earthweal weekly challenge: WHAT HAPPENS TO ONE, HAPPENS TO US ALL


by Sherry Marr

I was fascinated when I first learned about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, after an absence of seventy years, and how this impacted, in what is called a trophic cascade, everything in the ecosystem, ultimately actually changing the course of the river.

Nature is amazing!

A trophic cascade is a series of consequences, starting at the top of the food chain, that affects all the species lower down.

Yellowstone Park was created in 1872. Poachers, hunters, tourists and park rangers were free to kill wolves, who were considered a nuisance and given no protection at all. By 1926, wolves had vanished from Yellowstone.

The park began to suffer from the absence of wolves. There was an increase in grazing populations, and human efforts to cull the herds weren’t successful. Areas along riverbanks were denuded, soil erosion occurred, and small species withdrew.

Scientists argued for the re-introduction of wolves into the park, but park rangers were opposed. In 1967, wolves were classified as endangered. But it wasn’t until 1973 that U.S. Fish and Wildlife were required to do something about it. Years of studies were begun, working towards a restoration program.

Paul Nicklen, National Geographic photo


Finally, in 1995, fourteen wolves were captured in Alberta, Canada, and introduced into Yellowstone.  The results were astonishing. Grazing herds moved away from the riverbank to less open locations. With less grazing, forest regeneration stabilized the slopes; there was less soil erosion. Pools started forming; rivers became narrower. The wolves had impacted the physical geography of the entire park.

This all blows my mind. They say the increase in songbirds, beaver, and small animals like gophers and ground squirrels, which fed eagles and hawks, was amazing. Landscape that had been grazed bare became lush and green once more. Willows grew and spread. The area healed and grew into a paradise.

Best news of all, to me, is that wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2009, as their numbers had become sustainable.

This is all marvelous to contemplate, and makes me ponder how every species has its important role to play in the working of whole ecosystems. The participation of each impacts the health of the whole. Or, as my Nuu chah nulth neighbours teach: Everything Is One. What happens to one, happens to us all.

Here is a little-known fact: salmon change forests too! One doesn’t think of salmon as having a connection to the forest. But eagle, bears and wolves all eat salmon. Fish carcasses and the droppings of the animals that eat salmon are compost, adding necessary nitrogen to the trees and the forest floor. They keep forests thriving. Here on the West Coast, our salmon stocks are dying out, because of climate change, warming seas, over-fishing, and, especially, pollution and disease from the open-pen fish farms in the area.  First Nations have been advising of this danger for decades, yet governments are slow to act in legislating fish farms into contained land-based locations. I fear our salmon will go the way of the cod stocks of the eastern seaboard before long.

The Nuu chah nulth people have lived off salmon for ten thousand years. It only took greedy settlers a couple of hundred years to plunder everything into near-extinction. I can’t imagine, as outraged as I am by environmental degradation, what it must be like for the original people of this land  – its caretakers and guardians – to watch everything being destroyed: salmon dying out, forests being clearcut, everything being paved over in an accelerating rush to grab it all before it all is gone. I am astounded by how patient the First People are, and how willing, still, to talk to us and try to help us learn.

It saddens me to reflect on the outrageously heavy and disproportionate impact our human species has, the harsh toll it is taking on the non-human realm – who have as important and necessary a role to play as we do in an interdependent ecosystem, and as much right to life.

“Mother Nature provides for our need,” a local Chief often repeats, “but not our greed.”

Let’s think about this for our challenge: Share any example you wish of a human or non-human being, and the impact it has on its surrounding ecosystem. Share your wonder, your despair, your hope, your respect: whatever this challenge brings up for you. I look forward to being amazed.

earthweal weekly challenge: GIVING THANKS


For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, winter approaches with dimmer days and longer nights. It’s not cold here in Florida, but there a wan tone feels durable, tending toward grey, long shadows, a weariness and pall which carol the year’s decline.

Further North, a vaster chill gathers and deepens.

For our neighbors south of the equator, there is an equidistant suggestion of spring; a flush to morning skies and widening buds.

Inbreath and outbreath; one half trudges toward winter while the other breathes a springtide sigh of relief.

There are inversions. As the I Ching says, to and fro goes The Way. While light recedes to a nadir in winter, it is yet a creative time in the inward spaces, perhaps the most fertile of all. Certainly there is flush of good cheer to the coldest winter night. And on the other side of Earth where springtide courses run, it is a time to be out, planting gardens and ramping up new projects.

Of late, pollutants have marred the clarity of these movements. The Anthropocene brews monster hurricanes at the Equator and far East, sets fire to wetlands and foments vast uncertainty in the fast-heating poles. However we may have acclimated to our local weather, changing notes are part of the mix.

Along with the weltering weather, the human community hunkers down to battle other extremes—pandemic, political instability, disrupting norms of truthful discourse and community. The 21st century so far is behaving far more uncivilized than the last!

So: A tempered seasonal, imbued both with traditional cheer and a rattling chill of change in the eaves.

In my country, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a celebration of family and community much eroded by capitalism and pandemic. My wife and I will celebrate at home, perhaps to Zoom with distant family; but without aren’t in the mix any more, and no kids (just cats), we’re uncertain about the entire holiday season. A tree with lights? Wreath for the door? Any more? Who knows.

But still we can give thanks. Like Rilke writes in his Sonnets to Orpheus, “praising is what matters!”

Come these Florida Novembrals, breezy with strolling fronts of light and cloud, wisps of rain, sighs in the trees, time is afoot, the sky hiking great lengths across the Earth. It’s not cool or warm, just alternations of wan; days pass quickly into long nights. In my drinking days it was an end of the world time, weeks of blackout drinking and the world about dazed and thirsty for happy hour: now it is inner and nourishing, fleeting fast toward the Christmas holiday. Advent season still approaches and yet feels already over. As David Spangler wrote in Festivals of Manifestation, this is the innermost season of the Christ, giving birth to a great sense of Being within: In these latter days of November, the coming month of December feel almost inaugural.

Let us praise the season we enter, this time in which we still exist, and give thanks for the bounty we are yet surrounded by, the nurture of what’s given.


earthweal weekly challenge: KEEP IT GREEN


I’ve been deep in a forest of late, departed from the mad tumult of bloodsport politics, soaring pandemics and climate derangement. I’m staying green, hopping tree to tree of an ancient singing tradition, wintering, as it were, while the sun beats down and the winds yet blow.

I’m still there: So I’m not sure what I have in my creel to salmon for a challenge.

We had a minor scrape earlier in the week with the remnants of the year’s 29th named storm, the Greek maiden Etta who had ravaged Nicarauga, flooded Miami and then rattled our morning here with 50 mph gusts. No big deal. The year’s 30th storm Iota take aim again on Nicaragua, swollen and swirling thanks to infernally hot southern Carribbean waters; this, while to the south the Pantanal wetlands burn out of control … With all the storms and heat of late, it’s hard to feel here in Florida there are only two seasons: summer and zombie summer.

For counter-compass I’m staying green, writing in the manner of this unknown poet of distant monastic age:

A wall of forest looms above and sweetly the blackbird sings;
the birds make melody over me and my books and things.

There sings to me the cuckoo from bush-citadels in grey hood
God’s doom! May the Lord protect me writing well, under the great wood.

Anyway, what in the living world delights you today? Sing a song of earth-praise. Let’s KEEP IT GREEN.

— Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: GREEN MIND, MAD WORLD


Greetings to all an a happy Samhain. Thanks to all for so many beautiful and/or harrowing contributions to our Hallowed Moondance challenge.

For this week’s challenge, I thought it wise to say humble and close to the earth while my fuckup of a superpower homeland descends into election-day madness . (Buckle up.)

A lot is riding on the Nov. 3 election. The incumbent administration formally takes the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord on Nov. 4. It has installed political staff who are challenging climate science in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and recently eliminated federal protections of grey wolves as it continues is fight against the Endangered Species Act. Re-electing Four more years of the current crookery is sure to hammer some dreadful nails into the Earth’s coffin.

OK: I’ll settle down. Everyone in this country has their fingers crossed that the election will be peaceful and orderly with an unchallenged victor as the result. But these are not normal times. Days and nights will be unquiet. Social media will foam and foment. With the amount of polarization in this country, the losing side will feel cheated and thrown into disaster—totalitarianism if Trump wins, socialism if Biden wins.

Whichever way the elections goes, some kind of sanity will have to breech the gap. Not an easy thing with madness is already rife in the land. Mortality rates for middle-aged Americans are soaring due to opioid overdoses, terminal alcoholism and suicide. The squawk channels are hysteric and misinformation is rife. And then came the pandemic …

But sanity must prevail … or else …

This week I’ve thought a lot about Mad Sweeney. In the 17th-century Buile Suibne, Sweeney is an Irish king/poet/warrior of the late Iron Age who ridicules St. Ronan and in return is cursed with madness. He grows feathers and alights for the trees where he lives out his days and nights, bemoaning the cruelty of the cold winds and his meager fare of berries and watercress where indoors there is feasting and singing by the hearth. (Remember that old Irish poets sang their praises wearing a feathered robe or tuion.)

The Mad Sweeny tale roots back far into the oral literature. Merlin goes mad after watching the armies of the Britons and the Scots collide, retreating to the forest where he builds a tower esplumoir (falconry) high up a tree, reading the stars and thriving far from the cruelty of men. The Welsh god Lllew Llaw Gyffes (associated with Irish Lugh) is mortally wounded and undergoes a transformation into an eagle high up an oak tree. There are faint traces of tale between a primordial religious order resident in the sidhe and the invading Tuatha de Danaans, where a priest of the old order watches the destruction of his priesthood and flees into the sacred grove.

Literature has frequently taken up the tale. There is a poem in the 12th century Welsh Black Book of Carmathen joining Suibne and Merlin with St. Columba, who has gone mad from his crime of stealing a psalter and killing many men in battle when the king demands he return it. He is excommunicated and then exiled to Iona, the first island across the Irish Sea from which no one could look back and see the homeland. His grief and penitence runs deep:

I have burnt a church, killed the cows of a school,
I have thrown the Book in the waves,
I am heavily punished.

… A whole year I was placed
at Bangor on the dam-stake.
Imagine what pains sea-worms have inflicted on me …

Shakespeare entered the story with his mad King Lear, an old fool descending into dementia and the rages of Alzheimers. There’s nothing like royal petulance—my wife’s father (now in memory care where COVID is spreading like, well, the plague) has displays similar to Lear’s as he screams back at the tumult, flailing for control—

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

Indeed. The Phillippines have just received a wallop of Lear rage by Super Typhoon Goni, the most powerful storm to hit land at 195 mph, in a country reeling from two typhoons in the previous weeks.

There have been many later adaptations and translation of the tale, by T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yates and a 1983 translation by Seamus Heaney. I’ve been reading Heaney’s book-length translation all week as my All-Hallows dig for this year. It’s a lonely, cold and mad tale, yet it is richly absorbed in the wild world and its raw comforts. Sweeney’s suffering and madness is real; he can’t escape the panics and terrors which cause him to leap from tree to tree and glen to plain; yet wolf and stag, bee and bird take him up in a choir of nonhuman nurture. Occasionally he runs into other madmen who speak of their own torments, there is a place called Glen Bolcain which is a sort of natural asylum where the mad gather. Though he has fled man and church, the natural environs are beloved to him:

From the cliff on Lough Diolar
to Derry Columcille
I saw the great swans, heard their calls
sweetly rebuking wars and battles.

From lonely cliff-tops, the stag
bells and makes the whole glen shake
and re-echo. I am ravished.
Unearthly sweetness shakes my breast.

Heaven on earth, perhaps, far from the battle-rage of humanity. In the end, Sweeney is cared for by St. Molios who find compassion for the sick man. Sweeney is mortally wounded by an angry swineherd, but he is revived from death by Molios long enough to confess, repent and take communion (this is a Christianized version  of an older tale) and enters Heaven in the end.

Back in the mid-1970s, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes studied schizophrenia in rural Ireland, there and then the most rampant in the world. Exceptionally vulnerable were bachelor farmers between the ages of 25 and 40 who lived alone, were childless and celibate. Since the Second World War, rural Irish society was in decline due to emigration, malaise, unwanted celibacy, damaging patterns of childrearing, fear of intimacy and suicide. Who wouldn’t go mad?

Scholars, Saints and Schizophreniacs: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (1981) made it clear that Sweeney’s ills are as present in rural Ireland of the 20th century as in the 8th or whenever tales of madness in the wood first originated. Madness is personal, but it has a cultural source. The digital world (especially and exceptionally in social media) seems to be accelerating the malaise. As this US election season shows, swiping is a path with vast inroads to madness.

(Today, the highest rate of schizophrenia for men is in Japan; for women, southeastern Europe. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their white counterparts. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians. Most recently, a black man in Philadelphia erratically waving a knife who was shot and killed by police suffered from mental issues. About 60 percent of schizophrenic males have attempted suicide.)

It certainly doesn’t help when the world is crazier than our personal fevers. Like a pandemic grown out of control (nowhere is it worse than in my homeland), it’s impossible to tell where it comes from or who will come down with it next.

* * *

Lately in my early morning walks (a blessed compensation for my new work-from-home job), I’ve taken to meditating on the trees I walk by, inviting them to take root in the forest of my mind. (Who knows how long they will last where they are, and they are so lonely and separate from each other.) Ot is a deeply quieting activity. And throughout the day, when my thoughts race around bad and/or fearful news (there is so much), I return to the green bower and settle there.

We’ve also re-done our home office with new shelving and file cabinets, so for the first time in 15 years I have my entire library—books, journals, studies, papers—visible to me in one sweep.

Forest and library come to occupy the same glen between my ears. Maybe they were always there, but the conscious work of aligning both seems to be making something sturdier take root.

For this week’s challenge, write of what steadies and balances your mind. How do you keep it green?

— Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #42

The Siberian jay in the deepest forests of Lapland. Photo:
Florian Smit/2020


Happy Friday,

It’s open link weekend #42 at earthweal. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Monsieur Linky will be active for this forum until midnight Sunday EST when the next weekly challenge rolls out.

Happy linking!