A year of grief, over. It means we have loved, and we need not be fearful of loving again.
2020 has been a year of mass grief; grief for changed bodies and bodies lost forever. I am writing of people andteresapien lives, through pandemic and the vagaries of the Anthropocene. There will be more to come, no doubt.
It takes courage to love again when the love that came before has pierced the skin with a hundred needles. Grief can feel like that. But without giving and receiving love, even love for ourselves, we are all dust. It’s just the way it is, the way more complex lives have evolved, who knows, maybe all life.
Of course, we can have spells of time away from love, like we are holding a drink for someone else at a party. Some people may think they don’t care, rocks and islands and all that, but I think they do mind, deep down. I do.
Sometimes, the love shifts from one type to another, say, from romantic to deep friendship, from fluministic devotion to kindship. Eventually, we need to drink for ourselves.
Whether that love is in full view, the full public view, is another thing. Some believe love is not real unless it is demonstrable in full view of everyone and everything. That also takes courage, a revelation of something that makes us vulnerable. There is a reason why L Frank Baum’s Cowardly Lion was the bravest of all because he told everyone he met he had no heart but wanted one. It’s just that he doubted himself. We all have doubts. My father always said it’s the foolish ones who never doubt themselves.
But some of the most passionate and dedicated love stories across time are surely never told. Life on Earth, of course, is a love and death story.
The good of love may feel like the most searing punishment when the object or flow of our love is hurt or dies. This kind of pain is at least as old as eukaryote cells. We share that in common, and for millions of years. Grief is just as ancient, a kind of ancient trauma. I’m not using that word lightly. Some think ‘trauma’ is an overcooked ham, but it isn’t. When love is strong, the loss, and therefore the suffering, can’t be anything other than trauma. But it has evolved in the avoidance of death, and in the pursuit of care ~ you could say, grief is an aid for survival.
Whether you believe in the afterlife matters less if whoever stirred those emotions of joy and sadness, frustration, and even hate, suffers or suffers and dies. Mother, daughter, sister, lover, bird, dog, horse, wildflowers, lichen, moss, fungi, ferns, trees, whales, entire ecosystems, biomes, coastal cities, continents.
All that’s left are the memories. Maybe this is an icy take on what is the warmest process of all ~ two-way contentment of extreme care, celebrated in public, for all to see. If you’ve loved fully, then you’ve cared fully and lived care-fully. Be proud and content about that, because…
“it’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent.
This Christmas, I just want to pay tribute to Tenovus cancer support.
Two years ago, my very existence seemed uncertain, and I was lonely as I underwent extensive palliative treatment for a type 3 aggressive womb cancer at Velindre Hospital, Cardiff. Velindre staff were always lovely to me, but hugely busy, as they treat more than 5000 people a year.
I knew few people in Cardiff, and didn’t want to burden anyone. So I rang the Tenovus helpline. Ex-cancer nurse and confidant, Elaine, was a godsend. We discovered a shared love for nature ~ she even has a very special thing for red kites!
Sometimes she’d call and we’d simply talk about this shared love, and it would be enough to ease away my anxieties and help me deal with the difficulties. So, I just want to thank Elaine again, and all the team at Tenovus for their commitment and dedication. As head of communications, I have also grown to admire Craig very much. I just know they all want to help.
Despite COVID19, cancer continues to rear its scary head for some. Tenovus makes it less scary. It can be especially lonely when immune systems are suppressed and self-isolation is recommended, sometimes over long periods of time. I think everyone can now relate to this, because of the experience of COVID19.
Here, I post a recording made to help in an appeal for funds, and you can also read my story here in Wales Today.
I know financial circumstances are massively uncertain due to the ongoing pandemic, and charities have suffered too. But if you can afford to donate, even a small amount, it would certainly help them, and so many others like me in these times of uncertainty. Thank you. If not, no worries! Just know that there are people to help should you ever need it. With love from me.
I am thinking about Alder fixing nitrogen at the roots next to the flowing, swirling river. They are in symbiosis with all realms of friendly powers to do this. True.
Fixed, rooted, “they have figured how to live trapped into place,” says one of Richard Powers’ characters in Overstory.*
They are stillness in the ground, and unable to outrun us. They are vulnerable to pestilences, including our terrible machines. They evolved to be hardened, poisonous and giant to all who may assault them, yet they are losing this race brought upon them. True.
Are they really so fixed?
I am listening to Alder, intently. With their belly in the ground, their body and limbs above, defying gravity, and their thousands of faces — leaves, buds– turned patiently towards the sky, I am quiet; present. Sixty years staring at the sky, as we spin on our axis, and around the Sun, and around the Milky Way’s tiny, dense, black hole, and away from whatever lays at the centre of the universe, riding on dark matter at ever-increasing speed.
Alder says they don’t know the meaning of stillness. It’s not in their vocabulary, so rooted are they in this cosmic dance. Neither do their symbiotic messengers know such stillness. We are all constantly moving. In Spring, look up towards the Sun and the stars, just like the unfurling leaves.
Alder’s DNA, their being, floats all the way up to high cirrus, and thousands of miles, and years.
I think I’d like to be a part, if they’ll allow it.
Alder pronouns: they, them, theirs. They are monecious, hermaphroditic, so until I can hear them say their pronouns…
The Anthropocentric mode of being. Norm of the Anthropocene. A problem.
Anthropo, of the human. Mode from modus “measure, extent, quantity; proper measure, rhythm, song; a way, manner, fashion, style” (in Late Latin also “mood” in grammar and logic), from PIE root *med- “take appropriate measures.”
Tethering any potential vitanance of ecosystems to an ill-ecological disunion or dominion of human behaviour ~ mistake.
Economies, law and other human modes of existence are not fully diverse, inclusive and based on ecologism.
Is it possible to forge a new kind of relationship with the ecological community we in English call, perhaps, unceremoniously, peat bog?
Here in cool Britannic islands, peat has been forming since the last Ice Age, when luminous green mosses took over the quagmire. Fibrous layers of arrested entropy are fuelled by the surfacing of a froth of bryophytes, metabolizing through an exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide, sunshine for sugar, nutrients, bacteria, and plenty of water. As each generation and their symbiotic partners die down, the decay is slow but sure in locking in carbon. Like snow transforms to glaciers, the dead are pressed down by the weight of the living into an airless solidity. If locked under rocks for millions of years, this is the stuff of crude oil.
At a tender accumulation of just 1mm per year, the process is slower than slow. In the slow period of human evolution, cutting peat to burn and grow food seemed just a nibble around the edges. But now, in full Anthropomode, the extraction is leviathan; industrialized, packaged, and shipped in plastic wraps to a peak of ignorance.
Peat bogs, high and low across continents, are keystone ecosystems in the slowing of the flow of planetary carbon. The absorptions are remarkable, storing more than all other vegetation communities in the world, combined (IUCN). At 6% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, their degradation has a profound effect on warming.
As with all living systems classified in English, the words “peat” and “bog” together seem somewhat inadequate in describing the exquisite symbiosis and delicate processes of interconnectedness in these places ~ the kind of life-love I call Fluminism. These processes, in the name of a tiny minority of humans earning a living, are now being destroyed like there’s no tomorrow; cut, ploughed, burned, dried, stolen, degraded, and eroded. The critical second law of thermodynamics in living systems, otherwise known as entropy, is unleashed. A steadier state of life-creating disequilibrium (Margulis/Lovelock) becomes a gaping hole of profound loss.
If ever there was a time when we ought to value natural processes capable of locking millions of tons of carbon into the ground, it’s now.
The invaluable emerald and gold communities of mossy production, which required such a delicate intersection of topographic, geochemical, climatic, and biological variabilities to begin, are vanishing.
An increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of such natural processes, an asymmetry in states from past to future ~ and in some cases the changes are irreversible. Even the hoof-fall of a flock of sheep can sear through a peat bog, triggering expanding evaporation of moisture that will degrade this ancient semi-closed system.
Globally, human cultures have aligned these atmospheric places of slow carbon burial with ghostly mythologies, perhaps a subconscious, spiritual warning to keep our ancestors from ruining these critical ecosystems. They are deemed eerie, often misty by the nature of transpiration of wetlands as if belonging only to lost souls and fuzzy apparitions.
Partly responsible are the will-o’-the-wisps or the ignis fatuus (giddy flames), documented and told in stories by many different human cultures around the globe. The Welsh, for instance, traditionally described the light as Fairy Fire held in the hands of mischievous goblin-fairies or nature sprites (think of William Shakespeare’s Puck) named Pwca*, who would mesmerize and lure travellers off their paths, only to extinguish the flames and leave folk abandoned and utterly lost.
We modern folk of the Westernish have forsaken such myths in favour of science and concluded the oxidation of phosphine, diphosphine and methane can cause photon emissions that can also ignite on contact with oxygen in the air. If there are bubbles of methane about, these too can ignite, and all the myths and hocus pocus are burned up into the atmosphere along with reverence and fear.
I cannot seriously suggest that conjuring a new state of fear for the precious and vibrant matter (Jane Bennett) of peat bogs will save them. But maybe love, reverence and celebration could.
When all the most technical minds are searching for ways of trapping carbon from the atmosphere, it seems utterly foolish to ignore the sphagnum mosses and their partners as a true commonwealth in the slowing, dampening, and sequestration of dangerous climate change. Maybe we can begin by joining together to form a Union of Concerned Peat Bog Lovers, or The Great Sphagnum Mossites, the Emerald and Golds, or simply The Pwca Tribe, to write and tell stories about the magnificence of the processes involved, to create an annual Festival of learning near each place, and to take time to join in reverence, celebration and protection.
Suggestions welcome, as always.
*It is thought Shakespeare may have learned of local Welsh folklore from a friend Richard Price of the priory of Brecon. Could Cwm Pwca and the beautiful Clydach Gorge be the original setting for Midsummer’s Night’s Dream?
There seems a renewed and furious human chauvinism by some, rejecting the material reality of ecological processes to the extreme, including the principle of Rewilding (Soule, et al).
The fury seems based on NGO dominance in the field (they are certainly not democracies), plus purchasing power without local consent or participation. NGO’s aside, because alternative treaties for collective and local management are possible, without ecological succession we are talking about the proliferation of anthropogenic urbanization, suburban expansion, farming, fishing, and forestry as the default position on a central plank of Human Rights.
In reaction, particularly to the question of urbanization and suburban expansion, the legally trained and culturally-influenced capitalists (though they would deny the latter), are persisting in claiming the Rights for Nature. All arguments are, therefore, sucked into the realm of the Courts, to mainly White Eurocentric judges, lawyers, and clerks. Rights are important agreements of equality between ourselves as human individuals, there is no doubt, and they are judged in Courts by other humans versed in the language of humans and the Law. All of these Human Rights should be firmly based upon ecological and physical material reality because that is the ultimate responsibility. But let us not forget that ecological processes are incommensurable with complex Laws evolved for one, single species ~ Homo sapien. One could call the Courts an “artifice” in ecological terms.
Terribly oversimplified, there are three main interconnected effects that drive suffering and extinction of human and teresapien life.
a. Global human inequity (to include extreme capitalism, arms trade, neo-colonialism, GDP Growth, racism and poverty, nationalism, conflict and migration, et al)
b. Ecological depauperation and biodiversity declines (critical to existence)
c. Climate crisis (volatile, extreme, and includes sea level rises)
Inequity has a great deal to do with depauperation and climate, but without ecological resilience, quite frankly, we (all life) face armageddon. Food and clean water depend mainly upon b. And c. contributes to a. and b.
We are, indeed, nature. But we are not the sum of all ecological processes. We must understand moments when letting things go is as important as when, where, and how to intervene. In not allowing succession and a plethora of other life-sustaining processes–some of which we have no idea–to re-instate their own evolutionary force, we are continually arresting ecological growth, interfering with ecological cycles of entropy, and preventing niche opportunities for life to flourish. Disturbance can drive evolution over time, but planetary dominion by our species has all the features of a catastrophic, continued extinction event (pain and suffering). As Chomsky said, “we are the asteroid,” more accurately, the conscious asteroid.
Ecological processes are core to ‘life.’ Indigenous cultures greatly understand this, and we in the Westernish have a full opportunity to learn from these people and their wisdom. I agree, that without consent or agreement, all interventions, passive or active, are forms of oppression. But the most oppressed of all, we have to remember, don’t speak human.
Ecological disturbance (that’s what we are, ecological disturbers, primary and secondary consumers), is now so vast as to arrest and even undermine evolutionary succession across all biomes. Climate change is fundamentally linked by the nature of this dominion, especially in the destruction of ecosystems for the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
There must be room for ecological succession without heavy human disturbance. Setting up Rewilding v Traditional Pastoral is a non-starter. There’s no pulling the past out of a bottle like a genie, but we can learn from all, science and indigenous wisdom, moving forwards.
What if it’s not the last 50 years of human interventions that have caused the crash in living systems here in the UK, but the last 200 years? What if it’s not the last 200 years of human intervention but the last 10,000 years? These are still relevant questions in ongoing geological discussions as to when the Anthropocene began. They are also relevant to how we perceive a need for change.
Without the development of farming techniques over the last 10,000 years, there could not have been an industrial revolution in the last 200+ years. Without the industrial revolution in the last 200+ years, there could not have been intensive development and farming over the last 50 years.
People are considering we must again, at least, adopt the traditions of, say, 50 or 200 years ago, but in many ways, these are assumptions based on an emotional but often warped sense of comfort that stems from nostalgia. Human Rights? I have outlined before and above the problems of Rights, and believe in a fundamental Responsibility for all life in all we do. Ecologies have changed, the climate has changed/is changing. Our numbers have changed. And all kinds of social patterns have changed. We need to look at each place, case by case. We are in crisis.
Urban agriculture, urban ecology, community gardening, produce share is totally underestimated here in the UK. These are lands already heavily occupied by our species. To most people, rural land is utterly unavailable. To them, rural land may as well be the deep blue sea or the rocky mountains. Cities and suburbia offer, at least, a chance to form strong community bonds with a critical mass of political will in order to form gardens, homesteads, and varying organic horticultures: Reclamation of the public place. Why do we continue to allow ourselves to be dominated by landowners, NFU, supermarkets, NGOs, and/or corrupt state politics interested only in maintaining the status quo? Bring back food/ecology into local control, where the majority of people reside, including distribution, and let locacede happen where it can be agreed and will be welcome.
Above all, we are making choices now. Claiming successional processes, or re-introducing trophic species, are an “artifice” in favour of Homo sapien farming practices 50 or 200 years old is a broken concept, because all we do about living within resilient ecologies from now on could, therefore, be classed “artifice.” Remember, and for Earth’s sake, the real “artifice” is pouring tons of chemicals onto the land, draining rivers and water tables, forcing seasonality, and being exclusive about who manages the land, whether it be farmers, rewilders, developers, or industrial biochemical and genetics companies. We can do better and for all life.