earthweal open link weekend #11

Welcome to Open Link Weekend #11 at earthweal.

Post a poem in whatever theme or mood that suits you. Share something new from your creel of winds, or a greatest hit from your true and blue lists.

Include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage. And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge. March 16 will be (duh) PANDEMIC. I’m very interested to read how minds from around the world and grappling for words for this vapor of a changing Earth.

But for now—pull up a stool and sing us a song of whatever!

—Brendan

 

 

If there’s anything we need right now in this weird, shouting, overbright, panicky moment of a rapidly unfolding pandemic, it’s medicine songs—voices of assurance from far and wide, deep and old.

In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram points out that the role of the traditional healer—the so-called medicine man—was not primarily to heal humans, but rather to keep balance with the wild which surrounds and sustains every village:

The traditional or tribal shaman … acts as an intermediary between the human community and the larger ecological field, ensuring that there is an appropriate flow of nourishment, not just from the landscape of the human inhabitants, but from the human community back to the local earth. By his constant rituals, trances, ecstasies and “journeys,” he ensures that the relation between human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal, and that the village never takes more from the living land than it returns to it … The sorcerer derives her ability to cure ailments from her more continuous practice of “healing” or balancing the community’s relation to the surrounding land. (7)

If we would address our virus-stricken new reality—a global change dissembling and crumbling normal routines right before our eyes—we must first try to redress our own disruption of the natural order. (Coronovirus ain’t nothin’, compared to the human stain!) We should inhabit tenors and tones which  correct the imbalances wrought of climate change. Let us pray for the healing of pangolin spirits, poached almost to extinction for game markets and bad medicine. May we rebuild a bridge to green recognitions and assurances. Giving voice to the Earth, we balm our afflictions.

Who knows—maybe our quarantines will help turn our gaze to the lushness of our back yards and the wilderness beyond.

I mean, what else are we gonna do?

 

OUTSIDE

William Stafford

The least little sound sets the coyotes walking,
walking the edge of our comfortable earth.
We look inward, but all of them
are looking toward us as they walk the earth.

We need to let animals loose in our houses,
the wolf to escape with a pan in his teeth,
and streams of animals toward the horizon
racing with something silent in each mouth.

For all we have taken into our keeping
and polished with our hands belongs to a truth
greater than ours, in the animals’ keeping.
Coyotes are circling around our truth.

earthweal weekly challenge: STORMS

 

A storm brews: That is a phenomenon as old as the weather. But there are new, darker and deeper notes in that foment. The black crow’s shadow reveals a dragon.

As temperatures rise globally, evaporation is creating a soggier atmosphere. This means water—lots of it—is coming from the sky. Heaviest downpours have increased almost 20% since 1950, and by 2050, inland flooding events are projected to increase another 40%.

Last year’s spring flooding in the American Midwest caused more than $6 billion in livestock and crop losses. Nearly 38 inches of water fell, almost eight inches above average. Add all that to the next spring flooding season, and fresh disasters roll out. Already heavy rains have flooded portions of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers in the South. In South America, recent heavy rain has caused flooding mudslides in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Honduras. Floods from heavy rainfall are worsening in Indonesia, Vietnam, Iran and Zimbabwe.

Climate change however also means alternating extremes; where flooding increases in one area, lack of water will become an increasing problem in others as drought cycles intensify.

Sometimes these adverse conditions roll through each other, as in Australia where record drought and heat created conditions ripe for wildfire, which in turn made conditions worst for heavy rains which followed, running off massive amounts of soil.

Winds are picking up, increasing the destructive force of storms. Storms flowing in formations which result in rivers of storm, derecho and bomb cyclones. The freak outbreak is becoming appallingly routine—sudden irruptions with devastating result. A hailstorm in Guadalajara in Mexico last summer dumped six and a half feet of hail pellets. A wild storm erupted in Greece also last summer, driving rain and hail with such force that six tourists were killed. Last month, a freak drop in weather pressure over the UK resulted in Storm Dennis, a storm so powerful it was classed as a “weather bomb,” with gale-force winds and flooding rainfall. And just a few days ago, freak hail ruined many crops in Rajasthan, India.

I remember some while back here in Florida when one night when a state-wide weather emergency was announced. Weathercasters on local network stations  all came on the air to announce that some strange weather pattern had coalesced into conditions which could erupt in tornadoes from Tallahassee all the way down to Miami. Storms were immanent and all were advised caution. Local radar showed heavy red swarms with purple highlights approaching our small town.  I went outside and witnessed a maddened sky, this huge vague swirling mass of cloud just above whose shape and menace were announced in constant flashes of lightning. There was the dragon of storm: And yet, most freakishly, nothing happened; the storm passed over and dissolved with all the other threat of tornadoes across the state. It was as if forming the threat was the purpose of the dragon, and that night it was content to fly overhead.

But the story can blow terribly the other way.  Another night years ago my wife had just gone to bed and were wakened by flashes and rumbles overhead. The cacophony lasted for ten or so minutes and then drifted fifteen miles east to the town of Sanford. There an F3 tornado struck down, raking through several trailer parks. Savage hands, lifted this then that, not that but this and not this and those trailer homes into the sky, killing 23. The morning after when I heard the news on my car radio driving in to work, I felt Biblically passed over, the angel in that great storm deciding between elect and preterit, marking doors in a ghostly language: him, them, not them but her, him but not her, not them, all of them.

Storms also occurs in the mind and soul and heart, in the brainstorm of inspiration and the fructifying cloudburst over parched place. Gifts from heaven are measured, panic is a flood. The emotional textures by which we experience storms—tempest, force, rage, turmoil, onslaught, blast, disturbance, gale, torrent—suggest Wotan’s fury and Thor’s hammer, the bolt of Zeus and the whirling madness of Lear. Sexual pleasure crescendos in what the Japanese call the moment of the clouds and rain. Daily challenges require us to pile sandbags we don’t know if have enough to last through the night.

How does climate change deepen, darken and magnify these inner swirlings? Selfishness is our common burden, but it doesn’t normally become murderous or suicidal until under the influence of Saturn’s leaden depression, thrilling but shredding manic episodes or the abandon of the drunk.

For this weekly challenge, explore the outer and upper manifestation of storms and/or the inner and deeper tangents and myths. How are they changing with a heating earth, what is the color and sound and resonance of air whipped higher and wilder and louder and fierce?

Note: I’ve passed over the topic of hurricanes and cyclones, saving them for a later challenge. They are angels of a different order and deserve separate treatment. Include them however in your own responses however if you wish.

— Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #10

Welcome to Earthweal’s tenth open link weekend.  Here’s your chance to express yourself as widely and deeply as you wish, in whatever theme or mood that suits you.

Only two requests: include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage, and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge. The next one is tentatively titled A GROWING THUNDER (something about increased storm activity across the Earth and/or in the mind).

Enjoy the free-for-all!

 

A quiet mood has been on me for the past week, so I don’t have much to offer by way of homily today. (Cue cheers from the peanut gallery.)

Becalmed is one way to put it; no wind in the sails, ergo no forward movement. Fits and starts with new poems which splutter out.  Dead zone is another, a region of sea depleted of oxygen mostly due to human activity, mostly nutrient pollution.  Without enough 02, sea life dies or flees. One such dead zone lies off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi (USA) where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and it covers about 6-7,000 square miles. Excessive rainfall this year and last—due in part to a heating Earth and increased moisture in the air—is increasing the agricultural effluent flowing down the river into the Gulf, creating hypoxic conditions which threatens fishing and tourism in the area.

Anyway, that’s my state of mind this week—at odds with Earth and Sea in a way which turns  pages stale and dry.

It’s been an eventfully unstable week in the world, and that can surely upset vatic apple carts. Coronavirus has spread to my Florida—not vastly, not yet anyway—so there’s that in the news cycle, as well as filtering into grocery stores where people are already stocking up for quarantine. (My local grocery store doubled their normal business for the day when the first cases were announced in Tampa, about 50 miles away.) Global markets have been on a financial Tilt-a-Whirl, stoking fears of recession or worse and U.S. politics are churning with a high-anxiety 2020 presidential campaign.

And then there are the personal uncertainties and anxiety of unemployment in one’s 60s, a wife in much distress over care for a father with advanced dementia and someone banging around in the bathroom all day replacing a shower that had been installed ten years ago by a criminally lazy contractor.  Hard to peruse the deep well when your domestic ass is on fire, is it not?

Occasional bouts of becalmed-to-dead inner oceanics have grown routine as I age; I stare at a blank page and wonder if there’s a single inspired word left in me. So far it doesn’t last for long. Eventually the wind shifts and the sails fill again, the pollution clears in the water and big fish swim back. Who knows why the spirit leaves us, where the leak might be, though I’m sure I have legion and the muses have a large congregation to inspire. I’ve found that if I not get too troubled about it and focus on peripheral projects on the creative farm—filing away old poems, cleaning out the detritus of the learning life, or writing this post—the secret rudder eventually finds its webbed footing again and I’m baaaaaaack.

Like a lot of things it magnifies, climate change may be increasing these doldrums with new vistas of bewitched, hypoxic emptiness. The whole world is going silent in its acquiescence to digital disruption, its numbing 180 away from the world. Maybe Ross Douthat is right that we’re in a latter-time decadence where the world isn’t so much zooming up into singularity as scattering in dust:

The truth of the first decades of the 21st century, a truth that helped give us the Trump presidency but will still be an important truth when he is gone, is that we probably aren’t entering a 1930-style crisis for Western liberalism or hurtling forward toward transhumanism or extinction. Instead, we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.

The rising crescendo of earth events precipitated by climate change only makes the cultural dead zone of decadence even more lifeless, for both come when we are seemingly least capable of lifting a finger to do anything about it.

It’s all rather depressing, and that, I think, has kept or driven people away from here. (One departing poet sniffed, “This place makes Goths look like Up With People.”) Jamming a finger down on our inability to respond, much less change, despite the overwhelming evidence that we must do something immediately to combat the lasting effects of climate change—well, that just makes it all the more depressing. And depressing poems about earth change don’t seem like very apt buckets when one should instead be baling a capsizing boat.

But maybe that’s the point. Depression—dem ole melancholy blues—is a common haunt for most poets I know. It is the creative illness, perfection’s crucifix and nail. And with suicide rates for the whole population climbing globally, depression is also a thoroughly modern malaise.

Timothy Morton in his book Dark Ecology also places depression at the forefront of modernity, but adds that the modern is simply the 10,000-year shadow of the “Mesopotamian agrilogistic fantasy” that nature can be ordered to serve human civilization d. Modernity is a deathless freeze which awaits tools strong enough to defeat death.

Depression is an autoimmune disorder of the intellect against its poor phenomenological host being, little you. The “tears of a clown” form of comedic depression is when the depression says, I am not (just) a finite being, a sentence that sounds suspiciously like the agrilogistic virus. The desire arises to be regarded as a “serious” actor whose irreducible gap is sealed. Like white blood cells, the intellect can’t bear mortality and finitude. It wants you to live forever. It will eliminate every contradiction in its path to carry out this (absurd, impossible, destructive) mission. The “logical” conclusion to this path is the suicidal elimination of the host, like going into anaphylactic shock.

He adds,

The agricultural logistics that now dominates Earth is this depression mind manifesting in global space. Objectively eliminating the finitude and anomalies that actually allow it to happen, the poor voles and weeds. The level of ecological awareness after guilt and shame has to do with depression, of being de-pressed by the overwhelming presence of processes and entities that one can’t shake off. The idea that one could shake them off is the basis of the depression. The depression is in effect a symptom of agrilogistics, itself a depressive drive to eliminate contradiction, with its consequent absurd and violent demarcation of Nature and (human) culture. Depression in a box, Mesopotamian depression, obsessively reproduced, now global. The whole point is to fight one’s way back from the brink (species-cidal and suicidal) toward the comedy. Toward accepting the irreducible rift between what a thing is and how it appears, allowing it to manifest. (Kindle edition, 153-5)

Long story short: lighten up! It’s only depressing when assume the world’s “complicate amassing harmony” (Wallace Stevens) is somehow perfectible. We do what we can and leave the rest to our Olympian complexes to duke it out. (My vote is for Hermes, dark lord of long roads, the guy who can find the silver hidden in depression’s fog. )

Those who do continue to participate at earthweal (or who are now coming round) stress that changing earth also inspires hope and renewal. There is a drum yet to bang (thank you, Sherry). There is a difference between that false hope which is the fantasy of Oz— over the rainbow free of Depression— and the radical hope of whatever Kanas is and can be beyond the dust storm, through Australia’s corridor of wildfire smoke, in a Cape Town gone dry and an Iran flooding over with coronavirus. There is love in the time of cholera, and there is a poetry of that—sometimes hypoxic and then flourishing.

Morton, again: “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” (155).

Thus—we play!

—Brendan

SPRING

Mary Oliver

This morning
two birds
fell down the side of the maple tree

like a tuft of fire
a wheel of fire
a love knot

out of control as they plunged through the air
pressed against each other
and I thought

how I meant to live a quiet life
how I meant to live a life of mildness and meditation
tapping the careful words against each other

and I thought—
as though I were suddenly spinning, like a bar of silver
as though I had shaken my arms and lo! they were wings—

of the Buddha
when he rose from his green garden
when he rose in his powerful ivory body

when he turned to the long dusty road without end
when he covered his hair with ribbons and the petals of flowers
when he opened his hands to the world

From West Wind (1997)

 

earthweal weekly challenge: BEATING THE DRUMS OF CHANGE

Chief Howilhkat, Freda Huson, stands in ceremony while police arrive to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, B.C. on Monday, February 10, 2020.

Source: The Narwhal

 

The Rise of Indigenous People and their Allies Across Canada

By Sherry Marr

On February 10, 2020, RCMP invaded Unist’ot’en territory and arrested elder Freda Huson, in prayer, during ceremony, along with other land defenders, as they peacefully stood on their own road protecting their unceded lands and waters from a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline that will threaten their traditional way of life. As a non-indigenous person, I observed this disrespect with outrage.

In support, blockades rose up across Canada. For two weeks railway lines, ports, bridges, intersections and commuter trains were shut down, as indigenous and non-indigenous people across Canada stood in solidarity with the Wet’sowet’en people. Canada’s commerce ground to a halt. Protests are still being held on the steps of the Government Building in Victoria, and outside the Parliament Building in Ottawa. Blockades are still occurring at significant points of entry to ports and at key intersections.

The blockade set up in solidarity by the Mohawk nation, in Tyendinaga territory, east of Belleville, Ontario, has been much in the news, echoing the Oka crisis in 1990. Wounds from that 78-day standoff have not healed. On February 24,2020, RCMP moved in and made arrests. More blockades sprang up. Land defenders and their allies plan to protest until the RCMP withdraw from Wet’sowet’en territory, and “until the demands of the Wet’sowet’en hereditary chiefs are met”.

Frustrations mount. Commuters feel “inconvenienced.”

“There is inconvenience. And then there is injustice,” a B.C. chief responded. For 300 years, First Nations have lived under oppressive colonial rule on land that had been theirs for thousands of years. Many reserves do not even have clean drinking water. Prime Minister Trudeau found billions to buy an old pipeline to carry oil, but can’t find money for pipelines to carry drinking water to the people, some of whom have had boil water advisories for 25 years. On some reserves, people can’t even use the water for bathing or washing dishes, it is so contaminated. This is unacceptable.

“Reconciliation is dead,” First Nations are saying. This has gone far beyond the issue of the pipeline. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the rights of indigenous people to their land, stating they hold title and cannot be removed from it. The United Nations has told Canada to stop the pipeline, which will cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples’ land, rights, and way of life.

First Nations are tired of oppression, of government-backed corporations taking resources from the land they have left. They wish to be regarded as the sovereign nations they are, and to make their own decisions about their traditional territories.

The hereditary chiefs remain willing to talk to government, on a nation to nation basis, but only after RCMP have withdrawn from their territory. And traditionally, it behooves the government to go to talk to them, not demand the hereditary chiefs come to Ottawa.

An environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline has rejected the project.

It makes neither economic nor environmental sense. But capitalism only knows one way to proceed: money and jobs, they keep saying. Money and jobs. The few temporary jobs created by the project won’t benefit very many, and the proposed route across northern Canada and along the B.C. coast will put entire ecosystems at risk. The gas will be shipped to China. Also, the government actually has to subsidize these projects. It seems insane, to me, to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize corporations flogging our fossil fuel dependency, the way of death, rather than to develop clean energy alternatives, providing jobs for people across the country. We need to turn away from fossil fuels and replace them with clean energy projects.

What isn’t being said on the news is that the hereditary chiefs offered an alternate route to GasLink, away from the river, but the company rejected it.

In an unexpected bit of good news in February, another giant, Teck, withdrew plans to expand the oil sands in Alberta. “Shareholders have little interest in investing money in a sunset industry,” they said. Light is beginning to dawn.

“The government only understands the language of money,” said one land defender. “So we are shutting down their avenues of commerce.” It definitely got everyone’s attention.

Civil disobedience is how we saved the old growth forests of Clayoquot Sound in 1993. When all other avenues fail, civil disobedience is what we have left. Our voices, in large numbers, have impact.

I spoke to a young woman yesterday who gave me hope. She said this is the shift we have been waiting for. It is a time of turmoil, unpleasant to live through, as the old systems are no longer working and are breaking down. In the upheaval, something new is being birthed. Never has support for and solidarity with the first peoples of this land been so strong. The environmental crisis has finally gone mainstream, and is spoken of daily on the news.

We have the knowledge, the science and the technology to make the leap away from fossil fuels and the ways of death of the past, to new clean energy sources and towards the healing and restoration of the land and people. The time is now to vote out leaders who do not hold visions of a clean and livable earth. It is time to join hands and voices across the land to insist on respect: for First Nations, and for the earth herself, who has given herself nearly to the point of extinction, and who is crying out through all of her systems and creatures for our help and healing.

The indigenous people of this land have lived on Turtle Island in harmony for thousands of years. It only took us a couple of hundred years to cause so much destruction. We can learn from their leadership, and stand in solidarity with them to protect Mother Earth. We must.

Indigenous elders say we humans must walk lightly on the earth, for we are treading on the faces (and the futures) of our children. Let’s envision the world we want, and add our energies to the shift happening across this land – and this planet.

FOR YOUR CHALLENGE:

Let’s beat the drums of change. Write whatever you are inspired to write by this situation or information, or about the need for social justice, especially for indigenous people, world-wide.

Or you might like to look back at the indigenous world, pre-contact. Or re-vision a future where non-indigenous folk have learned from the people of the land how to live on and with Mother Earth in a respectful sustainable way.

The Nuu-chah-nulth people, where I live on the West Coast of Canada, have no word for the wild world. “The only word for wilderness is Home” they say.

The challenge is wide open for you to write whatever comes. I look forward to reading your thoughts, in prose or poetry.

—All My Relations, Sherry

Update:

Since the time of writing, provincial and national government officials finally travelled up north to meet with Wet’suwet’en Chiefs. Word is Prime Minister Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan will become involved after the preliminary talks. News anchors note “There is a fundamental shift in tone in the dialogues.” Perhaps Canada is finally recognizing they are dealing with sovereign nations, and accord them the measure of respect of any other governing body. We live in hope.

Work is paused on the GasLink pipeline, while talks continue. We have learned one valuable fact: in large numbers, united, we can bring the country to a halt and impact government. Good to know. Many of those joining the protest were taking a stand for the environment, as well as supporting the Wet’suwet’en people.

On Sunday, government officials left the north, saying they and Wet’suwet’en elected representatives have reached a proposed preliminary agreement with regard to Wet’suwet’en rights and title to their territory (rights that already had been established). This proposal will now be taken to the hereditary chiefs, and to the various clan houses for input.

But spokesperson for the Gidimt’en camp, Molly Wickham, says the agreement does not address the presence of GasLink and RCMP occupation of their territory, which is still a problem. And the hereditary chiefs continue to oppose the pipeline.

Solidarity protests continue.

earthweal open link weekend #9

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend Number Nine! (Is that John Lennon echoing in the background?) Link a poem from your ouvre using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location).

Visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and be sure to comment; the thread of late has been looking a little thin.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

Sherry Marr returns on March 2 with a weekly challenge titled BEATING THE DRUMS OF CHANGE.

Get in everybody! The water’s great!

A mural of Greta Thunberg on the side of a building in Bristol, England, on February 27, 2020

 

 

What great responses to the “Clockwork Green” challenge this week! We are creatures of time, though our poetries wind and spring those tempos so variously. Nice job, guys.

Also good to hear that the earthweal wheels keep spinning. In her comment to the post, Sarah wrote, “earthweal is invading my dreams and my writing at the moment.” Not sure that is a compliment, but even as complaint it’s a vote for the work.

Climate change has thoroughly invaded my dreams and writing, too. The other night I dreamed I was trying to figure out how to write a poem about the earth’s looming hothouse—all that carbon and methane we can’t stop emitting from our overpopulated, industrialized and digitally-enrapt existence. What if runaway climate change ensues and we end up like Venus, with all that carbon trapped in the atmosphere and causing the surface to heat to 800 degrees? What would it look and feel like to the soul? Like sexual passion in the middle of a hot humid Florida summer? How do the panes shift and the vortexes whirl and the irruptive facts make themselves brutally clear? To the mind, in the heart?

Short of actually writing a poem about it (maybe I still will), the dream put the problem most clearly to me that we are forced to face off not with a temporal human event (whose clockworks have upsprung into their own chaos, as this week’s contributions have so well demonstrated) but a monstrous geological change dripping with so many unknowns that facing it squarely is more perilous than fleeing off to some earthphobic Lalaland.

As usual, there’s plenty of present evidence. After a vicious round of drought, wildfire and storm—all incensed by climate change, Australia is now experiencing “compound extremes”: one climate disaster setting up conditions to make the next one worse. Sustained high heat creates droughts creating tinder conditions leading to massive wildfires which lead to intense rains the ground is too dry to absorb which leads to flooding which kills fish from ash runoff which further damages ecosystems … et cetera. (Cue Jacob Marley here, rattling his chains at Scrooge and hollering, “you think this mug is bad, wait til you see the guy two ghosts down from me!” —roll on the snare, tap o’ the high hat)  Last year the news was that climate change could whip up multiple simultaneous disasters, now we find out there’s more to every one of them. Yippee.

But the slowly growing growling Event of the Year So Far of course is coronavirus, now leaking like contagion into the greener (as in, toxic-spill green) areas of the imagination. Global stock markets are acting like the news of interrupted business just suckerpunched them, and the Trump administration is falling over themselves like Keystone Cops trying to assure Americans there’s nothing to worry about (while whispering Oh Yes There Is into every dark nook of the conspiratorial fanny). Yes, well. All this goes back to the intrusion of the human into the wild, for the sake of relieving some poor pangolin of its scales in order to ease aching joints. (if not consciences). That and the virus of the homo sapiens tourist.

Climate change-related news continues to interrupt the news cycle (January was also the hottest year on record, spring floods are going from nasty to worse). It makes everything else going on, from Democratic primaries to seem like and the continuing saga of Harry and Megan seem like comic asides.  One really is, but that both like everything else in the normal frame of reference feel weirdly apart from the real news suggests that climate change has surfaced at the center of our cultural awareness.

In his book Defiant Earth, Clive Hamilton gets to the heart of this sense of irruption:

In German, Erlebnis can simply mean an event or occurrence in the course of life, the type of personal experience that was the hallmark of nineteenth-century Romanticism’s appeal to feeling. But it can also refer to an intense disruptive episode, one that makes an indelible impression, changing a life course, the kind of experience not so much integrated into a life but which relegates the old life to the past and inaugurates a new sensibility, “something unforgettable and irreplaceable, something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determination.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 61). Such a realization is not only a powerful emotional event but also one saturated with meaning. The subject often has the inexplicable feeling that the event has some purpose that asks to be understood. It is as if some force has intervened, creating a rupture that has meaning beyond the personal, a universal truth.

What am I gonna do? Keep looking for work, get some projects done around the house, try to be a calm influence in a growing storm and start reading Love In A Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And keep writing. Marquez once told a friend, “’In reality the duty of a writer—the revolutionary duty, if you like—is that of writing well.” I’m not sure it is possible to love or write well in the full bloom of a coronavirus pandemic, but it’s on my to-do list for the new future. How bout you?

Jacob Marley has indeed come calling, and more ghosts are to follow. (Sherry faces off with the ghoul of the Capitolocene in her upcoming challenge.)  Rethinking human and nature is radical work, and much must be uprooted. Time is not on our side. When you consider that the sudden uptick in climate disasters is the product of carbon emissions from 20 years ago—this is what we get with 1 degree Celsius warming since the beginnings of the Industrial Age—just imagine what’s in store for us at 3 degrees C warming, now the low end of projections for the rest of this century.

In her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein wrote that such alarming news about our imminent future is

… the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously. And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one by one. They mean, quite simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species. The only historical precedent for a crisis of this depth and scale was the Cold War fear that we were heading toward nuclear holocaust, which would have made much of the planet uninhabitable. But that was (and remains) a threat; a slim possibility, should geopolitics spiral out of control.

You think nuclear annihilation is bad, wait to you see what else we’ve cooked up! (bada-bing.) That at was six years ago, and back then Klein said we had about a decade to act decisively enough. As wake-up calls go—like all the rest of we keep getting in the news—this one didn’t seem to change voracious global consumption habits one bit. Too many people wanting A/C and iPhones and big farty cars.

How is it that we—me, I mean—remain so fixed in my fossil fueled comfort zone? Am I deranged, asleep at the wheel, or that drunk on memememememememe?

Well, yes. It is exceedingly difficult to see that my cultured upbrining is horribly out of sync with the world as it is now revealing itself. That my what-me-worry? dailiness compounded by 8 billion other Alfred E. Neumanns is pissing of the Earth and how.

I was raised a suburban kid in the 60s, awash in Mayberry RFD and The Beatles, privileged by white male birthright and given all the permission in the world to seek my own pleasure and indulgence. From the time my lips were torn from my mother’s breast, the American Dream was the opioidal alternative I was told give suck to. 60 years later I found out that it was a manufacturer’s dream, a Capitalist roadhouse in which fossil fuel was the hootch and a sprawling suburbia of techno-comforts the prize lady slithering round the stripper pole.

And while I whiled away my privilege squandering everything in sight, beyond self-same walls I refused to look past was a world getting sick very, very fast.

Behind that silicone mask, what an ugly, ugly reality. And how difficult breaking free—like losing one’s life, place, hopes and delusions.

I look that square in the face—and task my work with it—or remain deluded with the sinking part of my humanity.

Amitav Ghosh again, in his book-length essay The Great Derangement:

… We have entered a time when the wild has become the norm: if certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failures will have to be counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure.

Business as usual says bury one’s head and have a drinkadoodledoo. If there’s any waking, someone’s got to start by lifting their head, looking about and connoitering not only the changed landscape but find a healing response to it. And short of that, at least describe the shiftiness of a today that ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Ergo earthweal.

Some of the work feels precipitous, between falling into the same old wah wah despair or embracing lah-lah velds of Disneyesque fancy. Honey, this ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll show: This is adult work. Despair we can fill by the bucket, but hope comes in drips and drabs. What seems evident in the work we’ve done here so far is that every challenge of changing earth demands a capacity for both, and that’s something we need each other for. Our combined imagination is the good work we can achieve, a collective of global voices tuning in to the same growing bandwidth.

‘Nuff said. If you thought climate change was bad, wait till you see what your upcoming season has in store for us!

—Brendan

 

weekly challenge: A Clockwork Green

lloyd clock2

Harold Lloyd in “Safety First!” (1923)

 

Humanity is in a wild crucible where our everyday reality is increasingly irrupted by scales of time a billionfold older than our very existence.

It can make a person dizzy, cry, or change.

Time is a human invention; animals don’t have the same sense of it. Sure, circadian rhythms weave through nature; our cats know when it’s feeding time before we do. But only humans have a god for time — the Titan Cronus (from which we derive our wrist chronometers from), parting the yaw of Hadean eternity to delve forth the first reckonings of day and night, the seasons, the greater cycles of time. (Cronus was kicked out with the rest of the Titans to make for the more timely and modern Olympians.) Science came along eventually and calibrated things more intricately, but its sweep of the ages has faithful roots in human time.

For most of human history, time has moved slowly.  After 2 million years of ape evolution, the first flint tools appeared, and the oldest rock art—signifying symbolic thought—dates back 70,000 years. Thanks to a warm and wan phase in the climate in the Holocene Epoch, agriculture began ten thousand years ago, ending hunter-gather prehistory. Tool in hand, human time accelerated. The first cities were founded 5,000 years ago, cuneiform writing appeared 2,500 years ago. The printing press appeared 500 years ago, the steam engine 200 years ago, the telegraph 125 years ago, radio and cars and airflight 100 years ago, television and atomic power 75 years ago, the Internet 30 years ago.

The spike in human development looks like this:

At some point in this accelerating story, human time began impacting geologic time. The time scales are vastly different—a geologic eras last tens of millions of years, while civilized development stamps its deep footprint over the past 500 years—but in short order, processes like ice sheet melt or the natural carbon cycle which used to take vast time scales to accomplish are now getting down in a geological instant—the past two hundred years, since coal-burning steam machines started chugging away.

As industrial and then electronic civilization has progressed (data farms burn a lot of electricity), the earth has heating up, slowly and then faster and faster, and especially over the past 30 years as countries like China and India increased industrialization and supporting a growing middle class with air conditioners and cars.  The past 30 years has done more to melt the poles and push the Earth toward hothouse conditions than the past 3 million years of deep time, placing us in conditions not seen by our very oldest hominid ancestor.

We can conceive the global warming trend looking like this:

Look familiar? The two graphs make it clear that the human spike—the one we’re so dazzled by—is producing a correspondingly dangerous spike of change for all life on Earth.

The scale of changes now being observed around the world haven’t been seen for all of human existence, and they are unfolding in in real time. (Well, sort of: Whatever we are seeing today—the wildfires and floods and heatwaves and drought—is the result of warming from several decades ago, when there was 10 percent less carbon in the atmosphere than now.) Making it even stranger is that human civilization is evolving faster than our biology. If all of homo sapiens’ 300,000-year history were compressed to 24-hour clock, agriculture started a minute ago and the printing press appeared two seconds ago, and the internet a tenth of a second ago.

 

And if we put Earth’s history on a the same 24-hour clock, the arrival of homo sapiens itself has only been around for the last second. Geology’s time is calibrated by immense spans of time—millions and hundreds of millions of years—and yet the fair 12,000-year Holocene Epoch seems to have come to an end, caboosing the 66 million year Cenozic Era and crossing into unknown and unparalleled span of time now called the Anthropocene, an age in which conditions of the three billion-year old Earth is determined by the folks who got there a second ago.

When you look at the core of this growth—the cognitive clout of the human brain—the rate of change has gone from accretive to hyperdrive. The sum of information from the dawn of human time to the year 2003 was once calculated to be 5 exabytes (1 billion gigabytes). By 2010, that amount of information was calculated to double every two days. In 2009, the entire World Wide web was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes. In 2013, it was around 4 zettabytes (4 trillion gigabytes). With the advent of what we once quaintly called The Internet of Things, the volume of human knowledge began doubling every six minutes. Ray Kurzweil says the rate of increase in our knowledge is so fast that the 21st century will see not 100 years but 20,000 years of progress within its span. By the year 2050, human knowledge will be a quadrillion (that’s one thousand million million) times more advanced than it is now. He also predicts we are headed for a Singularity where artificial intelligence — the mind capable of absorbing all of this information — will accelerate past all human comprehension.

Who wouldn’t feel disoriented, even left behind, by such quicksilver change? One very weird effect of this is that we may have outgrown time. Back in 2003, Douglas Coupland made this observation:

It’s now obvious to people who were around in the twentieth century that time not only seems to be moving more quickly, but is beginning to feel funny, too. There’s no more tolerance for waiting of any sort. We want all the facts and we want them now. To go without email for 48 hours can trigger a meltdown. You can’t slow down, even once, ever, without becoming irrelevant. Music has become more important because music is a constant. School reunions are beside the point because we already know what our old classmates have done. Children often spend more time in dreamland and cyberspace than in real life. Time is speeding up even faster.

Coupland called it “timesickness”:

People are now doing their deepest thinking and making their most emotionally charged connections with people around the planet at all times of the day. Geography has become irrelevant. Our online phantom world has become the new us. We create complex webs of information and people who support us, and yet they are so fleeting and tenuous.”

If you’re like me and find yourself rather helplessly a-cloud in digital media, the online experience is akin to playing poker in Vegas after midnight: there aren’t any clocks in the room, or they have no hands, or are spinning so fast you can’t read them. The only thing which exists is your engagement — the next poker hand’s possibilities and the money you might win — to explain your weariness and dwindling funds. You expect everything and nothing. Online is the fragmentation bomb you keep pulling the pin from, and you go about your online business in a maelstrom of infinite next things pulling at your tattered attention.

Something other is happening as well. Coupland once more:

The voice inside your head has become a different voice. It used to be “you.” Now your voice is that of a perpetual nomad drifting along a melting landscape, living day to day, expecting everything and nothing.

Weirdly, as time is vanishing, so too is our sense of home. Current housing stats bear this out.  Kids coming of age now are either living on with their parents, or live around in temporary, fleeting engagements. Home ownership among millennials is about half the national overall rate, with many waiting much later to make their first purchase. Or they never settle down, living  in a mobile, gig society, where home is where you currently hang your hat and no more.

Timesickness may result in homelessness, and both are very much in the heart of what’s wrong in the edgy fretful technoburb of contemporary lie. Home, Mercea Eliade once said, “is much more than shelter; home is our center of gravity.”  Without a sense of the ground beneath our feet, what is gravity for, anyway? No wonder it’s so difficult to notice what’s happening to our world right when it’s changing so fast.

How much more carbon gets into the atmosphere depends mostly on actions taken by human beings. How many species go extinct—we’re in the middle of a Sixth Extinction event—is up to us. Until now, all of the major events affecting life on Earth have been caused by volcanoes or meteors or both and the billion-year sweep of deep time. Those events can still happen and there’s little we can do about it; but this is the first time in Earth’s history that a species of organic life controls not only its own destiny but also the fate of vast geologic time to come.

And it is here and now, in this present day and the next ten years—a mere nanosecond of celestial time—which will make all the difference in that story. What humans do or don’t over the next decade will decide the course of the next hundred thousand years, possibly much longer than that.

And if life turns out to be as rare a phenomenon in the colossally inanimate and dark realm of the universe, then, the organic experiment may be over, too.

No pressure!

So if you’re feeling betwitched and bothered by climate change, well, join the club.

On the plus side, maybe humanity is being forcefully awakened from its self-deluded dreamtime. Nostalgia for the good life in those happy days of 1950s is really a fast-track much further back to primordial conditions inhospitable to life—not Eden but hothouse Venus with its 200 mph winds and 800 degree temperature. Humans cannot live apart and hunkered down from the rest of living world without imperiling all. It may take decades, centuries even to waken from that dream, but what it points to is a greater merging of the human with the animate and inanimate orders. I, Thou, Bambi, oak, ooze, mountain, starstream, moment, infinity, presence, dark matter, we are all woven of the same fabric.

We might start braking our time-jets by wising up to radically new definitions of home.  Humanity was never alone in this world, and the atomization of that separation in suburban mass comfort is largely at fault for climate change. If humanity is to survive, we have to restore a sustainable balance with the world; we have to make our home with our fellow animals, our inanimate Earth and its huge sweeping time scales. Right-sizing might mean conscious diminishment—shorter lives, fewer people, rejection of more tools and toys, stopping progress in its tracks somehow. Even choosing to die as a species before ending the Earth.

 

I named this challenge “A Clockwork Green” after Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel which Stanley Kubrick later parlayed to the screen. Both provide an utterly riveting and disturbing view of dystopia so prescient of the present moment. (Alex and his thug Droogies are matched today by the sartorial Proud Boys.) Burgess once explained the cryptic title as “the junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet – in other words, life, the orange – and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined.” Life in the technological age.

I think we all have a pretty good idea how human life is faring in that matrix, but what about the confluence of Earth and human time in the present moment? That is the challenge of A Clockwork Green.

Here are some directions you could go in:

  • Irrupt your dailiness with geologic time scales. What’s it like for, say, the beginning of a new romance or the puppyhood of a beloved pet to be on the same time scale of a melting glacier, or the experience a suddenly more violent and changeful seasons?
  • Compare the sort of things which could occur in next decade of your personal life with the Earth’s fate for the next hundred thousand years.
  • Speak for pangolins, who have been around for 80 million years, or sharks (450 million years), both hunted to the edge of extinction so humans can enjoy a few more years of life battening on their scales or fins.
  • How could a poem speak in multiple time scales at once? How is a wildfire or a massive storm both human and geologic?
  • If time is mostly a human concept, what is a day in animal imagining, or an era from the point of view of Earth or space?
  • Is there a moral element to knowing how human time is affecting geological time? Say you’re a Greek of the classic era (600 BCE) who saw a business opportunity which would yield great immediate profit but would damage the world for centuries to come. Is there a moral responsibility for the outcome of human history? Is lack of action today climate change today a moral failure which defines the species? How would the ghost of Plato speak to that, or a dead gas company executive?
  • What happened to time? Spin the clockfaces crazily and get a feel for a present both timesickness and solastalgic.
  • if the human eye has been turning too much inward, how do we start naming and seeing the world outside? What myths turn us toward addressing earth symptoms?
  • If you were a geologist examining the human strata which characterized the Anthropocene, what would you find in the dirt and air and compaction of remains a million years from now?
  • Without time, what is life and living? Where does it step with the other foot and be dead?

OK, nuff said. (Yes, too much.) Get to work, go shake your metric booty, spook your muses and rattle the bones of the ages. Then bring your discoveries back to the earthweal theater in the green so that a good, weird, ghostly and possibly healing time may be had by all.

– Brendan

 

Link a poem relating to time scales using the Mr. Linky Widget above (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend follows this Friday at 4 PM EST.

earthweal open link weekend #8

Welcome to earthweal’s eighth open link weekend! Link a poem of your fancy 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.

The Feb. 24 challenge will be A CLOCKWORK GREEN. Lots of weird spinning these days in the Earth’s watchworks!

Take a breath and join the fray!

— Brendan

 

The oaks in my Florida town are now a-flush with vernal green.

 

This forum is dedicated to the work of finding adequate words to describe our changing Earth.

A geological epoch—the Holocene, civilization’s womb—is ending. Climate is changing rapidly, creating atmospheric conditions which haven’t been seen for 3 million years. It’s getting hotter, storms are growing wilder, oceans are rising.  This is rocking the lifeboat, causing a mass extinction of organic life.

One species is responsible, and its existence is equally imperiled, even though most of its present representatives don’t seem to know or care.

The tools we have developed to master our environment, developed over 300,000 years of homo sapiens development, are big enough now to alter geologic time. They have consequences too powerful for our simian brains to comprehend anywhere fast enough. Like some 21st Century sorcerer’s apprentice, humanity is chasing its iPhone through a frenzied clockwork of spinning hands and smoking gears.

 I don’t know about you, but all this comes rather late in my story and it’s a lot to be hit with all at once.

Our self-obsessed human civilization, so unique and independent and separate from everything else (even other members its own tribe), itself is not doing much of a job absorbing the news. The two vast poles of response so far have been denial and despair, and neither does anything to address the problem.

In the week’s news, there’s little to suggest any perceptible change to the better, in the science or politics or culture. The global average temperature for January 2020 was the hottest for that month ever, suggesting that we’re in for another hot one this year. The northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula recorded its hottest temperature ever at 64.9 degrees F, part of a warming pattern in the area that caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers. Torrential rainfall is causing widespread flooding along the southern reaches of the Mississippi River, raising the specter of last spring’s devastating floods in the Midwest. Over in Africa, locusts are swarming in Kenya at unprecedented levels, magnified by heavy local rains (ramped by a hotter Indian Ocean) and rising air temperatures. As farmland is denuded by the insects, food security continues to become more threatened.

Meanwhile climate change denialism continues to grow its weird underground dodo with Republicans in Congress proposing funding for technology which would reduce emissions while avoiding any decrease in fossil fuel consumption. This, at the same time  a recent Nature study reveals that oil and gas production is releasing far greater amounts of methane than previously thought. And of course the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that would eliminate the requirement that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from their facilities, a rollback which by the EPA’s own estimates would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025.

And with the coronavirus continuing to spread, further feeding fears of a global pandemic, the cause is narrowing to pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal which is being trafficked into extinction, imported to Chinese markets for medicine and food. Actually, bats are probably the source, and pangolins are acting as intermediate hosts while being ruthlessly harvested for human consumption. Last year in Hong Kong, authorities discovered a shipment of 14 tons of pangolin scales; about 36,000 pangolins would have to been killed to cull that amount. As usual, in the end there is just an oblivious and greedy human hand, tipping the world’s balance.

Et cetera. How long can one go on in any single week?

A pangolin rescued from poachers in South Africa.

In past weekly challenges, we’ve tried to get a better feel for this changing Earth, searching for local textures of Earth colors like fire and water. We’ve searched for resonance in ghosts and grief and sought ways to reach out to our animal family. We’ve tried to find new ground in renewal and hope.

That our daily language falls way short of expressing the depth and magnitude of these things—surface chatter of frighteningly deep ocean roar—it seems to me that our work as poets must be to find fuller expressions for a changing Earth. And as a global phenomenon, that work must include a diverse ecosystem of local voices.  It can’t just sound like Florida or Vancouver or New Delhi or Cape Town, but it does sound like a combination of all. High tech human civilization has lost most of its roots, so we have to recover nourishing sources and reclaim ruined terrain.

Our vocabulary desperately needs to enlarge and find nuance. Eskimos have many, many words for snow, but I wonder how many new ones are needed to describe the myriad moments and qualities of an Arctic in retreat. Glenn Albrecht—the originator of the term solastalgia which we explored at earthweal a few weeks ago—has a new book out titled Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, and in it he explores what he calls a psychoterratic vocabulary, naming positive and negative perceived and felt states of the Earth. His list includes sumbiology, the study of humans living together with the totality of life; terrafurie, extreme anger unleashed in those who witness the damage of techno-industrial society; and Symbiocene, a coming era in Earth history when humans make no discernable impact on the planet other than leaving their temporary remains behind. (Yay.)

This work of naming is not easy work, and all if it may be moot; the thing we have invoked may be the dragon of our dust. But what else are we to do? Narrow similes in heated rooms—the verbal stereotypy of lah-de-dah business as usual, everything’s fine here—is characteristic of narcotically happy places, those dreamlike suburbs of the real. It is the music of stalemate, the long half-life of decadence, where daily life “is the victim of its success.” (Russ Douthat, “The Age of Decadence”)  I submit that anti-life is killing our poetry as much as it is our world.

What beats so gloriously in a great poem is accidental in one sense—grace is no human invention—but it is also difficult. Online makes publication of anything easy, but poems which get to the heart of things must be carefully and diligently shaped. Farm work is hard labor, but as Wendell Berry writes, in farming and in poetry its difficulty is its possibility.

In one of Rilke’s famous exchange of letters to a young man struggling to decide on the vocation of poet, he writes about the difficult and its importance in our work:

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

Finding sufficient language for a vastly changing Earth—including a radical revision of humanity’s place, importance, and work in it—is damned difficult work. For me, it’s like trying to write a sublime poem that doesn’t rhyme, or says everything in less than ten lines.

Writing a poem that speaks more with the Earth’s voice than mine—that is exceptionally difficult. The spacetime calibrations of meter and rhyme work for traversing the human hell, but what of the wilderness beyond? But if I don’t engage and labor and revise and find, all that’s left for me is drone; easy stuff, like happy hour in an opioid shooting gallery, painless and free, just heart and lungs way low and just either side of mortality’s gate.

Jack Gilbert wrote gorgeous poetry, but he was a relentless, never-satisfied reviser; difficulty was one essential ingredient.  (The patience to wait for the good stuff all the way in back was the other.) Who know how long it took to finish the following poem about getting to the heart of language:

THE FORGOTTEN LANGUAGE OF THE HEART

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

 Who knows: but certainly the result was worth the wait.

Now let’s see what news of our changing world we fine, way back there on the best shelves of our work!