earthweal open link weekend #7

 

NOTE: Mr. Linky is working intermittently. If you can’t link there, include it in the comments section.

It’s open link weekend at earthweal. Link a poem using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

On Feb. 17 Sherry Marr takes over the reins again with a challenge titled FINDING HOPE. We could sure use it!

Now ladies and gentlemen, start your earthy versey engines!

— Brendan

 

Albrecht Durer, “Melancholia,” 1514

 

It’s hot here in Florida for mid-February; everything is blooming in salvos of color and scent. Hardly a bane for in local creature comforts (we’re still months from full-tilt summer swelter) —but weather in the Anthropocene means the sweet spots have very wide margins. Some ways north of here, all this warmth is translating into heavy Gulf moisture, dumping state-sized jerricans of rain, rain, rain over the South. Lakes, ponds and streams are flooding, fish are showing up in submerged farm fields and millions of gallons of sewage is overflowing from compromised systems. Spring is coming early and fast, bringing with it the spectre of last year’s flooding event, where a million acres of Midwest farmland in nine states were inundated.

And in Australia (of late, climate change’s favorite punching bag), torrential rains are now rounding out a “triple whammy” of drought, wildfire and flooding, affecting rivers in the island nation’s eastern half and creating cascading impacts upon fish, invertebrates and platypus. “There’s a real risk of losing species that we have not even gotten around to describing yet,” said Prof. Ross Thompson, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology.

Lots to worry and grieve. (Current forecast is for 80 percent saline precipitation from weepy eyes.)

But this, too: Lots to look forward to as well. Meaning: There is hope!  You just have to know where to look for silver linings. Peer with care!

I gave Glenn Albrecht’s paper on solastalgia a second read this week; sure enough, I picked up several important points—for this forum, anyway— that I missed earlier.

First, the condition of solsastalgia suggests a treatment. Nostalgia can turned the other way toward a vision for sustainable future:

While some might respond to such stress with nostalgia and want to return to a past state/place where they felt more comfortable, others will experience solastalgia and express a strong desire to sustain those things that provide solace. Solastalgia, as opposed to atavistic nostalgia, can also be future orientated, as those who suffer from it might actively seek to create new things or engage in collective action that provides solace and communion in any given environment. Solastalgia has no necessary connection to the past, it may seek its alleviation in a future that has to be designed and created.  (My emphasis)

Solstalgia helps us celebrate a better future by sharpening our focus on the sustainable. Mental illness is structured in a way that reading it closely reveals the keys to returning from it. A schizophrenic takes a blue pill to live between the lines, the alcoholic reaches for a white chip of surrender. Australia’s burnt-beyond-all-recognition spaces show us the bitter fruit of residents abdicating civil responsibility and governments ruled by powers. Designing a better future is the cure for twenty-first century solastalgia.

To paraphrase Holderlin, the devil is in the details, but salvation is, too. As Jim Feeney put it in his contribution this week, solastalgia can be “a longing for light / hidden under a bushel / at the end of a tunnel.”

Second, though melancholy is a depressive disorder, it is also a disease common among creatives.  If Albrecht is correct in calling solastalgia “Anthropocene-era melancholia,” then there must be creative responses to it.

James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a gifted dancer, but as a young adult she suffered from schizophrenia and was hospitalized frequently, ending up finally in an asylum until her death. After the publication of Ulysses in 1922, James Joyce spent the next 17 years diving into the verbal unconscious with his novel Finnegans Wake. In 1934, Carl Jung treated Lucia. After their appointment, Joyce asked the psychologist,: “Doctor Jung, have you noticed that my daughter seems to be submerged in the same waters as me?” to which he answered: “Yes, but where you swim, she drowns.”

That may be the difference between suffocating solastalgia and the melancholy which broods a better future.

Certainly here at earthweal, we mean to find out!

 

RAIN AT NIGHT

W.S. Merwin

This is what I have heard

at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind

after an age of leaves and feathers
someone dead
thought of this mountain as money
and cut the trees
that were here in the wind
in the rain at night
it is hard to say it
but they cut the sacred ‘ohias then
the sacred koas then
the sandalwood and the halas
holding aloft their green fires
and somebody dead turned cattle loose
among the stumps until killing time

but the trees have risen one more time
and the night wind makes them sound
like the sea that is yet unknown
the black clouds race over the moon
the rain is falling on the last place

from The Rain In The Trees (1988)

earthweal open link weekend #6

Welcome to Earthweal’s open link weekend. Our verse hootenanny revs up here every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, short or long, new or old.

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where on Earth you post from.

Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday.

The next weekly challenge will be SOLASTALGIA (Homesick in a Changed World).

Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

 

A convention center in Wuhan, China, converted into a temporory hospital, Feb. 6, 2020.

Yesterday the weather in Florida turned changeful—unseasonably warm for February (hitting a high of 87) and the wind picking up with surprising force. A big front strolled across the US Midwest, muscular and foreboding with winter snow, hail and tornadoes; as it made its way toward the Southeast of which Florida is a part, fulsome Gulf heat and moisture pumped up the southern tail of the front into a nasty line of storms. They mowed over our house last night around midnight in a fury of wind and lightning and thunder and rain. Fortunately there were no twisters as the whipping tails of these fronts can produce, like the pack of twisters on Groundhoug Day 2007 which raked Central Florida, lifting mobile homes skyward and killing 23, or the one which concentrated just on this town in 1993, damaging some 2,000 trees, many of them stately old oaks planted when this town was founded a century ago.

Six hours after the front roared through—as I now work on this post—the winds are still battering the neighborhood, weaving and whipping and roaring in the trees. These sorts of events aren’t all that unusual in Florida, but there is an added edge, a louder volume, a greater velocity to it.

They say everything is big in Texas, but in the 21st century ACE, climate change is making everything everywhere bigger.

And fast. Many areas around the world are dealing with cascading impacts of climate change. Take Australia, where areas ravaged by monster wildfires are rolling out further effects with fish kills from ash runoff and floods from torrential rains. Traditional and modern practices of fire control are seeming less likely to help with high and higher heat, burning on such scale and fire seasons extended further through the year.

Scientists now observe that climate change is causing the oceans to speed up. Winds are blowing harder, speeding surface ocean currents. One noticeable effect in the Pacific Ocean is the creation of hot spots which have been devastating to ocean life. These ocean changes were surprising to the scientists, they hadn’t expected to see such results for another 50 years. It’s similar to the acceleration of other predictions of earth impacts from climate change.

The big heat and fires are coming sooner, glaciers are melting faster, hurricane seasons are ramping bigger and faster every year (last year’s Hurricane Dorian would have been declared a Category 6 storm had such a category existed. The other day Antarctica recorded its warmest temperature on record—64 degrees F. The poles are melting at a record pace.

Is it weird to you that events on a geologic scale are irrupting so quickly into our already-speeding human time? Watching a glacier melt away in time-lapse is a dislocating experience. But observing dozens of events unfolding on a global scale in daily human time is somewhat like watching the seven days at the Creation in a biblical flip-book.

Speed used to be a novel human invention (think of those speed racing trials in the Bonneville Salt Flats), but now the world is outpacing us. This is especially worrying in the spread of novel coronavirus, which started with an infected snake or a bat on sale in an outdoor wild game market in Wuhan, China, leapt onto a peddler and fanned out from there. Even with the most stringent state controls, in a month we’re anxiously calculating the chances of global pandemic.

The carrier?  A fleet-footed humanity who travels at will and can sail or fly anywhere in the world.

And we thought the Australian bushfire horror was big enough … Nothing is big which can’t be overwhelmed by something else in the Anthropocene.

 

The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans), an invasive species now pillaging Florida reef systems.

 

Introduced by human travel and trade, invasive species threaten ecosystems all over the world, Hogs were brought to South Florida in 1539 by the Spanish explorer DeSoto. Over time they roamed, went feral, and now root through agricultural areas like rototillers, causing some $800 million in agricultural damage every year. Lionfish are beautiful additions to the tropical aquarium, but somehow they got into the Atlantic Ocean around 1985 (flushed down a toilet, probably) and have become voracious reapers of Florida reef ecologies. Burmese Pythons make strange pets (but then, consider their keeper); escaped or abandoned ones made it into the Florida Everglades where they have flourished, resulting in mammoth declines of small mammals like raccoons and white-tailed deer. Florida newspapers routinely publish photos of state-appointed hunters holding up trophy pythons approaching 17 feet long, but what goes unreported is how the Everglades ecosystem is changing under the rule of this new apex predator—more turtles, apparently (raccoons who favored their eggs are gone), and different plants growing because there are fewer mammals to dispense seeds through their feces. Who knows.

Truly though, humanity is most invasive species of all, covering the globe like kudzu and shaping  it for purely human use. We’ve hunted megafauna to extinction, overfished the ocean, polluted the skies with fossil fuel exhaust, ruined landscapes with chemical farming and covered the rest with asphalt. Even near space is getting to be a mess with drifting pieces of debris from our 50 years of space exploration.

In 200 years we’ve managed to set the global clock back 50 millions years. That’s a strange accomplishment, engineering a way into geologic time, re-shaping our Earth so much that our near- and long-term climate future is now in our hands. Will our fate be that of hothouse Venus? Some of that depends on how hard and fast humanity tips the balance in the decades to come. For now—for us, here—we have a chance to emotionally and aesthetically calibrate that speed from our various lives and locales, that heart and art may perceive what may be too fast for human eyes.

In my morning reading I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s collected poems as well as foraging in a very different volume, Reginald Dwayne Betts’ Felon. Berry has so much to say about damage and renewal—deep, abiding stuff. Betts has something equally important to say about damage and renewal. Reginald, who is African-American, served time in prison many years ago for a robbery he committed while still a teen. After his release he went to Yale to study law, became a public defender and kept writing poems.

Slavery was an invasive thought introduced to the New World with a vengeance, and as many as 60 million Africans died during their indentured labor. Four hundred years later its poisoned rootstock still finds ways to darken the American mind, in shadowy ways we hardly can acknowledge. As Michelle Alexander wrote her 2010 book The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration of black men using draconian drug laws passed in the 1980s has kept generations of black America in jail. Civil rights may have been granted in ’60s, but the shackles are still there.

Betts is deeply aware of how both his crime and the gulag of punishment he was thrown into has shaped his identity—the appellation of “felon” affects and afflicts every good thing to follow—and his message here, I think, is that renewal is neither easy or sure, and the product which survives may be unlike any poetry we have before known:

Sometimes you need a dark astringent to see clearly. This, from Betts’ “Essay on Re-Entry” from the collection:

…Nothing can be denied. Not the gun
that delivered you to that place where
you witnessed the images that won’t
let you go. Catfish learning to subtract,
his eyes a heroin-slurred mess;
Blue-Black doing backflips in state boots,
the D.C. kid that killed his cellmate.

Jesus. Barely older than you, he
had on one of the white undershirts
made by other men in prison, boxers, socks
that slouched, shackles gripping his shins.
Damn near naked. Life waiting.

Outside your cell, you could see them wheel
the dead man down the way. The pistol

you pressed against a stranger’s temple
gave you that early morning & now,
boxes checked have become your North Star,
fillip, catalyst to despair. Death
by prison stretch. Tell me. What name for
this thing that haunts, this thing we become.

From Felon (2019)

I don’t know why this pairs so well with a favorite Wendell Berry poem of mine, but it does:

TO KNOW THE DARK

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

from Farming: A Hand Book

Maybe we have to grow different eyes to see what’s really going on these days. This thing that haunts, this thing we become. A novel coronavirus, a hot Antarctic, roaring winds outside my window today—: It all comes at us fast. Better write something down before tomorrow.

Hard winds still blowing outside the window. When it gets light I need to collect the tarp which blew off the garage roof and pick up debris. We didn’t have to fire up the generator I bought last summer for the increasing likelihood of occasions like this, which is good. But the year is early.

earthweal open link weekend #5

Welcome to the mosh pit in the vale! Earthweal’s linking whamarama blasts off on Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, short or long, new or old, bluey or yahooey. Throw us a rope, for hope or nope!

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where on Earth you post from.

Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday.

Since the early earthweal challenges have all been an uphill slog into wrong & wronger, this coming Monday we shift gears with a challenge on Renewal.

Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

 

regrowth

 

Deep thanks and gratitude to Sherry Marr for her Animals of Climate change challenge here last week. It was a difficult challenge for many, but contributions were rich and diverse—quite a habitat for song. The animal toll from a violently changing atmosphere is immense—how to conceive of a billion animals lost to Australian wildfire, a million seabirds to ocean heat, whole ecosystems erased due to human intervention? One dead koala bids a thousand grieving poems; is there any way possible to sing the entire vanished population? Maybe our plural voices helped register the lament.

Some complained of how wearying and depressing it was to even try to write a poem under such weight. Silence is certainly one option, as much out of personal survival as not wishing to add to the burden of all.

But many of you did respond—it one of the richest forums for posting and comment at this new forum so far—and the result was love and grief and anger and sadness all reflected in a suffering animal’s eye.

Hard work, and it begs a difficult question: Why even bother? Does staring directly into catastrophe do anything to relieve suffering or provide hope?

It’s a good question, and the responses I’ve searched for are fragmentary at best.

First, we may not have much of a choice. It’s getting harder to find a space where poems can grow unaffected by climate change. Whether the prevailing winds of cultural mood are changing, or its weather driven by climate change, the interior landscape we write by seems less and less free to roam the former occupations of love, liquorish and languor. It’s said that when you make love to a 600 pound gorilla, the sex is over when the ape decides; climate change won’t go away, and the world it is remaking is the one we have to make poetry in.

The news has developed the ostinato cadence of catastrophe—what a week! Coronovius from a game market in China, volcanic eruptions in the Philippines and New Zealand, earthquakes in the Carribbean, flooding in Jakarta, wildfires edging close and closer to Australia’s parliament in Canberra as temperatures soar again. And now parts of Brazil are experiencing the most torrential rainfall ever recorded, with city streets turning into rivers and landslides knocking houses off cliffs and burying shanty towns. Meanwhile the jet stream wobbles ever more wildly as the Arctic melts causing unseasonable heat and cold; dangerous amounts of methane releases from melting permafrost as well as who knows what viruses, sunny day floods in coastal cities around the world, the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica melting fast and faster, Venice flooding, water shortages in major cities: Who doesn’t know the litany?

But where it once seemed like news from far away, indiscriminate events bring disaster nearer to us all—maybe not directly, but rounding ever closer.  Far fewer feel safe, and less have much confidence that the future will see any improvement. Why wouldn’t our poetry be similarly stained and strained, even maimed by such constantly darkening skies?

Should poetry be a haven from that—hunkering down into whatever relative comforts can be found elsewhere at hand? I could tell you about my history, my bad thirst, my love and loves, the grace of semi-wild things curled in my lap as I write: All noble topics, but is that really the news any more? Worse, do my occupations farther afield start to bear the ironic drone of the merely selfish, that very quality which now burns Australia and renders the poor of Brazil helpless against the assault of floodwater?

OK, but isn’t there a cost in writing for too long or deeply exposed to such harsh radiation? Despair of the theme of a damaged, fouling and heating Earth can become a telltale leitmotif, tocking inexorably like the footfalls of a reaping shadow. Lah de dah. What life that is still in us can feel squelched and drained. I sometimes wonder about themes which used to absorb me which I can’t find much interest in writing about. Where did my interest in them go? Maybe it’s true that I’m just getting to be an old poet whose drone suffices but cannot add; Helen Vendler once said that the peril of the lyric poet is a finite aging self. But then maybe the divining rod is pulling me toward a work I barely grasp. It feels like dying, but it also may mean renewal. New poems at least …

We can take climate change as a call to grow in ways we haven’t been willing to before. We can record nature with more love and devotion to think in its way, cherish what still remains.

I can become a more faithful disciple of the difficult, a quality which has always aided poets in writing better poems. Imagine a forum where that work is essential.

Besides, I owe something to the dead—remembrance, redress, amends—making the effort to numerate the species lost, elegize days which won’t return, listen to the lament of ghosts on a cold night’s breeze. The contributions this week to Sherry’s challenge brought us polar bears and river dolphins, wild horses and orcas, butterflies and joeys and careening birds: I’m grateful there is soapbox for that choir.

I also owe something to the future. Doubtful that anything I say or said will endure, I am still part of the moment’s conversation which others down the road—to future generations who will have to contend with ever-more dramatic losses—who will examine cultural remnants like this, asking, Did they know? Did they speak out? Was their grief loud enough to have the resonance of apology? Was their work an amends? Did it have enough substance for forgiveness, or at least was willing to be target for rage?

Most importantly, such poetry would be suffocating and pointless if it were only about a common problem and peril. We all can see where this is going. Is there also a common solution? Poets are solitary animals, singing alone on distant branches: community and communion we have more with dead poets than our living fellows. Poetry is also a vanishing art in the age of brassy online noise. The world is vanishing too. Can poetry be a celebration of both the living and the dead, the blooming and failing world?

We can all see pretty well how we got here and grieve the resulting affects. But does the work stop there? Nature is a cycle of death and renewal; is there a way of working poetry through its despair into an embrace of new possibilities? Jedidiah Purdy writes in After Nature: A Politics of the Anthropocene,

It is true that climate change, so far, has outrun the human capacity for self-restraint. As greenhouse-gas levels rise and the earth’s systems shift, climate change has also begun to overwhelm the very idea that there is a “nature” to be saved or preserved. If success means keeping things as they are, we have already failed, probably irrevocably. This is why climate change is the emblematic problem of the Anthropocene: It is both a driver and a symbol of a thoroughly transformed world.

We need new standards for shaping, managing, and living well in a transformed world. Familiar ideas of environmental failure and success will not reliably serve anymore. We should ask, of efforts to address climate change, not just whether they are likely to “succeed” at solving the problem, but whether they are promising experiments—workable approaches to valuing a world that we have everywhere changed, and to thinking how we will change it next. Climate change gives us a model of how familiar approaches to environmental problems can break down, and how the problems that disintegrate those familiar approaches can become the seedbed of new approaches. The old adage was never truer or more relevant: we make the road by walking. (249)

Can our weal turn a welted world into a well of new possibilities? It’s what the old shaman-poets did: made wombs out of wounds. Our words can become new worlds.

A poem by Wendell Berry suggest how to crack that door and begin to see what’s next:

THE SUPPLANTING

Wendell Berry

Where the road came, no longer bearing men,
but briars, honeysuckle, buckbush and wild grape,
the house fell into ruin, and only the old wife’s daffodils
rose in spring among the wild vines to be domestic
and to keep the faith, and her peonies drenched the tangle
with white bloom. for a while in the years of its wilderness
a wayfaring drunk slept clinched to the floor there
in the cold nights. And then I came, and set fire
to the remnants of the house and shed, and let time
hurry in the flame. I fired it so that all
would burn, and watched the blaze settle on the waste
like a shawl. I knew those old ones departed
then, and I arrived. As the fire fed, I felt rise in me
something that would not bear my name—something that
bears us
through the flame, and is lightened of us, and is glad.

from Farming: A Hand Book (1970)

earthweal open link weekend #4


 

‘Tis now the witching hour! Earthweal’s linking free-for-all kicks off every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the theme of this forum but all wells are really open for business as long as your contribution is a poem.

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know which corner of Earth you hail from.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. This coming Monday, Sherry Marr takes over the reins with a challenge on The Animals of Climate Change. Let’s build an ark of verse!

As always, your fruitful and communal conversation is welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

australia fire 12 2019 3

Photo: Jenny Evans / Getty

 

After a lull which brought cool and wet relief to some but not all of Australia’s drought-stricken, fire-ravaged regions, dry heat and stiff winds have returned and so too the brushfires. Suburbs south of Canberra were threatened and a 600,000-acre blaze burns out of control near the south coast towns of Moruya and Bermagui.

It’s hard—very hard—to go on with this, even from this distant porch in Florida, but imagine the daily dose of climate reality for most Australians, where the smoke of 25 million burning acres of homeland infiltrates everything and -body with dread and the dead.

One survey showed that more than half of Australians have been directly affected by the blazes, with a quarter experiencing health effects and a third changing their daily routine as a result of the conditions. The ultrafine particles in smoke can bury in the lungs and enter the blood stream, causing infection and an increased chance of heart attacks, lung disease, urinary tract infections and renal failure. Several players at the Australian Open have required medical care for breathing problems, while NASA reports that Australia’s wildfire smoke encircles the globe, resulting in a dense haze in South America and redder sunsets around the Southern Hemisphere.

For Australian journalist Amy Coopes, the last round of fire around the New Year was too much: “We all know someone who has lost something; everything. Photos from friends of a wall of fire racing across paddocks, engulfing life as it was once known. Everything is gone. The scars on our landscape will heal, but will we?”

Before we can take in the depth and damage of those scars, the fires return.

Elsewhere, American President Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg had at each other at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with Trump scolding Thunberg and other climate activists for peddling doom in an age of deregulated economic prosperity.  To which Thunberg tartly replied in a separate venue: “Our house is still on fire.” She said world’s investors have a choice between pulling their money out of fossil fuel stocks or face telling their children why they failed to protect them from the climate chaos they created.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin came to his boss’s rescue a few days later by saying Thunberg ought to study economics before offering climate proposals, which is rich, because Mnuchin keeps a steadfast gaze away from economic facts by saying that the Trump 2017 tax cuts were paying for themselves, even though the federal deficit has climbed over $1 trillion. “His defiance of reality probably pleased President Trump, who likes lieutenants to pretend everything is going according to plan,” said a New York Times editorial on Jan. 23. “But Mr. Mnuchin would better serve his country by encouraging his boss to confront reality.”

But why bother with that? Take a cue from Craig Kelley, the conservative Australian politician who “argues that the fires are no worse than in the past, that arsonists and socialists are to blame for the blazes, that coal is winning, that Arctic ice is not melting — and that those who disagree are no better than the censors in Orwell’s ‘1984.’ (Damien Cave, New York Times).

Denial is the opiate of the asses, for sure. And when the truth gets tough for these jerks, they commence twerking all the more wildly.

Rather than throw more of those stones at the painfully obvious, today I’d like to turn instead to the pot I’m a-boil in. One of the most maddening things about life in the Anthropocene is the sense of how pervasively, perhaps inextricably, all of us live in the problem, so much so that me talking here is a criminal waste of juice, breath, and care. It makes any sense that humans can work their way out of this climate dilemma rather absurd.

In order to blunt and lower the curve of rising heat (and keep all the tipping-points from springing on us like the Devil’s Jack-in-the-Box), fossil fuel extraction has to stop—now. But what a task that is! Billions of humans now clamor for the basics of beyond-survival living — fresh water, good housing, a fridge stuffed with food, a/c for the heat, a streaming TV and cellphone and gas-guzzling conveyance, the bigger and more fumous the more elegant.

All of the standard conveniences of modern life demand power—lots of and with more and more billions clamoring for it, the load is nigh impossible. An upward spike: half of the nearly 2 degrees C temperature rise we’ve seen since 1880 is the result of consumption during the past 20 years.

To wit, my daily life is threaded and connected to fossil fuels in too many ways to count. I have a 50-mile daily commute to work. I’m on a computer all day.  (Data centers around the world now consume annually some 650 terawatt hours of electricity, and that number surges every year in the demand for more and more cloud computing. ) My wife and I go through mountains of packaging every week getting to our food. Suburban life is the ultimate fossil fueled convenience with its vast vista of single-family houses inured from summer heat and winter cold, stocked with food, with one room dedicated to entertainment—comfy chairs, low lighting, a media system comprising of TV, computer, streaming device, stereo, MP3 player, old video and DVR players, etc.

I don’t have to go anywhere, I just hang out at home and consume. But then, most suburbs lay a distance from urban centers where most work is found, which means you drive for everything.

This dream is repeated millions– billions—of times around the world, in increasing numbers, density and heights of consumption.

The modern convenience dream is so complete that there’s a Matrix-like blindness to what’s happening just outside that shimmering wall. Truth is, humans are devouring the world fast and haven’t a clue how to live in any truly sustainable way. Our lifestyle and cloud of conveniences work only with a much, much smaller population—500 million or less–and there isn’t any way to teach that but through the hardest lessons.

But we are a long way from learning that—decades maybe, though the timeline sure seems to be compressing as wildfires take off around the world.

Meanwhile we hunker down in our addictions, at rest and complete in fictive baths where warnings don’t sink in, climate truths are denied, powers that be steal what they can for their few and a president is denied due process and a fair trial just so things can stay as they can’t be. That contingent is not leaving the Titanic’s ballroom, no matter how crazy the angles.

Back in Australia, locals are sorting out that they aren’t in Kansas anymore. “Sometimes you can see the end of the old world and the beginning of the new one as clearly as a seam,” Brigid Delaney writes. “Transformations that were once barely perceptible, recognisable only after the fact, this summer have become akin to a crossing. You can see the line as you step over it.”

Maybe the seam is still hard for some to perceive, but then there’s so much smoke getting in our eyes these days. We can’t see the carbons overpopulating the atmosphere; nor does the surface of the sea belie the growing emptiness below. But we can see the smoke, and through it our invisible fate is coming into view

Back to Amy Coopes for a close: “As our climate becomes more hostile, perhaps the single greatest risk is that, in tandem, so do we. The learned helplessness of neoliberalism not only invites us to believe that we, as individuals, are powerless, it depends on it.”

Here our poems don’t have to be helpless.

And so let’s dance!

 

  

 

 

earthweal open link weekend #3

Icelandic poppies. Photo by my brother Timm, who loved filling his camera lens with flowers.

 

NOTE: For those of you came by first thing to link, sorry that Mr. Linky was expired. FIXED.

Welcome to Earthweal’s third open link weekend. Our linking free-for-all kicks off every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the theme of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where in the Earth choir you’re singing from.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. The Jan. 20 Monday Challenge will be WATER.

Would love to read your thoughts and responses in the comments section. Conversation has fruitful and communal.

—Brendan

 

Poet Mary Oliver, who joined the deep blue fray a year ago today, 1/17/19.

 

Thanks again to all who have been coming by to link and comment. You magnify the hive with so much charged pollen in the form of dreams, angst, insights, rants, grief, poetries. It’s still very early, but earthweal shows promise as a place to hurt and heal under the canopy of changing Earth.  We have much, much work to do …

In his new book This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, Jedidiah Purdy (a professor of law at Columbia University) makes the case for “a new narrative of civic friendship” of shared resources and common purpose which is based on land—the very thing which holds us together and tears us apart. The wealth of the land is something we have shared and fought over; in many places, our common weal has become the wealth of the few. As we waken to the nightmare produced by our extractions, the way forward is the way back—toward a renewed sense of bonding, not only by the human community but with the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms we reside among.

Purdy writes,

In a commonwealth—which we might also call a democratic Anthropocene—value will lie in work that does what is necessary and sustains its own conditions of possibility, in rest that contemplates a broken but still wondrous world, in play that keeps joy vivid among monuments and ruins and helps ensure that new life will grow there. No one can choose these values alone because they depend on the shared commitments of others and on the shape and terms of a built and shared world. The heroic work of building that world must clear the space for living humbly. (150)

Heroic work, perhaps, but as I’ve previously quoted Wendell Berry, “its hardship is its possibility.”

The thought of a building a world for humble living gives me hope in the face of so much climate despair there is to carry. I read a piece in The Guardian online yesterday, “How scientists are coping with ‘ecological grief.'”  In it, Steve Simpson is a professor of marine biology and global change at the University of Exeter. For decades he participated in diving expeditions into the Great Barrier Reef, studying marine life and the coral ecosystem. Though coral reefs take up only .1 percent of the ocean’s surface, more than a quarter of marine species live in them. “They’re rainforests of the sea,” he says.

But the oceans have been warming due to climate change, and in 2006 he observed the first great bleaching event. A vast and vibrant ecosystem “had turned into a graveyard.”  “It looked weird,” said Simpson, “because the fish were still brightly coloured, like someone had gone in and painted them on an otherwise black-and-white photograph. It was completely devastating to see individual corals that we knew and loved and had spent so long studying, now dead.”

Asked how he was dealing with his grief, Simpson replied,

We come back from our field seasons increasingly broken. You can either think: I can’t do this, I’m going to have to change the science I do; or you might try to internalise all of that pain that you feel. Lots of scientists do the latter – they feel we should be objective and robust, not at the mercy of our emotions.

Increasingly, we’re realising that we can use that emotional response to form new questions. Working on the bleached and dying coral reefs is enormously important to understanding how those environments are changing. There is a real urge to want to do something about it, rather than just chart the demise. And that’s where our research is heading now. We’re trying to restore some coral reef communities, or a fishery, or replant a mangrove forest. We’re just trying to find ways of protecting pockets of really diverse, vibrant life, which might reseed much larger areas when we tackle the big issues.

Grief of loss on such a scale we’re seeing also in the Amazon rainforest and global smokedrift from the burned Australian bush, in mountains whose gracious crowns have been ripped apart for clearcut mining and the polluted haze of New Delhi. Pick a place, you don’t have far to go. Lovers of the Earth today have to be tough-minded, like scientists, understanding that raw sights and sad vistas are part of life everywhere on the planet. But along with that damage there is much still to embrace and love and work to save.

Simpson was then asked what advice he could offer to those also experiencing climate grief:

It’s really important that we find ways of communicating the grief that we’re feeling and work together to support each other. Then we can become stronger, we can start to develop the science that takes our knowledge and turns it on its head – turns it into a solution, rather than just a negative story.

I think that finding any way of fostering a love of the natural world in the next generation is critical for them to be part of the solution.

Earthweal’s despair is also its possibility. It is a place to shoulder our common grief and then turn our eyes onto the world which is still alive and present and embraceable.

In that sense, venting that despair is like singing a sad country song—heartbreaking but you feel better after listening through, less alone and strummed by something wild and deep inside. I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel eager to get back to work.

So sing your despair, ask your questions, praise the world and give some hope!

POPPIES

Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t

sooner or later drown
in the indigoes of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But also I say this:  that light
is an invitation to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?

(from New And Selected Poems: Vol. 1, published 1992)

(Looking for Mr. Linky? Top of the post.)

 

earthweal open link weekend #2

Welcome to Earthweal’s second open link weekend. Every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST an open link challenge kicks off, inviting all comers to share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the spirit of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Open-forum links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. The Jan. 13 Monday Challenge will be GHOSTS.

That’s all you need to know to get started today. If you’re itchin’ to post, click on the Mr. Linky link which follows. Ifyou don’t mind, put your location after your name in the link so we know where the report is coming in from. For Earthweal to take root, we need global voices!

Homily follows. Would love to read your thoughts and responses in the comments section. Conversation has been so energized and heartfelt!

Fruitful posting and reading and commenting—

Brendan

 

These days, the pace of world events keeps the news on a fast spin cycle.  Coverage of the Australian fires has been eclipsed by war-thunder in the Middle East. Residents of Puerto Rico still slowly rebuilding from Hurricane Maria are without power—again—after a series of earthquakes. A new coronavirus from the dreaded SARS family is spreading in China and the East Coast of the USA is experiencing unseasonable heat with temps more than 30 degrees above average. Here in Florida, after a few cool nights earlier in the week it now swelters like there’s no tomorrow. And so the world races on.  Bitter cold snaps are coming, then drenching spring rains, then tornadoes, then hurricanes, then summer heat and drought, wildfire and more big storms … you all know the reel: We just can’t tell how much climate change is magnifying and speeding things up, a warp drive powered by something monstered by human intervention.

Still, many of us though are not ready yet to leave the immense devastation of fire in Australia. The backstory always takes a while to filter in. People are just returning to their homes and trying to decide whether to rebuild or leave. Fire management practices are being assessed with lessons to be learned from Aboriginal methods. The scale of devastation to non-human life keeps growing by magnitudes, and whatever number we come up for the dead—more than a billion, some scientists now say—there is an even greater shadow number of survivors who won’t be able to live on in what’s left. Some species are sure to go extinct.

And the fires keep coming back. Kangaroo Island is ablaze again, with a third of its 1,700 square miles already burned including Flinders Chase national park and Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat. Home to many unique animal species and some 60,000 koalas, the island is becoming an ecological disaster. Welcome to the nightmare of the Anthropocene, no longer down the road.

A tipping-point is a fact of life which consumes all the facts we can summon to describe it, a growling magnitude of multiplying dimensions. The spectral red glow of those fires brings into consciousness a new and perhaps unstoppable weather whose catalyst is itself.

“It’s like the fire is a sentient being,” said a New South Wales writer whose husband and son are volunteer firefighters. “It feels like it’s coming to get us.”

What is fast eroding is any believable sense of resilience against such stacked events. Climate change is creating unliveable zones. The thought of adaptation in the manner we’d prefer is as behind our present moment as climate change denial was five years ago. That’s how fast geologic time is now smashing through real time.

If that is so, where is the hope? Without something to have faith in in the midst of this, something to believe in and work for, despair becomes the only conclusion and distraction an opiate, dulling pain and clouding vision with obliviousness. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will be gone. Party like it’s 1999.

But as Holderlin says: where there is danger, salvation grows as well. Much of the old dominant human order may not be worth saving, but new sources of earthwealth may become visible as the old ones burn away.

Jeb Bendell asserted in a 2018 paper a way of working through the fall of the human world we are witnessing. He begins by asserting that runaway climate change will result in societal collapse within the next few decades. However, that is unthinkable and untenable only if we cannot let go of the civilization and order which created it. We can’t manage our climate now that tipping points are passing, nor can we maintain status quo in our politics, economy and social structures; however, we can strive for a deeper adaptation which can provide hope and meaning in the maelstrom.

He writes,

Reflection on the end of times, or eschatology, is a major dimension of the human experience, and the total sense of loss of everything one could ever contribute to is an extremely powerful experience for many people. How they emerge from that experience depends on many factors, with loving kindness, creativity, transcendence, anger, depression, nihilism and apathy all being potential responses. Given the potential spiritual experience triggered by sensing the imminent extinction of the human race, we can appreciate why a belief in the inevitability of extinction could be a basis for some people to come together.

Remember in Poe’s classic tale, boats are easily devoured by the Maelstrom, but it is possible to survive if one clings to rising shapes, even if they make no sense for sailing.

“In abandoning hope that one way of life will continue, we open up a space for alternative hopes,” Tommy Lynch recently wrote in Slate.  Can our grief for so many animals extinguished or rendered homeless by the Australian brushfire act as a whetstone for a sharper, more insightful clarity about the difficulties ahead and work that is still worthwhile?

There is always productive work to be about, even if its larger end is a future not as hot as it could be without that work. Humanity will probably fail to keep warming of the world under 2 degrees C by the end of the century, but we can avoid 3 or 4 or 5 degrees C, maybe. Green New Deals are possible. We can drive less, consume less meat, transition to alternative energy. We can vote and encourage others to do so. Jedidiah Purdy, a legal scholar with a fine mind for politics in the Anthropocene, writes in The Atlantic about his decision to have children and teaching his son “to wonder at the world before he learns to fear for it.” I’m not as game as he is for keeping the world populated with the likes of us, but we do need voices of welcome.

Predictably, those who are too in bed with former orders and their powerful lobbies will hunker down further and hurl invective on the prevailing digital wind (Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper The Australian is an appalling case in point). Don’t expect the fossil fuel industry to become like the apostle Paul, struck Christian on the road to Damascus. Expect the trolls to continue pushing climate misinformation like methed-up sex offenders. And then there’s US President Donald Trump, who, during at an event yesterday to announce his administration’s rollback of requirements of the National Environment Policy Act, sent his love to Australian PM Scott Morrison, proclaimed love for the environment and clean air and clean water and adoration for jobs, jobs, jobs. Another head-spinner for a future which will hold us all to account.

The danger of despair has already woven its dark thread into this forum; it this only about despair, who has the fortitude to keep coming back for fresh buckets of black water? But behind that despair there may be doors; temporary houses can still be located where inconceivables become pantry stock.

The only thing I know to do is keep writing.

So here goes.

earthweal open link weekend #1

 

Welcome to earthweal’s first open link weekend. Every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST an open link challenge kicks off, inviting all comers to share a poem, new or old, long or short, hopefully in the spirit of this forum but all doors are really open as long as your contribution is a poem.

Earthweal is designed to gather voices from around our Earth with news of how things are changing, what we are seeing, fearing, loving, hoping, grieving. Bring your local tidings or share your deep vision.

The twenty-first century’s third decade begins with a disturbing clarity about how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing, the intensified weather and its impacts on human and nonhuman communities. Predictions of these changes by climate scientists since the 1970s have been unerring, but the time grows increasingly uncertain as feedback loops created by melting Arctic sea ice and permafrost or deforestation due to agricultural burning intensify into weather patterns difficult to anticipate and endure.

These feedback loops are now affecting daily life worldwide so dramatically that the world which is coming into view bears little resemblance to the one many of us grew up in. Seas are rising, wildfires burn out of control, temperature norms are shattering, animal orders are going extinct, traditional forms of government and society are disrupting and swelling migrant populations are on the move.

For those of us who grew up in the middle decades of the previous century, the sudden upsweep in the pace of these events is disconcerting. In a matter of a few years an entire worldview and habitation has come into question. Geological and human time scales which have had little to do with each other are confounded. Strangeness irrupts into the daily. Bewilderment, terror and grief are close, and it feels a bit like waking from a long dream.

But how shall we wake? In his book-length essay The Great Derangement, the novelist Amitav Ghosh points out that literary arts, particularly the novel, have been strangely blind and deaf to the changes of the Anthropocene, rapt in a personal human narrative increasingly distanced from nature and the World. He asks,

In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities like Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they find them, what should they—what can they—do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into modes of concealment that prevented people from realizing the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the Great Derangement. (11)

As a good friend says, poetry is cheaper than whiskey; but to the degree it is also agency of distraction and evasion of the essential bond between writer and world, it can become litter in a tornado of white noise.

 

The timing of this first open link night is sadly propitious as a major climate catastrophe unfolds in Australia with wildfires burning out of control. Since September, nearly 12 million acres of forest, bushland, fields, scrub, homesteads, recreational areas and habitat have collapsed into walls of flame. Australia is a hot spot on the climate change map, both for its vulnerability to drought, high heat and fire, as well as for a political leadership with deep ties to the country’s coal-exporting interests.

Decades of refusal to address the nation’s role in rising carbon emissions bring us now to this. Whole towns are now being evacuated in New South Wales and Victoria, and already some half a billion life forms—not including insects and plant life—have been killed. A 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change demonstrated 467 pathways in which climate change was adversely affecting human life on earth, and concluded that if greenhouse emissions aren’t capped by the end of this century, many people will face between three and six concurrent climate catastrophes on a par similar to the Australian wildfires.

Elsewhere in the world today, flash flooding in Indonesia have displaced more than 400,000, and present MIddle East tensions—Iran and the US are closer to open conflict following the drone killing of an Iranian general who ran military operations in Syria and Iraq—have smoldering roots in climate change, as the whole area heats and dries threatening water and food security across a region in which fossil fuel extraction has been the dominant economy.

Here in Florida, Holodcene-era politics is enacting a Clean Waterways bill with gentle regulations for water conditions which have worsened out of sight. It’s pretty and fair today—no scent of burning in our air—the but seas keep warming and the next hurricane season promises to be worse than the last.

How will we measure such magnitudes, alternating so weirdly with the everyday? This forum is named earthweal for the coinage’s dual sense of an Earth-wide community’s hope and wounds. May there be a balance of both; as Wendell Berry writes, hardship is possibility. I don’t know the task is too late or difficult, but the hope is that we can train our collective vision on the space between human and world and grow roots there, even if the product is damaged, fleeting, and forever incomplete.

Share a poem and visit your fellow linkers and comment. As with other forums, please be respectful of each other. Remember we are emissaries of the wider Earth community.

Open-forum links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday. Not surprisingly, the Jan. 6 challenge will be FIRE,

Click on the Mr. Linky icon below and you’ll proceed to to another page where you can enter your link. Help this forum show the breadth of your participation by putting your locale also in the link.

For more details about earthweal, see the Jan. 1 2020 opening post or click on the “about earthweal” link at the top.

If you’re having difficulties or have any comment, you can reach me at earthweal@gmail.com.

Now let’s get this party started!

—Brendan