earthweal weekly challenge: THE RIVER SINGS THROUGH US

Sligachan River, Isle of Skye


Pardon me for staying with the river theme for a second week, but I promise you a varied sampling and lots of poetry. As good ol’ Heraclitus says, it is not possible to step into the same river twice; and so while our hearts are deeply afflicted by the spectacle of so many great rivers drying up, we can still find sustenance at their source. Here at earthweal, grief and hope are our Tigris and Euphrates.

What are the rivers saying? Language is not a human invention, though we have resonated it loudly through our echoey brains. Ego makes it our personal possession, but it is actually the world who is speaking, as David Abram writes in The Spell of the Sensuous:

… It is first the sensuous, perceptual world that is relational and weblike in character, and hence that the organic interconnected structure of any language is an extension or echo of the deeply interconnected matrix of sensorial reality itself. Ultimately, it is not human language that is primary, but rather the sensuous, perceptual life-world, whose wild, participatory logic ramifies and elaborates itself in language. (84)


It is this dynamic, interconnected reality that provokes and sustains all our speaking, lending something of its structure to all our various languages. The enigmatic nature of language echoes and “prolongs unto the invisible” the wild, interpenetrating nature of the sensible landscape itself.

Ultimately, then, it is not the human body alone but rather the whole of the sensuous world that provides the deep structure of language. So, ultimately, do the other animals and animate things of the world: if we do not notice them there, it is only because language has forgotten its expressive depths. “Language is a life, is our life and the life of the things” (as Maurice Merlau-Ponty writes in The Visible and the Invisible, 1968). It is no more true that we speak than the things, and the animate world itself, speak within us. (85)

Privileging human speech and language is a mistake of perception, Abram continues.

We may begin to suspect that the complexity of human language is related to the complexity of the earthly ecology — not any complexity of our species considered apart from that matrix. Language, writes Merlau-Ponty, “is the very voice of the trees, the waves, and the forests.”

Or did. Abram worries that our language — our ability to sing the river — is slowly becoming no damned earthly good.

As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer and fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of rivers is silenced by more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into oblivion and extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance. (86)

Indeed. I wonder if the echo chambers of social media only amplfy the sound of worlds without life — a fulsome crash and fury which only speaks of violence.

I also wonder if a dialect can become so polluted that it ceases at its base level. When you hear the endless torrent of lies coming out of Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine, you wonder how the Russian tongue can survive such industrial-grade filth. The Volga no longer resembles its source.

Here in my native country, the far-right rhetoric is so unhinged from reality that it no longer bothers making sense. The overwhelming majority of Republicans say they believe that President Biden had been fraudulently election. A quarter of the same party embraces the QAnon conspiracy theory that Satan-worshipping Democrat pedophiles are running that sex-trafficking operation that only true patriots can defeat through armed resistance.

As the congressional committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2019 attack on the US Capitol may sadly discover, publishing the best intelligence on attempt to overthrow the US government by delusional patriots may have zero impact on minds becoming so zealously attuned to the delusional river broadcast 24-7 on media outlets like FOX News.

But that does not have to be our course, as Abram reminds us.

When we attend to our experience not as intangible minds, but as sounding, speaking bodies, we being to sense that we are heard, even listened to, by the numerous other bodies that surround us. Our sensing bodies respond to the eloquence of certain buildings and boulders, to the articulate motions of dragonflies. We find ourselves alive in a listening, speaking world. (86)


Only if words are felt, bodily presences, like echoes or waterfalls, can we understand the power of spoken language to influence, alter and transform the perceptual world. (90)

So how would a poem take substance from a river’s passage from mountain to sea? Run with such a current? Babble in small places and roar over falls? Glitter with cold morning light or haze in the gleam of late summer or ache longingly in winter moonlight? What voyages are found there, which deities are vast in its depths?

For this week’s challenge, help fill the earthweal reservoir with the perpetual poetry of rivers.

— Brendan



Thomas Flavell (late 17th century)

Shannon! King Brian’s native river,
— Ah! the wide wonder of thy glee —
No more thy waters babble and quiver
As here they join the western sea.

By ancient Borivy thou flowest
And past Kincora rippling by
With sweet unceasing chant though goest,
For Mary’s babe a lullaby.

Born first in Breffney’s Iron Mountain
— I hide not thy nativity —
Thou speedest from that northern fountain
Swift through thy lakes, Loch Derg, Loch Ree.

Over Dunsass all undelaying
Thy sheer unbridled waters flee;
Past Limerick town they loiter, staying
Their flight into the western sea.

From Limerick, where the tidal welling
Of the swift water comes and goes,
By Scattery, saintly Seanán’s dwelling,
Thou goest and whither then who knows?

Thomond is clapsed in thy embraces
And all her shores thou lovest well,
Where by Dunass thy cataract races
And where thy seaward waters swell.

Boyne, Siuir and Laune of ancient story,
And Suck’s swift flood — these have their fame;
But in the poet’s roll of glory,
Thine, Shannon, is a nobler name.

— transl. from the Gaelic by George Fox



Homero Aridjis

(transl. Eliot Weinberger)

There is a river
that runs as this river runs
a look crosses it
like a bird dissolving
in white space

its lights moving
it seems motionless
always flying
through a clarity of a present
that was and that will be

each moment it flows to oblivion
with beings and flowers from the earthly garden
and the words that lift to the heights
spoken here

— from Quemar las naves (Burn the Boats), 1975



Mary Oliver

In one day the Amazon discharges into the
Atlantic the equivalent of New York City’s
water supply for nine years.

Just because I was born
precisely here or there,
in some cold city or other,
don’t think I don’t remember
how I came along like a grain
carried by the flood—

on one of the weedy threads that pour
toward a muddy lightning
surging east, past
monkeys and parrots, past
trees with their branches in the clouds, until
I was spilled forth
and slept under the blue lung
of the Caribbean.

told me this. But little by little
the smell of mud and flowers returned to me,
and in dreams I began to grow dark,
to sense the current.

Do dreams lie? Once I was a sad fish
crying for my sisters in the glittering
crossroads of the delta.

Once among the thick reeds I found
an empty boat, as narrow
as a man’s waist. Nearby
the trees sizzled with the afternoon rain.

Home, I said.
In every language there is a word for it.
Deep in the body itself, climbing
those white walls of thunder, past those green
temples there is also
a word for it.
I said, home.

— Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1984



Wallace Stevens

There is a great river this side of Stygia
Before one comes to the first black cataracts
And trees that lack the intelligence of trees.

In that river, far this side of Stygia,
The mere flowing of the water is a gayety,
Flashing and flashing in the sun. On its banks,

No shadow walks. The river is fateful,
Like the last one. But there is no ferryman.
He could not bend against its propelling force.

It is not to be seen beneath the appearances
That tell of it. The steeple at Farmington
Stands glistening and Haddam shines and sways.

It is the third commonness with light and air,
A curriculum, a vigor, a local abstraction . . .
Call it, once more, a river, an unnamed flowing,

Space-filled, reflecting the seasons, the folk-lore
Of each of the senses; call it, again and again,
The river that flows nowhere, like a sea.



Robert Frost

By June our brook’s run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)—
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat—
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

—from Mountain Interval, 1916



Elizabeth Bishop

[A man in a remote Amazonian village decides to become a sacaca, a witch doctor who works with water spirits. The river dolphin is believed to have supernatural powers; Luandinha is a river spirit associated with the moon; and the pirarucú is a fish weighing up to four hundred pounds. These and other details on which this poem is based are from Amazon Town, by Charles Wagley]

I got up in the night
for the Dolphin spoke to me.
He grunted beneath my window,
hid by the river mist,
but I glimpsed him – a man like myself.
I threw off my blanket, sweating;
I even tore off my shirt.
I got out of my hammock
and went through the window naked.
My wife slept and snored.
Hearing the Dolphin ahead,
I went down to the river
and the moon was burning bright
as the gasoline-lamp mantle
with the flame turned up too high,
just before it begins to scorch.
I went down to the river.
I heard the Dolphin sigh
as he slid into the water.
I stood there listening
till he called from far outstream.
I waded into the river
and suddenly a door
in the water opened inward,
groaning a little, with water
bulging above the lintel.
I looked back at my house,
white as a piece of washing
forgotten on the bank,
and I thought once of my wife,
but I knew what I was doing.

They gave me a shell of cachaça
and decorated cigars.
The smoke rose like mist
through the water, and our breaths
didn’t make any bubbles.
We drank cachaça and smoked
the green cheroot. The room
filled with grey-green smoke
and my head couldn’t have been dizzier.
Then a tall, beautiful serpent
in elegant white satin,
with her big eyes green and gold
like the lights on the river steamers—
yes, Luandinha, none other—
entered and greeted me.
She complimented me
in a language I didn’t know;
but when she blew cigar smoke
into my ears and nostrils
I understood, like a dog,
although I can’t speak it yet.
They showed me room after room
and took me from here to Belém
and back again in a minute.
In fact, I’m not sure where I went,
but miles, under the river.

Three times now I’ve been there.
I don’t eat fish any more.
There is fine mud on my scalp
and I know from smelling my comb
that the river smells in my hair.
My hands and feet are cold.
I look yellow, my wife says,
and she brews me stinking teas
I throw out, behind her back.
Every moonlit night
I’m to go back again.
I know some things already,
but it will take years of study,
it is all so difficult.
They gave me a mottled rattle
and a pale-green coral twig
and some special weeds like smoke.
(They’re under my canoe.)
When the moon shines on the river,
oh, faster than you can think it
we travel upstream and downstream,
we journey from here to there,
under the floating canoes,
right through the wicker traps,
when the moon shines on the river
and Luandinha gives a party.
Three times now I’ve attended.
Her rooms shine like silver
with the light from overhead,
a steady stream of light
like at the cinema.

I need a virgin mirror
no one’s ever looked at,
that’s never looked back at anyone,
to flash up the spirit’s eyes
and help me to recognize them.
The storekeeper offered me
a box of little mirrors,
but each time I picked one up
a neighbor looked over my shoulder
and then that one was spoiled—
spoiled, that is, for anything
but the girls to look at their mouths in,
to examine their teeth and smiles.

Why shouldn’t I be ambitious?
I sincerely desire to be
a serious sacaca
like Fortunato Pombo,
or Lúcio, or even
the great Joaquim Sacaca.
Look, it stands to reason
that everything we need
can be obtained from the river.
It drains the jungles; it draws
from the trees and plants and rocks
from half around the world,
it draws from the very heart
of the earth the remedy
for each of the diseases—
one just has to know how to find it.
But everything must be there
in that magic mud, beneath
the multitudes of fish,
deadly or innocent,
the giant pirarucús,
the turtles and crocodiles,
tree trunks and sunk canoes,
with the crayfish, with the worms
with tiny electric eyes
turning on and off and on.
The river breathes in salt
and breathes it out again,
and all is sweetness there
in the deep, enchanted silt.

When the moon burns white
and the river makes that sound
like a primus pumped up high—
that fast, high whispering
like a hundred people at once—
I’ll be there below,
as the turtle rattle hisses
and the coral gives a sign,
travelling fast as a wish,
with my magic cloak of fish
swerving as I swerve,
following the veins,
the river’s long, long veins,
to find the pure elixirs.
Godfathers and cousins,
your canoes are over my head;
I hear your voices talking.
You can peer down and down
or dredge the river bottom
but never, never catch me.
When the moon shines and the river
lies across the earth
and sucks it like a child,
then I will go to work
to get you health and money.
The Dolphin singled me out;
Luandinha seconded it.

—from Questions of Travel, 1965


Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

— From In Mad Love and War, 1990


Wendell Berry

All that passes descends,
and ascends again unseen
into the light: the river
coming down from sky
to hills, from hills to sea,
and carving as it moves,
to rise invisible,
gathered to light, to return
again. “The river’s injury
is its shape.” I’ve learned no more.
We are what we are given
and what is taken away;
blessed be the name
of the giver and taker.
For everything that comes
is a gift, the meaning always
carried out of sight
to renew our whereabouts,
always a starting place.
And every gift is perfect
in its beginning, for it
is “from above, and cometh down
from the Father of lights.”
Gravity is grace.
All that has come to us
has come as the river comes,
given in passing away.
And if our wickedness
destroys the watershed,
dissolves the beautiful field,
then I must grieve and learn
that I possess by loss
the earth I live upon
and stand in and am. The dark
and then the light will have it.
I am newborn of pain
to love the new-shaped shore
where young cottonwoods
take hold and thrive in the wound,
kingfishers already nesting
in a hole in the sheared bank.
“What is left is what is”–
have learned no more. The shore
turns green under the songs
of the fires of the world’s end,
and what is there to do?
Imagine what exists
so that it may shine
in thought light and day light,
lifted up in the mind.
The dark returns to light
in the kingfisher’s blue and white
richly laid together.
He falls into flight
from the broken ground,
with strident outcry gathers
air under his wings.
In work of love, the body
forgets its weight. And once
again with love and singing
in mind, I come to what
must come to me, carried
as a dancer by a song.
This grace is gravity.



earthweal weekly challenge: RIVERS, GONE

 Loire River in France, August 2022


In the global north, in many places it’s dryer than a bone. The American West is suffering its worst drought in 1,200 years, Europe its worst in 500 years, and China its worst on record. 47% of Europe is in ‘Warning’ draught conditions, 17% more listed in ‘Alert’ conditions.

Dryer weather in some regions is one of the impacts of accelerating climate change. Droughts can persist through a vicious in which very dry soils and diminished plant cover absorb more solar radiation and heat up, encouraging the formation of high-pressure systems that further suppress rainfall, leading an already dry area to become even drier.

As drought intensifies, 66 rivers around the world have vanished. The Loire, the longest river in France, has evaporated. That hasn’t happened in at least 2000 years, and likely not at any time in recorded human history. In the country’s Burgundy region, the Tille River is a wide trench of white dust. Ships creep down the middle of the Yangtze River in China. The 766-mile Rhine River has crept down to levels unsustainable for barge or river cruise boats.

 Yangtze River 

The drought is affecting Europe’s energy supply, already buffeted by the conflict with Russia — from lack of hydropower in Finland to flushing of nuclear reactors in France and transport of coal by barge in Germany. Factories in Sichuan China shut down as hydroelectric power from the Yangtze dried up. Agriculture along the dry Po River in Italy has been severely affected.

In the growing imbalance of weather created by climate change, rising temperatures is putting more moisture in the air, so elsewhere heavy rains and flash flooding is becoming more common. Elsewhere in China, In the western province of Qinghai, heavy rain has driven floods and landslides, leaving at least 16 people dead.  Some rivers were running so high that they changed course, contributing to floods affecting more than 6,200 people. And while the Colorado River shrinks down to levels threatening agriculture across the Southwest United States, monsoon rains are dropping annual precipitation in a day in Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas. Afghanistan and Pakistan are getting hit hard right now with flash flooding.

To and fro goes the way, as it says in the I Ching: but the seesaw is becoming a nauseating fact of life in the 21st century.

The Hindu river goddess Ma Ganga


Rivers have played a central role in human history from the beginnings of civilization and agriculture. The Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Indus in India and the Yellow River in China all flowed with life-giving waters. Power went to those who controlled access to these waters; to that flow the rise and fall of hydraulic empires.

The world’s religions all drew life from rivers. In Nigeria, the river goddess Osun is the giver of fertility. The salmon of Columbia River in the (US) Pacific Northwest are a “first food” of indigenous tribes living along its waters. The oldest texts of the Hindu Rig-Veda mention the river goddesss Sarasvati, a holy river that dried up and become later identified with the heavenly river of the Milky Way. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, now only a trickle. In the Irish dindschenchas, sacred wisdom is grown in hazel nuts hanging over a well at the source of the River Shannon; salmon eat the nuts and then swim down the river, carrying that wisdom throughout the land.

In the Palelothic-Mesolithic period, a tree was placed  in the center of the shaman’s tent, and shamans climbed it in their trances to visit the spirit-inhabited islands of the clan’s mythological road, the river. The craft of shamanizing was practices in a ritual space between the worlds, ie. a liminal isle built on water. Depositions in the water would then be in the name of the craft, ie. that of recalling the dreamtime.

Deer antler frontlet deposited at Star Carr, a mesolithic ritual site at the former outflow of Lake Flixton in Britain.


That dreamtime is now emerging as rivers dry up. In July, a Roman bridge built during the first century BC was uncovered in the Tiber River, and in in August, a village that had been deliberately flooded in 1963 to build a dam appeared from the Belesar reservoir in Spain.


The Dolmens of Guadalperal

The so-called “Spanish Stonehenge” come to view as unrelenting heat wave is making the Iberian Peninsula drier than any time in the last 1,200 years. A drying reservoir in central Spain has exposed dozens of prehistoric stones in a reservoir in central Spain. The dolmens of Guadalperal, known as the Spanish Stonehenge, are believed to date back to 5000 B.C.

In Iraq, to prevent crops from drying out along the shrinking Tigris River, the country’s main reservoir in Mosul has been tapped, and as those waters recede the Bronze-Age settlement of Zakhiku, which was once a part of the 3,400 year old Mittani Empire. An earthquake destroyed the city in 1350 BC and was flooded 40 years ago when the Mosul Dam was created.

Nazi warship emerges in the Danube


Recently, low water levels on the Serbian section of the Danube River exposed a graveyard of sunken German warships filled with explosives and ammunition. The vessels, which emerged near the port town of Prahovo, were part of a Nazi Black Sea fleet that sank in 1944 while fleeing Soviet forces. More ships are expected to be found lodged in the river’s sandbanks, loaded with unexploded ordnance.

As the Earth hurtles into this dryer, wetter, wilder and more contrariarn future, I wonder

For this week’s challenge, write something about rivers, their symbolic complexity, their vanishing and what depositions now coming to view tell us about what waters giveth and taketh away.


Buddhist statues carbed into a rock into a stone on an island recentley emerged from the Yangtze River as it dries out from drought, August 2022. The carvings are believed to be 600 years old





Emily Dickinson

My River runs to thee –
Blue Sea – Wilt welcome me?

My River wait reply.
Oh Sea – look graciously!

I’ll fetch thee Brooks
From spotted nooks –

Say Sea – take Me!





Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

— from Collected Works of Langston Hughes, 2002



W.S. Merwin

The way to the river leads past the names of
Ash the sleeves the wreaths of hinges
Through the song of the bandage vendor
I lay your name by my voice
As I go
The way to the river leads past the late
Doors and the games of the children born looking backwards
They play that they are broken glass
The numbers wait in the halls and the clouds
From windows
They play that they are old they are putting the horizon
Into baskets they are escaping they are
I step over the sleepers the fires the calendars
My voice turns to you
I go past the juggler’s condemned building the hollow
Windows gallery
Of invisible presidents the same motion in them all
In a parked cab by the sealed wall the hats are playing
Sort of poker with somebody’s
Old snapshots game I don’t understand they lose
The rivers one
After the other I begin to know where I am
I am home
Be here the flies from the house of the mapmaker
Walk on our letters I can tell
And the days hang medals between us
I have lit our room with a glove of yours be
Here I turn
To your name and the hour remembers
Its one word
Be here what can we
Do for the dead the footsteps full of money
I offer you what I have my
To the city of wires I have brought home a handful
Of water I walk slowly
In front of me they are building the empty
Ages I see them reflected not for long
Be here I am no longer ashamed of time it is too brief its hands
Have no names
I have passed it I know

         Oh Necessity you with the face you with
         All the faces

This is written on the back of everything
But we
Will read it together

— from The Moving Target, 1963



William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.




Welborn Hope

The tribes believed a river of beasts
Flowed underground eternally,
that rumbled under earth’s dark breasts,
And looked out on its way to the sea.
Somewhere in the mysterious south,
An enormous mountain cave belched forth
A shaggy maelstrom from its mouth,
That spread in turbulence to the north.
No river known as thunderous
As this upon the prime of plains —
It still is too miraculous
To mock the myth, and this remains:
That never eyes were more amazed
Than those to watch its mad wave pass,
Or see its body’s spread that grazed
In eddies on the blue-stemmed grass.
And I have wondered on this river’s
Marvel more than I can tell:
But I would be with those believers
Of the fabled miracle,
Rather than stand without the wonder
On its imaged prairie shore,
Nor listen for the fearful thunder
Man may hear no more.

Poetry, August 1934


earthweal weekly challenge: RE-WILDING

Olive tree (photo: Deborah D’Aloisio)


by Sherry Marr

Recently, I read a fascinating book by Scottish journalist Cal Flyn, titled Islands of Abandonment – Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape. Flyn traveled to twelve locations around the world, each embodying a different aspect of abandonment and natural reclamation after devastation. She found that in such areas, once humans withdraw, nature quietly becomes sanctuary to wild birds and creatures. It sets about busily re-greening, rebounding and flourishing in our absence. I find this very hopeful.

Flyn writes,

In this book, we will travel to some of the eeriest and most desolate places on Earth….What links these sites is their abandonment by humans: whether due to war or disaster, disease or economic decay, each location has been left to its own devices….Nature has been allowed to work unfettered – providing insight into the wisdom of an environment in flux.

“…What draws my attention is not the afterglow of pristine nature as it disappears over the horizon, but the narrow band of brightening sky that might indicate a fresh dawn of a new wild as, across the world, ever more land falls into abandonment.”

Flyn believes that humankind is in the midst of a huge self-directed experiment in rewilding, as humans draw back and nature reclaims what is hers. “The absence of people, startlingly, proves more beneficial to an environment than contamination or minefields are deleterious.” I think we can all agree with that statement.

The long shadow that we, as a species, leave upon the earth is an afterlife, of a sort….
We have written ourselves into the DNA of this planet, laced human history into the very earth. Every woodland is a memoir made of leaves and microbes that catalogue its ecological memory.

This should be a book of darkness, a litany of the worst places in the world. In fact, it is a story of redemption: how the most polluted spots on Earth – suffocated by oil spills, blasted by bombs, contaminated by nuclear fallout, or scraped clean of their natural resources – can be rehabilitated through ecological processes. How the hardiest plants find their toeholds, colonizing concrete and rubble…. How, when a place has been altered beyond recognition and all hope seems lost, it might still hold the potential for life of another kind.

Flyn relays how this was seen after the London blitz – the earth greening itself again, the ocean coming alive. During WWII, fishing in British waters stopped. In those years, wild fish stocks rebounded. When fishing resumed after the war, catches were bountiful – until they were once again depleted by over-fishing. (Sigh. We are a voracious species; our appetite is never sated.)

An abandoned Detroit neighborhood

This resilience is seen in the urban blight in Detroit, in the U.S., where, since the auto industry shut down, 39 square miles of the city became abandoned. Over ten years, the number of vacant houses and buildings has doubled.

In Detroit – where tumbledown houses are grown over by the feather-leafed ailanthus, the ‘ghetto” palm; where foxes, pheasants and opossums have set up home in the thigh-high grasses of the urban prairie; where falcons nest on the roofs of abandoned skyscrapers and beavers reclaim the river bank; where coyotes howl at night in the city’s west side – there has been a rewilding in both senses of the word.

(I think I prefer this kind of city to the normal ones.)

The author notes abandoned barren wastelands “offer a glimpse of what we might find on the other side: recuperation, reclamation. A self-willed ecosystem is in the process of building new life, of pulling itself bodily from the wreckage……in starting again from scratch, and creating something beautiful.”

During covid, we saw the skies clear in places where pollution had been greying the atmosphere for years. Wildlife were seen walking down deserted city streets. Everything in nature is designed to live and grow – it is in every being’s DNA, in every seed, every plant. In the midst of bombs, wildfires, floods, heat domes, storms, what fills me with awe is how busily, and immediately, Mother Earth gets to work trying to heal, to recover, to start greening herself again. She is doing it even now, in the midst of climate breakdown. Somewhere in Ukraine at this moment, flowers are blooming in the midst of war. Such resilience – such courage — if we only would give her half a chance, and some assistance.

The Bikini Atoll, used as a nuclear testing site in 1954, was a blast so horrifying it led to a global ban on atmospheric testing.  Scientists, when they visited the area in 2008, were amazed to find a thriving underwater ecosystem had formed in the blast crater, “a whirl of kaleidoscopic life,” though aboveground remained a wasteland. In 2017, even more life was found – hundreds of schools of fish, abundant sharks, spectacular gigantic coral displays, due to lack of human disturbance.

Again – this latency of life. It drifts around us all the time, invisible, like an ether. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink. Savor it: each breath, each sip, is thick with potential. In this cup of nothing is the germ of everything.

She writes like a mystic. I love it.

The wolves of Chernobyl
(Image credit: Byshnev/iStock/Getty Images)

When the Chernobyl meltdown occurred in 1986, I remember sitting on my couch watching the news, worrying that a chain reaction might occur along the network of reactors. (I was amazed, on a trip to California in those years, how many facilities there were. It seemed every time we pulled off the highway to rest, we found ourselves beside one.)  I was interested to see what this author discovered when she visited the site. I had heard it had become a wildlife sanctuary – the animals gathering there in safety because there were no, or only a few, humans.

It is considered the most radioactive place on earth. However, Flyn says, “The Dead Zone is not dead at all.” It was devastated during the event. But, a few seasons later, re-growth began in earnest.  The abandoned villages and forests became a sanctuary for all manner of wild animals.    Animal populations doubled in ten years. (I checked the status today. Russian troops are entering the area from Belarus. I imagine the animals will be moving on, as all wild creatures are forced to do, when humans move through. The terror and suffering of animals, both wild and domestic, in war is painful to think about.)

While radiation has declined, the plants have become radioactive and this is making its way up the food chain. Abnormalities are found in birds and animals.

Chernobyl had become Europe’s largest experiment in rewilding, Flyn observes – a wildlife sanctuary where 70% of the zone is now forest. We shall see what happens now that humans are again moving through this area.

Paterson, New Jersey, USA, was America’s first planned industrial city, noted as the birthplace of American manufacturing. It boasted 350 mills employing 20,000 workers, and was a cotton town and then the locomotive capital of the world. It also produced, at different times, pistols, hemp and silk. Its last hurrah was converting its mills to looms and dye houses. In 1945, waterways went dry, factories closed and were overgrown. Now a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Unemployment is double the norm. “Where better to consider the profits and the ravages of freedom,” asks Flyn, “than here: Paterson, New Jersey, ground zero of American capitalism.”

The blue-clawed crab

On the banks of Arthur Kill, Staten Island, there are signs warning people not to catch or eat the plentiful crabs. One single blue-clawed crab contains enough dioxin in its body to give a person cancer. Whoa.

“Through a process known as biomagnification,” states Flyn, “those at the top of the food chain are the worst affected.” PCB contamination is one reason whales are struggling to survive, with a reduced ability to calve. In the Arctic, Inuit whose diet relies heavily on seals, have high concentrations of PCB’s and other chemicals in their bodies. In response to the toxin-laden waters of Arthur Kill, a new type of fish, the Atlantic killifish, which is pollutant-tolerant, has evolved, in a process termed rapid evolution by scientists.

One wishes humans could evolve as rapidly in response to obvious threats. Flyn notes,

Human industry has changed, and is continuing to change the world. Even if we were all to be wiped out tomorrow – factories falling silent; generators shuddering to a halt; cargo ships drifting and colliding, sinking to the seabed, sending sediments billowing – we have set in motion evolutionary forces that will continue to act upon the genetic makeup of almost every other species alive on this Earth. They shape-shift and metamorphose, transmute and adapt, in ways that we cannot anticipate and certainly cannot control. They want to live, if they can.

The dystopian future is already here.

The natural world is already, necessarily, adapting as well as it might to climate change. A march of the world’s wildlife is underway. Two-thirds of species are extending their ranges north, or onto higher ground, as local climates shift. Ecologist Chris D. Thomas states, “Keep this going for a few centuries and we have a new biological world order.”

Faith, in the end, is what environmentalism boils down to. Faith in the possibility of change, the prospect of a better future – for green shoots from the rubble, fresh water in the desert…..Everywhere I have looked, everywhere I have been – places bent and broken, despoiled and desolate, polluted and poisoned – I have found new life springing from the wreckage of the old, life all the stranger and more valuable for its resilience.

She believes, as do I, that this is a world that knows how to live, a system programmed to mend, to heal, to green devastated landscapes. Everything in nature has one mandate: Grow! So we will end with our desperate need for hope – that humanity can evolve rapidly, like the killifish, and make the huge evolutionary leap of consciousness that is needed to slow down the runaway train of accelerated climate crisis.

Your challenge: Imagine a post-human Eden.

Have you been to an area, small or large,
after devastation and witnessed it rewilding?

Turn your imagination loose and write about
anything that sparked your Muse in this essay.


— Sherry


First, an excerpt from Book One of William Carlos Williams’ five-volume poem:


“Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He
lies on his right side, head near the thunder
of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations
drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river
animate a thousand automations. Who because they
neither know their sources nor the sills of their
disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly
for the most part,
locked and forgot in their desires-unroused.

—Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!

From above, higher than the spires, higher
even than the office towers, from oozy fields
abandoned to gray beds of dead grass,
black sumac, withered weed-stalks,
mud and thickets cluttered with dead leaves-
the river comes pouring in above the city
and crashes from the edge of the gorge
in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists-

(What common language to unravel?
. . .combed into straight lines
from that rafter of a rock’s

A man like a city and a woman like a flower
—who are in love. Two women. Three women.
Innumerable women, each like a flower.

But only one man—like a city.”



by Caroline Mellor

There are places in you
Where thousands of bright, tiny flowers
Open each morning to the sun
In meadows as vast as the sky.

An ancient alchemy courses through your bones.
It speaks in feathers and stones and
precious metals and the footprints of mandalas
left by the stories we tell with our lives.

Rewild yourself.
Until green tendrils sprout from your fingernails
And lichen swathes your eyebrows.
Rewild yourself.
Until your roots spread and uncoil and
Writhe down through soil and rock.

Rewild yourself.
Rise up into your magnificence and
Take your place among the constellations.
Rewild yourself.
The Earth is her own medicine.
Be yours.



by Emma Plover

Is it that which lives at the edges of our society?
Adaptable, hidden in plain sight?
“Not subdued by the will of others”?
Self willed? Wild?

Land can re-wild itself
If left to its own devices
Clear of human interference

Living outside of this world
Has allowed me to create my own
As an artist
I bring things into creation everyday
So this was no different

It’s taken me a long time to arrive at this point,
And I am still unlearning
I am unlearning through remembering
Remembering who I am
(Re)wilding who I thought I could be.