earthweal weekly challenge: CONSIDERING THE BEYOND-HUMAN WORLD

 

By Sherry Marr

You have entered the country of shadow. And a vast and brooding presence that had been hiding, moments earlier, behind the gauze of light is now slowly walking toward you through the clarified air. It is the breathing body of the mountain itself.

—David Abram, Becoming Animal

I am fascinated by the indigenous understanding that everything in the natural world is connected, that each has its role to play and is deserving of respect, that each has the right to exist. This is in direct counterpoint to settler consciousness, which is to view everything as a “resource,” to be extracted for financial gain. This view may temporarily bring financial wealth. But we are now living through the eventual result: that resources will be used up, and the earth, having lost much of her sustenance, will fall ill and begin to die. Settler consciousness forgets one basic fact: that we, too, are part of the natural world, and what we do to one, we do to all, and to ourselves.

We have a million species heading towards extinction. Only four percent of prairie tallgrass, essential for storing carbon, is left. Fish, sea life, birds, bees, coral, the Amazon, are all under threat. Humans have impacted everything on earth.

Right now, humans and wild and domestic animals are fleeing in terror all along the western seaboard of the United States in an Armageddon of flames and terrifying red-orange skies, in the worst wildfire season ever recorded. Governments continue to lament that “we can’t afford a Green New Deal.” When will they understand that the cost of trying to recover from these ever-more-apocalyptic events far exceeds what it would cost to try to prevent them? Sadly, this should have begun 40 years ago. It is astonishing to me that we wait until just before the end of the world to understand the climate crisis is real.

What I have noted in my small world is that if I praise the wild flowers growing on the hill in front of my house, the following year they double in profusion and brilliance…and there are the deer who know they need never, ever fear me.

….I think  I am telling you that the animals of this planet are in peril, and that they are fully aware of this….I am also telling you that we are connected to them at least as intimately as we are connected to trees.” 

Alice Walker, Living By the Word

In my last little trailer home, I experienced what Alice is describing, in the thriving of wild bluebells and daffodils around my big maple, which doubled year after year under my delight and whispered praise.

I believe everything has consciousness: trees, animals, plants, mountains. I was thrilled when New Zealand recognized the Maori’s river of sacred power, the Whanganui, granting it personhood, as an “indivisible, living whole, with all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of an individual.” Progress. New Zealand is emerging as a country of advanced consciousness in so many ways in these times.

The Maori fought to maintain their spiritual connection to awa tupua – their river of sacred power. To them, it has always been a living entity. They mourned as it was dynamited, polluted, its gravel extracted. One of their proverbs is “I am the river, the river is me.” They believe their ancestors live on in the natural world. This is akin to the Tla-o-qui-aht people of my area, who have protocols and teachings around respecting all life surrounding them in the forest; even the lowly slug’s territory is respected. When they meet a wolf or bear, they respectfully retreat from its territory. They respect everything in their vicinity as their relations, as deserving of life as every other.

…There are people who think that only people have emotions, like pride, fear, and joy, but those who know will tell you all things are alive….each in its own way……And though different from us in shape and life span, different in Time and Knowing, yet are trees alive. And rocks. And water. And we all know emotion.

Ann Cameron, The Daughters of Copper Woman

I know that animals feel everything we feel; this is why it hurts me when they are treated horribly. In their innocence they cannot possibly understand why humans are so cruel.

If it is true that we reap what we sow, as a country we have only to recognize the poison inside us as the poison we forced others to drink. But the land is innocent. It is still Turtle Island. It is beginning to throw up the poison it has been forced to drink, and we must help it by letting go of our own; for until it is healthy and well, we cannot be. Our thoughts must be on how to restore to the Earth its dignity as a living being…. We must begin to develop the consciousness that everything has equal rights because existence itself is equal… Everything to the Indian was a relative. Everything was a human being.

Alice Walker, Living By the Word

I love “the land is innocent. It is still Turtle Island.” The land needs us now, to heal and repair what we can, where we are, and to speak up for her loudly enough to make legislators not only hear, but act.

For our challenge, let’s contemplate the beyond-human world. You can consider the entire natural world and our connection to it in its entirety. Or you might want to choose one aspect, an animal, a plant, a mountain, a tree, whose presence as an individual you strongly feel.

Whatever you write about, I will read with great appreciation.

Sherry

earthweal weekly challenge: THE JOY

He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

—“Eternity,” William Blake

Dark ecology begins in darkness as depression. It traverses darkness as ontological mystery. It ends in dark sweetness.—Timothy Morton

An infernally hot afternoon in my corner of Florida—96 straight degrees, but when you add 80 percent humidity it’s more like 106. This is the killing heat cropping up worldwide as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm. It’s hot also today in the Southwest United States, 116 straight degrees in Woodland Hills (CA), more than a hundred heat records expected to be broken across the region. This doesn’t bode well for California where wildfires don’t need much of a nudge to rage again. And hot oceans are brewing hurricane and cyclone trouble around the world, Super Typhoon Haishen taking aim on South Korea and three new systems forming over the Atlantic.

Ah, but what did we expect? High-pressure heat mixed with depressive lows foment storms whose scale and intensity can cause earthquakes and rattle the Earth’s jet stream. Typhoon Haishen will cause a wobble in the stream which will shoot cold air down into the US West, causing snowstorms where the day before there was record heat.

As the I Ching says, to and fro goes the Way, only now it feels more like dizzy skeltering as we hunker down awaiting a vaccine for COVID-19.

And as the Earth changes, so do our minds. We’re going crazy along with the crazing of our climate. The surface of our sanity is scarred from fire, pockmarked with melting permafrost, the deep time stasis which ballasts our unconscious vanishing with glaciers.

It’s deeply depressing—there are some who avoid this forum because indulging in such poetry feels suicidal—but if we’re already dead (scientists now believe the Greenland melt was already fated decades ago), then depression is for things we’ve already lost which we’ll never get back.

Philosopher Timothy Morton does an interesting take on depression in his book Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (2016). He locates this condition in the disordered worldview of what he calls agriologistics, the technology of controlling earth processes which dates back to the beginnings of agriculture in Mesopotamia and the locomotive engine which accelerates climate change:

Agrilogistics is Easy Think spacetime. A one-size-fits-all depression temporality, a sad rigid thin gray tube. We are living inside depression objectified in built space. It’s in the way gigantic fields of rapeseed extend everywhere. It’s in the way huge lonely front lawns extend a meaningless one-size-fits-all statement about individuality. It’s in the way malls have gigantic parking lots, and housing lots have giant McMansions without so much as a garden. With its tiny temporality window, agrilogistic depression has turned the surface of Earth into a fatal place. Not only the land but also the oceans, which are the unconscious of the built space, the toilet where the chemicals go. As we have seen, there is a simple Freudian term for a fatal compulsion that keeps on retweeting: death drive.

Contrary to this depression is a style of thought he terms ecognosis, a knowledge centered in the world whose thought emanates Joy:

Now to think the Joy, we simply invert these parameters. Instead of the fatal game of mastering oneself, ecognosis means realizing the irony of being caught in a loop and how that irony does not bestow escape velocity from the loop. Irony and sincerity intertwine. This irony is joy, and the joy is erotic. As Jeffrey Kripal puts it, gnosis is thought having sex with itself. This is not a dance in the vacuum of an oukontic nothing. Eros is an attunement, and if there is attunement there is an already-being. A dance that knows itself: unlike the patriarchal “Woman,” a chora (container) who cannot know herself as such, ecognosis is a chora who can. (154-5).

Again:

The Joy is logically prior to life, deep inside life, the quivering between two deaths. Deep in the interior of life there are dancing puppets. In the same way that viruses are logically prior to bacteria, thoughts are logically prior to minds, hallucinations are logically prior to thoughts, flowers are logically prior to plants, patterns are logically prior to evolution. (157)

And again:

The Joy is not abstract or uniform, but so intimate you can’t see it, and you can’t tell whether it’s inside or outside: the “cellular” experience of bonds tightening between beings. It’s not an emotion that I’m having. I’m in a passion. A passion is not in me. The Ganzfeld effect of The Joy is haptic, elemental: so close that you lose track of something to be seen. Here thought itself is a way of getting high: human attunement to thinking has been intoxicated into recognizing its nonhuman status. Not simply thinking ecologically (the ecological thought), but rather thought as susceptibility, thinking as such as ecology. The structure of thought as nonhuman. Ecognosis. (158)

So lighten up! We are separated from nature only by our idealization of it. Ennui and nostalgia and yearning are all brewed from the illusion of distance.  Civilized societies—and therefore our life–pine for harmonies and raptures too predicated on a false sense of relation. Hard rain’s a gonna fall, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t dance. We are the dance, even though we don’t know it, can’t see it, won’t believe it. What’s there to be depressed about, pining for a structure which doesn’t exist and isn’t worth saving?

I know these are heady, even foggy concepts, but it’s far to easy to stay sunk in depressive depths wishing for Eden to come back.

For this week’s challenge, how about some poems of Joy? For their own sake, in their own manner and diction. High joy, dark joy, sweet joy, profane joy. Let’s see what this dancing is all about. A happier, more earth-centric aesthetics may be found in the difficulty of trying so.

This challenge will last until 4 PM EST Friday, Sept. 11, when open link weekend begins. Have fun, post whatever poem feels relevant or close, visit your fellow linkers and comment.

— Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: EVOLU-SONGS

I’ve been thinking about evolution the past few days—how life found its way on Earth, the code which governs its flourishing, how life came back after near-eradication after asteroid strikes or runaway climate change.

I also thought about the missteps along the way (which I include homo sapiens, the leftovers in our bodies from earlier evolutionary trails, like the tail we lose in the fetus, muscles we used to pivot our ears or raise our fur, wisdom teeth, the appendix. We carry humanity’s earlier departures like exist signs along the road which brought us here.

Leaving evolutionary theory aside—I wonder at the grand sweep of geologic time and life’s miniscule occupation in it (eight billion years of Universe, half a billion years of life as we so far can gaze clearly back). Long time before those single-celled organisms started swirling around.

Even longer time for those swirly dots to grow up into homo sapiens, 497 million years to get to the past 3 million years—and then, the haul from 3 million years to the past 12,000 years in which human civilizations raced to the present.

In our lifespan very little biological evolution is evident, and that’s a problem. Life probably won’t have time to put the brakes on us before we or our kids destroy everything.

In our moment, the cumulative effects of the past 200 years of human civilization has baked the planet with carbon emissions so robustly that the age we are on the precipice of—who knows how long, the next 300 years for sure, perhaps 3 million—is a dizzy upward jaunt into dramatic climate events, including coastal flooding, mass extinction and hothouse Earth, where the Arctic will turn tropic and the mid-latitudes will be a zone of swelter where very little life can sustain itself.

If humanity survies, it will be because its technology builds a sufficient carapace to keep human life comfy and somehow reverse the carbon soak in the atmosphere. I live in Florida, a ridiculous notion given the summer’s incessant blaring heat: But with the advent of central air conditioning in the 1950s, my summers pass in cool stasis. My windows suggest an outside very different from within, but who cares? Suburbia is an early draft of that ultimate carapace. Naomi Orestes and Erik Conway give us a look at this future in their science-paper-cum-novel The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future, where in 300 years half a million humans survive in stilt houses in the Arctic Circle, the only temperate zone left on earth.

Such spooky predictions don’t seem all this crazy this morning, with the Gulf Coast reeling from Hurricane Laura, California’s wildfire season just beginning with ore than a million and a half acres already up in smoke and worst-ever monsoon flooding continuing unabated in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Two more depressions on the way across the Atlantic, and it’s raining hard here this morning because a third system has formed weirdly just north of here, a pattern which has repeated several times this year.

As fast as humanity rolls out new inventions of dimensionally powerful and blind consequence, it’s another thing altogether when it comes to slamming the brakes fast enough when things go bad. In the short while since climate change became a driving global issue, very little of substance has been done to stop it. We don’t have sufficient cerebral mechanism for forward thinking, and next to none for reversing course. Got us out of the savannah and safe from cave bears maybe, but here at the crossroads of evolution and human revolution cross paths, life will have to engineer a governor for our overdrive or the universe will. (Wonderful parable for pandemic response in the United States, especially here in Florida.)

Perhaps it is a mistake to equate the speed of human civilization with the biology of evolution. There may be a great fault in thinking the rules of one apply to the other. I’ve been reading Hugh Brody’s Maps and Dreams, an account of sub-Arctic indigenous hunters in in the path of a British Columbia oil pipeline and how all the maps created by an invading white technocracy have no use or value for the tribes who have hunted there for millennia.

Brody notes that where agricultural societies have for the past ten thousand years evolved into carefully planned and engineered to produce a maximum yield, indigenous hunting practices are at least a million and half years older and suggest how an evolved mind truly works. When he is invited to join in a tribal hunt, he is startled by how devoid of planning there is in the operation.

But then he watches—and learns.

The way to understand this kind of decision making as also to live by and even share it, is to recognize that some of the most important variables are subtle, elusive, and extremely hard or impossible to assess with finality. The Athapaskan hunter will move in a direction and at a time that are determined by a sense of weather (to indicate a variable that is easily grasped if all to easily oversimplified by the one word) and by a sense of rightness. He will also have different ideas about animal movement, his own and others’ patterns of land use … But already the nature of the hunter’s decision- making is being misrepresented by this kind of listing. To disconnect the variables, to compartmentalize the thinking, is to fail to acknowledge its sophistication and completeness.

He considers variables as a composite, in parallel, and with the help of a blending of the metaphysical and the obviously pragmatic. To make a good, wise, sensible hunting choice is to accept the interconnection of all possible factors, and avoids the mistake of seeking rationally to focus on any one consideration that is held as primary. What is more, the decision is taken in the doing: there is not step or pause between theory and practice.

As a consequence, the decision—like the action taken from which it is inseparable—is always alterable (and therefore may to properly even be termed a decision). The hunter moves in a chosen direction; but, highly sensitive to so many shifting considerations, he is always ready to change his directions. (17)

Staggeringly backward if you’re planning to lay an oil pipeline, and yet a million-year success: And what have we to say of our two-hundred-year thirst for limitless oil?

And besides, if evolution did not gift us with merciless precision, then how is that a downside for the rest of life?

So perhaps we need to look at evolution with a different eye, certainly when it comes to the species who jacked the code.

OK, ‘nuff said. For this week’s challenge, consider evolution in the world immediately around you. How did we get here, and where do we go from here? In that “world” include your own—kids, cats, pangolins, Donald Trump, wisdom teeth, poetry and cetaceans who returned to the sea 50 million years ago. How do the rules of life mix and contrast with the engines of human civilization? Do extinction events belie what comes next? What has our 3-million-year evolution equipped us with, and what makes modernity so difficult? (Why are we all so fat?) Can evolution be scaled down to the course of a life? Do poems evolve? Does natural selection determine our aesthetics?

I’m really curious to see what you have to say sing!

–Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: STORMS AND RAINBOWS

Rainbow as it appears above a grass fire burning on a hillside along Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

 

Pondering what to pose as this week’s challenge, I woke this morning with the words Storms and Rainbows echoing from the drain of my sleeping mind.

We are in a season of storms: rousing thunder marches across the receptive earth. A raw, breaking-open time. Wildfires in California (conflagrated by excessive heat and lightning) burn with the growing, growling intensity we saw earlier this year in Australia. Smoke from the fires blankets far and wide.  Two tropical systems march toward the Gulf of Mexico, where waters are hotter in the new usual; both are predicted to strike Louisiana’s Gulf coast 48 hours apart. Artic sea ice is melting vanishingly fast. Monsoon rains in South Asia have furiously unleashed a  new-ordinary. And with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to flatten economies and increase human misery around the world, the Earth at 1 degree C of overall warming mired in the speed-shift of pandemic offers a jarring glimpse of the world as it warms 2 or 3 degrees C more in the next century, just as the poaching of endangered species hastens the demise of the animal kingdom wrought by climate change.

Yet in these folds are also rainbows. Rainbows are an optical phenomena created by the reflections, refraction and diffusion of sunlight off rain droplets, a circular arc centered by the sun and the observer’s eye.  (Normally we only see the half of them above the ground.) After the violence of a storm, the shimmer of multi-spectral light feels like a halo of blessing, an augury of the new.

From Wikipedia –

Rainbows occur frequently in mythology, and have been used in the arts. One of the earliest literary occurrences of a rainbow is in the Book of Genesis chapter 9, as part of the flood story of Noah, where it is a sign of God’s covenant to never destroy all life on earth with a global flood again. In Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge Bifröst connects the world of men (Midgard) and the realm of the gods (Asgard). Cuchavira was the god of the rainbow for the Muisca in present-day Colombia and when the regular rains on the Bogotá savanna were over, the people thanked him offering gold, snails and small emeralds. Some forms of Tibetan Buddhism or Dzogchen reference a rainbow body. The Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. This place is appropriately impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which cannot be approached.

Rainbows weave through our daily fabric. Life goes on. Children are born. Memorials are tended. As the usurper Macbeth is beheaded in the end, rogue leaders are voted out and the time becomes free. (Many of us will need to repeat this for the next four days of the Republican National Convention.) New shoots green burnt hills. We decide what’s worth rebuilding and look to new and better conventions of living for the entire human community.

Ghosts endure.

The interface of storm and rainbow—of despair and hope—is what interests me here.  In the I Ching there is a hexagram for this, Fu (Return), or The Turning Point:

RETURN. Success.
Going out and coming in without error.
Friends come without blame.
To and fro goes the way.
On the seventh day comes return.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

To and fro goes the way. Linked to the winter solstice, this hexagram speaks of a turning point, where darkness is exhausted and light begins its return.

How to stand at this door and return this light? Rilke suggests the following in his Sonnets to Orpheus:

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;

song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice—learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

—I.3, transl. Stephen Mitchell

A wind takes us from an idea of reality into Being. From shelter from the storm into spiral magnificence. From lightning strike to immolated city to a new pact with a burning Earth.

Easy, for a god. But what about us?

Perhaps we have come to the warbling threshold: Are we ready to step through? What does the rainbow bridge to this future look like? It is only an illusion?

All we need is a song. Write about storms and rainbows from whatever vantage seems most appropriate to you.

This challenge will remain open until 4 p.m. EST Friday, August 28, when we’ll roll down the scenery for the next open link weekend.

How did Joyce announce the thunder in Finnegans Wake

Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunnt-rovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk

That should get us started!

—Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: RE-WILDING OUR SOULS

By Sherry Marr

“The soulscapes of our lives form the arc
of a heroic journey. Our quest for wholeness
and connection with the wild is a wild and sacred journey.”

—From Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness by Mary Reynolds Thompson

IN PRAISE OF THE WILD SOUL

Praise the wild soul for its ridges and canyons,
for its rivers and rapids. For its love of deep
caves and dark woods. For terrain, vast and
varied, undulating beneath spirit sky.

Praise the wild soul for its beauty, tremulous
as an aspen leaf, fierce as mother hawk. For
the way it shuns cages and breaks chains that
bind. For the way it rises, wings unfurled, on
rhythms of air. No stage holds dancers more
graceful than this.

Praise the wild soul for its intricacies, more
layered than the beaver’s dam, more complex
than the termites’ hill. Praise its wholeness, no
part left out, everything belonging.

Darkness gathers. My heart fills with fore-
boding at our human frailties.

But I have faith.
I am telling you now:
I believe in the wild soul.
Praise it.

This poem by Mary Reynolds Thompson expresses much of how I feel about our connection with the wild world, so necessary and integral to our well-being, and my foreboding at how so many have become deaf to the wild ones’ cries.

My connection with the wild has sustained me through years of trauma, turbulence and loss. Through it all, Mother Nature has been my best lover. The beauty of the earth has gotten me through the worst and best years of my life, as I walked along, head tipped back and grinning at the sky.

For years, raising my kids in Kelowna, lake and desert country, I saw its beauty, but felt I was in the wrong landscape. The wild shores and the old growth forests of Clayoquot Sound sang a siren song to me years before I journeyed here, before I ever beheld the perfection of its beauty. Its song captured my heart and imagination, drawing me to it as surely as a murrelet is drawn to its nest, a migrant whale to her feeding ground.

My inner Wild Woman came alive when I moved to Tofino the first time, in 1989. Immediately I stepped onto the beach, felt the energy of this power place, that questing, seeking voice in me was stilled, replaced by joy and gratitude and the certain knowledge I was in my soul’s home where I was meant to be.

Wild Woman got even wilder when Pup, my very alpha wolf-dog, found me. We gamboled joyously along the shore, explored every forest trail, in every weather. When we had to leave, we mourned its loss together, but found other wild rivers and forest trails to walk. This was a necessity for our well-being.

Those who live in cities likely feel that something-missing that is the wild world. Thankfully, cities have their share of parks and wilder spaces one can find, to make that connection we humans sorely need with the land.

For Mother Earth to heal, humanity has to either experience a societal shift, a transformation of consciousness, or else, (and this is more likely from the look of things), be forced by escalating climate crises to learn how to live as part of our ecosystem, in an integrated, rather than a dominating way.

Mary explains, “In losing our intimate relationship with the Earth, we modern humans have suffered a particular trauma that has caused our wild souls to split off…………we experience the symptoms of separation in a sense of alienation and a lack of aliveness.”

Healing the wound in nature heals the wound in ourselves, when we reconnect with Mother Earth and do what we can to help ease her wounds, and protect her forests and waters.

The way society is arranged, we are compressed into roles and boxes; making a living often takes so much effort there is little time for the actual living of life itself. Here is Mary Reynolds Thompson again:

To feel the breath of wildness come into your body is to reclaim your natural wholeness. It is to be enfolded by fields of grasses and held by the mountains’ slow and steady strength. It is to hear in your own heartbeat the thunderous roar of the ocean, reminding you that your life still belongs to the wild Earth. All you have to do is reach for her.

Different landscapes call to different people. Some are in love with deserts; some need forests, oceans and rivers; other hearts thrill to the majesty of the mountains, or swell to the vast scope of grasslands and big sky. There is beauty all around, everywhere, in the morning sky peeking at us from our back porch, and in visits from the wild world: small birds coming to our feeder, deer softly tiptoe-ing across the grass.

For your challenge: What is your wild soul’s story in relation to the landscape you love? Tell us about the place that sings you home, the one that calls to your wild spirit, the place in all the world that invites your wild Self out to play. It can be the landscape you loved in childhood and think of now when you think of Home. Or it might be a place you love right now, either where you are living, or a beloved vacation spot.

Introduce us to its topography, its special characteristics. How has your chosen landscape changed over the years? How has loving it changed you? How is it in peril? What is the land and its wild creatures saying to you?

Whatever words come to you in response to this, I will read them with great appreciation.

Sherry