My sincere thanks to philosophy scholar, Laura Muñoz, coordinating editor of 15-15-15, Manuel Casal Lodeiro, Professor Jorge Riechmann, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid , and my daughter Gracie Battson for her Spanish translation skills. Please click on the image for the link.
On Climate as the Dominant Meme.
I’ve come to realise, friends, that even some of the most influential speakers and writers of words on climate do not understand even the basics of Earth as an entire dynamic system of systems.
I go further and say that a repetitive use of the word climate as the dominant meme is now serving LIFE poorly. LIFE is mutualism en masse, symbiosis as a continued wave down deep in the rock to surprisingly high in the atmosphere. This is why I have coined the word symbioethics.
Please, think about how you use the word climate, despite the big crowds in high politics going on and on because of pressure to “do” something as opposed to “nothing”. They aren’t system thinkers. Their goals are linear and flat. In terms of Earth Crisis/es, they are the Flat Earthers. Neoliberalism is particularly exploiting the situation; it’s raw like drawing blood. To these people, carbon and carbon dioxide are exchangeable units to trade, and mass electrification means Business-As-Usual in all other aspects of LIFE. There’s blood all over the place, and more to spill.
All aspects of modern life, I’m almost afraid to say it, are what led to the invention of fossil fuel exploitation in the first place, and hence the unfurling, energized, continuing nightmare that is Earth Crisis. Climate change is a symptom, not the disease. You have to recognise this, surely, because those politicians and capitalists may have less of a clue than you.
Earth is different as a planet because of LIFE. I’m animating LIFE in capitals, so as to know and perhaps feel your way into how things really are. I don’t care much about these competitive and anxiolytic obsessions with targets and meeting them, just please stop for a moment and take this in.
LIFE came about because of LIFE.
Sure, it took long-gone, variable qualities of non-organic systems, the chance events of matter, including water, reacting and compounding billions of years ago until an opportunity existed for the emergence of early RNA-like substances, DNA, viruses, and bacteria and cells. In certain conditions again, perhaps under a newly generated organic methane shroud, like smog to deter ultra-violet violence, these basic cells merged again, forming metabolizing and photosynthesizing cells, and in more than one place in similar timescales (symbiogenesis).
LIFE then really took off in this swirling flow of abundance, and when these earliest colonies of dazzling (Lynn Margulis) living matter grew into and around others, more cells found novel roles and began to coalesce in the form of more complex organisms. You only need to understand lichen to realise how it is LIFE that changes the conditions for LIFE. Lichen turns rock into soils; soils are hotbeds for LIFE. And that’s just one example we can all see with our own eyes.
Since those magnificent Earthly points in time and space, LIFE has gained strength by manipulating those very same inorganic and organic systems that produced them, changing them to suit more LIFE (Gaia Theory, even if weak). LIFE has evolved for billions of years subjecting, and being subjected by, the conditions of Earth as a system (Lovelock).
Fast forward three billion years—and five previous extinction events—and here we are, and every living being is still a colony among colonies.
Climate is just one of many interconnected systems that sustain LIFE, though inescapably critical. Its power under change is rage, but the rage should be ours because members of our own species created the volatility, and a minority still pursue it ~ for cash. Climate, on the other hand, simply describes the weather conditions that prevail in general or over a long period. Climate does have the power to let LIFE thrive or die out. But even the atmosphere is largely a product of everything else going on in the world, chiefly… LIFE. Climate is a symptom. As such, it isn’t just physics. The neoliberals, the corporate capitalists, deny it. They may have begun to engage under pressure, at last, but it is only on their terms ~ cash.
Let’s look at LIFE instead.
What are the LIFE supporting systems?
LIFE on Earth is symbiotically related to several Earth and cosmological systems, which are mainly energized by the Sun, our aspect towards the Sun, but sometimes by sources from within the Earth itself. These are all intimately related in flows. We can try to separate them for the sake of study, but the reality is a giant existential, moving system, full of subsystems, cycles, and processes. All is relatedness, flow.
On Earth, the main sub-systems are as follows.
Each one is interconnected to the other by processes and cycles, transforming and exchanging matter and energy over time from the nano-second into deep time.
Evaporation, erosion, convection currents, transpiration, photosynthesis, weathering, erosion, rock formation, ocean currents, climate…no beginning nor end. Carbon, sulphur, salt, food, nitrogen, water, energy, cycled on into LIFE and back again, including human LIFE, which can’t exist without them all.
There are even more systems and processes, macro and micro, even sub micro and meta macro, many of which we have no understanding nor measure. But we know the consequences of them – LIFE on Earth. Sometimes, we have to imagine. Or simply trust in them. But this means leaving soft imprints everywhere we go, or none at all.
SIXTH Extinction Event – Humans.
Scientists relay via peer review evidence that we are into Earth’s sixth extinction event. This includes leviathan climate change.
The five previous extinction events we know about because of the rock record, have been initially caused by activity outside of the organic experience. We know there are historic “orbital” rhythms to climate, which we call the Milankovic Cycles, named after the scientist who mooted the theory, and we know that vulcanicity, tectonic drift, and even giant comet strikes have all altered the stasis of Earth’s spectacularly unified systems that sustain a gradual flow of LIFE.
The problem is that we humans have so manipulated all four of Earth’s main systems that we are changing global stasis and therefore climate (for the sake of argument, the conditions of life as we understand them) earlier and faster than it would otherwise do so. And it is happening so quickly, driven by a power-crazed minority that wrongly perceives accumulation of wealth as the aim. Climate is the global feedback as are ocean currents slowing due to melting ice, displacement of bacterial and photosynthetic drivers of certain cycles, including changing salinity. Yes. Climate change IS heating and weirding and will create more torment and suffering to LIFE, because of the feedback loops in linked systems, like the hydrosphere (flooding, drought, etc).
Existential LIFE on Earth is inherently magnificent. It is so even without humans considering it merely here to serve our needs. But that magnificence is being killed off by humans through overreach in all aspects. All kinds of human development block the flows of LIFE, the processes, and relationships that sustain communities. Climate change so far (no nuclear winters just yet) is a result of the destruction of living and geological systems that trap carbon in long cycles. Significant anthropogenic (human-caused) changes have happened since the emergence of human agriculture and cities, but sky-rocketing because of the industrial revolution, wide-scale fossil fuel emissions, and a rapid greenhouse effect. Smothering soils with tarmac and concrete, burning peat, harvesting woodland, churning out pollution and waste, fragmenting all kinds of ecosystems with hard infrastructure and agriculture, killing sea LIFE ~ all effects the carbon cycle. Space Capitalism is exacerbating all. This is not just about climate!
Kill off LIFE, and we kill off ourselves. Remember, we are all communities within communities. Nothing is separate.
There are signs and signals everywhere that something is seriously wrong with the systems that sustain LIFE as we understand them, the global COVID19 pandemic in humans being simply the latest. Many more exist beyond the human realm if only more of us understood.
Human words are critical in how we relate experience to one another, but are also significantly powerful over all other LIFE forms because that’s the state of play right now ~ human dominion over all LIFE. I’m sick of people suggesting to me that words do not matter, despite them using words to try to communicate that fact. Your words, my words, act as communication capsules fronting deep memory, transformation, emotions, belonging and doing. They can be used as weapons, salves, or instruments of new ways of thinking. Words do matter, especially those repeated and repeated in the public sphere. We should be way more aware of their power.
I’d like to hear the word LIFE just as much, if not more, than the word CLIMATE. It is LIFE that is ultimately of profound worth, even though a clement climate is ideal for life in different regions as we understand it now. To avoid LIFE and its diversity in our language allows human power structures to focus only on CO2 in the atmosphere like a currency and climate as if it were still dissociated with all those systems that sustain LIFE.
Climate this and climate that. Even critical areas such as justice and equity aren’t adequately served well by its narrow framing. Just look at water and food supply, and the terrible inequities of pollution streams. Some solutions to fit the climate narrative even go so far as to kill more LIFE when LIFE is the evolutionary response to climate warming. Curtail LIFE and you are doubling, tripling the problem.
Systems thinking, please, and in the use of language. To continue isolating the language of climate is a folly. It is a kind of othering, something difficult to handle for almost everyone else. Too big, too ethereal. Something only for learned and passionate experts, or politicians.
The way we live our lives in community, as community among many communities (human and teresapien), is the change. This will help steady the symptom of climate change, though we know the genie has already let rip. It will critically help LIFE in mutualisms and flows. Teachers can be a huge part of facilitating that community change by example. As can any local government, library or hospital officer with responsibility for public buildings and grounds. I’ve little faith in private, competitive interests (at the heart of Capitalism), but maybe there is some hope here. I will wait to see if the practice of locaceding is accepted. Meanwhile, Governments can help or hinder, but the change must be a groundswell. At the moment, voting records still show contempt and apathy from the ground. They will take heart from this, and carry on ignoring LIFE.
It is my greatest hope that Fluminism, on the other hand, is a positive word from the get-go. As a symbioethic, it relates easily to all flowing mutualisms, processes, cycles, and systems that sustain and proliferate LIFE in diversity and abundance. As a word with meaning, I use it as a resistance to those Earth scarring ways of perceiving, being, and doing in this world. It’s a treatment of the disease and the symptom. Perhaps you might use it too. Once understood, it is do-able by everyone equally and daily, and a perception of the world that is then very difficult to un-know.
Flumilightenment – The Great Mental and Emotional Convergence.
Flumilightenment: A resistance to birfurcated thought, and a rejection of the word “environmentalism”.
For too long, environment has been treated as something external to us. We are drip-fed news about the non-descript environment as if it were:
- External to us – somewhere “out there”.
- A choice, option, preference, or hobby.
- Something that others make a fuss about because they don’t have to worry about daily traumas such as racism, all other kinds of prejudices, conflicts, ill-health, paying the rent.
This is a blind alley, and perpetuated through words, phrases, and headlines every day. We live with language and meaning as something that shapes how we live. We shape all because of it.
Our young are being cultivated, too, in this now damaging misnomer ~ the “environment”.
I am suggesting nothing short of a new Enlightenment.
The physical reality is that ALL IS FLOW, AND ALL LIFE FORMS (EVEN IN DEATH) ARE INTEGRAL to all. Nothing is truly separate in the realm of reality.
What has been separated is our mental and emotional state of being. And continuing to use separating language perpetuates planetary catastrophe.
We must now DROP the term “environmentalism” for the sake of saving life itself.
Fluminism is the reality.
What we *think* we are putting into the *environment* is actually going into living beings and ourselves in our one shared biosphere.
As symlings, we are infinitely connected at every point within our porous bodies, and the bodies of all symlings, and our porous bionts (our microbiome, including bacteria and their viruses), with all other dazzling matter AND their wave effects within our biosphere and beyond.
Every moment, we are penetrated by atoms and electromagnetic waves, chemicals and biologies of so-called others. And we do the same to and with them. We are flow.
It’s like a kind of giant melding, a sexstorm, a kinmaking, the ultimate anti-racism, anti-speciesism, anti-anthropocentrism, a oneness in flow.
Sometimes, our imaginations are able to envision, though the crisis of imagination right now is profound. Sometimes, we may even think we feel it (I call this sanguimund – bloodearth). I want us to be able to protect it all (I call this praximund – processearth).
Life-changing, Earth-saving stuff.
This is not an Indra’s net I speak of, nor even an entanglement (suggests that we are still separated, at least by a single barrier), but an incredible, complex, porous flow, from the cosmos down to quantum level, in constant exchange in what I call the nagorasphere, which I write about in more detail in Humans and Nature’s Kinship Anthology series published in September later this year.
Within the chaos of the formation of this universe, at least, come patterns and exchanges (Bookchin) that exist through our every cell, breath, heat, and every cell is a symbiosis of other beings (Margulis).
It IS our absolute existence, even without sensing it with biological organs (we glimpse so much more via the tools we have created). But now our minds and emotions MUST follow, and the way we express all through our utterances and the way we live our lives, each and every day. Please, don’t use the word environment without, at least, considering fully what I am saying.
A FULL KNOWING of fluminism and being it every moment in complete union is a new enlightment; the physical reality, but also the mental and emotional consciousness of this reality. A Flumilightenment: The Great Mental and Emotional convergence.
I hope this makes you feel alert and empowered. You need to be.
Ghosts, introducing anthroturbs.
Last summer, I am swimming in the cool Arrow just west of ye olde Penebrugge, keeping my nose above the silk-smooth, trying to find a rhythm against the strong flow. The sun is strong, and all winter’s ghosts abandon me for the ocean.
Under me swim a million Atlantic salmon lost to hunting and distress. Above me are the spectres of a thousand white men culpable for the loss. I’m not grieving for the men today.
I get out of the water, and warm blood returns to my cold skin, flush-blush, and I breathe deep the oxygen offered free by the immigrant balsams that shoot from anthroturbed, hot, shade-less, phosphated banks.
Man ~ anthro ~ disturbs ~ turb, from Latin “to stir up”. Anthroturbs.
You ghosts! I ache for you to come back to me, animated and full of the essence of life, like the blood returns to my epidermis, as real and vivid as you ever were.
I look up to a mewing raptor circling under a bright cloud in a deep blue sky ~ a fantail. Buzzard in all her glory, kindred buzzard; your lungs take in my air and mine yours. What are you saying to me? I think I might know. Your polarising eyes bear witness to my dullness under all the silver drops of water and soaked, sun-bleached hair. You’d rather talk to the others who might come to you, and avoid my predatorial shadows. I understand this. I am whiteness, and with all the river washing, I cannot get rid of that.
But you are utterly safe today in the brightness, as I neither possess the inclination to kill you nor a gun. My love for you is about as iron-strong as things are. Do you know it? Others are harming with poisons, and game rearing, and poultry sheds, and I do fear they will turn you into a ghost if you don’t stay away from people who look like me.
Can we ever stay away? “Stay away” is really an impossibility of matter in our dimming biosphere, because we are altogether in flows, bound into processes, like it or not, even in death. You are inside me, and me you. I’ll just sit here and warm for a while, and smell the undergrowth, and keep my eyes open for any other symling to greet who flows into my senses. The river will do its thing, taking my skin cells and some of my microbiome with it.
This early Spring, dressed hard for cold weather, in boots and jeans and overcoats, there is a human path I follow worn down under cracked willows, where the tree creepers hop from bottom to top. It’s a place forced under pressure between the sewage works ~ subcontracted to a profiteer by the not-for-profit water company ~ and the banks of the Wye just South of Bartonsham Dairy. Raging floods dig down deeper into the buried shingle of ten thousand years, like salt in a wound.
I’m going to check the sewer outfall for a point-source phosphate pollution event.
The path here is the beginning of a chasm, and there’s a terrible and awkward dance to walk it. I call it the Bone Path, where salix roots finger across it like skeletal hands. Fishermen come here with their maggots, their carbon rods and alum hooks. I sometimes find the nylon bits in tweavelets, and they do anger me on behalf of all the animals.
I find the outfall and it is spewing white foam that reeks of soap. White foam of phosphates, the wastes of capitalism down the supermarket aisle where you and I buy our plastic bottles full of washing liquids and chemical softeners. I take pictures, imagining the entire journey to get these eutrophiers here.
There are three fishermen waste-deep in the channel across from the spewing, and I am not sympathetic. But then I change my mind, worried. So I shout across through twigs and willow tits, and suggest they take care with all the phosphates coming straight at them.
“I do not know what you are talking about,” one man shouts back in a heavy accent above the din, and continues to throw his line.
I repeat my concern and he waves me away like a bothering mayfly. They laugh at me. I reach for home, passing more flood erosion, where the river in its fury took more lives from the soils and dumped them somewhere downstream and unappreciated. Ghosts.
I am thinking about the freshwater, which is hardly water at all, so full it is of symbiotic life. Here is where all is easily indivisible like me swimming below buzzard kin and breathing balsam air. We are to them, and to everything in the air, and everything that has been stolen. All matter leads to the ocean, oceans to oceans. We are all ghosts, and that is my exquisite grief.
I have just sent my pictures to the non-profit. We’ll see how it goes.
A small act of resistance. Versions 1 & 2
She’s there. I can hear the familiar peep of Blackbird, even under low light. I can just make out the colour brown and not black, and a dullish beak, so she is female.
Small by comparison to others perched in this same gnarly hawthorn, she spies all the berries as she flicks her tail feathers and hops from twig to twig. Mine is the quietest of observations I think is possible. Hers is an instinctive judgment of self within the whole floloca, and an internal vision of the safe movements required to get from where she is now to the red haw ‘pomes,’ to put one in her beak and then inside her belly. I call this patientism. Then, to fly in a straight line home. I love everything about this little bird. There is a glint in her eye.
Her presence is the result of the devotion of several birds before her. The crowd have scoured for bounty, found it, and tested it for ripeness. They have spread the news: they made signs. And now she knows to be here, that bright UV light, a fourth primary colour we simply cannot see, on waxy fruits that are good this Winter. The waxy shine on the berries helps. If you rub it off, birds don’t find them so well. Unlike some red berries, pomes, or drupes, these ones are safe to eat. They will help her to store energy in every cell of her body until early Spring, when she will thrive on worms and emerging insects, and lay her eggs.
I try to match her devotion, in that I stand perfectly still, staying present with her quickness and intelligence. I try really hard not to distract, not even to raise my phone lens this time. This food is too important.
I gaze at the jungle of twigs and am in awe of the birdish ability to fly through them with ease. Birds see unlike us ~ and this UV sight helps them to navigate complexity without injury. I wonder how UV reflects off of me.
Blackbird suddenly dives for the berries, plucks two from their skinny stems with her beak, and launches away with a familiar “tweet de tweet twit twit” melting into a darkening night. She leaves her droppings of earlier morsels (and seed) on the twigs below for lichens to grow. A small feather that grew soft on her breast this summer drifts to the ground to be foraged as nesting material by a long-tailed tit early tomorrow as the sun rises.
I am not afraid to tell you, I care for her, and all these lives, as I care for this place–a happy place–down on the banks of the River Wye in Winter. I care for the microbiota and the symbiotic relationships that sustain all the lives that exist right now, though the majority I cannot see nor hear. This love means more than one might think. It’s not a totally selfish act, but specific for this place linked in flows to all places, and little to do with my brain’s reward centres—though there is that. It’s just I understand that this flow is part of larger flows, that are part of the flows of life that distinguish planet Earth from all else yet known. I wish people would stop talking about entanglements. It’s still so separating–dividing–as if we are simply a knot to be undone. I was once a paraglider and learned to untangle entangled lines very quickly. After a while, it’s too easy. Death is something else.
The things that creep in and out of the water, the things that never enter the water, the things that never climb trees, share everything through drifts in the nagorasphere. It is felt by evoking the imagination. This is a process too. Being a fluminist is a process. Are there any objects, ever? All is process through time and space. I have come home to write about this encounter in all hope that others may wish to protect the interests of these beings as a community in a constant flow, and to remember that this flow between all lives is a true beauty to celebrate and protect. I hold this place, and this tree, this bird, these berries, and the lichen that will grow–these processes–carefully. I share with hope for a unified love of the exquisite nature of natural moments, everything joined at the hip, undivided, and for the continued liberty of life and the living. It is, in a way, a small act of resistance.
Now for version two (second person, as suggested by my Director of Studies, PhD)
Are you there, with your familiar peep of Blackbird under low light? I can just make out your browns and a dullish beak, my avian kin.
Small by comparison to others perched in this same gnarly hawthorn, you spy all the berries, flick your tail feathers, and hop from twig to twig. Mine is the quietest of observations; yours is the instinctive judgment of self within the whole floloca; an internal vision of the safe movements required to get from where you are now to the red haw ‘pomes,’ to put one in your beak and inside your belly. You are a patientist. Then, to fly in a straight line to your January nest in the scrub thicket below the dairy at the end of my road. Everything about you is loved by me, little bird. There’s a glint in your eye.
Your presence is the result of a flight of magnificence, from misty Baltic birch slopes to this moment by the Wye slick and threatening the city with flood. The crowd who came before—some resident, others transient—have scoured for bounty and found it. They have tested it for ripeness. They have spread the news: they made signs. And now you also know to be here, pulled by that bright UV light, a fourth primary colour we human sisters simply cannot see on waxy fruits that are good this Winter. The shine helps. If it should rub off, you won’t find them so well. Unlike some fruits, these ones are safe to eat. They will help you store energy in every cell of your body until early Spring, when you will thrive on worms and emerging insects, and lay eggs.
Ah, sister, to match your devotion! Standing perfectly still, staying present with your quickness and intelligence, my distractions would be unwanted, not even to raise a phone lens. Your food is too important.
Your birdish ability to fly through a jungle of twigs with ease is for all to see, and fewer to notice. You see unlike me ~ and this UV sight helps you navigate complexity without injury. How would the expanse of North Sea shine as you fly high over rough waves and whale backs, concrete ports and all those chimneys, to where my human sisters there, the foresters, speak Latvian?
How does UV reflect off of me?
You suddenly dive for the berries—no sparrowhawk about—pluck two from skinny stems with your beak, and launch away with a familiar “tweet de tweet twit twit” melting into a darkening night. You leave droppings of earlier morsels (and seed) on the twigs below for lichens to grow. A small feather that grew soft on your breast this summer drifts to the ground to be foraged as nesting material by sibling-long-tailed tit early tomorrow as the sun rises.
I am not afraid to tell you, I love you, and all these lives, as I care for this place–a happy place–down on the banks of the River Wye in Winter. I love the microbiota and the symbiotic relationships that sustain all the lives that exist right now, though the majority I can neither see nor hear.
Fluministic love means more than they think. It’s not a uniquely selfish act, but specific for this place linked in flows to all places, and little to do with the brain’s reward centres—though there is that. My life is an expression of your way in the flow, you as part of larger flows, that are part of the flows of life that distinguish planet Earth from all else yet known.
To my human kin, less talking about entanglements, please, still so separating–dividing–as if we are simply a knot to be undone. My paragliding days were filled with untangling tangled lines very quickly. Things that are entangled tend to start separate and end separate, and after a while, it’s too easy. Flow runs into itself and all matter, even in death. This is the truth continuum.
Blackbird, the things that creep in and out of the water beside us, the things that never enter the water, the things that never climb trees, share everything through drifts in the nagorasphere, as you do. It is felt by evoking the imagination—you have it, like the herons and the little egrets. This is a process too. Being a fluminist is a process. Are there any objects, ever? All is process through time and space.
Now to write about you, in all hope that others may wish to protect your interests in this constant dynamism, and to remember that flow exists between all lives, the true beauty of life to celebrate and protect. This place is held close, and this tree, you, these berries, and the lichen that will grow–these processes–and care-fully. We share hope, in our kindship, for a unified love of the exquisite nature of natural moments, everything joined at the hip, undivided, and for the continued liberty of life and the living. It is, in a way, our small act of resistance.
Trisense ~ an essay in three parts.
It’s barely possible to imagine the hem of her black or white dress resting close at the knee of a leather boot belonging to a soldier with so many children borne to another woman.
Metallic scents of expensive ink on expensive paper linger not in her room, but in her father’s office downstairs. She writes by hand, of course, in her bedroom, at a small, crafted desk and seated on a chair that is cut and waxed from some of the grandest trees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The glories of lilac and generations of bees flavour an ordinary lead pencil, maybe a sharp knife too, laid on the desk to carve a point. Her neck is long and pale, black hair wrapped into itself at the nape, and pinned. The line of her spine drops plumb as she breathes quick and anxious.
In bitter winter, Emily looks down through her window at a horse raising his snow-dusted hooves through drifts, the wheelwright’s toil rolling behind. They travel along the road to a neighbour, delivering to the town’s elite. Her brother’s children, released from next door, laugh in these memory grounds beneath the cold, white blanket surrounding the yellow house. She’s observed robin search for his worm at the edges, pecking at the frozen leaf piles. Her secret lover makes boot prints through her father’s garden to his place of work. He glances up to her window with a wry smile beneath his flamboyant well-groomed moustache.
Spring has raced through this year—the bulbs bursting with colour in the borders—purple crocuses, yellow daffodils with orange hearts, and pink and blue hyacinths—and then abandoned her. How must she feel? The petals have shaped her thoughts into words, but she is anxious that it will all end soon. This keeps her in with her thoughts.
In a summer heatwave, the warmth of wet soil in clay pots, and spiced leaves, drifts into her hair, and Emily throws open the conservatory windows. A bead of sweat runs across her brow when the nights are sultry. And there is fresh-pressed lavender-scented linen on her bed when thunder comes, especially when the leaves redden and fall to the first frosts.
Emily writes each letter one at a time until they make words, and lines like tiny rivers on the back of used envelopes, and orange telegrams—Baltimore orioles—and any scrap paper she can find. There is a slant of light, of truth, yes; that bright New England kind that contrasts even the palest patterned walls and white skirtings.
She writes again in her beautiful garden. Blue jays are gifts, red cardinals shock. The loud warbles of tiny Carolina wrens float along the perennial borders of the Homestead under an orderly, painted, hickory fence. Even the Magnolia tripetala leaves swelling through the winds of the Fall gently vibrate that same, perfectly hand-stitched hem just when their rosy red fruit cones are in their prime.
For now, thanks to Austin, I read they flourish beyond Homestead northward about two hundred miles from their native range and a degree of centigrade. You are all visionaries.
Emily mouths her own words quietly and sends them silently to a huge appetite denied in public spheres. The repression bubbles up, coded in decorum. Blood flows to her lips and through her fingertips. Skin on skin, under the skin of him, and her, then through the hand; hand through wood and lead; lead on manilla, and into her pocket. She can keep him there constantly, and no-one would ever know. She smiles, politely, at Lavinia.
If Emily had split a lark herself, somehow without harm, and peered into the microscope, she’d find her neighbour Lynn searching for the slanted truth, and source codes, and yellow, deep in a cell and the organelles. This place is where all the energy is, and all that lays in her pocket.
She’s young on her wedding day—nineteen, like my Mum. She looks happy, swept into the folds of intellectual love. As a child, she has a bright mind free to roam the woods, unhindered. Now, it’s a strong will to study, and to be with him, and to inspire. They have a child together—Dorian. They divorce.
From the liberal arts to a passion for the inquiring, challenging mind, science history, she keeps her hair tied, or short. And she cycles to a humming lab where she dwells on processes, where the black and white microscopes stand in rows. Soon, she is eye-deep in the cell and the organelles through the glass—the glascella—where she splits the minutiae larks, to think and theorize a new understanding. It’s that slant of light falling across all those pale, patterned neo-Darwinists with her rolling-into-words, honey Illinois.
But she takes all her nature in with her; all of it. Worms, termites, termite gut bacteria, birds, slimes, eukarya. And she knocks on the doors of the journals and they turn her away, until one day, the world just gently shifts on its axis. Life, it is proven (until disproved) is to be less anger, after all, and more love; an inter-kingdom of unions and sex and symbiosis, not war.
And Lynn falls in love again. We all do if we’re fortunate. I did. Two more children, all now flourishing, then another divorce—she’s a dedicated first-class scientist and author.
She writes her notes by hand/in type. Spirochetes spin their corkscrews in white cups, and she looks to all those men again and gently laughs. Her time is big moves, from Chicago Chickadees to the Dark-eyed Juncos of Berkeley and back again to the East. And more, to NASA, to Russia, to international councils of men, and time with mics in studios, and interviews with great writers. She’s blazing trails to lecture halls the length of the land.
Finally, Lynn finds her way home to Emily’s town and the grandfather’s college, where she is content as a botanist can be. She has moved next door to those Dickinson memory grounds. And they meet somehow over the hickory fence. Spring has raced through very fast this year—the bulbs bursting too late in the borders—and as Lynn writes through finger tips and plastic keys and memory boards in a summer heatwave, a bead of sweat runs across her brow. This is her place now, her Amherst. It’s friendships, yes Lovelock’s rainbows on Hungry Hill, and the geosciences where they also make art for her, and this is magic for her: an Earth so in sym as to be the sum.
As her children’s children laugh, her love grows for the sauce code in decorum written on manilla and chocolate wrappers just next door; Emily’s yellow. I’m listening to you, Lynn, as you swim forever wild in your Puffer’s Pond.
I have two lives. One is before Mum’s suicide and the other comes after that. Before, I am steered by the great events of those I love. After, comes a life of trauma and healing. In healing, I emerge, though trauma is never a singularity.
As a child, I have a bright mind free to roam the Herefordshire woods and streams, and listen to larks, unhindered. My hair is long, until the chemo, tied back into a wild bunch. We meet at college, where I design with black ink on whiteboards and read Zevi. He maps gold and reads Lopez. Then, in Welsh borderlands, he gives me tandems, and our dog, and daily walks. And I know these hills like the memory grounds. After walks under rainbows on Hungry Hill, our daughter comes, and life seems the best adventure. We go to that New England light (Chickadee) and wade through Pacific waves under the Aotearoan cloud (Tui). And I still love him for that. Big moves.
But the after comes, and terrible trauma brings anger and control, and it takes a long time in the city between the Taff and the Ely for me to leave. But I do, and I find new, deep love. And so to this intellectual bird love—of Cardiff Dippers and Albert’s Lyrebirds—I too receive a wry smile—and the hems and leather boots are in symbiosis with visions of a new epoch itself. I have scribbled in pencil on manilla envelopes our word, mirrors. They also know before and after, a lonely place to be.
How dull would life be without you, Emily and Lynn, and I pocket all the slant light and symbiogenesis I can mine in your words, forming my own thoughts and words, pushing all the hickory fences back. I mouth my own words to a huge appetite denied in public spheres. Love is never sentimentalism. Blogs (light of all the seasons) are my instruments—plastic keys— and Twitter, though there is control there and it can make me unhappy. There’s a beautiful book too, thanks to my friend Riechmann, in a language my daughter knows well. And I relish, too, the visceral art with Lyons under Welsh sleet ~ ah, the Elan horses.
You see, I grew up in my mother’s rambling garden with hardly an edge into the wild of the wood and the streams. And I tended a glasshouse, just like Emily, the warmth of wet soil in clay pots, and spiced leaves in my hair. I climbed mountains and even flew them (the Red Kites). But it was Dad who always tasked me to question. We cared for each other in the after, and I held his hand as he breathed his last. I miss him.
And to abandonment and cancer ~ how must I feel? I am still here above red sandstone, standing at the confluences. Deep down here, there are all the five Kingdoms in symbiosis spreading to cover the entire Earth. I can’t tell you, Lynn, what ten thousand miles away means, and what ten thousand miles back feels. Straight down, beneath my feet, all of time. And then to record them, and the loss ~ each mile ~ with my tiny, black mic, pinned to my pale, patterned blouse.
Daughter’s voice has grown strong in justice and language, like the river, and I learn from her. Meanwhile, I wait and write, and walk each day to Kingfishers and Goosanders, with Heron-like patience; at other times none at all, like the gleam of a Peregrine’s strike. I live Rilke’s questions, searching along my own Amethyst Brook or Connecticut—The Edw and the Wye— imagining all the spirochetes, searching too for the light beneath my own versions of Magnolia tripetala and all their subsoil mycelium lovers and sunshine. Nothing is separate: All is flow, my rivers, yellow, and that gentle shift of the axis.
Lynn, you asked me for new words, a source code, so I give them to you. Emily, I understand you and the blood to the lips. I feel like we are the lichen on my Mum’s grave, the trisense; it takes three in symbiosis—the alga, and two types of fungi (an ascomycete and a newly identified basidiomycete yeast), but all three must have that colour.
Peat Bogs and Pwca Tribes.
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?
My own mental wellbeing, welldoing.
I just want to note this moment in terms of my own mental health. As an ecophilosopher, I do not separate myself from my thoughts. It would be like ripping me apart, limb from limb. I write about life-love as a devotion, and I am similarly devoted to my cause. These are exceptional and difficult times, and it is important to recognise despair and kindle hope. If someone attacks my core devotion, and any attempt to recognise despair and kindle hope, they are attacking me.
I can take legitimate critiques of the results of my philosophical work, particularly critiques of my literary inadequacies, but not the fact that I work at all. I can take legitimate criticism of neologisms I craft, but not that I craft them at all nor the approach I take. I can take criticism of the contributions I make on social media, but not that I am a woman doing these things. Being overlooked is, I think, one of the biggest struggles of women at work. Neither do I appreciate ideas stolen from beneath me. They are gifts, of course, but I expect some reciprocal credit, especially from revered and financially successful writers.
Being a woman on social media is harder than being a man. That’s not what frustrates me most, drives my anger, self-doubt and depression. It is that my daughter faces all of this, and more. It’s tough enough facing a life with a tsunami of complex problems swallowing our beautiful Earth. That women (including trans women, especially black women), are not treated with equal respect into the future is desperately wrong.
I have written before about my experiences of 2008, so I don’t want to rake it all over. In short, I had as severe an episode of trauma as one can have without ending it all. After finding my mother’s body after her suicide, I nearly followed her into those depths of eternal nothingness. The shock and the guilt. If it were not for the light of my beautiful young daughter, the unbroken affection for and from Ben-dog, and the right help found by my husband at the time, I would not be here at all. I remember the searing feeling of a tear in my frontal cortex *, that moment of choice.
Moving home from Cardiff, Wales, to Hereford, England, straight after an appendectomy, has meant this last few weeks have been hard. Anxieties about my type 3 cancer returning bubble away. And I work hard to recognise them as such. The good news is that I returned to the woods behind the house where I grew up, where I found Mum, and I felt good about being there. I was not terrified, nor miserable. I still know these woods intimately, after all these years. I noticed where the new owners have taken out single trees for their wood burner. But there, in the young wood (see photo above), in the company of my now 16 year old beautiful daughter, I recorded my thoughts for Melissa Harrison’s brilliant podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things, episode 25 on Healing, and you are welcome to listen to it here.
Despite progress, I am still vulnerable to shocks. I struggle with keeping my anxieties on a leash. The deep sadness of a failed marriage, and a frustrated love. There is no perfect life after trauma, but there is perfection in the imperfection. I am still dependent upon medications that also drive appetite as a side effect. Covid and weight have a co-morbidity. I have put on too much weight, so I am reducing my dose, reducing my weight. I am unsettled, whilst also beginning PhD studies. But these studies are important to me. I am holding them very close, in the spirit of Frankl’s love and meaning, my own welldoing.
- Since documented by my Psychiatrist at the time, and discussed at a conference with my consent.
Beavers are Fluminists.
Beavers are Fluminists. By Ginny Battson. First published by Zoomorphic October 9th 2017.
Spring 2005, and I peer through my living room window to check the weather. It’s looking good, the sun is out. My husband has left for a day’s work at UMaine Orono, so I lower my baby girl into her papoose and strap her in. We are through the fly screen door and out onto the road.
The residential lots of leafy Gilbert Street are studded with blue and red flags, remnants of last winter’s political war that saw Republican oilmen G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney take charge of the Whitehouse for a second term. With Ben-dog on a long leash, we follow the battle flags west, casting purple shadows ahead of us. We walk past classic-style weatherboard homes and gas guzzling SUVs slewn across hardstandings until we find the end of the road. Tarmac gives way to paper birch and alder and we greet the softer edge of the great American Eastern Deciduous Forest. It feels like a rite of passage.
In the human realm, I am entering The Orono Land Trust, a public/private non-profit organization, legally banding sections of post-logging and regenerating northern hardwood forest together for the purpose of wildlife protection and local enjoyment. This forest seems fairly tame compared to the great national parks of Maine like the Katahdin Woods or the rugged Mahoosuc Notch of the Appalachian Trail. But even here, surrounded by roads, including the Interstate 95, I have seen fresh black bear scratches oozing sap from bark. It’s not like entering the woods back home in Wales.
Elbows in, we slip-slide down a wet path to the Johnny Mack Brook where olive reflections of a newly unfurled canopy merge with black and silver melt water. Better still, this is the realm of Castor canadensis, the North American beaver, larger than their Eurasian counterpart, maybe up to 60lbs of large, brown rodent. And they dwell intensely here on the easy inclines of the Johnny Mack; signature gnawings, dams, lodges, mud ramps and woody debris in droves. I long for my baby to see a wet nose or a rippling flank in the stream. But they are largely nocturnal, and we’re a little late in the morning.
As First Nationers shaped the North American landscape by brush fire, up to some four hundred million beavers shaped it by water. But these eager river-keepers were almost obliterated in the 19th Century, not least by the huge British Hudson Bay Company. Armies of trappers were sent into the woods and onto the plains, with a blood-lust for warm pelts to make felt hats and hard cash. And in killing the beaver, the outlanders changed the very nature of the land, and wounded the culture of the indigenous peoples, in gun trade and disease. When only one hundred thousand beavers or so remained in Canadian territory, a new European fashion for silk hats ended the profit in beavers. Perhaps, if it were not for Grey Owl (Archie Belaney), and others who followed, ‘Ahmik’ would never have returned to its North American range and beyond. Yet, even today, beaver numbers are a fraction of what they used to be, with so much more habitat swallowed up by human development and agriculture. And still they are hunted and persecuted in some quarters.
I learn from rivers, as do the beavers. I spend time in and around them, observing and sensing. Two and a half thousand years ago, the ancient philosopher Heraclitus also wrote on the profound things he learned from rivers. In an age before science, he looked for guiding principles in nature. What he found in rivers was a permanence in a reality of apparent change. All is flux, a matrix of matter and movement. The river is an analogy for an elemental cosmos, yet materially effervescent. Rivers are also life systems ~ complex and dynamic.
Beavers, the river keepers, have evolved to be more than the sum of themselves. Beavers live in the life-flow, interrupt and send it in multiple directions. Known to ecologists as ‘keystone,’ First Nationers instead call them ‘sacred centres’ of the land. For they are whirling hubs of life-influence and life-confluence, integral to the flow just as mind cannot be separated from body. They are dam and bridge builders, storing water at times of plenty for times of drought. They sequester carbon by trapping it in fluvial muds that eventually become rich soils. They are coppicers; the trees they fell to feed upon and rear their young will regenerate, beaver-cuts catalyzing a diversity of plant and animal life. They are also wildlife protectors ~ during winter, woody debris left trapped behind dams are buried beneath deep snow, and provide shelter for a host of smaller mammals and reptiles during the bitter cold. And then, when the northern hemisphere tips nearer to the Sun, melt water form reservoirs and a rising water table, creating habitat for amphibians and a plethora of bird species, including waterfowl ~ wood duck and heron, migratory waders and passerines. New lentic deeps amongst woody debris provide fish fry safe passage to grow to adulthood. Majestic osprey take the adults. In lotic flows downstream, clouds of black fly larvae lay submerged, attached to substrate with silk, to emerge in spring and breed, then feed the bats that hunt on the wing above the beaver-cuts. The dams may eventually blow-out by flood, and the beavers will find new territory. Upstream, moose rear young on regenerating meadow grasses years after dams are abandoned. This really is rich habitat; the smell of river, wood and beaver is intoxicating.
If beavers could speak human, they may also say;
“Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not.” (Heraclitus Homericus B49a)
Heraclitus appeals to both human courage and sensibility ~ step into the rivers, into the cool and wet of rushing water, the flow of being. Just do it, and you shall be rewarded. We are agents of action. On the Johnny Mack, my little family and I look for beavers, as we smell the air and touch the cold waters of the stream. It’s life affirming.
I believe as we too are nature, we must recognize in ourselves a similar power for good, in that we may step into the flow, generating abundance and diversity within our one biosphere. But as with beavers, our impacts must be transient not permanent, of locale and the seasons. If we decide not to step into the flow, to remain without experience, then we deny ourselves the fullness of being. Our senses wake us to the world. Watch the beavers in their pure devotion to task, and you’ll understand.
More, step into the flow with that same devotion, and strengthen all life around us. We have exerted huge and irreversible pressures on this magnificent Earth, scavenging and parasitising by feeding from the produce of such sublime natural processes. We’ve broken ecological webs and warped the very climatic and nutrient cycles that sustain all. Nature responds to disturbance as evolutionary opportunity, but too much of a ‘hit’ and process may take hundreds of thousands of years to counter. The beaver and river exist now, intrinsically valuable, but, in union, a lesson for the human race.
Required is a critical mass of devotion, previously unknown in human history, as there are now more humans than ever before. Leaders still fixated with a ravenous desire for money and status need to be left behind. And part of this newly found devotion will also be to reduce our impacts, decolonizing just a little, for our animal-kin to flourish a little more.
Beavers are sometimes food for other species. Black bears and coyotes prey on adults. The spectacular Great Horned Owl will rear her young in an old great blue heron nest, and a beaver kit may well end up in their devoted beaks. The beavers’ sacrifice, unlike our own Western death, is more obviously complete. This devotion, the love for life and living, is a force without which there’d be no life. It is ancient ~ a form of love so powerful as to energise evolution. I imagine the story lies deep in the earliest records of life, somewhere, tucked away perhaps, in stromatolites, which supplied Earth with no less than oxygen itself. Colossal devotion must have existed in the face of all hostility and, as a metabolizing strength, within and between us now, and of all living beings into the future. As we move into increasingly turbulent times, the union of the beaver and the river is a devotion of incalculable value, a love, I suggest, worthy of the deepest respect.
Perhaps what also set Heraclitus apart from early Western predecessors was his view that the Logos, the principle of order and knowledge, is within us all. We are part of nature and subject to its ﬂuidity. We are a unity of forces in ﬂux. If we recognise our potential, we all morph into type. We can become beaver people, positively distributing and strengthening the flow of life beyond the sum of ourselves. I expect the Panawahpskek peoples of Maine and to the North always knew it. The patterns of life and cosmic order are dynamic, not uniform, the perfection of imperfection generating even more diversity.
So to my own eco-philosophy, that has riparian roots drawing sustenance from a small Maine river. It is one acknowledging both intrinsic value of all living beings, including humans, and their contribution to infinite and dynamic process. Existence and flow cannot be separated. I perceive flow, to and from all dimensions, including ones we are yet to fully comprehend. The complexity is endless, the minutiae beautiful. There are diatoms and microbes by the million in the Johnny Mack. They are a basic foundation of life, part of the long chains of living process across space and time, but we cannot see them with our eyes. Can we ever know everything? It need not matter. So, I introduce the word Fluminism: an interconnected narrative of a dynamic universe; there is flow to and from all dimensions, including ones we are yet to understand. The complexity is endless, the minutiae beautiful.
The next step, being a Fluminist, means ethical consequences of my actions are good, in that they are of parity with a biosphere conducive to the flourishing of intrinsically valuable, existential life. Beavers may disrupt hydrological flow for their basic needs, stalling it as it travels from mountains to ocean. But in doing so, they accelerate the distribution of flow in multiple and complex directions. A closed system opens. Entropy shifts to enthalpy and the consequences can be sensed, measured and celebrated across space-time. We, as agents, are able to protect and perpetuate the flow, coming from that same deep devotion, as in the beavers ~ beavers are Fluminists.
From the niche desires of flourishing individuals, beavers, engaging in what they do best, I see their agency as a distinct form of love ~ innate of themselves, through and to other living beings. From within to without, there is no separation. Love has had a tough time. It’s hounded as weak, ephemeral and sentimental. But truest love is also a doing word, a vital emotional signal to act on what matters most to us all. If one describes Fluminism, beyond an evolutionary, genetic biophilia and see it as an energetic force, not only towards our one biosphere, to non-human life, but towards each other. In consequence, we may see the kind of society forming envisioned by the political theorist, communalist and libertarian anarchist, Murray Bookchin. I will leave the political ecology largely aside for now, but Fluminism, I see as key relevance to shape a society un-reliant on the disconnection of state and citizen we see today. Instead, it grants empowerment of everyone via personal, local and communal responsibility for all life. Environmental ethics must now be fluministic (love/flows) to help unblock those barriers that are so un-beaverlike that they persist in depauperating, not enriching, the biosphere.
Fast forward to January 2017, and the Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst publish research predicting temperatures across the northeastern United States will increase much faster than the global average. The average annual temperature in both Maine and Vermont rose by 2.5 degrees, roughly double the average warming of the rest of the nation. The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to curb emissions in order to limit global averages increases by 2 degrees Celsius, but in Maine they will be reached about 20 years earlier, comparatively. The current elected President refuses to partake in the accord, so poor is his understanding of our biosphere. And so much for America First. The anti-fluminists have left a legacy of world chaos and a strange, paradoxical darkness looms where gas flares still burn. Trump’s election has been an unfathomable stamp of fatuity.
The further north, the bigger the climatic disparity. As Arctic sea-ice melts, the darker ocean warms by absorbing more sunlight, further melting ice and emitting heat to disrupt and stall the jet stream. This creates longer, more extreme weather events and shifts the geographical pattern of cold and warm air fronts. 2016 – 2017 has seen the highest winter temperatures on record in the Arctic Basin, with the least number of accumulated freezing days. No-one is entirely certain what comes next, especially as the global control of total emissions is still in some doubt. But more extreme weather events are predicted and the oceans are rising and thermally expanding much faster than expected. We are now witnessing rapid change. What was once Arctic tundra is now hosting early woodland succession, and increased humidity and precipitation in the form of snow means soils are warmer than would otherwise be, activating the microbes that break down carbon as it unlocks itself from melting permafrost. Whole biomes are on the move. Where willow saplings take root, the beavers will naturally follow. They are creating biodiverse wetlands in new terrain, whilst tundra species are increasingly marginalised. Observations are now recorded of beavers reaching as far north as the Babbage River on the coastal plains of the Beaufort Sea, Yukon Territory, never seen before in human memory.
Aquatic wetland is a major natural source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere, and in beaver habitats, microbes will break down the organic matter trapped above their constructions. But in creating wetland and higher water tables, beavers are also preventing soil erosion, storing water during times of drought, and sequestering carbon-rich woody debris buried in boggy meadows by as much as 23% of total soils. Beavers have been busy at work for millennia under a relatively stable climate. It is human industrialisation, development and emissions that have caused the tipping points we see today. Biospheric flows have dampened to an alarming extent. Life on Earth is trying to adapt, of course, though so often blocked again by more soil sealing, more fragmentation of habitats and increased fires and floods.
Maine is deeply cold in winter, steel-frost and snow-bound, some nights temperatures dropping to way below -35 Celsius. But spring is short, maybe two or three weeks before breaking through to the sultry summers of the continental east, and ecological emanation happens in such a short period. Rising temperatures bring spring earlier ~ the further north one travels, the more extreme. And there are now serious phenological mismatches in delicately balanced food chains. So much so, the US National Park Service is now having to redefine management programmes and visitor calendars, such as citizen science counts of migratory raptors, and funding longer seasons in tackling invasive species. Back in 2004, the Republican Bush/Cheney partnership with Oil and Gas strengthened at the White House. Nearly $400 million was spent on lobbying federal government, and millions more were passed in donations to federal candidates and political action committees. The support received, by return, came in droves ~ tax breaks, environmental exemptions and deregulation, international facilitation and direct subsidies. We’ve seen a greater proportion of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere as a consequence. Those oil men are culpable for disrupting the very essence of life on this Earth, dynamic process, the flow. But no-one claims responsibility.
A relatively large proportion of Maine’s species, 37%, are highly vulnerable to climate change, particularly plants, fungi, lichens and mammals. Alpine, high elevation forest, and peatland habitats are most at risk. Thankfully, the vertebrate species pool is dominated by adaptable generalists, and a high percentage of forest cover also offers resilience. But even in Maine, suitable areas for species and habitats moving from the southern New England and Mid-Atlantic states must now be accommodated, whilst planning partnerships formed with the neighbouring Canadian provinces for a similar northward movement.
Despite a laceration of roads and other human pressures, nearly a thousand acres of conservation easement have been connected by the OLT. Such conservation easements, “running with the land” in perpetuity, are a significant form of nature-protection in the US and are mapped at the National Conservation Easement Database. Certain property rights are voluntarily restricted for the purpose of nature conservation and sometimes in exchange for tax breaks. Specific objectives can be agreed by stakeholders and subdivision for human development is prevented. All the while, sustainable agriculture and forestry may continue, but emphasis veers towards shared benefits, for humans and non-humans alike. I was enlightened by the passion and generosity of those involved, the action of those who love life. The connectivity and place for species movement is vital to address the shortcomings of those who would ignore their own life support system and will not take responsibility for their actions. Scientists are mapping migration routes plus working to predict and map climate refugia zones (local anomalies in climate), providing hope for ailing ecosystems and some resilience for species. And universities, institutes and The National Parks Service are offering land owners access to free advice, despite failed political leadership. There is hope. And there is love. To a great extent, this is evidence of Fluminism in action.
Later on that same spring day, in 2005, my daughter and I are again criss-crossing the OLT footpaths.We’ve seen porcupines very busy at dusk, with attack-tails ready to swipe and launch a fateful of quills should a fisher attack. Ben has suffered himself, more than once, each time ending in a trip to the vet in Veazie. So we’ve left him at home this time. From another little foot-bridge over the brook, serenaded by an ecophony of river, we gaze across the water and there are still no beavers willing to reveal themselves. I look deep into slit-vistas between lichen encrusted white pine and red spruce, glimpsing a luminous white tail of a white-tailed deer under hemlock. Before now, we’ve seen eastern coyotes, apparitional in dapple light. I know there are bobcats, but I never see them, but the chipmunks are a treat and my baby daughter smiles when they chatter angrily as we pass. We navigate north by fallen white pines, and other natural landmarks on the trail now stored in my memory. We’re on our way to Rampe’s Lot, a key part of the OLT.
The Rampe’s live a generous life working in public and private health care, and they are good to us. They love wild things and so contributed to the OLT with a good tract of regenerating forest. It was Nancy who first showed me the special vernal pools, liquid light mirroring the skies amidst the bryophytes, and the flutterings of re-introduced wild turkeys as they disappeared from view. Considering their small size, these wet depressions in the forest floor, left by blocks of melting ice abandoned during the grand retreat of ice-age glaciation, also host a huge array of species. Snow melts and lingers in these depressions for a while, often stained red with springtails. And because they don’t host fish, they are hotbeds for invertebrate life, particularly as breeding sites for amphibians like the blue-spotted salamander and wood frog. Soon the reptiles are drawn in. Then the wild turkeys and racoons will come. And so, up through the trophic cascade until those glorious great horned owls and bobcats come to prowl.
The state of Maine registers the vernal pools as Significant Wildlife Habitat zones, legally protecting them from destruction and development. Yet some landowners may not even realise the conservation significance of them on their land. Thanks to the dedication of academics like A.J. Calhoun and citizens like Nancy Rampe, knowledge sharing via community outreach informs better decision making at local government level. UMaine’s Department of Wildlife Ecology is contributing to the Vernal Pool Mapping and Assessment Program, locating sites and researching the importance of juvenile dispersal and habitat connectivity for successful amphibian adulthood. But with climate changing so rapidly, the vernal pools may well disappear. Increased winds, tree blowdown and the risk of forest fire all stage a real threat. Research by the State University of New York, Syracuse shows beavers may well be providing key wetland refugia for, at least, some of these species. As most wood frogs breed only once in their lifetimes, a prolonged drought resulting in no production from vernal pools may well necessitate recolonization by dispersers from beaver ponds. Spotted salamanders are longer-lived, breeding several times, lowering risk of local extinctions during drought. Further studies may well reveal closer ties but I expect the elders of the Penobscot Nation have an understanding of these patterns.
As we are seeing, it is no longer a question of conserving one species over another, the usual triage of charity towards wild non-human life. We need to protect the interconnectedness of all, and each one of us, with all our varied interests and lines of work, can participate. We need Fluminists, like Nancy and the researchers at Umaine, who love these species and habitats, and understand the dynamism of all the interconnections which constitute life. And we need them to mentor others. The flow is sent in multiple directions, with abundance and biodiversity in tow.
By example, allowing primary and secondary succession, along with the planting of indigenous vegetation, we can encourage life to flourish in individual yet interconnected self-willed patterns. To actively prevent by soil-sealing (e.g., concreting), is the opposite. We can assess empirically the abundance and biodiversity of our own practices, celebrate successes and learn from our mistakes. So many have forgotten the beauty of observing and participating in such local, natural processes. Human contentment and happiness may spring from living an interconnected and more coexistent life. Vitally, the cultivation of land for food will no longer be a threat, but an opportunity to nurture the dynamic flows of non-human life alongside what we do, like the sacred centres ~ the beavers. From shop keeping to health care provision, from clothes production to local planning, everyone can take part, or stand in for those who simply cannot through no fault of their own. Fluminism is egalitarian.
Long-term or permanent breaks in the flow are anti-Fluministic, and the accumulation of many breaks, or stops, becomes detrimental to the existence of life in the form of tipping points. Examples are tragically many, generated largely within the sphere of unsustainable human development, anthropogenic climate change, pesticide use, socio-political and economic doctrines promoting unlimited growth and inequality. However, there may be pauses in flow that remain Fluministic, in that they may appear to prevent flow, such as ‘natural disasters,’ but are only temporary or cyclical (e.g., volcanism), in time and space.
Fluministic love drives action from within to without and, no doubt, there are positive effects and affects that will return to the self. But it is the local communality where real strength is to be found, strengths expended in a multiplicity of ways across cultures, regions, terrestrial and oceanic biomes, in science and the humanities. Some may commune with a collective consciousness in all, a spiritual interconnection ~ Indra’s net in constant flux. And indigenous peoples with local, endemic knowledge and philosophy will bring much to collective understanding. Opportunities exist all over the world, in the critical formation of corridors and pathways that allow for continuous flow of species to survive, adapt and move, and in traditional and transformed practices such as permaculture, satoyama and satoumi. By placing Fluminism at the centre of decision-making, many new ways of sharing our biosphere viably with humans and non-humans may arise.
In the reductionist scientific world, and in an over-emphatic obsession with limiting cognitive bias, love has been rejected all too often as excessively romantic and sentimental. But science itself has evidentially recognised that moral judgments and ethical actions cannot be devoid of emotion. Rationality and emotion are evolutionarily conjoined, and with good purpose. Emotions need to be recognised in order to take action. To deny that the primary emotion of love exists is to deny its huge potential, a love for life, for our young, and their young, for a sense of place and life all around us. Eros lives, and thank goodness for that. Of course, there’s competition. And conflict. There is even death. But such antagonisms are no less parts of the interconnectedness of all, in the flows of the elements, of water, geology, relationships, companionship, lust, reproduction, time, tides, place, trophic cascades, air, dynamism, weather, music, biodiversity, universes, entropy and enthalpy.
There are many more fluministic species, mutualisms and cause-effect processes that offer us knowledge and hope as we aim to exit the Anthropocene epoch into the Symbiocene. The Pacific Salmon Forest is a beautiful example (true beauty shines in those dynamic interconnections). There are human Fluminists, like the Rampe’s, the people behind the Orono Land Trust, The Penobscot Nation, and those at the Department of Wildlife Ecology at UMaine. And community programmes like the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative of New South Wales and the work of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust ~ the contribution and responsibilities volunteered are Fluminism in action, the legalities being just one means to that end.
Back to the Maine woods, and it’s getting late. I’m a little bit edgy because the light is falling. As I hurry back with my baby over the bridge towards Gilbert, we hear the slap of a scaly, flat tail hitting the water ~ splash. I stop and turn us around to follow the sound. My eyes adjust to the watery scene. And there is the beaver, Fluminist, swimming, with a wet, brown head visible for a moment and shiny eyes, before diving beneath the inky reflections of a darkening sky. She’s warning others we are here. Though we’d never harm her, others might. I feel at peace knowing she is here, knowing she has a rich intrinsically valuable life, full of love for this world in the river she understands so intimately. I point her out to my baby who instinctively feels both the joy and excitement. Formative moments, for sure. There is so much yet to learn from Ahmik, Fluminist, and I walk us home full of awe and gratitude.
The Emergent Urgent
I think it’s time we looked at time scales in terms of ‘doing’. The reality is the need for immediate change. Today. That everyone is not participating today is complex, but there’s real truth in urgency.
The use of the word ’emergency’ has been severely compromised. I have read on Twitter a defense of using the phrase ‘long emergency.’ A long emergency is about as useful as a flying brick, a nonviable dialectic – AN OXYMORON. People need to understand the urgency, in mitigation and adaptation.
Western techno-industrial values, competition, fear, consequential life-styles and the general global devaluation of life for markets, that lead to habitat loss, emissions, poverty, racism, failing democracy, dictatorship, xenophobia, North-South divides, nationalism ~ please feel free to add more ~ are failing all living beings.
What we have are emerging urgencies, and we’d do well to articulate and address them.
One such Emergent Urgent is to spread the news that the globalized financial sector is not going to save lives. We must create a local, bioregional flow of support for one another and all life. We have to stop giving up our power, and giving Power excuses to wait or knock back decisions into the laps of our children and grandchildren.
Compassionate and immediate transitions are possible. COVID19 shows that immediacy is necessary, and can happen street to street. Successful countries have acted immediately and, in good part, compassionately. The same it is now on action to slow the Climate Bomb.
This is not apart from the moral imagination required in creating new/ancient world orders based on the ethics of care (in the natural sense), though we do need more. Lots more.
We already have a pool of understanding between us on some of the key changes forquired in all aspects of society, enough to begin (it’s already begun). But too many are holding on to the natural capitalist ethic, the ‘ecomodern’, and new billionaire colonialism; perpetuation of capitalist failure ~ dominantly white, eurocentric and male. It’s harmful.
The response to the climate, ecological and human empathy/imagination crises (Earth Crisis), is The Emergent Urgent.
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