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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.


earthweal open link weekend #131


Greetings all and welcome to open link weekend #131 at earthweal. Share a favorite poem and then visit your fellow linkers and comment.

The link forum will stay active until midnight Sunday EST when Sherry rolls out the next weekly challenge she titles “ReWilding.” You won’t want to miss it!

Happy linking – Brendan


earthweal weekly challenge: LIGHTNING FALLS


Breaking ground on this week’s challenge, I write to accompaniment of thunder.

Summer in Florida means afternoon storms four days or more of the week. Our blazing heat lifts an evaporate shroud into the sky which mixes  with incoming seabreeze fronts from either coast, resulting in  a massing of storms. You can watch them rising 30, 40 sometimes 50 thousand feet on the horizon, the only vertical feature in flat-as-a-dead-mullet Florida.

The storms sometimes dot the map, causing rain here and none there; other times they metastasize into state-sized wallops, with winds knocking trees over and dumping rain in furious salvos.

Central Florida is called the Lightning Capital of America because it has about 83 lightning events per square kilometer every year. Lightning is hot – five times hotter than the sun — an inch-wide bolt heats the surrounding air to about 55,000 degrees, causing the rapid expansion of air which creates thunder. It can go from ground to cloud equally as well. A phenomenon known as gigantic jet lightning can burst from the tops of clouds into the ionosphere and have been observed brushing the lower limit of space.

More than 40 million bolts strike my country every year, but the odds of being struck by on is less than 1 in a million. About 90 percent of those struck survive the ordeal. Just this past week, four people were critically hurt when lightning struck a park near the White House in the United States capitol. The lightning hit near a tree that stands yards away from the fence that surrounds the presidential residence and offices. Three subsequently died.

Over the 25 years my wife and I have lived in this house, we have been visited by lightning many times. A big oak tree just out back was killed by bolt striking its roots. We lost an electrical panel on the air handler under the house due to lightning. We’ve sat in our living room and been flooded with sudden light as a bolt hit nearby, followed instantly by a boom that strolled out in a huge wave. Neighbors lost all their TV and stereo to a strike. A few years back, some kids in town playing baseball were killed hanging out under a tree during a storm. Once we woke to an immense forest of flashes in our bedroom as a storm passed over; passing twenty miles to the east, an F3 tornado descended from that cloud, scattering trailers and killing 23.


Our warming climate is producing more lightning strikes More heat can draw more moisture into the atmosphere, while also encouraging rapid updraft – two key factors for charged particles, which lead to lightning.

Lightning from monsoon rains in the eastern Indian state of Bihar killed 20 in less than 24 hours in late July. Lightning strikes rose by 34%, with more than 18 million strikes occurring in India from April 2020 to March 2021, according to a study by the Climate Resilient Observing System Promotion Council. ‘

Khushboo Bind, killed by lightning on June 25, 2022.


A 2014 study published in Science warned that the number of lightning strikes could increase by 50% in this century in the United States, with each 1 C (1.8 F) of warming translating into a 12% rise in the number of lightning strikes.

The increase in lightning strikes are stressing wildfire season. The interior of Alaska had about 18,000 strikes over two days in early July. More than 2 million acres of Alaska wilderness has burned by the end of July, twice the average of a typical Alaska fire season. More fuel, more lightning strikes, higher temperatures and lower humidity — conditions driven by a fast-changing Arctic climate — are fueling fires that burn hotter and deeper into the ground. Rather than just scorching the trees and burning undergrowth, the wildfires are consuming everything.


In the global Arctic, lightning strikes were once rare; but the Earth’s northernmost region saw 7,278 lightning strikes in 2021, nearly double the total strikes recorded in the previous nine years combined.

After the flash, then the strolling drums of thunder. You can hear it up to 15 miles away. About a third of the population suffer from astrophobia, fear of lightning and thunder. James Joyce was one such sufferer (a holdover, apparently, from his hellfire and damnation Catholic upbringing), he placed ten Thunder-words in Finnegans Wake. At 100 letters each, they are the longest words in English. The first (on page one) announces the Fall of Babel and the thunderclap which heralds the fall of Adam and Eve:


Pronounce it here:


Lightning and thunder have always been accorded top clout in our myths. The lord of Olympus was Zeus and his master weapon and sign of his power was the lightning bolt. It is one of the three great weapons forged by the Cyclopes in Tartarus for Zeus and his two brothers in their fight against the Titans (the other weapons were Poseidon’s Trident and Hades’ Helm of Darkness). In Vedic lore, Indra, god of rain and thunder, wields bolt-shaped weapon called the vajra. In Celtic mythology, Taranis is the god of thunder; in Norse it Thor, wielding a thunder-hammer named Mjolnir which also bestows the god’s blessings.

In the Tarot deck of divination cards, The Tower is perhaps more disturbing than the Death card, for it portends a sudden strike of fate, like that of a bolt of lightning causing a tower to fall, resulting in chaos and destruction. The Tower of Babel fell this way, it’s height of human aspiration humbled by the power of God and the resulting confusion of languages For his pride and ambition, Lucifer is cast down from Heaven in a dazzling fall akin to lightning, and Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden in a sudden dazzling fall for disobeying God and eating of the Tree of Knowledge.

Fire came from the gods in a lightning strike. Prometheus snuck into the great fire-pit where the lightning bolt hammers of Zeus were forged and stole a spark of the fire and hid it in a fennel stalk and took the gift back to mankind — a theft for which he would pay eternally.

Actually, we’re the ones who are paying eternally, as humankind’s mastery over the elements began with the theft of fire. Karl Kerenyi writes in Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence,

The crime was inevitable because without fire mankind would have perished — this was the design of Zeus, as we are expressly told in Desmotes (232) — and this inevitable act was a crime, because power over fire — as over all things that “grow” and are not produced by man — was the prerogative of the ruler of the world. (79)

The theft of that fire eventually granted us the Anthropocene, a world of withering weathers cooked up a vat of human innovations. The lightning which comes now in fuller fury we can, in part, call our own.

Are we up to the task? The United States has experienced an average of 7.7 billion-dollar disasters annually over the past four decades. But in the past five years, that average has jumped to nearly 18 events each year. 2020 and 2021 saw the highest number of such disasters on record, with 22 and 20, respectively. The catastrophes that span the country and the calendar, ranging from a cold snap that crippled parts of Texas and hailstorms in Ohio. Spring has been an especially active time, the numbers show. But many of the most destructive and costly disasters of recent years also have come during summer — including massive Western wildfires, a crippling heat dome in the Pacific Northwest and devastating hurricanes such as Harvey, Maria and Ida. Just in the past two weeks, there have been three separate thousand-year rain events, in Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois.


When you consider the rising intensity of these catastrophes against our civilization’s ability to contend with them — worst of all, when dealing with climate change — Goethe’s poem “Limits of Humanity” suggests that humility is our only honest posture.

When the primeval
Heavenly Father,
With hand indifferent
Out of dark-rolling clouds
Scatters hot lightnings
Over the earth,
Kiss I the lowest
Hem of His garment,
Kneeling before Him
In child-like trust.

For with the gods may
No mortal himself
At any time measure.
Should he be lifted
Up, til he touches
The stars with his forehead,
Nowhere to rest finds
The insecure feet,
And he is plaything
Of clouds and of winds.

Stands he with strong-knit
Marrowy bone
On the deep-seated
Enduring Earth,
No father he reaches
than but with the oak
Or the slenderer vine
Himself to compare.

What doth distinguish
Immortals from mortals?
In that many billows
Before those roll ever,
A stream flowing by:
Upheaveth a billow,
Collapses a billow,
And we are no more.

A little ring
Encloses our life,
And numerous races
Are strung through the cycles
On to existence’s
Infinite chain.

(Poems of Goethe, translated William Gibson, 1883)

I have a radar app installed on my iPhone. It used to come in handy when I was commuting daily to my job in Orlando. I pay for it now mostly for the extra reconnaissance it provides during hurricane season when rain bands whip in. I’m not sure why I keep it set to give me alerts for lightning strikes within 30 miles. The damn thing lights up my phone dozens of times every afternoon and into the night.

For this week’s challenge, let’s interrupt our usual programming with flashes and booms of this extraordinary power. Lightning falls: what are we going to make of that?

Happy bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunn-trovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnukings!

– Brendan



Ranier Maria Rilke

Suddenly, from all the green around you,
something-you don’t know what-has disappeared;
you feel it creeping closer to the window,
in total silence. From the nearby wood

you hear the urgent whistling of a plover,
reminding you of someone’s Saint Jerome:
so much solitude and passion come
from that one voice, whose fierce request the downpour

will grant. The walls, with their ancient portraits, glide
away from us, cautiously, as though
they weren’t supposed to hear what we are saying.

And reflected on the faded tapestries now;
the chill, uncertain sunlight of those long
childhood hours when you were so afraid.

— tranl. Stephen Mitchell



William Shakespeare

Another part of the heath. Storm still.


Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!


O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry
house is better than this rain-water out o’ door.
Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters’ blessing:
here’s a night pities neither wise man nor fool.


Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children,
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man:
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join’d
Your high engender’d battles ‘gainst a head
So old and white as this. O! O! ’tis foul!



Emily Dickinson

There came a Wind like a Bugle—
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors

As from an Emerald Ghost—
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
That very instant passed—
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away

And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived-that Day—
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told—
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!




Elizabeth Bishop

Dawn an unsympathetic yellow.
Cra-aack! — dry and light.
The house was really struck.
Crack! A tinny sound, like a dropped tumbler.
Tobias jumped in the window, got in bed —
silent, his eyes bleached white, his fur on end.
Personal and spiteful as a neighbor’s child,
thunder began to bang and bump the roof.
One pink flash;
then hail, the biggest size of artificial pearls.
Dead-white, wax-white, cold —
diplomats’ wives favors
from an old moon party —
they lay in melting windrows
on the red ground until well after sunrise.
We got up to find the wiring fused,
no lights, a smell of saltpetre,
and the telephone dead.

The cat stayed in the warm sheets,
The Lent trees had shed all their petals:
wet, stuck, purple, among the dead-eye pearls.

— from Questions of Travel, 1955



May Swenson

I hope they never get a rope on you, weather,
I hope they never put a bit in your mouth.
I hope they never pack your snorts
into an engine or make you wear wheels.

I hope the astronauts will always have to wait
till you get off the prairie
because your kick is lethal,
your temper worse than the megaton.

I hope your harsh mane will grow forever,
and blow where it will,
that your slick hide will always shiver
and flick down your bright sweat.

Research us terror, weather,
with your teeth on our ships,
your hoofs on our houses,
your tail swatting our planes down like flies.

Before they make a grenade of our planet
I hope you’ll come like a comet,
oh mustang – fire-eyes, upreared bell —
bust the corral and stomp us to death.

—from Nature: Poems Old and New, 1994




Robinson Jeffers

The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front the roaring wave of the brush-fire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the back slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
Insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black,
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than men.