A writer's pledge

Her Holiness and Friends by Tricia Cline

Some time ago I stumbled across these words by children's book writer Cornelia Funke (author of The Thief Lord, Inkheart,  etc.), and they've been pinned to the wall above my desk ever since:

"I pledge to use books as doors to other minds, old and young, girl and boy, man and animal.

"I pledge to use books to open windows to a thousand different worlds and to the thousand different faces of my own world.

"I pledge to use books to make my universe spread much wider than the world I live in every day.

"I pledge to treat my books like friends, visiting them all from time to time and keeping them close."

Pope Lizzy by Tricia Cline

"In America lately," writes Scott Russell Sanders, "we have been carrying on two parallel conversations: one about respecting human diversity, the other about preserving natural diversity. Unless we merge those conversations, both will be futile. Our efforts to honor human differences cannot succeed apart from our effort to honor the buzzing, blooming, bewildering variety of life of earth. All life rises from the same source, and so does all fellow feeling, whether the fellow moves on two legs or four, on scaly bellies or feathered wings. If we care only for human needs, we betray the land; if we care only for the earth and its wild offspring, we betray our own kind. The profusion of creatures and cultures is the most remarkable fact about our planet, and the study and stewardship of that profusion seems to me our fundamental task."

Words to live by.

The Exile Looking for the Joyful Horse by Tricia Cline

The art today is by Tricia Cline, a sculptor from northern California who works primarily in porcelain. The pieces here are from her extensive  "Exiles from Lower Utopia" series, created as an ode to the Animal.

Cline says: "This is the ode: to reconnect with our own animal perception is to clarify and heighten our perception of who and what we are in the moment…to go beyond the limited mental concepts of who we think we are to an awareness of ourselves that is infinitely more vast. The Exiles migrate between the human world and the animal world and carry this awareness on their backs. They are the silent embodiment of this Quest. They understand the language of animals and are self-appointed ambassadors from that world."

More of Cline's work can be seen in a previous post (March 5, 2015), and on the artist's website.

Papa Wolf Sings to the Acolytes by Tricia Cline

The Bottom of the World Passes by Tricia ClineThe Scott Russell Sanders quote is from his essay collection Writing from the Center (Indiana University Press, 1997). I'm afraid I have no idea where the Cornelia Funke quote originally appeared. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.


A neighborly, kind, and conserving economy

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From "It all Turns on Affection," a lecture delivered by Wendell Berry in 2012:

"The term 'imagination' in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb 'to imagine' contains the full richness of the verb 'to see.' To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly, with 'the mind’s eye.' It is to see, not passively, but with a force of vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of appearances or with 'dreaming up.' It does not depend upon one’s attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things seen or envisioned.

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"I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.

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"Obviously there is some risk in making affection the pivot of an argument about economy. The charge will be made that affection is an emotion, merely 'subjective,' and therefore that all affections are more or less equal: people may have affection for their children and their automobiles, their neighbors and their weapons. But the risk, I think, is only that affection is personal. If it is not personal, it is nothing; we don’t, at least, have to worry about governmental or corporate affection. And one of the endeavors of human cultures, from the beginning, has been to qualify and direct the influence of emotion. The word 'affection' and the terms of value that cluster around it -- love, care, sympathy, mercy, forbearance, respect, reverence -- have histories and meanings that raise the issue of worth. We should, as our culture has warned us over and over again, give our affection to things that are true, just, and beautiful. When we give affection to things that are destructive, we are wrong. A large machine in a large, toxic, eroded cornfield is not, properly speaking, an object or a sign of affection."

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"No doubt," Berry adds, "there always will be some people willing to do anything at all that is economically or technologically possible, who look upon the world and its creatures without affection, and therefore as exploitable without limit.

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"Against that limitlessness, in which we foresee assuredly our ruin, we have only our ancient effort to define ourselves as human and humane. But this ages-long, imperfect, unendable attempt, with its magnificent record, we have virtually disowned by assigning it to the ever more subordinate set of school subjects we call 'arts and humanities' or, for short, 'culture.' Culture, so isolated, is seen either as a dead-end academic profession or as a mainly useless acquisition to be displayed and appreciated 'for its own sake.' This definition of culture as 'high culture' actually debases it, as it debases also the presumably low culture that is excluded: the arts, for example, of land use, life support, healing, housekeeping, homemaking.

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"I don’t like to deal in categorical approvals, and certainly not of the arts. Even so, I do not concede that the 'fine arts,” in general, are useless or unnecessary or even impractical. I can testify that some works of art, by the usual classification fine, have instructed, sustained, and comforted me for many years in my opposition to industrial pillage.

"But I would insist that the economic arts are just as honorably and authentically refinable as the fine arts. And so I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods. This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us."

(To read Berry's excellent essay in full, go here.)

P1350092The passage above is from"It All Turns on Affection" by Wendell Berry (2012 Jefferson Lecture,  The National Endowment for the Humanities). The poem in the picture captions is from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems by William Stafford (Graywolf Press, 1998). All rights reserved by the authors.


Something we once knew

Nattadon Woods 1

Nattadon Woods 2Atavism
by William Stafford

1
Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

Nattadon Woods 3

Nattadon Woods 4

Nattadon Woods 62
Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.


Nattadon Woods 5

Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) was dedicated to the cause of pacifism, deeply in love with the natural world, and described himself as "one of the quiet of the land." His collection Traveling Through the Dark won the National Book Award in 1963, and he was the nation's Poet Laureate in 1970.

Nattadon Woods 7

''We may feel bitterly," wrote Adrienne Rich, "how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out of control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us kinship where all is represented as separation."

Nattadon Woods 8"Atavism" is from Passwords by William Stafford (HarperCollins, 1991). The Adrienne Rich quote is from "Defy the Space That Separates"  (The Nation, Oct 1996). All rights reserved by the authors' estates.


On the shores of mystery

A run on the beach

Here's one more passage from Kathleen Dean Moore's Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, which (as you may have guessed by now) I highly recommend:

"Some people suggest that science is the enemy of the sacred. This puzzles me. I suppose the argument is that the more we understand or think we understand, the smaller the realm of mystery becomes; under the hot light of scientific knowledge, the sacred warps and shrinks, like Styrofoam in flames. But this argument won't work because mystery is infinite, the only natural resource that humans can't exhaust in this giant fire sale we call an economy.

On the north Devon coast

"The physicist Chet Raymo thinks of scientific understanding as an island in a sea of mystery. The larger the island, the longer its coastline -- that area where the deep sea of what we don't understand slaps and smacks at the edge of what we think we know, a rich place of bright water and dark, fecund smell.

Tilly & me, beachcombing

"If so, then this is our work in the world: to pull on rubber boots and stand in this lively, dangerous water, bracing against the slapping waves, one foot on stone, another on sand. When one foot slips and the other sinks, to hop awkwardly to keep from filling our boots.

Sandwalker

"To laugh, to point, and sometimes to let this surging, light-flecked mystery wash into us and knock us to our knees, while we sing songs of celebration through our own three short nights, our voices thin in the darkness."

Night descendsThe passage above is from "The Time for the Singing of Birds" by Kathleen Dean Moore, published in her essay collection Wild Comfort (Trumpeter/Shambhala, 2010). The poem in the picture captions is an untitled shaman song by the 19th century Inuit oral poet Uvavnak, translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1994). All rights reserved by the authors. The photographs were taken on Devon/Cornwall north coast.


Floating on the pulse of the Earth

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After a week's disconnection from the Internet and the news headlines, it was disheartening to return home again and find the world in worse shape then ever. The UK government's xenophobic pronouncements are truly frightening, the American election is even worse...while climate change roars on and refugees prepare for another hard winter, homeless and unwanted. I'd come back to Chagford feeling calm and restored by a week of solitude in nature, yet the tide of dreadful news threatened to sweep me back into a state of despondency.  The following passage by Kathleen Dean Moore steadied me, however, reminding me that hope and despair, happiness and sorrow, are cyclical things, like nature itself. There will be good news, there will be bad news, and we carry on: fighting the good fight and finding ways to make beauty, even out of the darkest of materials.

"I don't know what despair is," writes Moore," if it's something or nothing, a kind of filling up or an emptying out. I don't know what sorrow does to the world, what it adds or takes away. What I think I do know now is that sorrow is part of the Earth's great cycles, flowing into night like cool air sinking down a river course. To feel sorrow is to float on the pulse of the Earth, the surge from living to dying, from coming into being to ceasing to exist.

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"Maybe this is why the Earth has the power over time to wash sorrow into a deeper pool, cold and shadowed. And maybe this is why, even though sorrow never disappears, it can make a deeper connection to the currents of life and so connect, somehow, to sources of wonder and solace. I don't know.

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"And I don't know what gladness is or where it comes from, this splitting open of the self. It takes me surprise. Not an awareness of beauty and mystery, but beauty and mystery themselves, flooding into my mind suddenly without boundaries. Can this be gladness, to be lifted by that flood?"

Yes. Yes it can.

P1340915The passage is above is from the introduction to Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, essays by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter/Shambhala, 2010); all rights reserved by the author.


Remembering who we are

Woodland gate

From Beauty by the late Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue, whose books I return to again and again:

"The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here."

Woodland edge

"Our times are driven by the inestimable energies of the mechanical mind; its achievements derive from its singular focus, linear direction and force. When it dominates, the habit of gentleness dies out. We become blind: nature is rifled, politics eschews vision and becomes the obsessive servant of economics, and religion opts for the mathematics of system and forgets its mystical flame."

Hawthorne berries

"Yet constant struggle leaves us tired and empty. Our struggle for reform needs to be tempered and balanced with a capacity for celebration. When we lose sight of beauty our struggle becomes tired and functional. When we expect and engage the Beautiful, a new fluency is set free within us and between us. The heart becomes rekindled and our lives brighten with unexpected courage."

Animal GuideThe passages above are from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004). The quotes in the picture captions are from "The Practice of Beauty" by James Hillman (The Sphinx, 4, 1992); The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (Penguin, 1990); On Beauty & Being Just by Elaine Scarry (Princeton University Press, 1999); and Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy & Longing, translated by Coleman Barks (arperCollins, 2003). All rights reserved by the authors.


Writing from the center

Dawnlight through the trees

From an interview with Terry Tempest Williams in The Bloomsbury Review (1991):

"My writing comes out of my life. Every one of my books has come to me as a question. In the case of Pieces of White Shell, I asked, 'What stories do we tell that evoke a sense of place?' That book, of course, focused on traditional Navajo stories and beliefs. In a very real way, the Navajo inspired me to return home, to look within my own culture, my own stories. Coyote's Canyon was an experiement in weaving such stories together. And in Refuge, the question was simply, 'How does one find refuge in change?'

Sentinel

Oak elder

"The next question I would like to ask," she continues, "will have to do with an 'erotics of place,' as it relates to our love, or lack of love, towards the natural world. In other words, how does intimacy with each other, or lack of intimacy, affect our intimacy with the land? Like death, our sensuality is something we're afraid of and so we have avoided confronting it. I am interested in taboos, because I believe that's where the power of our culture lies. I love taking off their masks, so we can begin to face the world openly. I believe that will be our healing."

The animal guide

"The writers who touch me, who move me, are the writers who are generous not just with with what they know, but also with what they don't know....It's that kind of honesty, that generosity of spirit that I ask of writers. And it's difficult, because you have to be thoughtful, taking nothing for granted, and you have to be willing to risk everything, to write against your instincts."

Preparing to make the leap

Speedwell in shadow

"I believe there is an unspeakable joy in being fully present and responding totally to the moment. For me, that's where joy dwells and feeling lies; in fact, that's the well of all strength and wisdom -- knowing all we have, all we will ever have, is right now; that's the gift."

Into the river of skyThe passages quoted above are from A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams edited by Michael Austin (Utah State University Press, 2006) -- a book I often return to when the world seems heavy and my heart needs a lift. The interview was conducted by David Petersen in 1991. The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry (April 2016). All rights reserved by the authors.


Woodland interlude

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Thank you to everyone who came to the Artists' Coffee Morning at Green Hill yesterday, participating in a lively, wide-ranging conversation on art and nature, and the nature of friendship.

"The world is very old," writes American environmentalist Rick Bass, "and we are so new. I like the feeling of awe -- what the late writer Wallace Stegner called 'the birth of awe' -- in beholding wild country not reduced by man. I like to remember that it is wild country that gives rise to wild animals; and that the marvelous specificity of wild animals reminds us to wake up, to let our senses be inflamed by every scent and sound and sight and taste and touch of the world. I like to remember that we are not here forever, and not here alone, and that the respect with which we behold the wild world matters, if anything does."


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Ludovico Einaudi performs in the Arctic Ocean

Today, something breath-takingly beautiful:

In the video above, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi performs "Elegy for the Arctic" on a platform floating in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, in support of the Greenpeace campaign for the region. Greenpeace has urged the OSPAR Commission not to miss the opportunity to protect international Arctic waters under its mandate at their meeting this month in Tenerife. In this piece, Einaudi has turned into music the voices of the eight million people asking for Arctic protection, accompanied by the sound of birds, wind, waves, and the crashing of icebergs.

"Being here has been a great experience,” says Einaudi. “I can see the purity and fragility of this area with my own eyes and interpret a song I wrote to be played upon the best stage in the world. It is important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, stop the process of destruction and protect it." More information on the Save the Arctic initiative can be found here.

Below: In the first short video, the director and musicians of the Seattle Symphony discuss "Become Ocean" by American composer John Luther Adams. In the second video, you can hear the piece itself. Adams, based in Alaska, often find his inspiration in the natural world. "Life on earth first emerged from the sea," he says. "And as the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourself facing the prospect that, once again, we might literally become ocean."

"My composing is all to do with finding a way of being in the world that’s not separate from the world." - John Luther Adams

And to end with:

"This Place Was Shelter" by Ólafur Arnalds, a composer of neoclassical electronica from Mosfellsbær, Iceland, from his third album, For Now I am Winter. It's a beautiful video, but also incredibly sad, be warned. There's quite a lot of sadness in Arnalds' music, but also moments of lightness and redemption. "Life always goes on," he says. "There's always darkness after light and then after darkness there'll be light again -- it's a circle."

"How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in?" Barry Lopez mused in his classic book on the far north, Arctic Dreams. "How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?''

These are all good questions to ask. I turn to art to find the answers.

Arctic Dreams


Art, activism, and the soil we grow in

Kristin Bjornerud

Following on from yesterday's post, here's another insightful passage from Writing the Sacred Into the Real by Alison Hawthorne Deming:

Kristin Bjornerud"In 1997, I was asked by the Orion Society to lead a conversation at the colloquium in honor of Gary Snyder when he received the John Hay Award for his writing and activism. My assignment was to address the question, Does activism compromise one's art? The question was very American, as Snyder pointed out. In [continental] Europe and Asia, an artist is a public person -- seeing the responsibility to use some of his or her skills on behalf of society. I answered the question by saying, Yes, of course compromise occurs. The work of activism exhausts us and makes us grieve; it takes us from our studios; it makes us scholars, negotiators, combatants, administrators, and business heads when we would prefer to be makers, dreamers, healers, and dancers. And if art is made to serve our activism, it can lose its elemental engagement with the unknown; its freedom to be outrageous, obscure, absurd, and wild; its need to speak the truth as it cannot be spoken in political discourse.

Kristin Bjornerud

Kristin Bjornerud

"Asking this question is like asking, Does culture compromise nature? Does love compromise solitude? Does eating compromise prayer? Does the mountain compromise the sky? All of these are relationships of complementarity, correspondence, call-and-response, the mutualistic whole of existence.

"Gathering in Snyder's home place, listening to stories of the Yuba Watershed Institute and the building of the Ring-of-Bone Zendo, and celebrating the poet's work provided a lesson in how radical an act it is in this culture to live a life devoted to something other than capitalism. Yes, we all participate in it. Yes, we are all complicit in environmental degradation and overconsumption simply because of our position in the global food chain. But we can make life choices that nuture more meaningful and sustainable relationships. To live a life devoted to art, to spiritual practice, to service to one's community and ecosystem, restores faith in our collective human enterprise. Work on the culture is work on the self.

Kristin Bjornerud

"Art can serve activism by teaching an attentiveness to existence and by enriching the culture in which our roots are set down. Culture is both the crop we grow and the soil in which we grow it. And human culture is the most powerful evolutionary force on Earth these days. The grief we feel at abuses of human power is the first positive step at transforming that power for the good. Legislation, information, and instruction cannot effect change at this emotional level -- though they play a significant role. Art is necessary because it gives us a new way of thinking and speaking, shows us what we are and what we have been blind to, and gives us new language and forms in which to see ourselves. To effect profound cultural change requires that we educate ourselves about our own interior wildness that has led us into such a hostile relationship with the forces that sustain us. Work on the self is work on the culture."

Kristin Bjornerud

The images in this post are by Canadian artist Kristin Bjornerud, who was born in Alberta, studied at the Universities of Lethbridge and Saskatchewan, and is now based in Montreal.

Kristin Bjornerud"My watercolour and gouache paintings," she writes, "explore contemporary political themes, ecological motifs, and personal narratives through the lens of folktales, dreams, and magical realism. In these delicately painted tableaus, a world is revealed wherein dream logic pervades, where women swim with narwhals and vivify hand-knit fauna. These eccentric landscapes are uncanny projections of a possible world where familiar activities are imbued with a mythic quality while, at the same time, extraordinary deeds are carried out with unruffled poise by proud, unconventional heroines.

"My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."

Kristin Bjornerud

Kristin BjornerudThe passage by Alison Hawthorne Deming above is from Writing the Sacred Into the Real (The Credo Series, Milkweed Editions, 20010. All rights to the text and imagery above reserved by the author and artist. A previous post on Writing the Sacred Into the Real: "Lines for Winter."