Every illness is narrative
The Broader Conversation

Relationship and reciprocity

The Fox's Curiosity by Ellen Jewett

Fox With Crows by Ellen Jewett

"When did human beings forget their cousins the creatures?" asks Priscilla Stuckey in Kissed by a Fox, which I found myself re-reading recently. "When did we fail to remember that the web of life is a delicate one, requiring attention and care?

"Some point to the rise of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Ecologist Paul Shepard suggests that domesticating plants and animals led us to turn 'from finding to making,' from taking our chances with nature to manipulating nature. Others say that when people gathered into cities and built urban centers we became increasingly separated from the natural world. Environmental historian J. Donald Hughes writes that the urban revolution meant 'the great divorce of culture and Ellen Jewettnature' wherever it took place on the planet. Still others say that literacy trained people away from intimate connections with the more-than-human world. Philosopher Eric Havelock observed that when people no longer had to 'story' their experiences, as they do in oral societies, telling tales of characters and relationships, they shifted to considering others as things rather than persons. Cultural ecologist David Abram emphasizes that relying on the printed word changes our ways of perceiving: instead of listening to breezes, watching clouds, or feeling our way along animal tracks -- all practices to cultivate intimacy -- we allow our senses to dim, except for one particular way of using our eyes.

"While there is truth in all these analyses, I want to point to something at once simpler and more sweeping. I think we forget our cousins the creatures when we forget each other. When we retreat from caring for the human community, we lose regard for the more-than-human one as well. And the opposite is just as true: when we fall out of relationship with the natural world, we lose interest in helping one another thrive.

"For this is the bottom line of survival: it depends on our relationships with others. Though the land-community survived for millions of years without humans, we cannot survive without the land community. We are dependent for our day-to-day survival, our very existence, on billions of nonhuman others. And we are dependent in equally complex ways on one another."

We are indeed.

The Curiosity of Lurices by Ellen Jewett

Corvids by Ellen Jewett

"Caught up in a mass of abstractions," writes David Abram, "our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth -- our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human."

Hungry Enough to Devoir the World by Ellen Jewett

Shadow Foxes by Ellen Jewett

The White Stag by Ellen Jewett

The art today is by Canadian sculptor Ellen Jewett. Born in Ontario and "raised among newts and snails," she studied Anthropology and Fine Art at McMaster University, and now creates surrealistic, biophilic works in clay from her studio on Vancouver Island.

"Plants and animals have always been the surface on which humans have etched the foundations of culture, sustenance, and identity," she says. "For myself, natural forms are a continual source of fascination and deep aesthetic pleasure. At first glance my work explores the more modern prosaic concept of nature: a source of serene nostalgia balanced with the more visceral experience of 'wildness' as remarkably alien and indifferent. Upon closer inspection of each 'creature' the viewer may discover a frieze on which themes as familiar as domestication and as abrasive as domination fall into sharp relief.  These qualities are not only present in the final work but are fleshed out in the process of building. Each sculpture is constructed using an additive technique, layered from inside to out by an accumulation of innumerable tiny components. Many of these components are microcosmic representations of plants, animals and objects.  Some are beautiful, some are grotesque and some are fantastical. The singularity of each sculpture is the sum total of its small narrative structures.

"Over time I find my sculptures are evolving to be of greater emotional presence by using less physical substance: I subtract more and more to increase the negative space. The element of weight, which has always seemed so fundamentally tied to the medium of sculpture, is stripped away and the laws of gravity are no longer in full effect. In reading the stories contained in each piece we are forced to acknowledge their emotional gravity cloaked as it is in the light, the feminine, the fragile, and the unknowable."

Strange and Gentle by Ellen Jewett

The Compexity of Our Task is at Hand by Ellen JewettThe passage by Priscilla Stuckey is from Kissed by a Fox & Other Stories of Friendship in Nature (Counterpoint, 2012); the passage by David Abram is from The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception & Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage, 1997). Both are highly recommended. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.


Dark Night and A Chant

The alley and the sky are dark/
Somewhere a voice is chanting
A young man or an alto woman
And this is is my city.

At night the animals come,
The raccoons, the bunnies in
The park, the coyotes who
Have taken over certain places.

You'd think only rats and pigeons,
Around sunset, the hawks swoop,
Crows and ravens, not nevermore,
Quite quick and flying away.

All the little dogs of the day
The house-cats, the caged birds
Dance in the middle of the night.
Their forest comes to them, lightly.

Nicely done, Phyllis--I see we both had the same idea!!!

Wild in the City Streets

I was not raised
among foxes and snails
but found my strength
in the city streets.

A surprise of green
meant only a hardy shaft
had battled its way
between paving stones.

I loved only those trees
that forced a park living
pulling substance
from a corroded sky.

I called pigeons flying rats,
sparrows winged turds.
I counted flowers
in the clefts of walls.

I was that child,
birthed in concrete,
lullabyed by sirens,
who walked to school
between the racing cabs.

Now I celebrate green,
raise a second generation
of hardy birders,
plait falling leaves in my hair.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

This beautiful post and art reminds me that I have been thinking about a wonderful book, Sean Kane's "Wisdom of the Mythtellers" and his concept of Trans-Species Courtesy. Extending courtesy to those who live around us - sad that this is not something we all do.

Herman Hesse talked about the speech and feelings of trees and of our need to listen. I have often felt that in suburbia as well as urban settings, the manipulation of nature, even in some cases the mutilation of it, incurs a natural wrath, an impulse for the earth to fight back. And that can be in a single, smaller reaction or on a grander scale such as flood, storms etc. But I keep feeling nature wants us to reconnect with our primeval roots and rediscover our wilder origins.

The Tantrum

I could have warned you.
William Butler Yeats

The early wind turns
from gust to ghost
possessing our tree.

A child flailing her arms
and shaking her head
as the mowers start
spitting grass,
smelling of gasoline --

and others prepare
to trim or split nearby things.

Pigeons look on
from the lamp post
aproned in pale grey.
Nannies unwilling
to intervene but allow
this wild dance tumbling
out her angst, a ruptured grace,

and catkins
that hang like droplets
from a green roar
of ocean silenced. The language
of landscape now --
axe, blade, engine...
a barbarous tongue.

And just wanted to add
how much I loved these sculptures and the perspectives presented in Today's blog. Very insightful and leaves me a great deal to contemplate and agree with!!


Hi Jane

Love how you define "wild in the city". Your characterization of this child who grew up in the city, strengthened by its terrain and evolving into a lover of wild or natural things, is conveyed with beautiful detail and a strong voice. I particularly love this stanza --

I was that child,
birthed in concrete,
lullabyed by sirens,
who walked to school
between the racing cabs.

Just like species in the wild adapt to their environs to survive and grow, so does the child of the city. Their instincts are honed by its sound, rhythm and texture.

Love this!

Hi Phyllis

I love the concept you convey in this poem. The title is perfect and the details so well expressed. Each stanza flows meaningfully into the next and culminates in that wonderful ending --

All the little dogs of the day
The house-cats, the caged birds
Dance in the middle of the night.
Their forest comes to them, lightly.

Yes, their own version of forest comes to them as does our own version of the wild if we let it.

enjoyed this!

Synchronicity! Or magic? And it is such a lovely "strength in the city streets," "That child birthed in concrete, lullaby by sirens..." While I hauled my enchanted forest along to here,
sirens, alleys, pigeons but oh, in the night......

A day for pigeons who "look on from the lamppost, aproned in pale grey" And the sadness of "Axem blade, engine...a barbarous tongue..." which is why I spend part of my morning signing petitions to save what is left.

Magical--the gorgeous sculptures, the passages, the poems here in the comments. Thank you all!

These are truly beautiful sculptures; a sort of animal variation on the Green Man. And such poems...

Magic exists!

Hi Phyllis

Bravo! It's good to hear when someone is standing up for the environment. Good luck with those petitions and thank you so much for reading and commenting on this poem! I deeply appreciate it!

My Best

... sculptors? Amazing work. Thanks for sharing.

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