On Climate as the Dominant Meme.

Rain shapeshifts the trees and their unseen communities through glass. Photo by me.

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.

Hydrosphere
Geosphere
Biosphere
Atmosphere

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.

Words matter.

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.

~~~~

 

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

The Emergent Urgent, Photo by me.

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.

~~~~~~

 

Audio

 

 

 

 

 

Into the dust ~ a quick note.

I have to be honest with you, friends. I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. An utterly inept and dangerous government is one thing, but that anyone might still support it is now utterly beyond me. Couple this with a lack of British publisher support for ecophilosophy, as it is deemed not to be saleable on the market, and I have fallen into a hole.

We are into the realms of a new kind of popular, selfish ineptitude, and disregard for the value of life. Let’s see how these so-called ‘leaders’ and their ilk fare, when idolatry capitalism eventually crashes into dust, leaving a trail of loss, bloodshed and heartache never seen before in the history of mankind.

Climate and nature loss, including rapid soil depletion and ocean harm, and subsequent human migration/refugees, will travel through us all in ‘shocks.’ This immoral government, and ones to follow, are just about the worst you could pick to deal with any of it, fanning the flame of ‘self’.

But the following just happened, and I feel even more pessimistic. Sorry.

I posted to my local mutual aid facebook group, set up in hopeful generosity to help others due to COVID19. I asked, on behalf of the nesting birds all around us right now, could people think twice about setting off fireworks. A full display had taken place right next to my neighbours’ home late the other night ~ my neighbours being lesser black backed gulls among the chimney pots. Along with many other birds at this time of year, they have been devoted to incubating eggs and keeping chicks warm. It has been a privilege to observe their utter devotion. During the recent high and chilling winds, any abandonment would be fatal.

But my post has been deleted after a row broke out between locals, when some asserted the ‘right’ for humans to enjoy fireworks to mark life events, verses many more who find all kinds of reasons to be unsettled and frightened, of loud, abrupt, un-notifiable, explosions in the community. Some think it’s a trivial matter to risk and kill birds ~ abject cruelty. They even appealed to the emotion of empathy to justify this ‘right’, suggesting it was a demonstration of grief!

They have completely detached from biological reality. Covid19 itself came from an utter disregard for nature!

When wild lives are disturbed or terrorized, their relatively benign co-evolved viruses begin to shed, jumping species and reproducing in our poorly adapted immune systems. Avian bird flu is yet another virus easily flushed out of birds, and into us. The answer is never to destroy wildlife, but to live in peace and symbiosis, and therefore in strength.

Biological reality is that all are connected. Our life-on-Earth system is like a complex circulatory system. Cut it deep, and we will all bleed out. Everyone deserves to understand this, and develop a new outlook.

We need to think beyond ourselves, and value all life for its own sake. If we do not find a way of teaching everyone the importance of this fact, and publishing ideas and ideals to reach this end, the suffering will be unspeakable. There may or may not be a lag between events and suffering, depending on how wealthy ‘we’ are ~ equity and justice are so pivotal to outcomes.

But more events will come.

~~~~~~

Audio, including a more optimistic introduction – a chick has been born! I was also distracted by, as usual, all the activity on my roof terrace. I thought it would be fun to post, regardless. x

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bheramon

Lismore Lighthouse, nr Oban. Photo by me.

“Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

So much fury is coming our way, those of us who bear the burden of understanding extreme capitalism, and the vast global inequity it perpetuates, is fuelling Earth Crisis.  The more we shine the light, the more profound the insecurity of those who benefit from it. From the alt-right to the eco-modernists, we are the object of increasing anger.

I want to re-visit the proto Indo-European bher ~ to carry, to bear.

We carry a weight of understanding, wading upstream through a mud-river-torrent of climate volatility, scrambling up mountains of human debris from the hurricanes to come.

I offer bhera as the strength to deliver this specific value-shift to post-growth, post-capitalist civilization.

Suffix mon (PIE) and we are the becoming of the carrying of this weight, this duty. We are the bearers of this news.

The collective, Bheramon.

United, we can help each other in the face of hostility.

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

 

Water, microbes, life, climate ~ exploring Fluminism.

 

24661005390_e71ddf7187_bPhoto by me.

When water pulses through our blood vessels, and through all existence, it branches and converges with an array of forces. By hydrodynamics and changes of state, it braids sky with earth, underworld with ocean.

Seven billion human souls are dependent on water, yet we are a small measure of its flow. Beauty and complexity abounds, in the form of life, in and around it. Beings flourish in the smallest of mountain springs, among the echos of the karst underworld, in the greatest living rivers and down in the deep blue sea. When water falls as rain through a forest canopy, it soaks through the humus, and all awaiting lifeforms spring up, out and, importantly, together. A wave of nutrients flow outwards, carried by water’s own intrinsic nature, but also by the animals it nurtures. When water gathers to channels and wells, life bathes and there seems more certainty in the world.

Water gives life, and some say life made some of the water. Earth is a shiny blue dot lit up by a star, a place in space where water has gathered uniquely from within rock and deep without, pulled from a vast universe of dark matter and energy.

Zillions of microbes gathered at first in water to settle and then to colonise Earth. All other life has evolved to encompass them. They do not simply live alongside, but on us and within us, directing moods and determining the sex of some species.

Water is flow. Microbes are flow.

Raindrops fall with gravitational force, impacting various structures of leaves and soils in complex ways, dispersing microbes and carrying them afar in the bioaerosols created. I observe that evaporating snow may work in similar ways. Water and microbes are interconnected.

Life IS climate, climate IS life. There is no separation. All is flow.

A mathematician would perceive inordinate complexity in a matrix of interconnectedness. There is no single rule, save there is no single rule. Bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and viruses all converse in chemisignals. The world is never, ever truly silent. And we are never physically separate, but wholly interconnected.

Microbes relay messages to the collective. They commune. Microbes are mind, and determined, a challenge to Darwinian thoughts of success derived from catalogues of failure. Success, it seems, is intent and attempt, rather than failure after failure. This new knowledge of microbial wisdom supports cooperative evolution. We, as humans, are an extention. We, and our genome, can determine our future in order to fairly flourish. Suffering will always be part of the matrix, though we can choose to reduce it by our own actions. There is responsibility, not administered by authoritarianism but by generous, informed self-will. I am now interested, at least, in noimetics, but flow, as dynamic and interconnected life, is a constant love, because that is the quintessential nature of the evolution of life.

Imagination is an evolved gift, we can imagine goals, articulate them in a collective consciousness, like the microbes. And with both rationale and affect, set out to achieve them. There is fluministic love in ‘doing’ these things for the promotion of life’s interconnectedness. Those that imagine and act on this better world are Fluminists. This love is a doing word.

We also know that water and microbes can be a force majeur that overwhelms and destroys. We’ve seen it across the world this last month. Some have felt it. The destruction, loss of life and loved-ones, not just human, has been traumatising. Water and mudslides have ripped into community, clawing and scraping the toxins left recklessly about, draining them into the rivers and eventually to the sea. There will be more human disease as the climate shifts and life migrates. There has always been, but we will see new forms and strengths in others, and across other species ~ animals and plants. The collective immunity will take time to adapt. The way we apply our own lives to the interconnected flow is shown frequently to be a dis-ease. We can change. It will take commitment and a collective mind, like the microbes. It will take Fluminism and Soliphilia.

To not commodify, but to sanctify.
To aid and multiply life flow, not destroy it.

These are my noimetic meanings. I can only hope they ‘affect’ you in some essential way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The sound of rain on leaves….

The Rainbow Serpent, Aborginal Art…

 

 

Has the world gone mad?

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Statue of Sir Peter Scott, London Wetland Centre, by Ginny Battson © 2014

 

“The world has gone mad.”

I am hearing this often in my particular sprachraum (the Anglosphere, at least), off-line and on-line, an almost daily occurrence from one quarter or another. Along with a sharply rising global temperature mean, record breaking norm-shattering meteorology and ice-melt across consecutive months, we are witnessing regressive steps in socio-political relationships; intolerance and prejudice gaining traction as some kind of reactive protest against uneven wealth distribution and increasing migration of the dispossessed. The far right have their heads up for the main-chance. This is deeply worrying to those with a conscience.

Yet still, so few engage with what all urgently need to discuss ~ our relationship with Planet Earth, our home amidst a sixth mass extinction, the source of our very existence and our ultimate survival kit, regardless of who or to what our perceived moral community extends. Moreover, the intrinsic value of life, all life, and the processes and interconnections between all.

Never have we been so vast in number. Never have we, or any other living being, witnessed such unbridled ecocybernetic change. One cannot simply call this era the ‘new normal’, because it is highly dynamic. Each dataset combined appears as a new abnormal.

We exist in a falsely-assumed human realm, an evolutionary cul-de-sac, into which we are all symbolically corralled by our own global media and techno-markets. The truth is that we are so interconnected to all living beings and all inorganic phenomenon that we shall never fully understand it entirely. Humans are simply part of the whole. Despite what science and scientists may imply, the uncertainties are vast. Just to understand that we shall never fully understand the ultimate complexity is a humility. It is to inject some wisdom back into our times, when all else seems lost to our own arrogances.

The irony is that so many problems are made worse by delusional and fragmented ways a dominant Western pedagogy view the Earth, its systems and unfathomable complexities. Purely anthropocentric “utility” of nature (servitude and subordination to humans) still reigns supreme in UK conservation circles, indeed UNEP. It is no panacea, as if nature is inert and placed here for one purpose only. Sometimes, I find it is these individuals and organisations who make me more angry than the just plain greedy. Given their privileged status of being educated, they ought to know better. Some are even ecologists, studying some of these very interconnections.

I think, as others do, many are limited to a narrow field of vision, disjointed fragments of connections, encouraged by the rationalisation of Western education tied to a career-plan ~ the training of specifics, cognitive biases towards the familiar, a lack of the cross-disciplinary, rendering many blind to the peripheral vision required upon the ‘whole.’ Or is it desperation? On the frontline, they may be tired of a fight, susceptible to caving in to global financial ambitions towards exponential growth on a finite planet. Those dark forces are, indeed, strong. But giving in is not pragmatism. Giving in is simply giving in.

I have written before on the dangers of so-called Natural Capital valued by a single unit of financial measure. Now the WWT have released their latest policy document on economic value into the very heart of the neoliberal centre-line in Westminster, subjecting nature to the same volatile economic paradigm that favours the rich and acutely fails to ‘trickle down.’ How can we legitimately and morally divide into financial units that which is hugely interconnected and that we do not fully conceive? We too are nature, the moon and the stars. Where does this end?

This is on top of the widespread eco-illiteracy of even the most basic of underlying cybernetic principles of the ecosphere. WWT were, and are, leaders in voluntary environmental education. I revere them in this sense, utterly. Peter Scott’s beautifully altruistic ambitions have influenced many across the globe, ~ no mean feat. In his wake, I wish this respected organisation would expand education into the mainstream, not enter the fray on economics as if there were no economic alternatives than to subject nature to the language of commerce and government ~ the corporates, lobbyists, hedge funds and bankers. Investment in support of nature (including us), is important, that the flow of resources towards habitat restoration and integrated protection is generously provided via better understanding. But to value non-human life in packets of currency is another matter, I don’t care how desperate things may seem! A 25 year plan along these lines makes me suffer from eco-anxiety. I am imagining the abuses possible by a hedonistic, self-regulating City of London as I write. Many new Cabinet members don’t even acknowledge climate change as a real and present threat, leave alone that a sixth extinction is underway, and between them a small to non-existent understanding of functional ecology. Money is not an ecological educator. No matter how ‘regulated’ this new order may seem, entrepreneurial spirit and diligent accountants will find the gaps in order to take advantage at a profit. There can be no guarantees all will be for the good. This is the nature of free commerce right now. The whole paradigm needs to shift.

And it is not by accident that our consumption-driven culture is stealing the human cumulative brain-force that could be working on better solutions. And as the shopping malls hum with either those with cash to buy or those eternally unhappy people with unrequited aspirations and no cash, the planet burns. The 1% percent skim it all off and walk away scot free. Leopold spoke of land as community to which we should belong, not chattels to be owned. Pricing nature implicitly commodifies, even if unintended, like a serious side-effect to be listed on pharma labels. And let us not forget that slavery is immoral. Ownership of all living beings follows (even domestic animals – an argument for another day).

I am being blunt here, because I feel blunt is required. “The world has gone mad?” It is the human world that is mad. The majority of Earth is probably trying to regain homeostasis despite us. There are better ways to induce care for one another, our non-human kin and the inorganic phenomenon which are integral to life. Egalitarian eco-education/mentoring has not yet been tried, not least in the corridors of the City of London and Westminster, indeed any centre of power in great force! There’s huge room for engendering respect and reciprocity, love ~ I have not and will not give up on the ultimate power of love ~ and, with a will and a way, a return to the ecosphere perceived by the majority as sacrosanct.

I will write again on the sacrosanct, the return and the sacred, soon. And with love!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sense and Sound ~ stimuli and reflex

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“And our ears tell us that the whisper of every leaf and creature speaks to the natural sources of our lives, which indeed may hold the secrets of love for all things, especially our own humanity.” Bernie Krause

Huka Falls on the Waikato River is a boiling blood-riot of water sound. Pull off Thermal Explorer Highway, just north of the city of Taupo, New Zealand, and the cacophony of this eleven metre high waterfall leaps out, and then sucks you in to its vortices with disdain. It’s an auditory spectacle. If you were curious, and leaned too far over the footbridge, you’d be dragged in and crushed by arms of seething, blue foam (Huka is Maori for ‘foam’). If death did not come quickly by drowning, you’d perish by thunderous noise. It’s earth-deafening. You’d be broken into shrapnel.

At age 46, it’s not an everyday occurrence when a huge chunk of key understanding, largely hidden in life, reverberates through my entire being with a deep, resonant rumble. It’s happened twice this last month (lucky me). I write here about only one revelation and will write again about the other. But this one is important. It is the power of sound.

Whilst sitting peacefully at ancient shallow ponds to the West of Cardiff, Wales, I see their flat, silky surfaces puckered by a few whirly-gig beetles. These little beings spin around and around. If I listen intently, I can just hear the bubbles of a newt surfacing for air. A leaf may fall from the oak that spans high above my log-seat, somersaulting down into the surface tension in apparent silence, though other life-forms may have the sense to hear it. There are the songs of passerines, of course, romanticised by many a poet, and not forgetting the old, grey heron, who flaps his wings to escape my gaze. Sometimes, the leaves rustle like surf. The loudest noises, it must be said, stem from Welsh Black cattle that graze in fields over the fence. These pseudo-aurochs bellow, tongues out, making their presence known. Their sound is somehow timeless.

The Huka Falls and these Cardiff ponds are just two auditory experiences I can share in some detail. We have a lifetime of accumulated memory of sound. But I think we largely take these references for granted. Image dominates our 21st C Western culture. Even pop songs are ‘make or break’ depending on the ‘pop’ of videos. Bernie Krause used to make music, a synthesiser player for top names (The Byrds, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison) and many Hollywood films of the 1960s and early 70s. Now he is an ecologist, sound wizard and key advocate of the conservation value of soundscapes, a rich three dimensional analysis of ecosystems that the use of the human eye simply cannot match. With some irony, technology is adopted to record and interpret data, though I imagine the sound of an electric mic is very quiet. I listened to his TED talk this week, and it was a revelation.

Our senses, if working well, are fine biological instruments, connecting mind and exterior world with webs and chains of cellular matter and electricity. ‘Messages’ flow from receptor organs to the brain and, at certain times, right back to our skin and muscles in the form of action and reflex. Aristotle is thought to have classified the five main senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell), but now we understand that there are more senses than the big five which use differing combinations of receptor organs.

Immanuel Kant, German philosopher of the period of ‘Enlightenment,’ proposed that knowledge of the outside world depends on our distinct modes of perception. In order to define what is ‘extrasensory’ we need to define what is ‘sensory.’

What a pity!

In one swipe, with a blunt knife, Kant cut us away from our environment and other living beings, when perhaps indigenous cultures had/have retained that important sixth sense. There is wisdom in intimacy with the rest of the natural world, unbroken song-lines. The fractures remind me of the nature of progress in human evolution. Maybe basic in our modern make-up is the need to disconnect in order to appreciate the very opposite. As Heraclitus in his ‘Unity of Opposites’ implies;

They do not understand how that which differs with itself in is agreement: harmony consists of opposing tension, like that of the bow and the lyre. (Freeman’s translation)

Barry Lopez writes often about the notion of home verses away, in that the patterns he observes whilst travelling away can bring insight to troubling issues at home. What’s more, whilst away, one is given to appreciate a new perspective on ‘home’. Novelty, new perspectives and the plasticity of the mind are important psychological components to wellbeing ( let us not get stuck in deep ruts).

Back to Huka Falls, and the novelty of sound. The water drains from Lake Taupo and swells up with oxygen, swirling into a turquoise ferment. The river powers into a narrow canyon, just fifteen metres across, noise deepening as a ripping 220,000 litres per second flow by (enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds, so say the tourism brochures). You cannot hear birds or bellows. You cannot even hear one’s own thoughts. It really is power-sound that rumbles through your very fabric. This is a prime example of what Bernie Krause describes as a ‘geophony,’ sound emitted by non-organic phenomenon here on planet Earth ~ a rich audioscape, that we may not even be able to sense fully, from the crackles of aurora to the grinds of the seismic.

Human action, human technology, the sounds of modernity? Bernie calls this ‘anthropophony,’ so it is distinguished from the ‘natural.’ Some human sounds are, of course, controlled, like music and speech, others are chaotic and fragmented. Our unique biological, cultural experiences converge to interpret, for example, in Rudolf Steiner’s educational system of Eurythmy ~ gestures and interpretative movement to sound and in the telling of stories. Our bodily sounds need not be excluded from the “biophony”, sounds emitted from living beings, as we are part of nature. To Bernie, however, the tools we use are ‘other,’ so these are where his line is drawn. What is clear, in the Anthropocene, we are seeming to make a lot more noise!

There are physical, mental and spiritual aspects to our existence. Do our senses overlap, deeply resemble or integrate with all three of these aspects? Each of the five senses consist of organs with specialized cellular structures that have receptors for specific stimuli. These cells have links to the nervous system and thus to the brain. We know that sensing is active at primitive levels in the cells and integrated into sensations in the nervous system, not least by the central nervous system (the spinal chord and brain). Yet we do not fully understand consciousness. God speed, we are all conscious and able to be conscious of one another and other living beings. One ought to be conscious of a snake bite, a storm coming or a broken heart as we are the touch of a healing hand or a loving hug. Is consciousness another fully connected system, into which we are all able to join? Perhaps, we have no choice.

Sight is probably the most developed sense in humans, followed by hearing ~ a generalisation. There will be exceptions to the rule, not least from those who experience the neurological phenomenon of synesthesia, where the senses cross-wires.

Consciousness and mind may create their own forms of reality (although they may not be truths), based on the memories of sensory data fused with our responses. Words, forms, shapes, patterns, colours; they become entwined in a rich complexity (life is complexity). But our senses may well extend out into the environment, the inherent interconnectedness with all that is our one biosphere. Were it not for Kant, Western approaches may still have been in tune with the extended self. In nature, there is a compelling argument, that we humans are deeply entwined with the combined ‘other,’ Dylan Thomas’ quietus of the ‘Green Fuse’, or more distinctly, Glenn Albrecht’s ‘Ghedeist’ (a word full of hope), the positive interconnectedness between all beings via the spirit-force, for a collective good, which all life may play a part. The nature of its inherent ‘doing’ makes this a powerful word indeed.

I am returning to the overall ‘ecophony’ of the Cardiff ponds, where the combined sound of the ecosystem has its own rhythm, its own dance. Though quiet, save for the dawn chorus, it is a wall of sound. I do not sit there in silence. I am sure that, in the detail, data would dance for any soundscaper with the technology to listen and record, beyond human biological ability. And we ourselves could engage in a eurythmy in recognition of both the losses and the gains of our own impacts here upon the Earth. The senses combine and so do our reflexes. I feel a great love for the individual biophony there, a love for the wilder beings residing there. What I love, I wish to protect. Apart from aesthetic qualities, and human musical harmonies, I am now more aware that my love for nature and sound is united in entwined threads extending way beyond my body, and I have Bernie to thank for this.

Finally, Kinesthesia is the awareness of muscle and movement of the joints, enabling coordination to walk, talk, and use our hands with strength, rhythm, and delicate precision. It is what allows us to touch our ear lobes whilst our eyes are shut, or to know where to scratch if we have an itch. I think there may be a kind of kinesthesia in our collective consciousness too, we just need to be reminded (and coached), that it is there and it is powerful. Put it to good use, and we may ‘hear’ good things come from it.

For now, I’ll leave you with more on Bernie’s ‘ophonies’… tap into the Ghedeist, and enjoy.

“You are forsaken,” say the anemones.

“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

― Henry David Thoreau

I ought not to be writing this, because academic deadlines are looming. But I’m seeing many beautiful wildflowers coming into show. I feel compelled to make a note.

Imagine it is still early Spring. Picture a wood anemone in flower, if you will. And now a quivering constellation of them, and an overwhelming sense of wonder when gazing at these seemingly fragile starbursts just above the field layer of a temperate woodland. A light breeze blows in from a mild front and they sparkle in the morning dew. Ah, the glory.

“You are forsaken,” say the anemones, so penned the floriographers of the Language of Flowers. But how can I associate emotional abandonment with Anemone nemorosa? They light up my world every Spring. The Victorians must have this all wrong.

Fast forward to May. This is the time when the opportunity for pollination is done, flowers tarnish and petals shrivel to dust. The flowers are “going over,” as we say, euphemistically. Oh, the disappointment, the grief.

But I propose there’s nothing “over” about the incredible evolution of double fertilization in angiosperms (flowering plants). Why defuse this kind of beauty with a terminal phrase like “going over”? The essence of flower, surely, includes what happens next. It may not be so sensuous to the body, but it’s certainly a wonder to the mind. The process is nothing short of a miracle.

We photographers, artists and writers are culpable. Maybe it’s harder to convey this kind of radiance, the consciousness of life growing in the botanical ovary. Ah, the poetry of the dainty flower, the blousy show, the sexy colours and forms that attract us almost as much as the bees themselves! I’m unconvinced we are even any good at culturally admiring our own mode of pregnancy ~ there’s a lot of goo involved, for sure.

Wood anemones lie dormant for most of the year, spreading out slowly via rhizomes just under the surface of the humous at a rate of about 6 feet per century. I know one patch in North Herefordshire around 600 by 300 feet, so on loose calculation, these plants have been resident since the last ice-age.

Here’s the rub. Pollination fails, often, because the plant is an obligate outcrosser ~ explored not least by Charles Darwin himself, and defining the trait for pollination from spatially widespread populations in order to successfully produce genetically resilient seed. Woodland fragmentation in the UK means this process becomes less and less likely to succeed. The creeping rhizomes secure survival of the species instead. Seeds have almost been forsaken. So, it pains me to say, perhaps the Victorians were right all along.

(returns to study)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monknash and the Anthropocene

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I am at Monknash SSSI on the South Wales coast, protected for its abundance of special geology and rare species. A handful of humans and our canine companions are wandering the beach towards Cwm Marcross, beneath magnificent Liassic cliffs just West of Nash Point. We are all separate in our own worlds, though sharing the common experience of listening to the cackling of fulmars on narrow ledges and tracing our way along the shore. The steep, stratified layers of the cliffs are a rhythmic repetition of limestone and mudstone, and formed as a late Triassic desert was inundated by ocean. Molluscan faunas found here by paleontologists have provided a surprisingly detailed record of environmental history, particularly in rarer tufa limestone deposits. They mark the Boreal/Atlantic climatic transition around 8,000 years ago, when rising global temperatures meant further retreat of ice to the North and a rising sea.

At that point in time, Mesolithic humans, dark skinned hunter-gatherers along with, perhaps, a few early settlers, populated what we now describe as Britain only sparsely. The sea had begun to inundate the good hunting grounds of the marshes, lakes and rivers of Doggerland, disconnecting us from mainland Europe. The Welsh shoreline had extended in plains out beyond what we see now as shore, into the Severn Sea (or in Welsh, Môr Hafren). These flatlands were also being swallowed by rising water levels. The newly forming coast would have provided an important source of marine food for early tribal groups, evidenced by middens of cockle and oyster shells discovered in estuarine zones. The temperate post-glacial climate would have encouraged more people to migrate and succeed.

Some 3,500 years before that, at the end of the last Ice Age, marks the beginning of what the International Commission on Stratigraphy accept as the beginning of the Holocene epoch, the geological time period in which we now exist. Climate has been fairly stable over the Holocene, but things are changing rapidly.

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As one stands now between the cliffs and the shoreline, it’s as if time is materially trapped in the strata. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear the wind, rain and sea recounting narratives of antiquity, released in little whisps around you. There’s evidence here of glacial retreat, lost ecologies of marsh and woodland communities instead of the hinterland of farms we see today. And there are ancient human stories too, no doubt, the joys and struggles of life, to which I think we still may relate.

Here on the edge of things, magic still dwells, as ever.

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Today, intricate honeycomb worm reefs (Sabellaria alveolata), smother wave-cut platforms, thrusting out into long shore drift when tides are low. Their brown planes intersect the water with plumes of sea-spray, the final sigh of waves that may have begun thousands of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean. These are great hiding places for many other intertidal species, part of the reason they are formerly protected from human interference by Law.

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It’s a wonder these reefs aren’t smashed to bits by erosion. But they remain firmly in tact, for now, the colonies of tiny worms resiliently rebuilding their feeding tubes with sand particles and shell remains at every chance.

Sadly, if you look closely, you’ll see brightly coloured plastic rings, toys (some even with faces), bottles, caps and inexplicable mouldings that have become entwined deep in the honeycomb. I feed my hand into the reef to pull a few out, and fail. I can’t damage the reef. They are cemented, ensconced behind the living colonies, leeching out their chemicals as they slowly break down with unquantifiable consequences. It’s as if only another epoch of sea erosion and the loss of the worms themselves would ever see them gone.

Moreover, I look around me and imagine worse to come. Oceanographers are now clear that anthropogenic climate change will bring the seas in higher and harder across these shores. More intense storms will wither the roots of all the rare life I observe today. The intertidal ecological zones will become permanently submerged and the cliffs will fall more rapidly back into the high energy waves that batter their foundations. Species will have to adapt as best they can.

I feel ashamed of my own species. It’s all so unnecessary.

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In altogether different parts of our Earth’s biosphere, as part of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, there are a number of academics scattered in universities worldwide who call themselves the Working Group on the Anthropocene. Anthropocene is a term first used by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and ecologist Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to delineate a ‘present time interval’, yet to be fully sanctioned or determined, in which many geologically conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activity. The evidence, however, is mounting.

The Group plans to assemble later this year to decide whether the Anthropocene is to be ‘set in stone’. The case will be reviewed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and, if approved, the new epoch will have to be ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences before formal adoption.

A paper published recently in Science provides further evidence of human impacts upon the lithosphere, the rigid outer part of our planet Earth. Various biogeochemical cycles have ensured our pollutants have reached far and wide. The plastic I find trapped today in the honeycomb worm reefs are only what I can see with my eyes. There are far more profound changes occurring beyond my senses that not only future geologists thousands of years from now (indeed, if our species has rallied), might discover in core samples and geochemical surveys, but modern Earth scientists are already uncovering.

It appears there are indicators in recent lake sediments in Greenland, which distinguish them from the rest of the Holocene epoch,

“The appearance of manufactured materials in sediments, including aluminum, plastics, and concrete, coincides with global spikes in fallout radionuclides and particulates from fossil fuel combustion. Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles have been substantially modified over the past century.”

Further,

“unprecedented combinations of plastics, fly ash, radionuclides, metals, pesticides, reactive nitrogen, and consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. In this sediment core from west Greenland (69˚03’N, 49˚54’W), glacier retreat due to climate warming has resulted in an abrupt stratigraphic transition from proglacial sediments to nonglacial organic matter, effectively demarcating the onset of the Anthropocene.”

Salutary stuff. There’s still much debate about the precise point in time the Anthropocene is supposed to have begun. Some argue it should be traced back to the Neolithic conversion from human hunter-gathering to farming, whilst others look to the more recent Industrial Revolution and the beginning of the fossil fuel era and greenhouse gas emissions. The Great Acceleration” since the 1950s, a period of exponential economic growth and consumption of resources, looks to be a prime candidate, and even the dropping of the first nuclear bomb in New Mexico 1945 has been suggested. The ‘Subatlantic’ is the current climatic age of the Holocene. It started at about 2,500 years ago, but the data sets will surely no longer be the norm as we move forward in time. Even in the UK, we are already facing what meteorologists describe as ‘unknown extremes’ in terms of climate volatility.

Perhaps, by declaring a brand new geological epoch because of the impacts of one species, our own, the act itself will induce a re-imagining and re-forming of human-Earth relations. As a part of nature, we are cheating ourselves if we think our own dominion above all other life remains the route to living within our planetary boundaries instead of exceeding them as we do. We share one biosphere, we need to respect the precariousness of our situation, but remember our responsibilities to our evolutionary kin, both human and non-human.

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Back to Monknash, and the tide is turning; significant, as it’s the second largest tidal range in the world after the Bay of Fundy in Eastern Canada. As I look West along the vista of cliffs, the light is fading to pink with the onset of evening, and it’s time for me to return home. I can’t help feeling that we could somehow learn from this coast as it reveals secrets of past changes whilst recording new climates and adapting species of today and into the future.

This particular section is declared by Cardiff Vale Council to be unprotected from the onset of the sea, left to ‘natural’ processes which would have otherwise shaped our coasts for eons. We are, of course, part of nature, so our impacts may also be perceived as ‘natural’, though does not, I’d assert, make them anymore just. In other places nearby, where humans reside near current sea levels, there are, at least some plans afoot to provide defences and support. But we collectively haven’t the funds to fend off the mass of an expanding ocean for long. I can only hope that 2016 and the declaring of the Anthropocene Epoch will not go unnoticed for real change is now long overdue.

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