earthweal weekly challenge: A NEW MAP TO THE OLD WORLD

1550 map of the New World.


Stay-in-place time passes far from the hurly-burly clockface of Earlier 2020. It feels like we’re adrift in a stillness which echoes vastly down the abyss of geologic time, sails lagging, motion nil. Who knows when the world will resume, when jobs will be found and supply chains start up again, when restaurants re-open and concourses fill again with unmasked fellow travelers and celebrants and worshippers. When a vaccine is finally ready and offered, for sure: But how long that will be, no one really knows, and for now, we wait, lingering on in bewitched stillness praying for anything like a breeze.

Something I read yesterday in Robert Macfarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey fluttered my sails:

A woman’s body is prepared for burial in Thessaly in the fourth century B.C. Her lips are closed by a coin bearing the head of a gorgon, there to pay the ferryman who will carry her over a dark-watered river towards the realm of death. Placed on her chest are two heart-shaped leaves of gold foil, into which metal words have been etched. Together the leaves form a Totenpass—a death pass or death map. The text they bear is for her to read in the underland; it gives her directions to the dominion of the dead, where she will be placed in the care of Persephone. The text warns her of mistakes made by others, who have not navigated their way to safety in the underland and are now condemned to haunt the mortal realm eternally as spectres. You will find on the right in Hades’ halls a spring, and by it stands a ghostly cypress-tree, where the dead souls descending wash away their lives. Do not even draw night this spring … (246-7)

In maps to the underworld, the precision is—was—all.  Great was the peril for taking even the wrong step left or right off the path. Remember the Tarot of The Fool, eyes dazzled by sunshine as he steps off a cliff? For such folly it’s hair, nose and eyeballs whistling all the way down to the eternally crashing shore, a sound which still chills us with the lament of the lost …

I wonder what happened to those death maps. Religions have offered life-sized versions of them, with careful instructions how to behave today for eternal payoff. Myth travels further back into the caves, setting up altars and reckonings deep in the Mother. But do those maps come close to the land of the dead? Somehow all our charts fall short of the far-westernmost island, Ultima Thule, Land of the Everliving …

And most of those maps have been overwritten by mortal, venal hands. Profaned. The imperial maps of capitalism are grand, trespassing far and wide and deep, laying some 50 million miles of borehole drilling down into the oil, shearing off mountains to claw out trainloads of coal.  Invade pristine wilderness in holy search for gold, for lost cities with gleaming vaults, room after room further below. The cranium of something deep and lost 15 thousand feet down the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, drilled and pumped for the knowledge of gilt things. Arctic glaciers melted and refined to pour into crystal glasses aboard yachts named Anubis and Unsinkable II.

In an interview with Dianne Ackerman about Underland, Macfarlane spoke about recovering our way to the underworld:

I have for a long time been interested in practices of “countermapping,” most particularly associated as a practice with indigenous or suppressed cultures who seek to disinter and reinscribe forgotten or overwritten topyonymies and modes of perceptions … Mapping is always partial, and for that reason is always an expression of priority—and often an expression of power. … In Underland that has meant making visible those aspects, psychological as well as geological, that we have sought to bury, suppress, hide, or render obscene. Such things have—in trauma theory as in geomorphology—a tendency to resurface. (Earth Elegies, Conjunctions: 73, p 74)

It makes me wonder about the modern maps we reckon by, insanely accurate in one sense—how easy it is to drive to any location navigating with Google Maps—yet profanely unreadable for reckoning a soul’s history or a nation’s fall. And we thought we were sailing to Byzantium, disrupting deep time with our progress.

The time allows us moment to wonder at the maps we have followed, asking where they have lead us. Gazing through their tatters, we sense or sight a truer lay of the land? Do our ruins inter a darker, deeper cartography? Are there leys of ancient power just behind the formal lines of our surveyed towns?

What might those maps look like? Or, to read things backward (we do have the time), are there cartographies of deep time and stillness which betray the known maps of the world which no longer apply? Does our very understanding of landscape shift and relocate in the shatter of this here and now? Chastened by something so infinitesimal as a virus—one-one thousandth the girth of a human hair—what does that tell us a three billion-year-old planet’s grief at the lousy 10 thousand years of homo sapiens mastery?

And what of spectral, monstrous landscapes—vast stretches of tar sand wretchedness in Alberta, or carved-off mountaintops in Appalachia, oil-sogged Gulf beaches or whales dead with plastics filling their guts, or vast stretches of coral reefs bleached or a third of a continent of blackened bush: What instructions did we fail in getting here? By what reckoning can we call ourselves a success?

Is there hope perhaps, in charting a Totenpass for a human world bewitched by virus?

I don’t know, but it’s worthy of a weekly challenge.

What’s your NEW MAP TO THE OLD WORLD?  What hidden perils and treasures does it reveal?

Contributions welcomed through Friday, May 1. Be sure to visit your fellow poets from around the world and comment on their map(s)

Anchors aweigh!




PS: Your map does not have to take us to dystopia or Eden; we may only have our damaged reckoning and an only faintly clearing view. (Who has much sense of the horizon ahead in the coming months?) Spiritual, political and aesthetic responses are all compromised. Let’s take that as par for this course and be encouraged to keep working for that reason, with nuance and guesswork. Heavens, we don’t even understand the virus we are contending with; how can we properly locate the changed geography?

Macfarlane again:

Donna Haraway’s justly famous phrase for the task that faces all of us is “staying with the trouble.” There is no prelapsarian state of nature to be returned to, or even briefly accessed. It is impossible to write without a context of damage, decline, and injustice. The trouble needs to be clearly seen, and organized against up and down the levels, from local to global. But—and—keeping hope, love, wonder and the belief in possible betterment in view; this too is part of the work of staying with the trouble. (Ackerman interview in Earth Elegies, 77)

earthweal open link weekend #17

Welcome to earthweal’s open Link Weekend #17.

Link a poem that best suits your own theme or mood, be it new or oldie gold. Include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage. And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

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

I look forward to seeing you all here.





weekly challenge: THE CROSSROAD


It’s not a comfort to me that everyone now seems itching now to get back to their old daily life. At least the media surge is hauling us tidally in that direction. We’re barely two-to-four weeks into stay-in-place orders and conservative politicos are talking about how to open for business again. Famously, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that old people in Texas were more than willing to die if it meant preserving the economy for their grandkids; infamously, Texas is one of several US states to recently pass legislation outlawing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure. Like the old 10cc song goes, in the rush to reopen it’s art for art sake, money for God’s sake.

It sure seemed that was last night as I drove across town for takeout barbecue. The roads were busy,  there were ten cars lined up outside Dairy Queen for burgers and six ahead of me at the local BQ house.

Maybe early spring brings the same flush readiness, cabin fever abandoned for days still too cold but ripening in some distant outward way. It’s just our nature to shake off hibernation. It doesn’t help that so many are unwisely following their unreined feelings, flush like drunk teenagers at Spring Break, massing outside government buildings waving patriotic flags and bearing pandemically-nonsensical signage like “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” gathering without masks in a time when COVID-19 cases continue to surge, in the US at least. Elizabeth Kolbert writes that when a wave of cholera struck Russia in 1830, Tsarist troops tried to quarantine citizens and met with widescale rioting, an unrest which eventually led to the Russian Revolution. (Maybe not ironically, one of the signs at the recent protests read “Social Distancing = Communism”.)

But to get to my point (I doubt anyone still has patience for my drawn-out assays, especially in this cabin-fevered online meeting space), what kind of world awaits us? It’s like coming up from sleep still heavily laden from some dream: Reality is something we yawn and scratch and smack our lips for, shedding one form of duration to resume another.

It makes me wonder what we’re waking to. The human world has taken such a hit this past couple of months, who knows how it will resume, if it can, what depths we find ourselves in, what different tack we must take. I imagine it must be somewhat like driving down the scorched highways of Kangaroo Island after the immense wildfires which beset Australia earlier this year. No life in sight for miles and miles, just matchstick trees with all the presence inbetween, in the ghostly breeze. Life will return, but how indeed will the world wake back up in it?

Maybe it’s too early for such a survey. Epidemiologists uniformly warn of hasty reintroductions to daily life before the viral storm has truly passed. We are at least another month of self-isolation before that time, and remind us that second waves are often worse than the first. (The Spanish Flu epidemic a century ago killed 5 million in the first wave and 20 million in the second.)

Humans are so poorly adapted to their brains; we see the moment well but hardly lift a finger to save the latter ones. That’s why climate change so bedevils us. Someone likened all the mini-epidemics certain to sprout from hasty re-engagement without sufficient testing or protective gear to a temporal row of shark’s teeth. Twitter has been serving up clips from the movie Jaws where the town’s mayor, so eager not to scare off summer business, lifts the swimming ban only to have the town get bitten worse in its economic ass.


Business vs. Mother Nature in “Jaws” (1975)


That kind of jaw gapes ahead of us, but what of this less-than-apocalyptically-feared moment? Researchers studying the China outbreak now suggest that four out of five infections have no symptoms. Most of us either have it (or will) and will hardly know it, leading less civil minds to what all the fuss is about. (Cue FOX News and other media outlets of the far-right squawkbox).  Loud are the voices now shouting that our financial hygiene is much more dire than our collective health.  Arguments against investing to fight climate change run exactly in the same way: No future tree is more valuable than today’s job.

Indeed, there’s mot much talk of climate emergencies these days, not with so much on our human plate. But hurricane season is coming and hot and hotter oceans spell wild and meaner storms. Similarly, there’s not much talk of resurgent COVID while everything urges toward Back to Business—not with personal peril seemingly so low! But just wait for the waves to follow—big ‘uns, especially in countries too divided and distracted to pay attention as well as poor ones without any means of preparation.

I wonder what workers in ravaged health care systems—doctors, nurses, morgue attendance, ambulance drivers and maintenance workers— think about unremitting waves of the infected to come, despite their every heroic effort.  For us, the gaps in those teeth, latent with the promise of a return to normalcy; for them the razoring summits of every warning unheeded.

I wonder too if the same crossroads are this year being felt most keenly in the human response to climate change. Wakened by the need to rebuild a pandemic-ravaged global economy from the ground up, is this the year we waken to the challenge of climate change, shake off decades of denial and slumber, and get to work at last laying the groundwork and building the infrastructure of a sustainable future? Or will we fail to understand and grapple with pandemic in the smaller way we fail to respond to the much greater and long-lasting consequences of climate change?

For this week’s challenge—should you choose to accept it—is to write about the weird crossroads this moment now brings us to. What is it about the intersection of all we know we must keep doing and the contrary might of all we wish to return to? Where does responsible action come from, and how is it infected and deflected by wishful thinking? What is wrong with the human mind when it comes to smart survival? What makes a society work, what makes it divide? Is all growth painful? Are easy decisions always toxic? How do we successfully wake up from sleep and join the living again? Is there a Rip Van Winkle metaphor here to play with? What is there to return to? Does it look ghostly now? How fateful are the decisions we now make?

This Wednesday (April 22) is the 50th anniversary Earth Day, so you could also wonder what crossroad the Earth approaches or has passed.

Sign us a song of THE CROSSROAD!

— Brendan


earthweal open link weekend #16

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #16.

Here’s your chance to air your vatic laundry, whether drip-drying new ocean verse or exhuming classic moldie oldies.

Include your location in your link so we can apprize the global choir, and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

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

Hope you are staying safe and productive on all the distant islands of this pandemic.

– Brendan


A cool and rainy day here in Central Florida (this Thursday, at least, when I broke ground on this week’s open link write). Thunderstorms rolled into the afternoon swelter as my wife and I were painting a hallway after a decade of promises to do so. (Projects are such vigorish for staying-in-place blues.)

Cracks of thunder broke into tracks from a 3-CD collection of Philly Soul by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff—“Expressway to Your Heart” by Soul Survivors, “Only The Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes. Arch 70s disco soul for hard times; my wife had bought the set 20 years ago after a resoundingly bad yard sale—instead of making some real cash for bills, we barely made enough to eat dinner out on a hot Florida summer night and score the CD set.

Thick smells of paint as we grunted and groaned painting corners, rolling thunder and memories of walking frozen Chicago streets in 1972 with “Me and Mrs. Jones” echoing deeply in my teenaged soul. But it’s great music for painting projects—how long has it been since we’ve given these CDs a spin?—making the afternoon feel like a seedy Chicago movie theater where I used to go watch grindhouse movies with the Puerto Ricans who lived us in my high school years, “Enter the Dragon” and “Superfly,” “Death Wish” and “Unholy Rollers.” Painting all that over, so many decades later, with a wife who never went any of those places but still loves the music so …

It rained through the night last night—something we so need here after months of almost none while pandemic dreams lay siege. Have yours been weird? Last night I wandered lost in some great bowel of a hotel complex, late and later for a job interview, passing bars where patrons motioned me to join them and the full weight of something overhead felt about to collapse.

Somewhere I read that dreams for everyone are weird right now because we’re in the doldrums of a massive change with no real clarity or end in sight. Maybe you have a COVID-19 dream in your holster you’d like to spin out and fire for open link weekend. I usually wake from mine exhausted.

Public comment in Chennai, India.

Climate news is bad, as one would expect in a world of continuing inaction and denial. Scientists now say that Greenland’s ice sheet melted last summer at a record rate largely because of a high-pressure dome which sat over the area, much as it did in 2012 when Greenland experienced its worst melting event. If this weather phenomenon becomes a more normal event, as it is expected in climate models of a warming earth, sea level rise will accelerate at a much faster rate.

Another chirrup of bad news from a worsening world: A study published this month in Nature states that climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it.  We can look on our presently clearer skies and pray that enough people start working from home instead of commuting to an office for the merciful slowdown in emissions. Our pain is nature’s gain …

Yes, but back to our pain. The bonds of medical safety are stretching the bonds of sanity, especially at the extremes. In Michigan yesterday, thousands gathered at the state capital to protest Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, milling on the steps with rifles and pistols on display as well as Trump 2020 signs and shouting “lock her up!” (“It’s always lock her up,” a ruffled feminist tweeted.) Rural areas of the state have been less affected the virus than In Detroit where 5,000 residents have been stricken by the virus and nearly 400 have died.  (Commenting to reporters later in the day, Gov. Whitmer said, “The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it.”)

Protestors on the steps of the Michigan state capital.

Let’s remember that Republican South Dakota governor Kristi Noem still refuses to issue even a localized stay-in-place order after 600 employees and relatives of the workers at a Smithfield meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls were stricken with the virus, causing the facility to close and resulting in dire warnings about the security of the nation’s meat supply. “I don’t believe (a stay-at-home order is) appropriate considering the data, the facts and the science that we have,” governor Noem said Tuesday, referring, I suppose to the alternative-facts universe by which coronavirus hotspots get pooh-poohed while they mushroom.

In good ole Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted a similar “What Me, Worry?” attitude about the virus in the Sunshine State, waiting too long to order a rather flimsy stay in place order (allowing spring breakers to mosh on beaches, cruise ships to sail out and tourist parks to remain packed), refusing to disclose details about nursing home infections, languishing on unemployment claims (35,000 of 850,000 submitted have cleared) and deeming televised professional wrestling and golf “essential” entertainment options. “You know what Florida really needs now?” asked a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald editorial board. “A governor.” ‘Tis easier to find a Gulf sea-turtle without oil in its belly than get an unemployment application approved in this state …

Not that DeSantis or any other elected official accused of misconduct, abuse of power or simple favoritism toward vested interests over the vital needs of citizens have much cause for worry. The pandemic is obliterating the newspaper industry; 50 percent ad revenue losses have sent the stock of the 280-daily newspaper behemoth Gannett down into whaleshit territory where other newspaper chains like McClatchy have languished for too long. My former employer, which used to do a fairly good job of convincing those newspapers to run cartoons on its pages for exorbitant rates, is looking more doubtful than a penguin diving into the bubbling  Antarctic sea ..

A sobering essay by Ed Yong titled “Our Pandemic Summer” published on April 14 in The Atlantic. It’s the best analysis I’ve seen on what we face next in contesting a virus for which we have no vaccine, is killing about 7 percent of those it infects and is already resurging in Singapore, China, Taiwan and other Asian states trying to re-engage daily life. Yong writes,

The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

It’s hard to imagine this stuff a month from now, much less a duration which lasts through the summer or much longer after that.  But welcome to the strange new world of weirdness without end. You can thank the obscenity of lust for exotic meat; or silence from officials when truth was needed; or the inaction of other government officials when immediate action was called for. A pair of epidemiologists project that the US death toll would have been ten times lower had social distancing measures been implementing just two weeks earlier. You can’t help but wonder how much humanity would be improved if it had retained more animal instincts.

Now there’s talk of restarting a desperately stalled economy, of going back to work and school albeit with great (OK, some) caution. But you have to add a heaping dollop of uncertainty as to just how to proceed. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before in modern times, so we’re going to have to be flexible,” Jong quotes Caitlin Rivers of the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There’s no real playbook.”

More than anything, weirdness is the result, an omnipresent goo-goo eyed whack-a-mole fucking with our dailiness, our relationships, our eating habits, our dreams, our poetry.

Shall I iterate the weird sampling of the moment? There’s a Japanese cult called Happy Science which claims that coronavirus is a disease spread by extraterrestrials and offers “spiritual vaccines” for a fee.  Streets are almost empty in many urban areas, but speeding tickets are being issued at an all-time high. A judge in Florida (of course) has ordered that attorneys who participate for court hearings via Zoom bother to get out of bed and dressed. Authorities in the Maryland village of Taneytown warn residents that they must put on pants before leaving the house to check the mailbox. Routines are disintegrating for those now working from home; meal-times are all over the place, diets are in an uproar, bedtimes are a flaccid joke and streaming has become a less obliterative form of opiate abuse. A bobblehead of Dr. Fauci will soon be available. A man in Cheltenham, England, ran a virtual marathon in his back yard. Authorities now warn runners to give more space to each other as they may create a wake of air behind them that could carry exhaled respiratory droplets for 15 feet or more, meaning that the droplets could reach people walking or jogging well behind them. Tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have come down with the virus. A Kentucky town has created a neighborhood “safari” for kids during the pandemic, placing stuffed animals in the windows of houses. In Hutchins, Texas, a semi-truck hauling toilet paper to market crashed and caught fire, destroying the precious commodity.

And all the jobs created in the US after the Great Recession have been wiped out with 22 million jobless claims filed in the past 4 weeks. When you look at the graph of job losses in this country during and since the recession, scale is totally lost, with this mild ambling Poconos of a curve irrupted by the starkest upward brutal Himalayas of a four-weeks spike. Weird weird weird.

The new normal is unendingly new: I could sit all day at my Twitter feed, eager for the next instant’s weird development. I try not to—there are halls to paint—but the weight of weirdness bears down on everything, especially dream-time. Last night I wandered about the vast and lavish underground lobby of some grand hotel—there was the sense of enormity hundreds of floors rising above—trying to get to an important event while I passed bars with gleaming taps and bathrooms always too occupied to relieve myself in. And the weird is so invisible, nothing burning or exploding; it’s just the sense that everything is being pushed over by weirdly invisible hands. Like the cold rains today—where did they come from, when it’s been so hot and humid and still for days? There will be a job market out there when I can finally suit up and start showing up again, right? If this is the new normal, it’s a drip I can do without. Can I? Please? Will someone tell weirdness that its season is now over?

Unfortunately, no one has that kind of authority, nobody is really free to decide what they want to and go however they please in weird time. Coronavirus is the truest libertarian, infecting whomever comes unprepared within sneezing distance. The decision to restart a country’s economy cannot be done with any conscience without knowing how many of its population has been infected. Testing is crucial: The official count is the tip of an iceberg, but how much lies below? What is called “herd immunity” means that 60 to 80 percent of a population have endured the infection and survived (and making the wait for a vaccine unnecessary). Liberal estimates put the current infection range at about 20 percent. “However,” Jong writes, “if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean ‘this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,’ said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. ‘Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.’”

With wide-scale testing still a ways off in the U.S. and cabin fever beginning to trump the fear of virus fever, I’m not sure who to feel sorrier for—those going back to jobs in such uncertain peril or unemployed folks who can’t find a way to get back into perilous workplaces. Which straits are more dire?

In the end, humanity is fast catching up with the Earth’s dire straits, with climate change pushing so many species to the brink of extinction. Coronavirus will not spell the end of homo sapiens, but it does lend a certain vantage which the rest of life has been crowded into.

At the end of his essay, Yong likens this to contrast between those who have lived in with disability and the rest of us who are now gaining some appreciation for their plight:

The disability community has also noted that, at a time when their health is in jeopardy and their value is in question, abled people are struggling with a new normal that is their old normal—spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance. “We know how to do community from afar, and how to organize from bed,” said Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech, who studies the intersection between technology and disability. “Instead of feeling this great vacuum, our social life hasn’t radically changed.” Disability scholars have written about “crip time”—a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty. “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind,” Shew said. “Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.”

As the rest of the U.S. comes to terms with the same restless impermanence, it must abandon the question When do we go back to normal? That outlook ignores the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as normal. It wastes the rare opportunity to reimagine what a fairer and less vulnerable society might look like. It glosses over the ongoing nature of the coronavirus threat. There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.

Crip time it is then—schools still suspended, employment still distant, enforced isolation without clear end, stock market volcanic, job loss curve at full lust thrust, dream-time anxieties oceanic as the night mashes down. Will there ever be something definitive to be said about all of this?

I keep thinking we’ll find it in our poetry, but maybe the times are just too weird. No poetry survives the era of pyroclastic rain when Mt. Vesuvius erupted next to Pompeii. Maybe everyone was too busy dancing.

Until then, then, this continuance. Keep your poems coming!




Typical Wet Market in China (Getty Images)


By Sherry Marr

As you know, my heart is always with the animals, wild and domestic. Anderson Cooper of CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall, who said she hoped the corona virus pandemic would soon be over. Then she added, “I hope and pray that the nightmare will soon be over for the wild animals who are captured and kept in horrible conditions for food. Our too-close relationship with wild animals in the markets, or when we use them for entertainment, has unleashed the terror and misery of new viruses, viruses that live in them without harming them, but mutate into other forms to infect us.

“We have amazing brains,” she continued. “We are capable of love and compassion for each other. Let us also show love and compassion for the animals who are with us on this planet.”

Music to my ears. But will humankind listen? Have we learned anything from this? Stay tuned. I have a discouraging answer to that question farther down in this feature.

This virus has made clear as never before how interconnected we all are with the natural world and the other species we share the planet with. We know now, there is a direct connection between the wild animals in the wet markets of Wuhan and the corona virus. The pangolin (scaly anteater) and the civet are said to have played a part in transmitting it. Researchers say it likely originated in the Chinese horseshoe bat.

In wet markets, people buy and eat such things as barbecued bats, monkeys, cats and dogs, all kept in terrible conditions. They look out through the wire in terror, knowing they are about to die a horrible death. They are killed in ways too brutal for me to relate.  We don’t want to know this. It makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to look away.  We can easily imagine the distress of a single human in this world that we have made so difficult to live in. Each individual animal feels the exact same fear, pain and terror that we do. They haunt me.

Some of our North American practices in our factory “farms” are as brutal as anything we cluck about across the sea.

Because I know that animals feel everything we feel, because I have seen their tears and I hear their cries for help all over the world, I can’t turn away. I bear witness. I sing the song of their desperate lives, hoping enough of us will hear and come to their rescue.

We are now paying the price of wildlife trafficking. The bill has come due. The demand for apes, for bush meat and body parts, for elephants, rhinos, big cats, giraffes has brought us to this moment.  The pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals on earth. Who would have thought our fates would intertwine?  These are creatures that belong in the wild, whom we have interfered with terribly. Now seven tigers in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in the U.S.  have the virus, infected by their human handler.

As early as 2007, studies warned “wet markets are a time bomb for a virus outbreak”. And this week both the White House coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci and U.N. Biodiversity Chief Elizabeth Mrema called for a global shutdown of all wild animal markets, “to prevent the next pandemic.”  Oh my goodness.

Here is where my heart sinks. China did order the wet markets closed when the virus broke out. But they re-opened as soon as lockdown regulations were relaxed.

Let that sink in. How discouraging, that we learn nothing from what we live through. How frustrating that profit continues to be the driving force, above survival of the planet, its people, and the other beings whose survival is totally at our mercy. Mea culpa.

As citizens of our global village, the protection of our environment equals the protection of our future, and our grandchildren’s. The laws we create to protect wildlife will also protect human communities. A shift to restoring the earth to balance will create employment, through alternative sustainable livelihoods that do no harm. This will create more successful human communities.

Compliance will be a problem; the wild animal trade is peoples’ livelihoods. We need to develop artisan markets, tourism, wildlife protection and land stewarding jobs instead. The UN chief noted that the risk is of driving the trade underground, making it even more dangerous and less regulated.

In the short window of time remaining before we pass the tipping point (which feels ever nearer, to me), we need to make every effort, personally, nationally and globally, to heal the harm we have done to Mother Earth. We have seen how quickly the natural world responded, when we humans took our feet off the gas pedal and stayed indoors: she began to heal, skies cleared, waters grew cleaner. Mother Earth has been sending us messages in every voice she has, telling us she was in trouble. With this virus, perhaps she has finally gotten our attention. I hope so.

We have seen how governments at every level, faced with the global threat of the virus, have come together. Everything else was set aside to address the problem which threatens our lives. I hope they will do the same for the climate crisis, when the virus subsides, for it threatens us every bit as much. I think of wildfire season, not that far off, with foreboding. Governments and everyday people have shown we can step up with courage, determination, and with full and loving hearts, when the cause is urgent. I have to hope that on the other side of the crisis, we will address climate change, of which this virus, our global appetites, and the voracious maw of capitalism have all played their part.

For your challenge: as always, I keep it wide open. Write about whatever this sparks in you: our connection with the natural world and with the wild, your fear, anger, hope, love of animals, domestic and wild, or your frustration at humanity’s slowness to grasp our shared predicament. Never did we think we would be living through times like this. How is the virus affecting you?

Bring us your words, experiences and feelings about these difficult times we live in. Be assured, we will read them with deep respect.