Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected
and treated with good will.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children,
and theirs –
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the
night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy
realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.
From “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings”
by the first Native American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo
by Sherry Marr
The land remembers, but we humans have forgotten. We forgot how to live on this earth as one being among other beings. We forgot our connection with the natural world, and that we are only one part of an interconnected ecosystem. Sadly, the one significant difference is that our single species has devastated the planet, used too many of its finite resources, and we are now beginning to feel the effects. Other species have been feeling them for some time.
The Old Ones, sharing their oral history over ten thousand years, tell of a time when people and animals could talk to one another. Indigenous people have strict protocols for respectfully using resources, and safeguarding them for future generations. If they take a single tree from an area, they leave that part of the forest to heal for 150 years. Each animal they take for food, they respect and give thanks to. Every decision they make looks ahead to the seventh generation, so that all may continue to live. How must they view our outrageous treatment of the earth — our only home?
A half dozen Tofino (on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) poets gathered at the edge of Tonquin Forest recently to say goodbye and thank you to the trees that are being cut – half a forest of ancient beings — to make way for housing. For humans, edging ever deeper into habitat, displacing the wild ones.
We smudged, we burned sage, we read poems of grief and gratitude. Then we had a water ceremony where each of us placed our wishes into a bowl of water, our hopes that the workers will work in a good way, and the people who will live on that land will live consciously and respectfully. Then we poured the water out onto the roots of a Grandmother Tree.
It was beautiful and sad.
My thoughts were with the creatures who will be displaced, in hopes they will find shelter and safety. And that our species will come to a swift understanding of how interconnected all beings are; that we, as citizens of earth, will be louder in our demand that our leaders stop talking and take action to address the escalating climate crisis. (I know. We live in hope! More climate talks are going on now. More “blah blah blah,” as Greta Thunberg says. Example: While Trudeau says all the nice words, they are empty. Canada funnels 12 billion dollars a year into the fossil fuel industry; it has pledged four billion to address climate change. Sigh.)
Joanna Streetly, Tofino’s first Poet Laureate, talked about the Great Forgetting, a concept that really spoke to me. She said that, since she was a child, she has always looked for basking sharks, but she suddenly realized her daughter, who is seventeen, will never look for basking sharks, because they don’t exist anymore. How many more creatures will join the great forgetting of those who lived, died and silently disappeared?
It occurs to me, to wonder, with only 2.7% of old growth left in B.C., will my great-grandchildren’s children ever see an old growth tree?
The last of the Ancient Ones, the Standing People, who have given us breath, and life, and cooled our hot summers, are falling to corporate greed and governmental negligence (criminal negligence, in my view; government is supposed to be a steward of resources for the good of all, not corporations).
I cannot fathom a world in which my descendants might only see a Token Tree in what will amount to a tree museum, “saved” for educational purposes. Will they think we were mad?
I looked online to see what others have to say about this Great Forgetting.
Daniel Quinn in his book The Great Forgetting, says, “What was forgotten in the Great Forgetting was the fact that, before the advent of agriculture and village life, humans had lived in a profoundly different way. Paleontology forced us to conclude that Man had been born something else entirely — a forager and a homeless nomad — and this is what had been forgotten in the Great Forgetting.”
At sacredecology.com I came across this view: “Man was not born a few thousand years ago. Humans have been here for millennia. Man was [once] no more a scourge than hawks or lions or squids. He lived at peace with the world […] This doesn’t mean he walked the earth like a Buddha. It means he lived as harmlessly as a hyena or a shark or a rattlesnake.”
Since the industrial revolution, extraction capitalism and rampant materialism has devastated the planet. Here we are, living through the Sixth Great Extinction. Are world leaders worried? Are they ready to legislate the tough changes we need to be making now? Not a bit.
In late October, off the West Coast over 100 shipping containers fell off a freighter ship during what was termed a “cyclone bomb” storm. They are now washing ashore, spilling coloured plastic, styrofoam and other abominations along miles of beaches; as they fragment, some of it will be ingested by marine life, impacting their survival. Some containers contain toxic substances and may blow up. Two containers on board ship caught fire and were fortunately contained by front line responders. The beach cleanup will take years, and much of the wreckage will inevitably be carried back into the ocean.
In a UN report in 2019, 1 million species were identified as being threatened with extinction, many within decades. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” said Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN Science Policy Platform which issued the report.
The report states dozens of species are being lost each day, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species going extinct by 2050. More than 40 percent of amphibian species are at risk. (Source: tufts.edu)
I completely understand Greta Thunberg’s “our house is on fire” quote, and I share her frustration at all the “blah blah blah,” when the information is clear. We all should be out in the streets in protest.
PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, says: Beyond global species extinction, Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading effects on ecosystem functioning…vital to sustaining civilization.”
We are experiencing an unprecedented decline in biodiversity. I think of the quote, “What happens to one, happens to all.”
Remembering is a radical act.
I came across this explanation of our apparent numbness to what is taking place in a book by Arno Kopecky titled The Environmentalist’s Dilemma: Promise and Peril in an Age of Climate Crisis :
‘Remembering,’ the renowned British environmental writer George Monbiot has said, ‘is a radical act.’ He was talking about humanity’s inability to perceive incremental change, which Monbiot regards as one of our most dangerous blind spots … Monbiot … describe[s] how each generation grows accustomed to a diminished ecosystem and fails to register that anything might be missing.
Remembering is radical because it cuts across the grain of our capacity to adapt … Adapting necessarily includes a measure of forgetting, and that, too, has become a problem. Any hope of escaping the Environmentalist’s Paradox rests … on all of us learning to be radical. We must simultaneously remember how far we’ve come and how much we’ve lost. The alternative is to remain numb, to stay used to it all.
Right now, hungry whales and bears and wolves are showing us that their sustainability is being lost. In Tofino, local bears are thin and very much in evidence this fall, as they have not been able to eat enough food to hibernate this winter. Some have been eating sea grass down at the shore.
I just learned that 4,000 black bears were killed in B.C. in the last eight years by “conservation” officers, for the crime of being hungry and homeless. (source) Will my great-grandchildren’s children have black bears in their world?
How many of the animals that filled our childhood imaginations with awe have disappeared or are in danger of becoming extinct? The World Wildlife Fund warns that animal populations have declined by an average of 70% in the last fifty years. Many are critically endangered.
So many species are being lost. So many things our great-grandchildren will learn about only from books. They will be amazed and angered at so much loss.
Extraction capitalism: its price is coming due.
This is part of the Great Forgetting: that we are only one species among all the other species. The view that humans are the dominant species, and human interests always come first, is what has gotten us here. Maybe what the earth needs most is to do a great forgetting of her own, of us, so the planet can heal and life can begin again.
Currently threatened: such creatures as the lemur, the river dolphin, the white rhino, the orangutan. Even such sweet creatures as koalas are now endangered since the Australian wildfires, a direct impact of climate change.
Already gone: the Indian cheetah, the Sumatra rhino, the Chinese paddlefish, the giant softshell turtle, the Spix macaw, and the Indochinese tiger. An unimaginable number of lost species in the struggling ocean.
According to UN reports, the world will soon have lost two-thirds of its wildlife.
Breathe for a minute, and take that in. It is incomprehensible that we have lost so much without alarm and action from global governments and populations. Just how much more are we willing to lose in the interests of “the economy” or the western world’s entitled self-interest?
As we age, and the animals we loved and wondered about as children are so quickly disappearing, Joanna’s basking shark is now joined by a procession of sad animals, who suffer greatly before they die, because of us, how much we take and use and waste, how unconsciously our society has lived the past 50 years, an eyeblink in history with a devastating impact on the sustainability of life on this planet.
I can’t imagine living in a world without lions and elephants, giraffes and koalas, bears and wolves. So many animals have silently slid into the past, unremarked and unnoticed, unnamed and unknown, their claw marks leaving stripes across the sands of time.
And my question is widening: will there be any humans left in fifty years to forget (or remember) these beautiful beings we allowed to be lost? As the planet heats and crops fail, as storms, floods and wildfires rage, there are already climate refugees bearing the brunt of extraction capitalism’s greed. Always the poorest and most vulnerable, the most helpless, suffer first. But when air and water become finite, as it will, if we don’t insist our so-called leaders act NOW, our great-grandchildren could find themselves walking hot dusty roads like hungry bears.
Well, that is a depressing thought.
For your challenge: Today we will remember the lost ones, and the ones who will soon break our hearts by leaving. Choose a creature that has gone extinct, or one you love that is endangered. Tell us about it. Get inside its head as it lived, or is living its slow dying. Or, to take another tack, show us your creature in its glory days, when its demise would have seemed unimaginable. Let’s remember the wild ones, so they won’t fade into the Great Forgetting.
Some inspiration, again from Joy Harjo:
A panther poised in the cypress tree about to jump is a
panther poised in a cypress tree about to jump.
The panther is a poem of fire green eyes and a heart charged
by four winds of four directions.
The panther hears everything in the dark: the unspoken
tears of a few hundred human years, storms that will break
what has broken his world, a bluebird swaying on a branch a
few miles away.
He hears the death song of his approaching prey:
I will always love you, sunrise.
I belong to the black cat with fire green eyes.
There, in the cypress tree near the morning star.
At this time of year, some countries have ceremonies to remember their war dead. Perhaps we should have a day to remember the dead in our war with the Earth.
Audrey, you are so right. Here in Tofino, we sometimes gather to remember lost species. And sometimes people gather to share a Council of all Beings, each person speaking for an animal. Always very moving. The animals have my heart, always.
Your essay makes for sad, shocking and sobering reading, Sherry. But read we must, as you say yourself:
‘Remembering is a radical act.’
What is even more shocking than the statistics, is that the entire world isnt panicking and doing everything possible to stop the slide into oblivion of so many of the earth’s creatures…..we will be sliding over the cliff ourselves before anyone will get alarmed. Sigh.
We are having our third “cyclone bomb” storm in a couple of weeks here, and a tornado (!!!!) hit Vancouver the other night. If I go quiet it is because we have lost power. I am amazed we havent already. Stay safe, good people.
A thought provoking challenge. Thanks Sherry
Lovely to see you, Lindi.
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