About earthweal

Poetry forum for a changing Earth.

earthweal weekly challenge: EARTH’S WILD MUSIC



by Sherry Marr

Recently I read a book titled Earth’s Wild Music – Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World, by Kathleen Dean Moore, an author, philosopher and activist who writes from Oregon and Alaska.

The title alone captivated me: the thought of how Mother Earth sings to us in her many voices: wind, birds, rivers, dolphins, trees, bees, bears. It is the song of life each of her creatures is singing ~ even us.

Moore writes,

To paraphrase Franz Kafka, a poem must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. In Earth’s Wild Music, I tell stories about the planet’s imperfect music, the consequence of our civilization’s having lost its way…I write from that place where my deep love for the world’s music – birdsong, frog song, crickets and toads, whales and wolves – meets the terrible facts of onrushing extinction…

“But even as I was celebrating this splendid world, it was slipping away. I was midway through an essay on frog songs, when developers bulldozed the frog marsh for condominiums…As I celebrated their songs, humpback whales grew thin, starving in a warming, souring ocean. And all the while, executives of multinational extractive industries were gathering around mahogany tables to devise business plans that they knew would take down the great systems that sustain human life and all the other lives on Earth. Oh, the peril. The ecological peril.  The moral peril.

It is the responsibility of the nature writer to bear witness, ring the church bell, trip the alarm, beat the warrior drum, send the telegram, blow the whistle, call all-hands-on-deck – and sometimes, weeping, to write the condolence letters.

Moore says in the 50 years she has been a nature writer/observer, 60% of all mammals have been erased. North American birds have lost a third of their number. One out of five species are on the verge of extinction. Twice that number may be lost by the end of the century. Two-thirds of primates are endangered.

Moore, again:

Unless the world acts, I will write my last nature essay on a planet that is less than half as song-graced and life-drenched as the one where I began to write.

Each time a creature dies, a song dies.

“We do not have the luxury of writing in ordinary times,” Frederick Buechner has said. “‘You will find your calling at the intersection of your deep love and the world’s deep need.”

Moore continues,

I will howl against the approaching silence of the empty sky. I will carve a flute from a bird’s bone and whistle like a bosun on a sinking ship. I will accept sorrow as a last great offering from a desperate world. But then, I will shape anguish into something that is fierce enough to stand in defense of all that we love too much to lose.

Well. You can see why this book resonated with me. As species disappear, along with them go their songs. “In a time of terrible silencing,” Moore asks, “what can we hear if we listen carefully? What can earth’s wild music tell us about how we ought to live?”

If there comes a time when the voices of songbirds are stilled, the music of other, maybe new, beings will bell or mumble from the mudbanks to the mountaintops. The mountains will continue to roar, and the seas will sing on the sand. Earth will evolve new forms of wild music that we can never imagine but long to hear. In the next New World Symphony, others will play the parts, but the music will remain.

There is comfort for me in that thought.

I am reminded of studies done by naturalist Bernie Krause, who developed soundscape ecology, recording how the sounds of the natural world are being impacted by our noisy human existence. For decades, Bernie has been listening, in natural settings, to whole wildlife communities vibrating together like a giant orchestra.

But, over time, he noted that under the cacophony of our noisy world – with its jets, helicopters, chainsaws, tractors, traffic, sirens, mining, drilling, shipping, building – the wild ones lost their synchronicity. Repeatedly, their songs faltered, and it took time for them to regain it after every interruption. Of 1300 different habitats Bernie studied, over half have now gone silent. To Bernie, clearly we are the ones who are out of tune.

Bird calls and songs are vitally linked to the ecosystems they inhabit. Bird songs shift with changes in habitat. As vegetation reclaimed formerly cleared land in California, Oregon and Washington over 35 years, birds lowered their pitch and slowed their singing so their songs carried better through heavier foliage.


I am fascinated that mother finches sing a particular song to their chick in its egg, to prepare it for life outside the egg. Chicks are now being born smaller, the better to withstand warming temperatures.

I love hearing about people who play music to whales. I heard about one man from eastern Vancouver Island who lowered an underwater microphone into the ocean, and played his clarinet. Not only did whales join in, they began to improvise riffs off of his melody, so it became an inter-species jam session. So cool.

My friend who lives in a floathouse up the coast hears wolfsong onshore just metres from her dwelling. Magical. She says she can also hear otters noisily crunching their meals underneath her deck.

In a side note, in 2015, Bernie and his wife narrowly escaped with their lives from a wildfire on Sugarloaf Mountain that devoured their home and his life’s work, notes and recordings. He advises us to spend time listening to the natural world we have become so disconnected from. In the quiet, as gentle winds move the branches in a forest, we can touch on peace and harmony in a very real way. In the green spaces, we can feel our kinship with the beyond-human realm. If we sit quietly for long enough, then look up, we will see the natural world observing us, the way we are watching it. There are unseen eyes everywhere, millions of small universes all around us, carrying on the important business of living.

Moore ends her book with the following lines:

On the reeling planet that we hold in our hands,
may gentle rain fall forever on green hills,
may ice come in its time to glaze the bays.
May salmon faithfully return when sandpipers call.
May songbirds sing in the apple trees.
And may the children hum themselves to sleep in a safe and sustaining

May it be so. In our best dreams, may this all always be true.

For your challenge: Write a poem about Earth’s wild music. It can be the song of a single being, or Mother Earth’s full, glorious symphony. Let’s celebrate the many beautiful songs that sing us through this world.

— Sherry 

1. How Birds Die

Get caught by a kitty cat: 2.4 billion.
Collateral damage of industry: 700 million.
Hit a window: 600 million.
Hit by car: 214 million.
Get poisoned: 72 million.
Hit a powerline: 25 million.
Get electrocuted: 5 million.
Hit a turbine: 234 thousand.
Get blinded by city lights and stray.
Search in vain for starlight’s guide.
Get out of sync with climate change:
depart too late, arrive too early.
Land in a lake of arsenic.
Get your wings fouled in oil.
Eat plastic. Eat foil. Eat lead shot.
Eat lead shot and have a seizure.
Eat poisoned insects and carry their doom.
Lose your acre of breeding ground, and so
circle the parking lot that was a marsh.
Circle and circle, cry and cry.
Be a snowy owl in the era of Harry Potter,
caged by a reader, expected to prophesy.
Be the wild pet of seven billion mammals with hands.
Be the last one of your kind, singing and singing.

— Kim Stafford 

2. How Birds Live

Fence wire—a throne for singing and singing.
Thorns in the blackberry thicket—jewels of safety.
A vacant lot, rife with a chance mix—heaven.
Wing bars of crimson, mustard, moss—kinfolk.
A fat worm, a ripe seed, a caught beetle—enough.
Twig feet on a twig after a thousand miles—rest.
Bill tucked under a wing—spiral home.
Cast-off thread and thistledown—snug nest
A silence into which to put a few water notes—duet.
Breeding season, egg season, fledgling season—destiny.
Wings in the mist riding, gliding—no trace.
Heart-surge song rising from inside—beauty’s custodian.
A short, intense, breathless life—grace.

— Kim Stafford

Window Shopping for Trees, Side B

Under stage lights of needles,
bark sings a ballad
to anyone listening

Jason E. Coombs
from Worth More Standing:  Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees
an anthology edited by Christine Lowther


earthweal open link weekend #122


Greetings, and welcome to earthweal open link weekend #122. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to comment.

The link forum is open until midnight Sunday EST when the next weekly challenge rolls out. Sherry will be back with another she has titled “Earth’s Wild Music.” Dust off your redwood tubas and hummingbird triangles and let’s have some fun!


earthweal weekly challenge: DREAMING IN GREEN


by Sherry Marr

When I first saw this video, which won the David Suzuki songwriting contest Playlist for the Planet in 2010, I was reduced to tears. Then age ten, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a member of the Sliammon band in North Vancouver, B.C., co-wrote this song with her singing teacher Aileen De La Cruz. She addressed the song to the Enbridge oil company. While she was writing it, a huge oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, making a line in the song, “If you do nothing, it will all be gone,” all the more heartbreaking.

At thirteen, she addressed the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues. Now in her early 20’s, Ta’Kaiya is still an environmental activist. And I am still her biggest fan.

David Suzuki, our beloved Canadian life-long environmental activist, now age 82, is speaking with increasing urgency about what he terms “a Green and just economy.” He lists the three pillars of a green recovery as:

  • Protecting and restoring nature
  • Acting on climate (work towards a low-carbon future)
  • Replacing our economic system, which isn’t working. He explains that a system that measures success by GDP growth pushes us towards ecological and social collapse

Suzuki advises that Canada could have clean renewable electricity as soon as 2035, using wind, solar, energy storage, energy efficiency, and by upgrading the electricity grid, connecting the grid across provinces, were governments to take the necessary steps to transition away from the addiction to fossil fuels.

He says, “Economics is a form of brain damage. Conventional economics is fundamentally disconnected from reality. Take the money from the forest, when the forest is gone, put the money into fish. When the fish are gone, put the money somewhere else. It’s nuts!”

He continues, “When you ask an economist where you factor the ozone, underground aquifers and topsoil – the web of life – into that equation, an economist replies ‘those are externalities.’ Economics is fundamentally disconnected from the real world.”

“Externalities.” The air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we need to grow our food.

David Suzuki Foundation photo

We are starting to hear the term greenwashing, the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are supposedly more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is a conscious attempt to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

Politicians use greenwashing frequently, to try to convince us that what they are doing is good for the climate crisis, when it is anything but. Trudeau has been known, in the same sentence, to announce pipeline projects while trying to convince Canadians that “We can have clean air and a strong economy.” Canada’s target is reduced emissions by 2030 (but Trudeau doesn’t say how we will accomplish this), and net zero by 2050. That is, if a livable planet still exists in 2050.

Green Member of Parliament Elizabeth May said recently, “We are standing on the edge of too late, but it is not too late.”  However, corporate culture is a problem governments seem loathe to tackle.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated emissions must peak between 2022 and 2025, and drop to half by 2030.  That timeline seems not to have registered with the Canadian government, as Trudeau announced approval in April of the Bay du Nord offshore oil and gas project in the Maritimes, followed by assurance that the Trans Mountain Pipeline project will go ahead in B.C., though transferred to indigenous ownership. (Tossing the hot potato?) Paraphrasing former Alberta Premier Liberal leader Kevin Taft: “The government may be in office, but oil is in power.”

Hope lies with the young, who are aware of the mess we’ve made. Many young people are talking about not bringing children into the world, given the accelerating climate crisis. It is unfair that they are the ones who will face the consequences of our inaction, and are the ones we are looking to to make the changes we ourselves should have made decades ago. Should be making now.

However, in the hard work young people are doing, I see what hope there is. It is the governmental failure to lead that frustrates me, and the choke-hold industry has on government. Politicians are choosing to protect staying in power over being stewards of land and resources in the best interests of the people they were elected to serve. We are meant to leave a livable planet for the generations that follow us.

Issues of survival should not be political issues – all voices in government need to come together to find a way forward through what we are facing as global citizens.

No matter what, I will never stop dreaming in green.

In this world of wildfire, floods, extreme weather events, mass shootings and war, it can feel dark, as if we are, as Milton said, “making a hell of heaven.” But, thankfully, all around us is still a world of green – trees that shade us, help us breathe, wild forests, our own yards and gardens, and green spaces in cities, where we can go to connect with nature and restore our tattered spirits.

Right now, in the northern hemisphere, life is bursting into glorious bloom – rhododendrons of every hue are everywhere. On the Wild Pacific Trail this week, a friend and I exclaimed over new growth on salal bushes, fresh pale green spriglets thrusting up. A cool and rainy spring has encouraged the wildflowers. We thrilled over them all: monkey flowers, red Columbine, wild strawberry, and the Nootka rose were tucked into nooks and crannies of rock cliffs along the ocean.

The changing weather encourages clouds to dance along the hills ringing the harbour.  A baby orca has been born in the Salish sea, and is healthy, and playful.  He brings hope. Life is green, growing, bursting, and wonder is everywhere.


Midst the madness, good things are happening on Planet Earth.

  • Australia has elected a climate-conscious prime minister, Anthony Albanese, who has pledged to cut emissions in half by the end of the decade.
  • In the U.S., government passed a new bill to improve and increase production of heat pumps, offering tax breaks to homeowners who convert.
  • Legal challenges have been brought against Exxon for alleged climate crimes, and for covering up the industry’s role in worsening the climate crisis.
  • California is leading the country in solar capacity and plans to do the same with wind power.
  • Swiss scientists have made a major fusion energy breakthrough. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne discovered ignition: the process of a fusion reactor generating more energy than was required to create the reaction.
  • One of the highest courts in India has granted nature the same status as a human being.
  • In April, the U.S. saw 20% of its energy come from clean energy for the first time.
  • Scientists have developed an enzyme that eats plastic.

So there is hope. There is action. There are good things happening, just not fast enough. And we hear far more of the bad news, than the good, so it tends to make us feel the world is dark; it dims the light for us.

What is a poor, discouraged environmental activist to do? Keep writing letters to officials, stand up, speak out, make ethical spending choices, boycott products of offending corporations, and do the usual small things we all do to minimize our carbon footprint. VOTE!! for advocates of environmental reform. And most healing of all – find solace in nature around us, to keep us on the path.

Let’s turn off the daily news, and walk out into this green world, bursting with life. “Walk as if your feet are kissing the earth,” like Thich Nhat Hanh.

And keep on dreaming. Never stop dreaming in green!

Your challenge: In the middle of all that is dark, and disheartening, and seemingly insurmountable, let’s send some poems infused with green to Mother Earth, to let her know she’s not alone, and that we see her blooming. I include some inspiration below.



When the moon is turned upwards like a bowl waiting to be filled
We must fill it. We must fill it by honoring the spirits of creation
With songs of our joy and thanks, with foods created with our own hands,
Water for the thirsty, prayers for the people, prayers for the spirits,
Prayers for the Creator, prayers for ourselves, and the sacred instruments
That join us to the glory of this world, that join us to the glory of this world
And the world beyond our sleep.

— Al Hunter, in When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, an anthology by Joy Harjo

Yes! Let’s fill our prayer bowls!!!


There is a moment before the kingfisher dives,
the eagle swoops, the small green ducks disappear
like the breeze in the low hanging cedar branches
over the river; there is a moment before I name
the kingfisher, the eagle, the ducks when I am not
the observer, I am the dart of light, rush of wings,
the trusting wind; I am grace: an end of living
in awe of things, a beginning of living with them.

– Susan Musgrave, in Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees, an anthology edited by Christine Lowther


When I’m weighted down with the futility
of trying to change anything,
I seek the high ridges
and good counsel of whitebark pines.

Gnarled and wind-blasted,
they spread wide, long-limbed crowns
and stiff tufts of needles
among the slender spires
of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir.

They welcome the full pitch of wind,
needle-blast of ice, slow broil
of summer sun.
They embrace their mountain world full-on.

At the highest reaches
even they are brought to their knees,
and storm-hobbled, crawl shrublike
along ridge crests, limbs
unfurled in tattered banners
against the cobalt sky.

Every now and then
I have to see that.

Along a ridge on the Cascade crest
I find the charred hulk
of a lightning-struck pine.
Its trunk shattered on talus,
its broken-off base silver-brown,
sunbaked amber, flecked
with delicate furls of wolf lichen.

But inside the charred hollow,
in the deep green of boxwood leaves,
and beside them, a single sprig
of whitebark
scrabbling up-through a rubble of ash and duff.

-Tim McNulty in Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees, an anthology edited by Christine Lowther




earthweal weekly challenge: ANTHROPOCENE WILDERNESS


Greetings all — sorry to post this challenge late, other things are heavy on the plate. And apologies if it seems lopsided, awkward and repetitive. So churns this brain …

As your responses to the Everyday Extreme challenge came in last week, it occurred to me that we should include our crazy Anthropocene as resident now in the same wild we have visited much of late in our challenges. The unknowable power and ferocity of a heating climate, amplifying droughts and wildfires and hurricanes: This strange new wild measures our knowledge and certainty, just as a European settler in North America of the 16th century gazed in awe and terror a the vast consuming forest just beyond a field’s bounds.

Is it any different now for us, staring out at this looming beast of provoked nature?

All our boons bear the contrary of bane. Everyone’s aerosol hair spray lifted bouffants high enough to punch holes in the ozone. A civilization of moving cars invokes acid rain. Research indicates that the genes that contributed to the rapid evolution of the human brain are linked to autism and schizophrenia. (There are also genetic links between schizophrenia and both alcoholism and Alzheimers). What made us human also drives us crazy; the wild brain is the part of nature which we thought we tamed, but comes in the night to taunt us.

Learning to live in this new wild means accepting we can’t tame the ferocity of Anthropocene without understanding its wild nature. Likewise, an empathic language is needed to scale the wilderness on the flip side of the evolved human brain. My father-in-law is in the stages of late Alzheimers; the guy who helped lift the Saturn rocket into space can’t figure out now how to get food to his mouth.

Maybe it takes the poetry of our wild dark brains to perceive the awe and awfulness of what we have invoked, the wilderness of the provoked.

For this week’s challenge, write of the Anthropocene Wilderness.





A.R. Ammons

section one

Garbage has to be the poem of our time because
— garbage is spiritual, believable enough

to get our attention, getting in the way,
piling up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and

creamy white: what else deflects us from the
errors of our illusionary ways, not a temptation

to trashlessness, that is too or off, and,
anyway, unimaginable, unrealistic: I’m a

hole puncher or hole plugger: stick a finger
in the dame (dam, damn, dike), hold back the issue

of creativity’s flood, the forthcoming, futuristic,
the origins feeding trash: down by I-95 in

Florida where flatland’s ocean- and gulf-flat,
mounds of disposal rise (for if you dug

something up to make room for something to put
in, what about the something dug up, as with graves:)

the garbage trucks crawl as if in obeisance,
as if up ziggurats toward the high places gulls

and garbage keep alive, offerings to the gods
of garbage, of retribution, of realistic

expectation, the deities of unpleasant
necessities: refined, young earthworms,

drowned up in macadam pools by spring rains,
moisten out white in a day or so and, round spots,

look like sputum or creamy-rich, broken-up cold
clams: if this is not the best poem of the

century, can it be about the worst poem of the
century: it comes, at least, toward the end,

so a long tracing of bad stuff can swell
under its measure: but there on the heights

a small smoke wafts the sacrificial bounty
day and night to layer the sky brown, shut us

in as into a lidded kettle, the everlasting
flame these acres-deep of tendance keep: a

tree offering of a crippled plastic chair:
a played-out sports outfit: a hill-myna

print stained with jelly: how to write this
poem, should it be short, a small popping of

duplexes, or long, hunting wide, coming home
late, losing the trail and recovering it:

should it act itself out, illustrations,
examples, colors, clothes or intensify

reductively into statement, bones any corpus
would do to surround, or should it be nothing

at all unless it finds itself: the poem,
which is about the pre-socratic idea of the

dispositional axis from stone to wind, wind
to stone (with my elaborations, if any)

is complete before it begins, so I needn’t
myself hurry into brevity, though a weary reader

might briefly be done: the axis will be clear
enough daubed here and there with a little ink

or fined out into every shade and form of its
revelation: this is a scientific poem,

Asserting that nature models values, that we
have invented little (copied), reflections of

possibilities already here, this where we came
to and how we came: a priestly director behind the

black-chufffing dozer leans the gleanings and
reads the birds, millions of loners circling

a common height, alighting to the meaty streaks
and puffy muffins (pufffins?): there is a mound,

too, in the poet’s mind dead language is hauled
off to and burned down on, the energy held and

shaped into new turns and clusters,
the mind strengthened by what it strengthens: for

where but in the very asshole of comedown
is redemption: as where but brought low, where

but in the grief of failure, loss, error do we
discern the savage afflictions that turn us around:

where but in the arrangements love crawls us
through, not a thing left in our self-display

unhumiliated, do we find the sweet seed of
new routes: but we are natural: nature, not

we, gave rise to us: we are not, though, though
natural, divorced from higher, finer configurations:

tissues and holograms of energy circulate in
us and seek and find representations of themselves

outside us, so that we can participate in
celebrations high and know reaches of feeling

and sight and thought that penetrate (really
penetrate) far, far beyond these our wet cells,

right on up past our stories, the planets, moons,
and other bodies locally to the other end of

the pole where matter’s forms diffuse
and energy loses all means to express itself except

as spirit, there, oh, yes, in the abiding where
mind but nothing else abides, the eternal,

until it turns into another pear or sunfish,
that momentary glint in the fisheye having

been there so long, coming and going,
it’s eternity’s glint: it all wraps back round,

into and out of form, palpable and impalpable,
and in one phase, the one of grief and love,

we know the other, where everlastingness
comes to sway, okay and smooth: the heaven we mostly

want, though, is this jet-hoveled hell back,
heaven’s daunting asshole: one must write and

rewrite till one writes it right: if I’m in
touch, she said, then I’ve got an edge: what

the hell kind of talk is that: I can’t believe
I’m merely an old person: whose mother is dead,

whose father is gone and many of whose friends
and associates have wended away to the

ground, which is only heavy wind, or to ashes,
a lighter breeze:  but it was all quite frankly

to be expected and not looked forward to:  even
old trees, I remember some of them, where they

used to stand: pictures taken by some of them:
and old old dogs, specially one imperial black one,

quad dogs with their hierarchies (another archie)
one succeeding another, the barking and romping

sliding away like slides from a projector: what
were they then that are what they are now:

The book-length poem ‘Garbage’ was published in 1993
and won the National Book Award for poetry