earthweal weekly challenge: EVOLU-SONGS

I’ve been thinking about evolution the past few days—how life found its way on Earth, the code which governs its flourishing, how life came back after near-eradication after asteroid strikes or runaway climate change.

I also thought about the missteps along the way (which I include homo sapiens, the leftovers in our bodies from earlier evolutionary trails, like the tail we lose in the fetus, muscles we used to pivot our ears or raise our fur, wisdom teeth, the appendix. We carry humanity’s earlier departures like exist signs along the road which brought us here.

Leaving evolutionary theory aside—I wonder at the grand sweep of geologic time and life’s miniscule occupation in it (eight billion years of Universe, half a billion years of life as we so far can gaze clearly back). Long time before those single-celled organisms started swirling around.

Even longer time for those swirly dots to grow up into homo sapiens, 497 million years to get to the past 3 million years—and then, the haul from 3 million years to the past 12,000 years in which human civilizations raced to the present.

In our lifespan very little biological evolution is evident, and that’s a problem. Life probably won’t have time to put the brakes on us before we or our kids destroy everything.

In our moment, the cumulative effects of the past 200 years of human civilization has baked the planet with carbon emissions so robustly that the age we are on the precipice of—who knows how long, the next 300 years for sure, perhaps 3 million—is a dizzy upward jaunt into dramatic climate events, including coastal flooding, mass extinction and hothouse Earth, where the Arctic will turn tropic and the mid-latitudes will be a zone of swelter where very little life can sustain itself.

If humanity survies, it will be because its technology builds a sufficient carapace to keep human life comfy and somehow reverse the carbon soak in the atmosphere. I live in Florida, a ridiculous notion given the summer’s incessant blaring heat: But with the advent of central air conditioning in the 1950s, my summers pass in cool stasis. My windows suggest an outside very different from within, but who cares? Suburbia is an early draft of that ultimate carapace. Naomi Orestes and Erik Conway give us a look at this future in their science-paper-cum-novel The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future, where in 300 years half a million humans survive in stilt houses in the Arctic Circle, the only temperate zone left on earth.

Such spooky predictions don’t seem all this crazy this morning, with the Gulf Coast reeling from Hurricane Laura, California’s wildfire season just beginning with ore than a million and a half acres already up in smoke and worst-ever monsoon flooding continuing unabated in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Two more depressions on the way across the Atlantic, and it’s raining hard here this morning because a third system has formed weirdly just north of here, a pattern which has repeated several times this year.

As fast as humanity rolls out new inventions of dimensionally powerful and blind consequence, it’s another thing altogether when it comes to slamming the brakes fast enough when things go bad. In the short while since climate change became a driving global issue, very little of substance has been done to stop it. We don’t have sufficient cerebral mechanism for forward thinking, and next to none for reversing course. Got us out of the savannah and safe from cave bears maybe, but here at the crossroads of evolution and human revolution cross paths, life will have to engineer a governor for our overdrive or the universe will. (Wonderful parable for pandemic response in the United States, especially here in Florida.)

Perhaps it is a mistake to equate the speed of human civilization with the biology of evolution. There may be a great fault in thinking the rules of one apply to the other. I’ve been reading Hugh Brody’s Maps and Dreams, an account of sub-Arctic indigenous hunters in in the path of a British Columbia oil pipeline and how all the maps created by an invading white technocracy have no use or value for the tribes who have hunted there for millennia.

Brody notes that where agricultural societies have for the past ten thousand years evolved into carefully planned and engineered to produce a maximum yield, indigenous hunting practices are at least a million and half years older and suggest how an evolved mind truly works. When he is invited to join in a tribal hunt, he is startled by how devoid of planning there is in the operation.

But then he watches—and learns.

The way to understand this kind of decision making as also to live by and even share it, is to recognize that some of the most important variables are subtle, elusive, and extremely hard or impossible to assess with finality. The Athapaskan hunter will move in a direction and at a time that are determined by a sense of weather (to indicate a variable that is easily grasped if all to easily oversimplified by the one word) and by a sense of rightness. He will also have different ideas about animal movement, his own and others’ patterns of land use … But already the nature of the hunter’s decision- making is being misrepresented by this kind of listing. To disconnect the variables, to compartmentalize the thinking, is to fail to acknowledge its sophistication and completeness.

He considers variables as a composite, in parallel, and with the help of a blending of the metaphysical and the obviously pragmatic. To make a good, wise, sensible hunting choice is to accept the interconnection of all possible factors, and avoids the mistake of seeking rationally to focus on any one consideration that is held as primary. What is more, the decision is taken in the doing: there is not step or pause between theory and practice.

As a consequence, the decision—like the action taken from which it is inseparable—is always alterable (and therefore may to properly even be termed a decision). The hunter moves in a chosen direction; but, highly sensitive to so many shifting considerations, he is always ready to change his directions. (17)

Staggeringly backward if you’re planning to lay an oil pipeline, and yet a million-year success: And what have we to say of our two-hundred-year thirst for limitless oil?

And besides, if evolution did not gift us with merciless precision, then how is that a downside for the rest of life?

So perhaps we need to look at evolution with a different eye, certainly when it comes to the species who jacked the code.

OK, ‘nuff said. For this week’s challenge, consider evolution in the world immediately around you. How did we get here, and where do we go from here? In that “world” include your own—kids, cats, pangolins, Donald Trump, wisdom teeth, poetry and cetaceans who returned to the sea 50 million years ago. How do the rules of life mix and contrast with the engines of human civilization? Do extinction events belie what comes next? What has our 3-million-year evolution equipped us with, and what makes modernity so difficult? (Why are we all so fat?) Can evolution be scaled down to the course of a life? Do poems evolve? Does natural selection determine our aesthetics?

I’m really curious to see what you have to say sing!


earthweal weekly challenge: STORMS AND RAINBOWS

Rainbow as it appears above a grass fire burning on a hillside along Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.


Pondering what to pose as this week’s challenge, I woke this morning with the words Storms and Rainbows echoing from the drain of my sleeping mind.

We are in a season of storms: rousing thunder marches across the receptive earth. A raw, breaking-open time. Wildfires in California (conflagrated by excessive heat and lightning) burn with the growing, growling intensity we saw earlier this year in Australia. Smoke from the fires blankets far and wide.  Two tropical systems march toward the Gulf of Mexico, where waters are hotter in the new usual; both are predicted to strike Louisiana’s Gulf coast 48 hours apart. Artic sea ice is melting vanishingly fast. Monsoon rains in South Asia have furiously unleashed a  new-ordinary. And with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to flatten economies and increase human misery around the world, the Earth at 1 degree C of overall warming mired in the speed-shift of pandemic offers a jarring glimpse of the world as it warms 2 or 3 degrees C more in the next century, just as the poaching of endangered species hastens the demise of the animal kingdom wrought by climate change.

Yet in these folds are also rainbows. Rainbows are an optical phenomena created by the reflections, refraction and diffusion of sunlight off rain droplets, a circular arc centered by the sun and the observer’s eye.  (Normally we only see the half of them above the ground.) After the violence of a storm, the shimmer of multi-spectral light feels like a halo of blessing, an augury of the new.

From Wikipedia –

Rainbows occur frequently in mythology, and have been used in the arts. One of the earliest literary occurrences of a rainbow is in the Book of Genesis chapter 9, as part of the flood story of Noah, where it is a sign of God’s covenant to never destroy all life on earth with a global flood again. In Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge Bifröst connects the world of men (Midgard) and the realm of the gods (Asgard). Cuchavira was the god of the rainbow for the Muisca in present-day Colombia and when the regular rains on the Bogotá savanna were over, the people thanked him offering gold, snails and small emeralds. Some forms of Tibetan Buddhism or Dzogchen reference a rainbow body. The Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. This place is appropriately impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which cannot be approached.

Rainbows weave through our daily fabric. Life goes on. Children are born. Memorials are tended. As the usurper Macbeth is beheaded in the end, rogue leaders are voted out and the time becomes free. (Many of us will need to repeat this for the next four days of the Republican National Convention.) New shoots green burnt hills. We decide what’s worth rebuilding and look to new and better conventions of living for the entire human community.

Ghosts endure.

The interface of storm and rainbow—of despair and hope—is what interests me here.  In the I Ching there is a hexagram for this, Fu (Return), or The Turning Point:

RETURN. Success.
Going out and coming in without error.
Friends come without blame.
To and fro goes the way.
On the seventh day comes return.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

To and fro goes the way. Linked to the winter solstice, this hexagram speaks of a turning point, where darkness is exhausted and light begins its return.

How to stand at this door and return this light? Rilke suggests the following in his Sonnets to Orpheus:

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;

song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice—learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

—I.3, transl. Stephen Mitchell

A wind takes us from an idea of reality into Being. From shelter from the storm into spiral magnificence. From lightning strike to immolated city to a new pact with a burning Earth.

Easy, for a god. But what about us?

Perhaps we have come to the warbling threshold: Are we ready to step through? What does the rainbow bridge to this future look like? It is only an illusion?

All we need is a song. Write about storms and rainbows from whatever vantage seems most appropriate to you.

This challenge will remain open until 4 p.m. EST Friday, August 28, when we’ll roll down the scenery for the next open link weekend.

How did Joyce announce the thunder in Finnegans Wake


That should get us started!


earthweal open link weekend 33


Hi everyone, and welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend no. 33. Link a favorite poem from your work, old or new. Be sure to include your location in your link so we know what part of this Earth is singing, and visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link lasts until midnight EST Sunday night when we roll out the next weekly challenge.

See ya in the fray!

— Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: RE-WILDING OUR SOULS

By Sherry Marr

“The soulscapes of our lives form the arc
of a heroic journey. Our quest for wholeness
and connection with the wild is a wild and sacred journey.”

—From Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness by Mary Reynolds Thompson


Praise the wild soul for its ridges and canyons,
for its rivers and rapids. For its love of deep
caves and dark woods. For terrain, vast and
varied, undulating beneath spirit sky.

Praise the wild soul for its beauty, tremulous
as an aspen leaf, fierce as mother hawk. For
the way it shuns cages and breaks chains that
bind. For the way it rises, wings unfurled, on
rhythms of air. No stage holds dancers more
graceful than this.

Praise the wild soul for its intricacies, more
layered than the beaver’s dam, more complex
than the termites’ hill. Praise its wholeness, no
part left out, everything belonging.

Darkness gathers. My heart fills with fore-
boding at our human frailties.

But I have faith.
I am telling you now:
I believe in the wild soul.
Praise it.

This poem by Mary Reynolds Thompson expresses much of how I feel about our connection with the wild world, so necessary and integral to our well-being, and my foreboding at how so many have become deaf to the wild ones’ cries.

My connection with the wild has sustained me through years of trauma, turbulence and loss. Through it all, Mother Nature has been my best lover. The beauty of the earth has gotten me through the worst and best years of my life, as I walked along, head tipped back and grinning at the sky.

For years, raising my kids in Kelowna, lake and desert country, I saw its beauty, but felt I was in the wrong landscape. The wild shores and the old growth forests of Clayoquot Sound sang a siren song to me years before I journeyed here, before I ever beheld the perfection of its beauty. Its song captured my heart and imagination, drawing me to it as surely as a murrelet is drawn to its nest, a migrant whale to her feeding ground.

My inner Wild Woman came alive when I moved to Tofino the first time, in 1989. Immediately I stepped onto the beach, felt the energy of this power place, that questing, seeking voice in me was stilled, replaced by joy and gratitude and the certain knowledge I was in my soul’s home where I was meant to be.

Wild Woman got even wilder when Pup, my very alpha wolf-dog, found me. We gamboled joyously along the shore, explored every forest trail, in every weather. When we had to leave, we mourned its loss together, but found other wild rivers and forest trails to walk. This was a necessity for our well-being.

Those who live in cities likely feel that something-missing that is the wild world. Thankfully, cities have their share of parks and wilder spaces one can find, to make that connection we humans sorely need with the land.

For Mother Earth to heal, humanity has to either experience a societal shift, a transformation of consciousness, or else, (and this is more likely from the look of things), be forced by escalating climate crises to learn how to live as part of our ecosystem, in an integrated, rather than a dominating way.

Mary explains, “In losing our intimate relationship with the Earth, we modern humans have suffered a particular trauma that has caused our wild souls to split off…………we experience the symptoms of separation in a sense of alienation and a lack of aliveness.”

Healing the wound in nature heals the wound in ourselves, when we reconnect with Mother Earth and do what we can to help ease her wounds, and protect her forests and waters.

The way society is arranged, we are compressed into roles and boxes; making a living often takes so much effort there is little time for the actual living of life itself. Here is Mary Reynolds Thompson again:

To feel the breath of wildness come into your body is to reclaim your natural wholeness. It is to be enfolded by fields of grasses and held by the mountains’ slow and steady strength. It is to hear in your own heartbeat the thunderous roar of the ocean, reminding you that your life still belongs to the wild Earth. All you have to do is reach for her.

Different landscapes call to different people. Some are in love with deserts; some need forests, oceans and rivers; other hearts thrill to the majesty of the mountains, or swell to the vast scope of grasslands and big sky. There is beauty all around, everywhere, in the morning sky peeking at us from our back porch, and in visits from the wild world: small birds coming to our feeder, deer softly tiptoe-ing across the grass.

For your challenge: What is your wild soul’s story in relation to the landscape you love? Tell us about the place that sings you home, the one that calls to your wild spirit, the place in all the world that invites your wild Self out to play. It can be the landscape you loved in childhood and think of now when you think of Home. Or it might be a place you love right now, either where you are living, or a beloved vacation spot.

Introduce us to its topography, its special characteristics. How has your chosen landscape changed over the years? How has loving it changed you? How is it in peril? What is the land and its wild creatures saying to you?

Whatever words come to you in response to this, I will read them with great appreciation.