Greetings, and welcome to earthweal open link weekend #92. Link a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to comment.
The link forum is open until midnight EST Sunday, when the next weekly challenge rolls out.
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.
Greetings all and welcome to earthweal open link weekend #91. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to comment.
The open link forum lasts until midnight Sunday EST when the next weekly challenge rolls out. Sherry takes charge with an important challenge she titles THE GREAT FORGETTING. You won’t want to miss it.
Perhaps the most universal aspect of manticism is the derivation of inspiration and the gift of poetry from the dead … But manticism is also widely associated with birth, and with rebirth.
— Nora Chadwick, Poetry and Prophecy
Greetings all — as we all learned in Sarah Connor’s marvelous challenge last week, today is Samhain, the ancient Celtic festival of the dead. As she wrote so beautifully, Samhain is a festival of transformation:
The energy of Samhain is the energy of the dark. It’s the acceptance that death is necessary for renewal, that loss is necessary for gain. It’s the energy of change, of shedding old ideas, old ways of doing things. It’s the doorway to winter, to a time when the land lies fallow. Deep down in the dark, change is happening. Seeds are swelling preparing to put out tentative roots and shoots. Trees are dormant, waiting to burst into leaf. As creators, we all have fallow times. Samhain reminds us that these fallow times are a necessary part of creativity, that they need to be accepted. When we’re blocked, or empty, or wordless, maybe our inner creator is telling us it’s time to rest, to absorb, to let the deep work happen.
The Catholic church struggled for centuries to overwrite pagan practice, usually by Christianizing the old festivals — Saturnalia and Twelfth night became Christmas, the spring equinox turned into Easter, Beltane a month-long adoration of the Virgin Mary, the summer equinox St. Johns Day, the autumnal equinox sacred to Mananan become Michaelmas, sacred to the saint who rows souls to heaven.
For Samhain, Nov. 1 became All Saints Day, in recognition of all the saints and martyrs of the Christian past, followed by All Souls Day on Nov. 2 when all the dead still in Purgatory were prayed for. In Poland where Catholic tradition is still strong, souls of the departed are believed to come visiting; food is left on the table for them and the living go to bed early so as not to disturb their repast. The dead then attend a midnight mass conducted by a dead priest, and it is believed that a beloved soul might even be released from Purgatory should enough masses be attended by the bereaved on their behalf. In Portugal, soul-cakes are baked, in Austria and German godparents gift godchildren, and in most Christian countries it is a national holiday marked by graveside ceremonies, with offerings of candles, flowers and prayers and blessings of the departed.
In some countries like Mexico and Poland, All Saints Day is still vigorously celebrated; but as the Christian faith recedes elsewhere, concern for the dead has diminished too. There is far less worry about the eternal damnation of loved ones. (For most of us, life is Purgatory enough.) But death still scars the living, and grief still needs a ritual for healing.
Some countries like Denmark have begun non-religious celebrations called under names like “All Souls Day All Around” and featuring artistic interpretations. Their motto: “Rather than staying silent about the dead, let celebrate who they were and what they can convey.” Since burial practices have changed greatly – many are now cremated and their ashes thrown into sea or wood, or collectively composted — a central community grief-site was created, often extending into wooded areas or to shores. The area was then demarcated with light (in the form of paraffin lamps, candles or woodfires) and sound (drumming or piped in electronic music).
A variety of art installations ranging from sculpture to video art to performances then offered specific avenues for grief: a long clothesline holding white clothes with relationships written on the back (“sister,” “husband,” “friend” “pet”); a group of human-sized sculptures made of candle wax and with a candle burning in a hollow; a Chamber of the Afterworld with separate spaces titled “Chamber of Health In Which the Dew Drips,” “Chamber For Those Who Can Imitate the Singing of Birds” and “Chamber For Those Can Take Everything With A Pinch of Salt”; and so on. Participants say they could find their dead again, say things to them they hadn’t been able to before and experience a serene state that for them equated to a modern understanding of Heaven.
In folk tradition, Samhain means “summer’s end,” but the original etymology of Gaulish samonios means “assembly of the living and the dead.” The name appears on the Coligny Calendar as a six-day festival ushering in the dark half of the year. For three days before, the doors to the Otherworld were open and the living earth was haunted by the dead; if they were treated properly and offered a place at the table, things went well; shun or disrespect them, and all manner of chaos ensued. For Samahin and the two days after, assemblies were held with bonfires, dancing, sporting contests, oracles, feasting, coronations and further merriment—all in honor of the dead and the life to come.
Marking the beginning of darkness meant the beginning of life, a fertile chaos. Death is close where life begins. A witch ruled the birth-night before Samhain — our Halloween — a figure like the Morrigan or Calleach Bheare or sea-witch on Iona. A giant Irish goddess named Cymidei Cymeinfoll mentioned in the Welsh Maginogion lives under a lake where the Cauldron of Regeneration receives the bodies of dead warriors; every six weeks she gives birth to a fully formed warrior. (A similar scene is shown on one of the panels of the Gundestrup Cauldron.)
As the COP26 climate summit now gets underway in Glasgow, the climate 8-ball we are behind is increasingly dire; the biggest carbon-polluters slow and slower in cutting emissions and raising needed funding. There aren’t many climate change saints to celebrate today. (The New York Times opinion section did a great animated piece on Greta Thurnberg’s exasperation with the powers who won’t act on the problem.) Regeneration is desperately needed.
Here at earthweal, we are a node of contact between poetry and the world. The festivals to come should not be limited to the only-human community. Assemblies are for the main, and all are invited, human, nonhuman, faunal, arboreal, lithic and stellar, living and dead. Imagine how bountiful such an assembly might be, for the living and all of its ghosts — ghost beast, ghost forest, ghost moon we once so loved to dance beneath.
Our modern world is too eager to be done with death. Technology creates ever-remote walls for the living so that death is rarely experienced or seen. Lives are prolonged, drugs help us ignore pain. But what if the purpose of grief is not to heal our bereavement, but to help us accommodate the dead in our daily lives? As Tony Walter writes, “the purpose of grief is not to move on without those who have died, but to find a secure place for them?”
All Souls is about continuing bonds; deeper, Samhain is about ever-lasting relations with our ancestors: at earthweal we can connect the traditions.
I carry my dead: my mother and father are woven in my breast-bone and marrow the ancestral histories stretching far back of them, as are all the cats my wife and I have tended and then said farewell to. Conflicts, passions and yearnings of those whom I have loved and lost inhabit the back rooms of my working thought, reminding me of their work and the desire to carry it on. Simply put, I am who I am partly because of who they were. My attention to local intimacies is attenuated by the hearing of cats, the signaling of their tails and the infinite repose of their sleep. It’s no wonder that Siamese cats sit so erect on the tombs of Pharoahs and were mummified along with their dynastic servants.
There are many who find comfort and solace in Christian traditions of death and eternal life. But there many ways that people grieve, and singular paradigms don’t come close to addressing the diverse needs and responses of the community. Who, what and how we grieve is not only a wide issue for humanity; non-humans grieve widely.
In the end, our grief helps us to accept death and our eventual entry into it. The deaths we have witnessed and grieved have become the tapestry of our history, and the fullness of it — our full hearts — contribute to the feeling that we have lived fully and can let it go when it is time. We join the ancestors and become part of the vibrant background.
Let’s invite the wide community of the lost — family members and their ancestors, Paleolithic kills and animals gone extinct, meteors which travelled from the remote universe to burn up in our atmosphere, sandy beaches composted of the shells of sea-life, ghostly coral savannahs, the life we consumed with last night’s dinner. Let’s see what an assembly we can summon, and by doing so, experience the incredible dimensions we share.
For this challenge, celebrate ALL SOULS.
Note to our cousins in the Southern Hemisphere: As you are now experiencing Beltane at the pole of the year opposite Samhain, add your songs of birth and flowering. Lend us a maypole to demonstrate how life dances with death.