Capler

The Wye, South Herefordshire. Photo by me.

 

Hey you, who abandoned me at life’s worst moment; who lied to all of us. Who told me of a love, un-encounterable to most. The path that cut steep down through red soils was lined by light. Tiny stars of wood anemone watched over my eager feet as I moved down through the bluebells having their first conversations with the early bees. All seemed so narrow, a weight, but with an unfurling canopy of shock-green saving me from a complete molten, lead sky.

 

But at the base, where woods fall literally into the river, the sky came in with a bright summer blue, and I stopped to take a deep breath. Breaths are gold, each one, even on ventilin. The river moved like a sliding plate of silver down the table, pausing by me, almost stationary, to hear an ornicophony of riverbirds, and the faint shriek of peregrine somewhere high above. Remember, you asked me to write a poem.

 

Everything opened up to me at this place, Capler, and to everything, flowing through my veins and into my lungs and to the lips. This was what I came for. To try to heal.

 

I’m suffering again, not in your arrogance, in your image fixed into the eye of red-bellied black snake (poor snake), but a realisation that a lifetime of my own difficulty here at my desk, might be a neural difference, an unbidden mindset, unseen and unfelt by all who have tried to help me until now. I don’t like the terminology (this is a symptom too), though I sometimes give too much of my attention, and am hardly inattentive to others. But it only takes a hairline fracture to let the light into pitch black.

 

The DNA-flow of great grandmothers, grandmothers who died by their own hand, mothers (me), daughters who swim beautifully but who still feel they are drowning ~ I just thought this is what it meant to be a woman. To be let down by men.

 

Apparently, only a few are weighted by this “attention deficit”. The anxiety that has ripped through all life’s traumas—there have been many, about as many men in our lives—I just thought we were sensitive. Perhaps, that’s just all we are. It’s hard to contemplate another turn of mental anguish ~ I’ve only just come off the pills.

 

So the path swings left as the river widens into the most exquisite vista to the south, the Wye leaning into a high slope of woods, carving the opposite bank where thick Herefordshire farmland sits heavy. There’s a grandmother over there, with her granddaughter, and they are throwing pebbles in the stream. Bredwardine memories stop me still and then empty me.

 

Butterflies filled me up ~ at least six species; little flighty wings got my attention. I sat among them for a moment, down in the undergrowth, smiling with them. How do you tell a butterfly she is beautiful? Then the path sunk into the bedrock cascading in steps to where the salmon try to run old Ballingham, where the proto indo european rip of riparian—that deep climatic tear—is plain for all to see. More butterflies lay prone on the rock, soaking in the heat. I felt lost there, truly lost in that most profound, good sense.

 

When I came to my other senses, where dream-brain switches into task-brain (as I am now told), I followed a bee into a wide holloway, pushing up into the steeps under Capler Hill Fort, and into a vast auditorium that would have blown your mind.

 

Ravens sounded their wings in circles above me (put that sound in my pocket and save it for later). Giant red-tailed bumblebee queens looked like tiny ants as they rustled their buzz under dry, tongued ferns. All the passerines from all over the Earth were here it seemed, super-high among the quarry-top trees. One oak lay crashed down at the bottom of the cliff, fallen from the topsoil that looked so thin at the top. Another big tree that looked small because of the scale dangled precariously, its roots like tentacles feeling the air. All life is so reliant on that thinness.

 

Then, to hear a slow-rising noise, the shallowest anthrophony of cessna above, of brightly coloured canoe-shouters in the channel, and a sit-on-lawnmower droning slowly towards me. Here, at this place! I could hardly contain my anger. I talked to him later when I’d cooled down, about grass clippings and river ecology—they don’t mix—and he talked to me about keeping things tidy for the tourists, and the fly-fishing licenses; saving the kids from being stung by nettles (I laughed out loud); saving Earth from the scourge of balsam. And litter, to be fair. Even a Ford Capri. And I thanked him for that.

 

I walked back alongside his engine, and we stopped to listen to the noisy peregrines eyeing two-day old ducklings swimming the big, scary river, in little flurries.

 

The man told me the quarry I’d found may have been the source of the red sandstone that is now Hereford Cathedral. A hole in a hill the size of nine hundred years. These peregrines live there now, perched on the quarry ledges. Peregrines also hunt their quarry around the Cathedral tower.

 

I think I found a feather of a female the other day near the remains of a dead pigeon. It’s pinned to my notice board for me to admire the inward beauty of her. Like a shock.

 

Then one flew right over me casting avumbra. And that was the healing moment of the day. The silence of avumbra. I came home wanting, by the habit of four years, to tell the image of me in the mirror ~ you. I wanted to tell the other one too, the earliest bud of cherry blossom, but he’s just told me he found someone else, before the flowers have even fallen to the ground.

 

~~~

 

 

Pridhem.



 

Grief, to a Fluminist.

Lighting a candle.

A year of grief, over. It means we have loved, and we need not be fearful of loving again.


2020 has been a year of mass grief; grief for changed bodies and bodies lost forever. I am writing of people and teresapien lives, through pandemic and the vagaries of the Anthropocene. There will be more to come, no doubt.

It takes courage to love again when the love that came before has pierced the skin with a hundred needles. Grief can feel like that. But without giving and receiving love, even love for ourselves, we are all dust. It’s just the way it is, the way more complex lives have evolved, who knows, maybe all life.

Of course, we can have spells of time away from love, like we are holding a drink for someone else at a party. Some people may think they don’t care, rocks and islands and all that, but I think they do mind, deep down. I do.

Sometimes, the love shifts from one type to another, say, from romantic to deep friendship, from fluministic devotion to kindship. Eventually, we need to drink for ourselves.

Whether that love is in full view, the full public view, is another thing. Some believe love is not real unless it is demonstrable in full view of everyone and everything. That also takes courage, a revelation of something that makes us vulnerable. There is a reason why L Frank Baum’s Cowardly Lion was the bravest of all because he told everyone he met he had no heart but wanted one. It’s just that he doubted himself. We all have doubts. My father always said it’s the foolish ones who never doubt themselves.

But some of the most passionate and dedicated love stories across time are surely never told. Life on Earth, of course, is a love and death story.

The good of love may feel like the most searing punishment when the object or flow of our love is hurt or dies. This kind of pain is at least as old as eukaryote cells. We share that in common, and for millions of years. Grief is just as ancient, a kind of ancient trauma. I’m not using that word lightly. Some think ‘trauma’ is an overcooked ham, but it isn’t. When love is strong, the loss, and therefore the suffering, can’t be anything other than trauma. But it has evolved in the avoidance of death, and in the pursuit of care ~ you could say, grief is an aid for survival.

Whether you believe in the afterlife matters less if whoever stirred those emotions of joy and sadness, frustration, and even hate, suffers or suffers and dies. Mother, daughter, sister, lover, bird, dog, horse, wildflowers, lichen, moss, fungi, ferns, trees, whales, entire ecosystems, biomes, coastal cities, continents.

All that’s left are the memories. Maybe this is an icy take on what is the warmest process of all ~ two-way contentment of extreme care, celebrated in public, for all to see. If you’ve loved fully, then you’ve cared fully and lived care-fully. Be proud and content about that, because…

“it’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent.


Audio recording:

More on Praximund.

By W. Bulach – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64587917 Photo – the mighty Kauri, one of the most efficient nitrogen process recyclers on Planet Earth. Click on the image for more information.

Fluminism brings together my thoughts over a number of years. I offer an alternative to Biocentrism (Taylor), Ecocentrism (Naess) and, importantly, Anthropocentrism (Passmore, et al).

To be a Fluminist is to recognise oneself viscerally as part of the interconnectedness between all beings ~ Symnexia (Sanguimund), and in this realisation, to act with love, respect and responsibility in protecting these interconnections, minimising the breaking of their flows, to find fluministic ways to proliferate and send new flows ~ Praximund.

The following is an extract from my dissertation, including narrative scholarship.

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5.4 Praximund: Responsibility and the Sacred.

There are problems with the theory of Rights taking precedence over Responsibilities. Many indigenous people understand this. Rights are merely human constructs, legislatively fixed (when processes are not), but politically vulnerable and impressionable by further human culture/population dominion.

Natural processes and fluministic interconnections have evolved, are evolving. There exists intrinsic, self-willed, complex patterns across space and time. Free-willed, save for our excess. We participate, as part of nature, yes. But because of this excess of destructive behaviours, rivers, forests, mycelium and migration need more than ‘Rights’ afforded only by humans, and a minority of humans at that… for this too is dominion.

So I have a name for the responsibilities and an adherence expected. A unity of opposites ~ a natural law, but not a law. I call it Praximund (latin; process/Earth) the deepest possible respect for natural processes, and a fundamental requisite of fluministic action. Infringe only with negative consequences to oneself and all life, the biosphere, as we are all interconnected. There is honour and pride in celebration and ritual of it.

There’s credence in declaring ecological interconnections sacred as a route to the protection of life, a full sanctity of life (Kumar). Nurtured this way, perhaps, the sacred become inviolable. Constituent lives are liberated to evolve with a free-will, a flourish of nature’s effervescent, green fuse. More, by cultivating a collective reverence for the presence of a community of living beings ~ through narratives, ritual and rules ~ we may look and ‘see’ life in new ways, a wave of sanguimund spreading though each one of us, the wonder of interconnected life. There have been many before us using sacred words with similar meanings now lost, and I hope many after, with words yet to be created. All I ask that we think about creating our own sacred in and with the natural world (Milton, Bateson), building narratives and exercising rituals in what is of utmost meaning to ourselves and together. Then, defend from the profane. And that defense, in sanctity and in love, will need to be strong.

Narrative Scholarship.

Guarding the sacred is not limited to protection from human intrusion. Sometimes, the opposite is vital. Sometimes, the sacred is one’s presence or consciousness and the tending of ecosystem in a loving, fluministic way. Fenced-off zones around Chernobyl have led to non-human life returning in abundance. There is a sanctity in the absolute devotion of ecological networks of that place. But the absence of humans is not a pre-requisite of the sacred.

Churches may seem at their most holy when the bells toll loudly, when the stalls are heaving with parishioners singing hymns at the top of their voices. The sacred seems to exist somewhere in the union of the people in the nave, all facing east, a sense of reverence helped along by those clever architects placing windows in the clerestory to remind of God’s presence in beams of moted dust light.

The land can hold us with a similar sense of direction, commitment and devotion. And God need not be involved, unless he is simply love. A private moment, no less, can be the touch of grace, with such strength that it can change one’s perspective forever.

I lean over my Grandmother’s grave and remember her strength. Fused into my memory cells, she’d garden with such force as to create her own weather system. This memory seems sacred, but not her grave. I feel the difference in remembering I am her kin.

It may not be a surprise the reader that I feel the sacred most in perceiving those bristling interconnections in the living world, the living, quietly seen or unseen. A humble field maple will do it, with birds in the gnarly branches and fungi at the roots. Their Autumnal yellow glow takes my breath way and I am minded to sit for hours and just be present. It is a profound love, intense and moving.

A mother fox licking her young, a tender petal opening to a bee, these are all things bright and beautiful. Light is important to me, I have been to the darkest of dark. That the direct or diffused sunlight gives succour to life seems profound. I love the light around waterfalls. So do the mosses and the liverworts.

There are also the green rays at sunset, or during eclipses, the last and first moments of light bent and scattered through our thin atmosphere like moments of magic.

Hokianga

The sacred can also be a memory, an event marked at a place only by the truth-myths passed down through generations. From the eastern sunrise, I once arrived at the spectacular Hokianga Harbour, North Island, New Zealand, an area brimming with sacred Māori sites. Yellow dunes on the far side of the bay shone brightly sucked back into a baby-blue vacuum. An incoming tide from the Tasman sea swept the bay clean with crested wave upon wave, and variable oystercatchers flew low at blistering speed (I could just make out their uncanny calls).

I followed a sign to a look-out point high above the harbour entrance and sat on a low wooden bench. I felt an immediate essence of something profound here. I was positioned somewhere on the edge of it all, and it felt like sanctuary.

Later, I walked along nearby Omapere wharf and talked to a Māori man from the village who was fishing with a simple line and hook. I was just a tourist, yet he was so generous in conversation.

He told me his Māori oral tradition, that legendary Polynesian explorer, Kupe, of the Matahourua canoe, made first Aotearoa landfall and lived here. The story goes that he named it Te Puna i te ao marama ~ the spring of the world of light ~ until in his old age he decided to return to his island birthplace, Hawai- ki. The words he spoke as he left were, Hei konei ra i te puna i te ao marama, ka hoki nei ahau, e kore ano e hokianga-nui mai ~ this the spring of the world of light, I shall not come back here again ~ and so, granted Hokianga its name.

The vessel of the sacred contains a good measure of vulnerability. Maybe this is an essential tension that drives us to protect.

Great sacrilege occurred at Hokianga, long after Kupe’s departure, against the endemic and the Māori. The mighty kauri trees, like the blue whales of the world’s forests, were wrenched from inland Waipoua and floated down the river for milling and global export, mainly by the hands of Pakeha (non-natives). Unlike the Māori, who would take chosen trees with a reverence, for canoe- building, the Pakeha took nearly all.

And without the kauri, large parts of the forest died and many endemic species lost forever. What was left was turned over to dairy, and again those products exported globally from the Harbour. To destroy the interconnections between living things is to destroy the most sacred ~ life.

Another Pakeha, William Roy McGregor, professor of Zoology, successfully campaigned to end logging of the Waipoua Forest in 1952 and created the Waipoua Forest Sanctuary. The sanctuary is still weak from attack, with Kauri Die-back disease laying claim to regenerating forest, and climate change will be having its effect. Let’s hope this small part of a once vast, ancient forest recovers to it’s truest dynamic state of being, given full protection and time.

Unlike the great Kupe, perhaps, I’ll return to Hokianga again one day. Modern technology makes it easier for me, though I’ll have to watch those emissions (always some kind of price to make such returns). The harbour and surrounds are a wealth of flora and fauna and, until then, it will be the distant sounds of the oystercatchers, torea-pango, that will remain in my memory as symbol of the sacredness of that place. If I am quiet enough, I can still hear the sacred, right now in my head.

~~~~~~~

The story also told here Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, First peoples in Māori tradition – Kupe, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

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For more on Māori reverence, customs, ritual and stories, including the mauri of the forest (the life-force) invested in objects and buried under important ecological places or tane trees, as acts of protection.

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End note: Waipoua Forest was bought by the settler-colonialist Government from the local Te Roroa Māori in the 1870s for around £2000, no doubt putting them under immense pressure beforehand. Locals were disenfranchised from the receipts of logging, except to be employed in some of the most dangerous work. McGregor’s protected area was a legal entity under the Laws of the New Zealand Government, yet was suspended in the 1970’s for further logging. After yet another campaign, it was stopped. I wonder, if the practices of mauri “life-force” had been continued by all, and regularly, would this infringement have ever occurred?

~~~~~~~

 

 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

Healing, and The Stubborn Light of Things.

If you haven’t heard Melissa Harrison’s The Stubborn Light of Things, you’re missing a treat; it is a salve for our times. It began at the start of lockdown here in the UK, intent on bringing the natural world, at least in audio, to those more unable to get out. This week (number 25), I’m honoured to be taking part.

Melissa is an award winning nature writer, novelist, diarist, and now podcaster (with a wonderful supporting team), and I possess all her books. I look forward to adding her latest to my shelves, a collection of her beloved Nature Notebook columns written for The Times, now to be published in hardback this coming November by Faber & Faber, also named The Stubborn Light of Things.

This week, after a long time away, I return to the woods in North Herefordshire where I grew up, and recount the story of my most painful loss, that of my mother, and in flow with ecology and love.

I adore unexpected connections, one being that my mother’s name was Iva ~  Melissa visits an ivy in flower, one full of bees. I also worked as a junior paragliding instructor at an ex-WW2 aerodrome in Herefordshire in my twenties, and remember the joy of discovering skylarks nesting at the far end of the runway ~ Melissa visits an old Suffolk WW2 aerodrome and finds skylarks as well as kestrels.

As for the poem you will hear, it is “Into The Hour” by Elizabeth Jenner, and no better a poem to voice the trauma, acceptance and light from such loss, as I now understand Melissa has felt too. It is like sharing an artery.

Please, do listen and enjoy.

 

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The Wilderness

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Terra-UK is one of the most densely populated land areas in the world. The concept of wilderness seems overly ambitious here upon our heavily burdened soils. We are sold as such a well-groomed and culturally domesticated species, at least in public, and it’s way too fashionable to tame our surroundings to a sparkling manicure. We even wash our soils down with pesticides to scrub away the wild. Every last square inch of land is property ~ accounted for and stewarded. Markets induce us to gaze upon all through neoliberal-tinted specs. Always questions of economic materialism… how does this land earn its keep? For how much will it eventually sell? How much can we pay each other for the servitude of non-human life in our stewardship? Earth is bounded and fenced, like our own mortal souls. Some now legitimately question whether there is any wilderness left at all.

Men, more often than not, have influenced the form and patterns assumed of wilderness. Women’s thoughts are less frequently aired. The why’s and the wherefore’s aside, this should never have been so. More briefly, I offer my own interpretations, and I would invite more women to contribute.

In my country, wild kin have learned to be afraid of me, and with good reason. As friendly as I try to be, my physical form represents danger and threat. The British countryside has not been sanctuary for non-human life. Huge declines in wildlife populations, extinctions and extirpations silently scream of the havoc we have caused, and significantly in the last few decades. We’ve halved the numbers of native vertebrates. Invertebrate biodiversity has plummeted. Traumas are inherited, a genetic overspill of shock, from one generation to another. Human dominion has spawned multiple genetic threads of fear and distrust. It would take much to win back this trust, especially as it may never have entirely existed. There are a rare few who gain the confidence of our non-human kin, and in their kindnesses, they are blessed and ought to be celebrated.

I do think there are remnants of wilderness, but at multiple scales. To a Violet Oil Beetle, the woodland glade is truly vast. To a Wandering Albatross, the Southern Ocean is just big enough. We have imaginations to envisage degrees of relativity. For me, wilderness is more a mental state ~ to feel wild is to experience and imagine, a complex matrix of perceived belonging (or a perception of loss). No matter what scale it presents itself, wilderness is where I come home, not somewhere I glance a visit. Moreover, my moral community extends way beyond the human, so non-humans are my kin ~ storge-love at its most tender and powerful.

There are several false premises when it comes to word-fusing “wilderness.” Some perceive it is a place inherently untouched by human hand. Yet science informs us that the Anthropocene touches all by a layer of our own techno-fossils and radionuclides. Go back. Wilderness is all about non-human life and we are outlanders? How can this be so, when we share the Earth with all biota. We are part of nature, not separate. Our presence in the wilderness ~ ourselves being wilder ~ means we can never truly be strangers. Go back.

Beasts who dwell in the wild are angry and hostile. If we dare to step deep into their realms, we become victims ~ so we mentally retaliate, sometimes before we even arrive. These thoughts manifest in all manner of ways, from the hunter’s gun to the conservator’s axe. Go in, but go prepared, SAS-style. In the Canadian Rockies or the oceans off South Africa, I realise I am more exposed to the brutalities of the food chains. But if I use all my senses, and move with a pace and frame befitting a respect for my kin, I can truly feel alive. It becomes a question of adopted endemism, a life’s process and no instant knowing, guided and mentored by skilful others one trusts and loves. There’s no war in an angry grizzly separated from her cubs, or a venomous snake simply protecting his life. Wild things are not our enemies. They are simply surviving. So we need to act with respect and care in this shared dwelling ~ the biosphere. They teach us natural boundaries, respect in all we do. Indigenous humans know this with intimacy and their culture is crafted in the skills of living (and dying). I guess they learned the hard way. All must do the same. Go back.

Finally, the wilderness is depicted as an otherwise barren place, a neglected sphere of empty desolation. It’s where we can all go, to test ourselves, to take our medicine, to seek mental victories, or fail and find our limits. Jesus went to fight temptation. But the wilderness is a dynamic and complex community first, billions of years in the making. Wild lives are interconnected, from the microbes and mycelium to the kauri trees and blue whales. Belonging is vital, and from which all flows. Learning to understand its languages, natural laws and song, Earth’s opus, is perhaps integral to something bigger than the sum of all parts ~ the Ghedeist. Yes, there is danger, doom and even death. But there is also light, as in life. Individuals matter, fluminism between all a process worthy of fierce protection. Go to the wild and you are never alone. There you will find, implicit in existence, rapturous life, passionate love, and all kinds ways to die. A wild death ~ the biological penumbra to the light-eclipse of being. The dead give life to others. Love and trauma are dihedrals in space-time ~ life begets life, yet all things pass. Far from being systems of aimless chaos, wilderness, in the individual, species biodiversity and interconnectedness, maintains a dignity and a grace.

A premise close to my own truth is that the wilderness has an aesthetic (or many), which transcends rationality. It is certainly more than ‘ease on the eye’. This truth is not that seen by an outsider ~ the painter, photographer or even poet. Their own work may be beautiful, but the truth of wilderness, instead, is the affection perceived by the lion of his pride or the pika of her purple willow herb. It is the sunlight reflected in a man’s eye as he watches his daughter climb a tree. It is the totality of the dynamic function of the living community and a pure ecophony of home.

To me, our engineered constructions are largely alien to the majority of our kin. There are some survivors, adapters, and even they are persecuted for their success, as pests. Perhaps, if the wild things truly joined us, the cities would crack under the weight of all, and those processes lost to concrete and tar would surface again and all will be well. The anarchy of love may bubble up in the same way.

But to be truly free is the choice to set one’s own limits. You can be wild and self-disciplined. I have experienced fractured moments of a feeling of freedom at certain points in life, basking on the rocks beside the River Wye in high Summer until I choose to leave, or feeling the lift from my paragliding canopy, pulling me high above the Black Mountains until I decide when and where to land. More importantly, I try to act with care, the consequences of my actions assessed for any future adjustments necessary. In real terms, my freedoms have been more of a fleeting emotion than of clear rationality. Mostly, I feel I am a good girl who should stick to the rules, but I do trespass in libertarian forays through wilder corners and canyons. To be wild these days requires a free heart and a very determined mind, but I do so wish there were fewer fences.

Back in Terra-UK, the greater our number, the greater pressure on remaining acreage to supply our needs, and the competition is fierce to possess and steward. The greater our number, the heavier the weight of Law presses down. Our innate freedoms are contained by order, the concession we make for a quieter, less violent life. In law abiding adhesiveness, society is managed and said to progress. But The Law is just another human construct, socially and politically malleable, some might even say culturally arbitrary, and not always founded upon morality or natural justice.

There’s a self governance to the wilderness which is laudable, and I think we need to participate. We can curtail our greed and limit our numbers. Above all, we may return to this mental state to find our kin and earn their trust. There is truth in our belonging ~ a beautiful Ghedeistual love. And, what’s more, I dare to call the wilderness my home.

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For the love of imperfection

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“When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world ~ no matter how imperfect ~ becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.”
~ Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

My walking boots have taken me downstream lately, to several water meadows,
where tall, riparian vegetation and dependent insect life ripple to breezes like shallow, verdant seas. As I kick along deep troughs formed by smaller mammals, Skipper butterflies shimmer forward from their lofty look-outs and out to either side. Before they settle, they tussle for the top spots, as butterflies do whether I am present or not, in an extraordinary aerial display of defiance and speed. I love watching them. I love their tenacity, though they sometimes pay for it in broken wings and missing antennae.

Wabi sabi is commonly interpreted outside Asia as recognition of the value of visual imperfections in the nature of the age-worn, crackleature and objects weathered by the elements. We may find physical deterioration artistically satisfying, joy in the uniqueness of things by their flaws. For example, I once received a brand new picture frame in the post. When I opened the package, the wood was dented, having had some kind of tussle with a mail-train door (I would imagine). I kept that frame rather than return it, admiring the dent as Zen-like and unique, whilst saving logistical resources at the same time. I look at the damage now, framing a print of a snow leopard high on a Himalayan cliff, and smile.

Wabi sabi, as a Japanese aesthetic ideal however, is far richer in meaning than these superficial flaws. The visual cues are a mere scratch at the surface. There are deeper, emotional stirrings in action, and even the Japanese find few words to describe them. “Consciousness transcending appearance”, an acceptance of a form of “atmospheric emptiness”, a wistful mix of loneliness and serenity whilst garnering a sense of “freedom from materialism”. At the same time, there’s an inherent weight or mass in meaning and intent. Wabi sabi may be more of a ‘doing’ word than many might think.

You’ll already know, wabi sabi is not an aesthetic commonly adopted in marketing strategies. We are courted to pay for perfection from an early age. Our faces, our houses, lawns and cars must be in impeccable order, blemishes neither tolerated nor encouraged. Ageing skin or chaos in nature are hard to bear for these gurus with money boxes to fill. Even landscapes are airbrushed, in reality and in symbolism. Foundation creams and herbicides come to our “rescue’ and at a cost (beyond money).

Neither is imperfection the culture of nature photo competitions. A shot of a broken butterfly wing, no matter how atmospheric, would rarely pass first round of elimination. Cherry blossom and autumn leaves might be celebrated, of course, but only in full glory and not when run into a road or pressed into the mud of a woodland trail. Some attention is paid to transience and impermanence, but dying, death and bodily decay are certainly off the menu.

Such a relentless pursuit of sublimity is a competition all life is bound to lose. We are constantly being set up for a fall. Non-human life should not have to measure up to such false, anthropocentric standards. Life is a tussle, and so few are left unscathed. Broken wings and missing antennae are common place. We may love these beings as we love our own, warts and all, for they are our kin.

“Wabi sabi” are two kanji or Chinese characters shared by the Japanese and Chinese language. Originally, wabi 侘 meant ‘despondence’, and sabi 寂 meant ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’. These are emotions not portraits or landscapes, vases or tea cups. Ancient Chinese artists and writers ascribed to the aesthetic long before it was brought to Japan via Zen Buddhism and the Tea Ceremony, though classical literature, brush painting and poetry have been key to its development as an ideal and interpretive device.

山寺や
撞きそこなひの
鐘霞む
From a Mountain Temple
the sound of a bell struck fumblingly
vanishes in the mist

(haiku by the 18th C Japanese poet Yosano Buson (与謝蕪村) )

Whether one is an artist or a lover, mechanic or a parent, we attempt to communicate our personal understanding of such deep, private emotions with the ones we care about. And when we are at our most transparent and authentic, we succeed. This can take courage, of course. Our flaws are perceived by the sensibilities of our patrons and/or loves and, with fortune, are accepted unconditionally. If we fake it, we invite alienation and regret. We can learn to love all imperfections as “rich and beautiful,” and there will be endless opportunities.

Wabi sabi exists of the organic as well as the inanimate. On a dark, rainy day, skippers are subfusc, well on their way to becoming a constituent part of the soils of the flood plain. When the sun shines, they are transformed into brazen flames of orange, flickering and fully alive. Remind me to take beautiful photos of them on those duller days, with their broken wings and missing antennae ~ I will be richer for it, in all that is love and serenity.

 

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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.