earthweal weekly challenge: SANCTUARY

Stone circle at Columcille


Greetings all –

My father spent decades building what he called a megalithic park in eastern Pennsylvania, raising stones in circles and dolmens, in stone buildings and stones standing by themselves across the 22-acre park. He’s been gone several years now and I haven’t been back: But my memory of Columcille resonates with this simple yet precious sense of sanctuary. In such hallowed places—and I hope we will find and name many in this challenge—the veil between I and Thou is the faintest.

My thought on sanctuary stems from a book I am brooding about my father and his work at Columcille. Writing it was his only dying request and I share enough of his vision to feel I can contribute to his legacy in a meaningful way for the Columcille community which now works forward. I’m in no hurry; I retire in another year or so and it will be a good project to fill those daily hours. It takes a while for founders to find their way into myth.  St. Columba’s tale wasn’t taken up until Adomnán became the seventh abbot of Iona. His Vita Columbae or “Life of Columba” was written around 697-700 AD and played a pivotal role in establishing the cult of St Columba. It is also the most important surviving work of medieval Scotland.

If the Columcille community can survive – there are financial and leadership challenges, and the park must find the right balance between work and festival — I believe it can serve as a model for human and nonhuman relations that can provide vision and possibility for a healing Earth. So allow me to indulge the Columcille metaphor in order to expand on a new sense of sanctuary.

Manannan and Lia Fail at the far end of Columcille

The stones which are Columcille’s consonants  – some bigger than houses, other pebbles in a palm — were grated off Blue Mountain as the glaciers heaved south, tumbling and collecting in Fox Valley where my father lived. (According to geologists, the rocks to heave forth when the Earth first crusted formed a line from the British Isles to the Appalachians.) There is a cold feel to those stones, mute as death and almost as old as starlight. The St. Oran bell tower in the field is circular and close, its roofless view tugged by the changeful sky overhead; the St. Columba chapel is plainchant, a primordial vowel which human voices singing together echo the ages. Mananann down at the far end of the field is three times human height and the three stones which form the dolmen called Thor’s Gate are twenty to forty tons each. Rest your cheek on such stone and you feel yourself sinking into the abyss of time, descending from Bucks County to Stonehenge into the deep end of Lascaux.

Hallowed, somewhat harrowing stuff: But the sense of sanctuary you get from walking Columcille’s grounds arises from something more, Om-vowels that are nearer and habitable with the sacred. In the old conception, there’s always a Woodhenge next to Stonehenge. Maybe it’s the way animate and inanimate worlds blend so sweetly there, a communion of living and dead, tree and stone, human votives and lunar candlelight merging in one expression. Back in 2007 the word I found for it was “Halycon”:

Here in the halcyon nothing intrudes,
not even when it does. The off-road
toy whining round the house next door
and the gun range a few miles down
filling the distance with random shot:

they try to mar but can’t, not on a day like this,
so perfect in early autumn, fair and
cool enough to bourne the heart red and gold,
a boule in the burnsoak of oak and ash leaves.

The halcyon pays no attention
to the dozens of visitors who wander
about the tall standing stones,
nor to their aged lifter back up in the house.
Not even to the Maker of all in this pen
dreaming of solstice from a womb of cold stone.

The halcyon blesses what releases
as if autumn day were sign,
its immensity belled in a thatch of
dying ferns’ airy curls.

Gnats and a jet overhead, people
coming and going through the
chapel behind me and the halcyon
weaves on those delicate stems,
souled to infinity as everything
slowly drowses and loosens
the God in us all
whose love graces our fall.

Everyone seems to sense the sanctuary nature of the land; an attitude of love and respect for the place pervades. In Columcille’s four decades of unfolding there has been almost no vandalism, no beer cans and tire tracks and rubbers in the deep wood, no graffiti on chapel walls. Some Westboro Baptist clones once demonstrated across the road during one of the community’s Beltane festivals, waving “God Hates Fags” signs and such, and journalists consistently get the narrative wrong digging up local color for newspapers and magazines: But whatever fret and angst of the falling-apart world vanishes after a few strides onto the field with its standing stones, another kind of time replacing profane with sacred.

The Glen of the Temple with Thor’s Gate at the crest

I’ve puzzled some over how that special sense of sanctuary came to Columcille. There were New Age influences; my father had visited Findhorn and Iona; he and I spent many hours drinking Scotch in the ‘70s and ‘80s yammering about Being and Becoming, spirits of the land and Guardian energies; we were trolling for Laws of Manifestation which would turn an idea about community into reality. But really, I think it was just decades of daily work on the land with a love and respect that would slowly harvest a beloved vibration in the land. You want sanctuary, sanctitude and the sacred? Treat something as such.

Religion has been practicing sanctuary for millennia, from the Hebrew cities of refuge described in the Book of Numbers, the temenos of Greek shrines, the sacred groves of the goddess or in the consecrated ground upon which Christian churches were believed to have been built, with an even more intense sanctum immediately around the altar, which in Catholic churches were often inlaid with sacred relics.

Door out from the St. Columba chapel

In all of these the sanctuary was between human and the divine. Fleeing slaves or those committing accidental manslaughter could find refuge in these sanctuaries, shelter from the chaos of the human storm. Today we also have animal sanctuaries, lands protected from the same predations of humanity. Last year a proposal by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity called for national parks, marine sanctuaries and other protected areas to cover 30 percent of the planet in order to stop a sixth mass extinction event and slow global warming.

But what about sanctuary shared by all creation, human, animal, vegetal and mineral? Images of Eden speak to a primordial condition of unity. The songs of Orpheus were so sublime that all creation gathered around in harmony to listen. The Otherworld remembered by writers in medieval Ireland was sinless — without blame — no moral code to remind us of our great error.

What strikes me now about places like Columcille – and may be the essence of the book I may eventually write — is that at it envisions that sort of sanctuary. There were days—days of hauling stone for the bell tower, or cleaning trails, or working in the organic gardens or traipsing along with hundreds of others for May Day or Samhuin — graced with a halcyon fairness which felt like walking on sunshine. On those days, the veil between words and world and vanished into an effervescent sense of sanctuary for all — critters, stones, trees, sunlight, fungii, flies, starlight, wind, water and tiny humans — a unity in glory.

I am sad for the scarcity of such sanctuary yet hopeful for the earth because seeds like Columcille are there. Sanctuary is not lost and irretrievable; no literal voyages to the otherworld are required, there are no drugs to take or demons to be cast out. All you must do is protect and border and greet the world with all your heart in the locale where you live.

The fragrant hope and strength of sanctuary can be grounded in astonishing Anthropocene damage; as Wendell Berry said, its difficulty is its possibility.

I’ve been making my way slowly through the Eco-Poetry Anthology, a 600-page contribution to the poetry of earth which does a lot of footwork pacing off the green sanctum we inhabit when striving for our best sense. “Co-editing (it) has been a labor of love against despair,” Ann-Fisher Wirth writes in her introduction. “…We are living out a colossal failure of heart, will, and imagination.”

Yet Laura Gray Street, her partner in editing the collection, defined well what that labor means:

In a sense, poetry has always been ecopoetry, in that the origins of poetry are embedded in the natural world and poetry has traditionally foregrounded nature, in a way that drama and fiction have not. Ecopoetry isn’t just any poetry garnished with birds and trees; it is a paradigm shift. It is the apprehension of real biological selves (as opposed to fantasy selves) inhabiting the planet along with us, a mix of negative capability and empathy expressed with the cadence, imagery and wit to make it visceral, so that it lodges in our neural systems and cultivates the environmental imagination that is analgous to the crucial biodiversity of the rainforests in our intestines.

A paradigm shift: Nature’s voice in our own. When my father once visited Iona, he says he encountered the ancient energies of the island. “Our work is your work and your work is ours,” they said to some deep part of his listening. He took that as mandate to build what would become Columcille, perhaps he heard right. Ecopoetry can take up the same work, finding ways to greet and border and protect the world in front of us.

David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous suggests how we can begin:

The human mind is not some otherworldly essence that comes to house itself inside our physiology. Rather, it is instilled and provoked by the sensorial field itself, induced by the tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth. The invisible shapes of smells, rhythms of cricketsong, and the movement of shadows all, in a sense, provide the subtle body of our thoughts. Our own reflections, we might say, are part of the play of light and its reflections. “The inner — what is it, if not intensified sky?”

By acknowledging such links between the inner, psychological world and the perceptual terrain that surrounds us, we begin to turn inside-out, loosening the psyche from its confinement within a strictly human sphere, freeing sentience to return to the sensible world that contains us. Intelligence is no longer ours alone but is a property of the earth; we are in it, of it, immersed in its depths. And indeed each terrain, each ecology, seems to have its own particular intelligence, its unique vernacular of soil and leaf and sky.

Each places its own mind, its own psyche. Oak, madrone, Douglas fir, red-tailed hawk, serpentine in the sandstone, a certain scale to the topography , drenching rains in the winter, fog off-shore in the summer, salmon surging in the streams — all these together make up a particular state of mind, a place-specific intelligence shared by all the humans that dwell therein, but also by the coyotes yapping in those valleys, the bobcats and the ferns and the spiders, by all beings who live and make their way in that zone. Each place its own psyche. Each sky its own blue. (262)

Sanctuary takes a village. Its work is not easy. Seldom does Avalon clear the mist of first drafts. There are few mentors. The dream falters, turning moral or mortal. Conditions are not ripe. (At Columcille, the Anthropocene has seeped in; the oaks are besieged by gypsy moths and oak wilt, while beech bark disease afflicts the beeches; Superstorm Sandy leveled dozens more trees.) We need each other. The world inside each of our voices comprises the earthly choir of the forum. My faith is that a unique sanctuary is right in front of us if we can sing it forth.

For this challenge, write about Sanctuary. Where are those places near you in which you find the communion and forgiveness and renewal of sanctuary? How is it created and with whom is it shared? What can be done to ensure it grows into a deeper communion for generations to come?

I leave you with this poem by Mary Oliver from the Eco-Poetry Anthology as a ripe phrasing of sanctuary. May our poems work toward the same end.

— Brendan


Oaks in my neighborhood at dawn



You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting‑
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



earthweal open link weekend #70


Greetings earthwealers, welcome back from your respective Otherworlds for earthweal’s seventieth open link weekend. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to savor and comment on their favorite poems.

The link bar is open til midnight Sunday EST when the next earthly wonder-world challenge unfolds.

Happy linking!


earthweal weekly challenge: VOYAGE TO THE OTHERWORLD


As with myth and dream, modernity has almost lost its Otherworld. The language of wonder and flight is paltry and dry. As the Earth becomes haunted of vanishing life, so the everteeming Ocean is a faded, seldom and flickering place. Change is inexorable; ghosts and monsters abound. But all is not done. Thanks to mediums in the earthweal community (that would be you), we can return to the Otherworld hidden in this one, find renewal and gifts for the tribe through ripened songs of it. That is this week’s challenge.

Getting to the Otherworld is a voyage of equal parts doubt and faith. In the 12th-century “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” the saint reads a book containing wonder-tales of God’s creation; in disbelief, he throws the book into a fire. An angel punishes Brendan by sending him on a voyage so that he may see with his own eyes all of the wonders he disparaged. On his 7-year journey Brendan and his retinue of 14 monks travel to many islands in search of the Promised Land of the Saints. There are many wonders: an island of birds singing Psalms; an island with a magic well; a silver pillar in the sea; the whale Jasconius on whose back they celebrate Easter; a cold rock where Judas Iscariot is allowed respite from Hell on Sundays and Feast Days; an island of choirs, an island of grapes, an island of blacksmiths, an island on which they feed for 40 days. After he has witnessed all of these, Brendan sails back to Ireland to write the very book he had burned.

St. Brendan and his monks celebrate Easter Mass on Jasconius the whale

An act of doubt is repaid by a journey of faith, as Jonathan Wooding explains in “The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature”:

The immrama (literally, “rowings about”) were envisaged as a distinct genre in literature in the early Irish language. What distinguishes the immrama in structural terms is their leitmotiv of the sea voyage, acting as a framing concept for a voyage which takes in encounters on a number of islands in the ocean. Eremium (or desertum) in oceano quaerere is the phrase frequently appearing in saints’ lives to indicate the pious adventure undertaken.

The Christian voyage to Heaven was founded on much more ancient sails. The Immram Brain or “The Voyage of Bran” is an earlier text, written down in the late 7th or 8th century, and reveals the pre-Christian origins of this tale cycle. Bran is visited by a woman from the Otherworld who describes her homeland Emain with such beauty and grace that Bran assembles three companies of nine men each to sail with him in search of the Island of the Women. The company voyage for three days and three nights; on the third day a chariot comes riding across the waters up to Bran’s ship. It is the sea god Manannan, and god explains to Bran how the Otherworld looks compared to this world. Seamus Heaney translates the text thus:

Bran is astonished at the beauty of the waters;
his coracle lifts on the clear wave.
I ride where he rows; my chariot plunges, I
surge through a blossoming plain.

Bran rolls with his boat, the sea lifts and
lays him, he leans to the prow.
My chariot axle threshes a surf of wildflowers,
my wheels are spattered with flower juice.

Bran sees the backs of the waves like the quick
backs of dolphins; the sea surface glitters.
I see greensward, wild roses and clover,
the pelt of the grazing.

You look and next thing salmon leap out
of the foam; mother-wet silver.
They are my calves, my calves’ licks, my
lambs, my bleating cavorters.

One chariot, one charioteer-me at full tilt-
that’s all you can see.
You are blind to what’s here. The land is a drumming
of hoofbeats, a mane-flow, a host at full gallop.

The land is immense, we swarm in its
bounty, it flourishes for us.
You are welcome; from the prow, gather up
the fruit of the branches.

Men and women, lovely, at ease among
windfalls. No sin and no forcing.
They rise off the forest floor, they pour
out the wine.

We are from the beginning, won’t grow
old or go under the earth.
We cannot imagine debility; we
are unmarked by guilt.

The Otherworld view is contrary to ours. In the ancient Egyptian Underworld, the feet of the dead touch those of the living as each crossed the day. My patron saint Oran was buried standing up in the footers of the Iona abbey in 563 AD to appease a spirit (some say it was Manannan) who had been disturbed by the cutting of the sward. (A fish-woman had come up from the sea to tell Columba this.) After three days and nights, St. Columba wished to look on the face of his friend (Oran may have been his real brother) one last time a bid Oran’s face be uncovered. Oran’s eyes flew open and the mouth uttered these words: “All you say about heaven and hell and man and earth is wrong! In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all!” Horrified, Columba had Oran buried back over in haste;  and yet he appointed Oran the tutlary spirit of the abbey graveyard (Relieg Odhrain, as it became known), saying, “No one may access the angels of Iona but through Oran.” So Oran’s brief oracle must have had some tooth of truth to it.

St. Oran’s chapel at the abbe of Iona.


What do we find in the Otherworld? When Bran comes to The Island of Women, he and his company remain there for a year, feasting and pairing off with the women. Good times. But eventually one of the company grows homesick for Ireland, and the company load back in their ships for a return trip. The lead woman warns Bran not to step ashore in Ireland. As they near Ireland, people on the shore recognize Bran and his company only from an old tale preserved in their tradition. The homesick man jumps ship but as he steps on shore he is turned to ashes. Realizing he is now more a part of the dead than the living, Bran decides to leave Ireland forever—but not before the tale of his voyage is written down.

In the Otherworld, one breath is a lifetime; three days and three nights are centuries. Dreamtime is wefted this way, an eternal now. Years ago w,hen I underwent therapeutic hypnosis addressing the damage of my past, the therapist told me that years of work could be accomplished in minutes down in the subconscious where time’s veil is thin.

Saint Oran has his own voyage tale. According to one legend, St. Columba bids Oran sail north from the Iona abbey off the coast of Scotland in search of the sea god Mannanan. Oran sails for three days and nights, coming to many islands: yet on each island he finds a note that says Not Here. One island has high cliffs on all sides, so Oran cannot land his boat; but down a cliff-face is lowered a tiny piece of parchment attached to a string which says Not Here. Oran eventually reaches the Land of the North and spends a day there; when he returns to Iona it is centuries later and the monks barely remember the story of a monk of their order who sailed north.

Not here but of course here, and here, and here, on this island, and the next, and the next… The infinite veld is ever here, unseen and unbelieved but open and waiting for any who would venture.

Voyages to the Otherworld feed something very old in the human spirit with the bread and water of innermost life. We yearn for this music, hear it twisting on the wind and crashing in the wave, in the swaying trees and wheat rustling in moonlight. The magic island in Shakespeare’s Tempest is alive and daunting with that music, full of “sounds and sweet airs which delight and hurt not.” It is almost sexual – the deep end of love suggests it — and the feminine is the medium of it.

In Poetry and Prophecy, Norah Chadwick traces the shamanic roots of manticism or “inspired speech,” a form of address which was itself a voyage to the otherworld. Chanted as poetry, a song is thus a ship. Writing of the Polynesian oral saga, the seeress is the medium:

The task of marshalling and controlling the spirits, and of conducting the soul and the dead person to its last resting-place in the spirit world, is performed among the Sea Dyaks in dramatic poetry by a seeress, whose only mimetic act is her seat on a swing — possibly reminiscent of her spirit form, her power of flight. She neither acts nor dances, but in song rich in realistic detail she conducts her hearers for many hours through the long journey to the abode of the dead.

“Every experience of the Otherworld is in a sense both an initiation and a marriage,” Alwyn & Brinsley Rees write in Celtic Heritage. Li Ban, “Beauty of Women,” a daughter of the king, Eochu, from whom the lake was named, survived beneath the lake as a kind of mermaid, half-woman, half-fish. In this form she lived for hundreds of years until Christianity was firmly established. In the sixth century she was caught in a net by a monk of Bangor, and accepted the Christian faith.

The poet’s tuion or “singing robe” may have been stolen from an otherworld woman who spends alternating years as a bird. In “The Dream of Oengus,” a man betroths a selkie (seal-woman), an while he is in possession of the (human) robe she is in his power. (Anne Rosse, Pagan Celtic Britain.)

The medium does not belong even to the seeress. Chadwick:

In the Thorfinns Saga Karlsefnis the seeress who is called to give an oracle insists that she cannot get the spirits to attend to her until she can get a singer with a good voice to chant the required spells (galdrar). Eventually a girl is found who is actually a Christian but who has learnt the spells in her youth. She sings unwillingly, but her voice is good, and the spells are the right ones, and the seeress is able to give her oracle. It is interesting to note that it is not the seeress herself who is the singer of the spells. Her own inspiration comes from the music and words sung by another. The spirits come in defining response to words and music, and not other compelling power is needed. (8)

 The medium of the Otherworld is our own imagination which sees an island at the bottom of every lake. In an anecdote of Colum Cille in Sancti Columbae Hiensis cum Mongano Heroe Colloquium, a mysterious youth appears to Columcille at Carraic Eolairc on the shores of Loch Foyle. When asked by Columcille about the original form of the lake, the youth gave a description from his own experience. The youth describes the prosperous country which the lake has covered, and says that he has at various times been a deer, a salmon, a seal, a wolf, and a man.

Nigel Pennick writes in Celtic Sacred Landscapes,

Islands in holy lakes have a special quality, for it is through lakes that the otherwordly land of Tir nan Og may be visited. This is the “Country of Youth,” where people and non-human beings live immune to the passage of time. It is said to exist in the depths of lakes, and the legend is localized in several places such as Lough Carrib, Lough Gur and Lough Neagh.

On occasion, these lands have been visited by human beings. Both the bard Oisin and the warrior O’Donoghue entered the otherworldly realm through the Lake of Killarney.

To reach Tir nan Og, one must pass through the reflective crystal waters of the lake, undertaking a journey from the outer world into the inner, just as the sun enters the waters of the underworld at sunset. It is a perilous shamanic descent into the unconscious depths where timeless archetypes reside.

The lake is a dangerous crystal castle where all is reflected inwards. There, the visitor may be trapped in an inner world that bears no relation to the outer one. Once entered, it is a region from which it is difficult to escape. But those who do manage to return to the everyday world are transformed by the experience.

O that we return! Merlin was trapped in the spell of Niniane, the Lady of the Lake, bound to the roots of a hawthorne tree. Whether he remains there willingly or cannot unbind the spell is not clear: probably both. Why come back to this world, so ruined by the ambitions and gambits of masterful apes?

Waving her hands and uttering the charm, [she] presently enclosed him fast within the tree.” Lancelot Speed’s illustration for James Thomas Knowles’ “The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights” (1912)

As the pagan world Christianized, avenues to the Otherworld faded, grew dim. Myth became legend became romance. Modernity’s nostalgia is greatly for that fabled past. We are enthralled by it and lost to it.

Richard Wilbur catches the moment of that world’s passing thus:


In a while they rose and went out aimlessly riding.
Leaving their drained cups on the table round.
Merlin, Merlin, their hearts cried, where are you hiding?
In all the world was no unnatural sound.

Mystery watched them riding glade by glade;
They saw it darkle from under leafy brows;
But leaves were all its voice, and squirrels made
An alien fracas in the ancient boughs.

Once by a lake-edge something made them stop.
Yet what they found was the thumping of a frog,
Bugs skating on the shut water-top,
Some hairlike algae bleaching on a log.

Gawen thought for a moment that he heard
A whitehorn breathe “Niniane.” That Siren’s daughter
Rose in a fort of dreams and spoke the word
“Sleep”, her voice like dark diving water;

And Merlin slept, who had imagined her
Of water-sounds and the deep unsoundable swell
A creature to bewitch a sorcerer,
And lay there now within her towering spell.

Slowly the shapes of searching men and horses
Escaped him as he dreamt on that high bed:
History died; he gathered in its forces;
The mists of time condensed in the still head

Until his mind, as clear as mountain water,
Went raveling toward the deep transparent dream
Who bade him sleep. And then the Siren’s daughter
Received him as the sea receives a stream.

Fate would be fated; dreams desire to sleep.
This the forsaken will not understand.
Arthur upon the road began to weep
And said to Gawen, “Remember when this hand

Once haled a sword from stone; now no less strong
It cannot dream of such a thing to do.”
Their mail grew quainter as they clopped along.
The sky became a still and woven blue.

In our time, the Otherworld shimmered in the books of our childhood, was luridly painted on the big screen and has become the haunt of digital realms. Yet at this moment it seems most distant, an abstraction. Maybe that distance has to do with the fading of the real world, the inability of imagined worlds to resurrect the myth of the living one. Certainly there are rhetorical and poetic challenges finding hints of the Other amid such damage; the doors themselves are burning, withering, decaying, flooding.

What does a voyage to the Otherworld come to mean in the Anthropocene? Our day is parallel to the late Medieval, where the voyage of a saint had no better luck finding the old Otherworld as discovering any new one. What echoes today do we hear in this  oem by the bishop-king of Cashel, Corma mac Cuilennain, who died in 908, as he contemplated a journey of penance on the sea:

Shall I go, O king of the Mysteries, after my fill of cushions and music, to turn
my face on the shore and my back on my native land?
Shall I cut my hand with every sort of wound on the breast of the wave
which wrecks boats?
Shall I leave the track of my two knees on the strand by the shore?
Shall I take my little black curragh over the broad-breasted, glorious ocean?
O king of the bright kingdom, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
Whether I be strong or poor, or mettlesome so as to be recounted
in tales, O Christ, will you help me when it comes to going upon the wild sea?

Shall we indeed? What help is there, in these immodest, shrinking and fuming times? Can we still hear the call, can Otherworld sails still trim, do islands still wait for us above the waterline across the main? And what does the Otherworld dream of a world such as we wander today? (Compare the Land Beneath the Wave to the Underground Railroad of America’s slave nightmare, now harrowingly transcribed from text to screen by Barry Jenkins.) Is ours a damaged redemption for which there can be no better the fate of the world?

In the Voyage of St. Brendan, St. Brendan and his companions come to an island of high cliffs with no entrance. Having circled the island for a number of days, they see a church, and hear the voices of people singing and praising God. A waxen tablet is lowered to them, bidding them to cease trying to enter the island, this is not the promised land (non ista tibi terra promissa). They leave the island, taking with them the tablet, which they used to read every day as if it had been sent to them by God.

The message Not Here is the sign of Heaven. The ruins of Eden is its very possibility.

I have used the medium of Irish myth, but voyages to the Otherworld are universal. Journey there this week from inside your own story-cycle, and report on the news you find there.



earthweal open link weekend #69


Happy weekend, and welcome to earthweal open link weekend #69. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Thanks to Sherry for her wild and wonderful FIERCE LOVE challenge. I’ll be back this coming Monday for the next challenge, which I hope to  figure out by then.

Happy linking!


earthweal weekly challenge: FIERCE LOVE

From artist Jackie Morris. (Posted by Longwalker on Facebook)


By Sherry Marr

I have been in love with Mother Earth all my life. As a child, I bicycled for many miles along country roads, seeking the wild places. I would leave my bike in the ditch, and climb hillsides redolent of sage and Ponderosa pine, taking drinks from miles of the elevated troughs that irrigated the local vineyards.

The most euphoric moments of my life were all wrapped up in wilderness: at the blockades in Clayoquot Sound in the Summer of ’93, where thousands came to protect the local forests from being clearcut, and 900 were arrested in what was, at that time, the single greatest incidence of civil disobedience in Canada. My heart nearly burst with passion, purpose and fulfilment as I stood on the road, singing, for the trees.

The night my rented moving truck rounded the corner at the top of the hill, and I saw Long Beach stretched out below, waves rolling in, and a huge, scarlet sun ready to slip down behind the mountains, my joy was indescribable, the more so when I pulled the truck into the driveway of my rented cabin, stepped onto the beach, and discovered a small whale swimming in the bay. In that moment, the seeking, questing thing inside me, that had drawn me forward for so many years, finally quieted. I was home.

In the worst moments of my life, it has always been to the forest or the beach that I went for comfort. The night my son, at seventeen, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I went to the shore. My heart was aching; the familiar, resigned stoicism with which I had weathered so many crises was creeping over me again. I was bracing myself for certain heartbreak, clinging with all my strength to the comfort I found in wave after endless wave breaking upon the shore.

I was gathering my strength. I would take it to the city; I would see him through. I would find my comfort in the beauty of the shore. Here, I would replenish my stores of peace by letting the susurration of the waves rush through my ears, my brain, my being, until I was as calm as the lull between waves, as strong and silent as the smooth stones scattered along the ocean’s shore, as patient as the sand dollar that spins its house from the sand and grit around it and carries it within.

Since mid-life, I have loved Tofino so fiercely, in the years that I lived here and in the years away. My fierce love has been accompanied by earth grief, as I have watched the Old Growth forests disappear; have seen whales and bears and wolves starving for lack of salmon, have watched wild salmon disappearing because of pollution and disease from the salmon farms placed along their migratory routes. Fierce sorrow as carbon emissions don’t go down, and the planet heats. Fierce love, at the heartbreaking beauty of Mother Earth, trying so hard to live in spite of it all. In spite of humankind – how generous she is! How forgiving.

Mother Earth is all about abundance, about life and growth and healing and repair. All of earth’s systems work together in an intricate interconnected web of life. Did you know that salmon are forest creatures that help the forest grow? Bears and wolves eat salmon; their scat in the forest adds needed nitrogen to the soil. Salmon feed both land and sea creatures, and humans who have depended on them for thousands of years. I watch all of this magnificence being destroyed by industry so that a handful of corporations can grow obscenely rich and it hurts my heart. The governments that turn a blind eye, because of corporate support for their re-election, are as criminally responsible as the corporations, in my opinion. Humans were meant to live on earth as in an abundant garden. Every gardener knows that when you take out, you put back.

The indigenous people of the earth have always known this. “Mother Nature has enough for our need, but not our greed,” my friend Joe, a Nuu-chah-nulth knowledge carrier, likes to say.

The dominant society talks a lot about “rights.” My indigenous friends talk about “responsibilities and obligations.” They have strict protocols around living with Nature in a way that ensures that their descendants to the seventh generation may also live. Yet now we are worrying that our great-great-grandchildren, in this land of ancient forests, may never see an old growth tree.

Mother Earth inspires such awe with her breathtaking beauty. She fills me with gratitude as she showers us with her gifts. She inspires fierce love in my heart, that often brings me to tears, given the state of our planet at this moment in history, and in Her story.

Alexandra Morton, my long-time hero, has lived with whales in the Broughton archipelago up the coast for thirty years. She has been fighting hard to save the dwindling wild salmon, who are dying out because of pollution and disease from fish farms placed along the salmon’s migratory routes.

Alex recently wrote, in her recent book Not On My Watch:

“It’s love that makes people stand up and react. The only places that are going to survive are the places we love so fiercely that giving up is not an option, at whatever the cost.”

I agree. It is time for fierce love, for standing up, for speaking out. So write your poems, dear people, with all the fierce love you can muster.

For your challenge: Think of what you love most: the beloved, a child, a fur companion. Then take that fierce love out into the world; introduce us to something in the natural world that you feel fiercely passionate about. Bring your poem of fierce love back to us. Far-flung across the world as we are, we await your offerings with delight.

— Sherry