earthweal weekly challenge: THE COMMONS


First, thanks to Sherry for last week’s thoughtful and heartfelt Everwild Challenge. Great work and the responses were wild!

It’s good to be back. The war in Ukraine has affected my mood and verse, but I hope renewed earthweal presence will help.

Earth is on fire in so many ways that is re-defining normal. A wildfire near Flagstaff, Arizona, continues to explode in windy dry weather, and much of the Southwest is similarly vulnerable. An even broader realm of fire engulfs western, central, southern and eastern Siberia, burning an area twice as large as when they raged this time last year. Russian attention is elsewhere, depriving locals of fire-fighting elsewhere. The burning in Ukraine is more directly man-made — fires roar and smoulder in ruined cities and villages across the country — all of it the signia of the politics of extraction and domination. As usual, the push for energy independence has been eclipsed by crises of oil. So we burn.

Here in my country, white ragers boil dark sentiment for our upcoming midterm elections, especially the Tweedledee and Tweedledumdum Republican governors of Texas and Florida, Greg “Yosemite Sam” Elliott and Ron “Swamp Thang” Desantis. Climate change denial is proving especially damaging on the human psyche, as monsters like these turn a smoldering animus against everything not white, Christian and obsolete. Republlican supermajorities rule both state legislatures.

Here in Florida, Desantis portrays Disney World as an agent of California woke, and the Florida Department of Education (whose commissioner is a longtime DeSantis crony) has rejected dozens of math books on the grounds they “contained prohibited topics” from social-emotional learning to critical race theory. And this week, a man in California was arrested for threatening to bomb and shoot the offices of the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster for changing the definition of such gendered words as “boy, girl, and trans.” In the downward spiral of outraged dumb, a fiery contingent of my reality is headed straight down the Putin potty in ruscist (a cute new word merging “Russian” and “fascist”) and racist ire. Cinders of the burnt world.

Much may be beyond saving, but all we can do is continue to cultivate the region between human and wild that is earthweal. This is our commons.

Gary Snyder writes about the commons in The Practice of the Wild.

Between the extremes of deep wilderness and the private plots of farmstead lies a territory which is not suitable for crops. In earlier times, it was used jointly by the members of a given tribe or village. This area, embracing both the wild and semi-wild, is of critical importance. It is necessary for the health of the wilderness because it adds big habitat, overflow territory, and room for wildlife to fly and run. It is essential even to an agricultural village economy because its natural diversity provides the many necessities and amenities that the privately held plots cannot. It enriches the agrarian diet with game and fish. The shared land supplies firewood, poles and stone for building, clay for the kiln, herbs, dye, plants, and much else. Just as in a foraging economy it is especially important for seasonal and full-time open range for cattle, horses, goats, pigs and sheep. (32)

One trope here at earthweal is to explore, widen and celebrate the commons of animal and human, vegetable and mineral in a future sustainable for all. Sometimes it feels like a rote exercise, but in an age of diminishing choices, earthweal remains the productive alternative to despair. It is in that commons that we can turn climate grief into hope.


Snyder, again:

We have to make a world-scale “natural contract” with the oceans, air, the birds in the sky. The challenge is to bring the whole victimized world of “common pool resources” into the mind of the commons. As it stands now, any resource on Earth that is not nailed down will be seen as fair game to the timber buyers or petroleum geologists form Osaka, Rotterdam, or Boston. The pressures of growing populations and the powers of the entrenched (but fragile, confused and essentially leaderless) economic systems warp the likelihood of any of us seeing clearly our perception of how entrenched they are may also be an illusion.

Sometimes it seems unlike that a society as a whole can make wise choices. Yet there is not choice but to call for the “recovery of the commons” — and this in a modern world which doesn’t quite realize what it has lost. Take back, like the night, that which is shared by all of us, that which is our larger being. There will be no “tragedy of the commons” greater than this: if we do not recover the commons — regain personal, local, community and people’s direct involvement in sharing (in being) the web of the wide world — that world will keep slipping away. Eventually our complicated industrial capitalist/socialist mixes will bring down much of the living system that supports us. And it is clear, the loss of a local commons heralds the end of self-sufficiency and dooms the vernacular culture of the region…

… The commons is a curious and elegant social institution within which human beings once lived free political lives while weaving through natural systems. The commons is a level of organization of human society that involves the nonhuman. The level above the local commons is the bioregion. Understanding the commons and its role within the larger regional culture is one more step toward integrating ecology with economy. (39-40)

An ecologically-founded economy: that is good vision for this dim time. If it is possible to write an ecological poetry, then we here have the means to describe and embrace the commons in which future possibility can grow.

For this challenge, write about THE COMMONS. How would you describe that half-wild, half-human habitat of sharing and sustenance in your locale? Maybe it’s a park or an area just outside of town of diverse borders. Or maybe it’s a region of your imagination, fed and sustained by your greener thought.

Let reclaim our commons before it mined and lumbered and burnt!

— Brendan



Thomas Tranströmer


Suddenly, out walking, he meets the giant
oak, like an ancient petrified elk, with
mile-wide crown in front of September’s sea,
the dusk-green fortress.

Storm from the north. When rowanberry
clusters ripen. Awake in the dark, he hears
constellations stamping in their stalls, high
over the oak tree.


The moon’s mast has rotted and the sail shriveled.
A gull soars drunkenly over the sea.
The jetty’s thick quadrangle is charred. Brush
            bends low in the dusk.

Out on the doorstep. Daybreak slams and slams in
the sea’s stone gateway, and the sun flashes
close to the world. Half-choked summer gods
           fumble in sea mist.


Under the buzzard’s circling dot of stillness
the waves race roaring into the light,
chewing on their bridles of seaweed, snorting
           froth across the shore.

The earth is blind in darkness where the bats
take bearings. The buzzard stops and becomes a star.
The waves race roaring forth and snort
          froth across the shore.

transl. May Swenson



Mary Oliver

I think sometimes of the possible glamour of death —
that it might be wonderful to be
lost and happy in the green grass —
or to be the green grass! —
or, maybe the pink rose, or the blue iris,
or the affable daisy, or the twirled vine
looping its way skyward — that it might be perfectly peaceful
to be the shining lake, or the hurrying, athletic river,
or the dark shoulders of the trees
where the thrush each evening weeps himself into an ecstasy.

I lie down in the fields of goldenrod, and everlasting.
Who could find me?
My thoughts simplify. I have not done a thousand things
or a hundred things, but, perhaps, a few.
As for wondering about answers that are not available except
in books, though all my childhood I was sent there
to find them, I have learned
to leave all that behind

as in summer I take off my shoes and my socks,
my jacket, my and, and go on
happier, through the fields. The little sparrow
with the pink beak
call out, over and over, so simply — not to me

but the whole world. All afternoon
I grow wiser, listening to him,
soft, small, nameless fellow at the top of some weed,
enjoying his life. If you can sing, do it. If not,

even silence can feel, to the world, like happiness,
like praise,
from the pool of shade you have found beneath the everlasting.

— from Blue Iris (2004)