Dead at the Black Wall, where some 30 to 40 thousand prisoners were shot to death in the early years of the camp. “It is the voice of the living calling out prayer across the void to the nameless, numberless dead who do not answer,” he says. Most of Matthiessen’s answers are calibrated by that silence.

But Matthiessen observes this: After three days of meditation, prayer, encounter and hard debate among the participants in this Hadean harrow of death, many felt a homesickness as they were leaving—as if by making space for inhumanity and death inside themselves, their humanity was enlarged. “The only whole heart is the broken heart, but it must be fully broken,” another rabbi says that in the shadowy gloom of the Oven—and strangely, on the last night they are there, those utterly broken by the encounter find themselves suddenly dancing, like children at recess, as if they had come home at last. It’s an utterly unexpected gift, hilarious, profane, perfect.

What do we know about the heart, that compass whose pole star ever points us toward home? Even in its darkness, solastalgia offers orienting truths.

SEARCHING FOR PITTSBURGH

Jack Gilbert

The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh
in me. The rusting mills sprawled gigantically
along three rivers. The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every evening were
stained pink by the inferno always surging in the sky,
as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning
the Earth. Locomotives driving through the cold rain,
lordly and bestial in their strength. Massive water
flowing morning and night throughout a city
girded with ninety bridges. Sumptuous-shouldered,
sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted graces.
A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh. Winter month after month telling
of death. The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged
by the heart. Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont. On Greek islands
with their fields of stone. In beds with women, sometimes,
amid their gentleness. Now the fox will live in our ruined
house. My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound
of water. In this happy place my serious heart has made.

from The Great Fires (1995)

Portions of this week’s challenge were adapted from a 2017 prompt I wrote for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads

earthweal open link weekend #6

Welcome to Earthweal’s open link weekend. Our verse hootenanny revs up here every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, short or long, new or old.

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 on Earth you post from.

Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.

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 next weekly challenge will be SOLASTALGIA (Homesick in a Changed World).

Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

 

A convention center in Wuhan, China, converted into a temporory hospital, Feb. 6, 2020.

Yesterday the weather in Florida turned changeful—unseasonably warm for February (hitting a high of 87) and the wind picking up with surprising force. A big front strolled across the US Midwest, muscular and foreboding with winter snow, hail and tornadoes; as it made its way toward the Southeast of which Florida is a part, fulsome Gulf heat and moisture pumped up the southern tail of the front into a nasty line of storms. They mowed over our house last night around midnight in a fury of wind and lightning and thunder and rain. Fortunately there were no twisters as the whipping tails of these fronts can produce, like the pack of twisters on Groundhoug Day 2007 which raked Central Florida, lifting mobile homes skyward and killing 23, or the one which concentrated just on this town in 1993, damaging some 2,000 trees, many of them stately old oaks planted when this town was founded a century ago.

Six hours after the front roared through—as I now work on this post—the winds are still battering the neighborhood, weaving and whipping and roaring in the trees. These sorts of events aren’t all that unusual in Florida, but there is an added edge, a louder volume, a greater velocity to it.

They say everything is big in Texas, but in the 21st century ACE, climate change is making everything everywhere bigger.

And fast. Many areas around the world are dealing with cascading impacts of climate change. Take Australia, where areas ravaged by monster wildfires are rolling out further effects with fish kills from ash runoff and floods from torrential rains. Traditional and modern practices of fire control are seeming less likely to help with high and higher heat, burning on such scale and fire seasons extended further through the year.

Scientists now observe that climate change is causing the oceans to speed up. Winds are blowing harder, speeding surface ocean currents. One noticeable effect in the Pacific Ocean is the creation of hot spots which have been devastating to ocean life. These ocean changes were surprising to the scientists, they hadn’t expected to see such results for another 50 years. It’s similar to the acceleration of other predictions of earth impacts from climate change.

The big heat and fires are coming sooner, glaciers are melting faster, hurricane seasons are ramping bigger and faster every year (last year’s Hurricane Dorian would have been declared a Category 6 storm had such a category existed. The other day Antarctica recorded its warmest temperature on record—64 degrees F. The poles are melting at a record pace.

Is it weird to you that events on a geologic scale are irrupting so quickly into our already-speeding human time? Watching a glacier melt away in time-lapse is a dislocating experience. But observing dozens of events unfolding on a global scale in daily human time is somewhat like watching the seven days at the Creation in a biblical flip-book.

Speed used to be a novel human invention (think of those speed racing trials in the Bonneville Salt Flats), but now the world is outpacing us. This is especially worrying in the spread of novel coronavirus, which started with an infected snake or a bat on sale in an outdoor wild game market in Wuhan, China, leapt onto a peddler and fanned out from there. Even with the most stringent state controls, in a month we’re anxiously calculating the chances of global pandemic.

The carrier?  A fleet-footed humanity who travels at will and can sail or fly anywhere in the world.

And we thought the Australian bushfire horror was big enough … Nothing is big which can’t be overwhelmed by something else in the Anthropocene.

 

The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans), an invasive species now pillaging Florida reef systems.

 

Introduced by human travel and trade, invasive species threaten ecosystems all over the world, Hogs were brought to South Florida in 1539 by the Spanish explorer DeSoto. Over time they roamed, went feral, and now root through agricultural areas like rototillers, causing some $800 million in agricultural damage every year. Lionfish are beautiful additions to the tropical aquarium, but somehow they got into the Atlantic Ocean around 1985 (flushed down a toilet, probably) and have become voracious reapers of Florida reef ecologies. Burmese Pythons make strange pets (but then, consider their keeper); escaped or abandoned ones made it into the Florida Everglades where they have flourished, resulting in mammoth declines of small mammals like raccoons and white-tailed deer. Florida newspapers routinely publish photos of state-appointed hunters holding up trophy pythons approaching 17 feet long, but what goes unreported is how the Everglades ecosystem is changing under the rule of this new apex predator—more turtles, apparently (raccoons who favored their eggs are gone), and different plants growing because there are fewer mammals to dispense seeds through their feces. Who knows.

Truly though, humanity is most invasive species of all, covering the globe like kudzu and shaping  it for purely human use. We’ve hunted megafauna to extinction, overfished the ocean, polluted the skies with fossil fuel exhaust, ruined landscapes with chemical farming and covered the rest with asphalt. Even near space is getting to be a mess with drifting pieces of debris from our 50 years of space exploration.

In 200 years we’ve managed to set the global clock back 50 millions years. That’s a strange accomplishment, engineering a way into geologic time, re-shaping our Earth so much that our near- and long-term climate future is now in our hands. Will our fate be that of hothouse Venus? Some of that depends on how hard and fast humanity tips the balance in the decades to come. For now—for us, here—we have a chance to emotionally and aesthetically calibrate that speed from our various lives and locales, that heart and art may perceive what may be too fast for human eyes.

In my morning reading I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s collected poems as well as foraging in a very different volume, Reginald Dwayne Betts’ Felon. Berry has so much to say about damage and renewal—deep, abiding stuff. Betts has something equally important to say about damage and renewal. Reginald, who is African-American, served time in prison many years ago for a robbery he committed while still a teen. After his release he went to Yale to study law, became a public defender and kept writing poems.

Slavery was an invasive thought introduced to the New World with a vengeance, and as many as 60 million Africans died during their indentured labor. Four hundred years later its poisoned rootstock still finds ways to darken the American mind, in shadowy ways we hardly can acknowledge. As Michelle Alexander wrote her 2010 book The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration of black men using draconian drug laws passed in the 1980s has kept generations of black America in jail. Civil rights may have been granted in ’60s, but the shackles are still there.

Betts is deeply aware of how both his crime and the gulag of punishment he was thrown into has shaped his identity—the appellation of “felon” affects and afflicts every good thing to follow—and his message here, I think, is that renewal is neither easy or sure, and the product which survives may be unlike any poetry we have before known:

Sometimes you need a dark astringent to see clearly. This, from Betts’ “Essay on Re-Entry” from the collection:

…Nothing can be denied. Not the gun
that delivered you to that place where
you witnessed the images that won’t
let you go. Catfish learning to subtract,
his eyes a heroin-slurred mess;
Blue-Black doing backflips in state boots,
the D.C. kid that killed his cellmate.

Jesus. Barely older than you, he
had on one of the white undershirts
made by other men in prison, boxers, socks
that slouched, shackles gripping his shins.
Damn near naked. Life waiting.

Outside your cell, you could see them wheel
the dead man down the way. The pistol

you pressed against a stranger’s temple
gave you that early morning & now,
boxes checked have become your North Star,
fillip, catalyst to despair. Death
by prison stretch. Tell me. What name for
this thing that haunts, this thing we become.

From Felon (2019)

I don’t know why this pairs so well with a favorite Wendell Berry poem of mine, but it does:

TO KNOW THE DARK

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

from Farming: A Hand Book

Maybe we have to grow different eyes to see what’s really going on these days. This thing that haunts, this thing we become. A novel coronavirus, a hot Antarctic, roaring winds outside my window today—: It all comes at us fast. Better write something down before tomorrow.

Hard winds still blowing outside the window. When it gets light I need to collect the tarp which blew off the garage roof and pick up debris. We didn’t have to fire up the generator I bought last summer for the increasing likelihood of occasions like this, which is good. But the year is early.