Thoughts on the morning after

Woodland hound

Stay centred. Stay calm. It's going to be a long week. As the US thrashes out the election, and the UK prepares for another long lockdown, the wild world is still around us...and art...and beauty...and mystery. Kindness matters more than ever.

"To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us," says Chickasaw poet and novelist Linda Hogan. "Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen."

Stay safe. Stay strong.

Woodland hound 2


In the eye of the storm

Fernworthy 1

If I had to chose a single quote to encapsulate my view of life and art, this line from Jeanette Winterson's essay "Art Objects" would be a strong contender: "I had better come clean now and say that I do not believe that art (all art) and beauty are ever separate, nor do I believe that either art or beauty are optional in a sane society."

Yes. That's it exactly.

Fernworthy 2

"Art is central to all our lives," Winterson insists, "not just the better-off and educated. I know that from my own story, and from the evidence of every child ever born -- they all want to hear and to tell stories, to sing, to make music, to act out little dramas, to paint pictures, to make sculptures. This is born in and we breed it out. And then, when we have bred it out, we say that art is elitist, and at the same time we either fetishize art -- the high prices, the jargon, the inaccessibility -- or we ignore it. The truth is, artist or not, we are all born on the creative continuum, and that is a heritage and a birthright of all of our lives."

Fernworthy 3

Reflecting on the nature and value of art, Nobel-Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow once said: "I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction."

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But there is just so much to distract us right now. Politics. Climate crisis. A world-wide pandemic. Keeping our loved ones safe and the wolf from the door. How do we find that "stillness in chaos" when the din of chaos is everywhere, and so many good people are tense, and angry, and frightened, and flailing?

Fernworthy 5

I turn again and again to these words by Italo Calvino, who knew a thing or two about surviving hard times: "Seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

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The books I read are not inferno. The stories I write are not inferno. The people and animals and places I love are not inferno. I am giving them space. I am finding the quiet eye of the storm.

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It is here. With you.

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Fernworthy 9

The first quote by Jeanette Winterson is from Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy & Effrontery (Jonathan Cape, 1996); the second quote is from "Up Front: Talking With Jeanette Winterson" (The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2008). The Saul Bellow quote is from Conversations With Saul Bellow, edited by Gloria Cronin (University of Mississippi Press, 1994). The Italo Calvino quote is from Invisible Cities (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974). The poem in the picture captions is from The Complete Poems of James Wright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.


Ask, what are my gifts?

Oak elder 6

The following words are from "The Shining, Reflective Shield: An Interview with Kathleen Dean Moore" by Miranda Perrone. The interview was conducted in 2018, well before the Covid-19 pandemic, but Moore's advice for dealing with despair -- whether environmental, political, pandemic-relation, or all of these things -- remains useful and timely.

Drawing by Helen StrattonKathleen Dean Moore: The morning after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, this old climate warrior climbed out of bed feeling better about the chances of the sizzling, souring world than I had for months. Not just feeling better, feeling positively energized. The worst climate policy news had broken, and suddenly the sense of possibility and power was overwhelming.

Why? The 17th century poet Mizuta Masahide had the answer: Barn’s burnt down -- now I can see the moon.

For years, everything about U.S. climate-change policy had been hidden and confused, just a mush. Oil companies painting themselves green. Deniers pretending they believed that hoax shit. Government agencies doing stuff, but not really, not soon enough. Dark money hiding in every knothole. Environmental organizations dancing around the C-word, leaving activists in inarticulate misery. Politicians lying, “jury’s still out,” and running for the door. Who could push against that murky pall? Frustrating as hell. And maybe we thought someone would do it for us in the end.

That’s over. We now know what we are up against.

In the absence of a meaningful federal government response, major U.S. actors in the struggle against climate change will have to be the long-standing civic and moral institutions -- states, cities, businesses, universities, churches, and community organizations. The anti-slavery campaigns, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, so many more, have been led from the conscience of the streets -- people walking from a church, holding hands and singing -- not from sudden moral awakening in the federal government. Signs are that this now is how it shall be.

Oak elder 1b

MP: Does your work include direct action, or acts of civil disobedience? You’ve interviewed a number of people who have engaged in these acts.

KDM: Drawing on her Potawatami heritage, Robin Wall Kimmerer wisely said, if you want to know what is your work, ask, what are my gifts? Courage to risk sitting for years in a constricted space is not one of my strengths, alas. But especially in the face of vicious prosecution of protest, I think we should all support the courageous people on the radical fringes of climate action, asking where our skills make us most useful. This is broadly true. Whenever I consider taking on a project, I ask myself: 1) Is this something that only I can do? 2) Is this the most important thing I can think of to do right now? and 3) Is the project based in joy and love?

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MP: You write in “And Why You Must” in Great Tide Rising that all climate activists must “remember why you try so hard to protect this beloved world, and why you must.” How do you fulfill your own edict?

KDM: I believe that people, myself included, work so hard to protect the world because they love it. And what does that love mean? "To love -- a child, a meadow, a frog pond -- is to affirm the absolute worth of what you love and to pledge your life to its thriving, to protect it fiercely and faithfully, for all time." It follows that an activist can strengthen her motivation by immersing herself in that love.

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KDM: So go outside, everybody. Shut the door behind you. I don’t know what you’ll find. Maybe rain has fallen all evening, and the moon, when it emerges between the clouds, glows on a flooded street. Maybe starlings roost in a row on the rim of the supermarket, their wet backs blinking red and yellow as neon lights flash behind them. Whatever you find, let the reliable sights reassure you. Let the smells return memories of other streets and times. Walk and walk until your heart is full. Then you will remember why you try so hard to protect this beloved world, and why you must.

Oak elder 3

Acorns

Words: The text quoted above is from an interview with Kathleen Dean Moore published in Terrain magazine (April 15, 2018). You can read the full piece here. The poem in the picture captions is from A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson (Carcanet Press edition, 2018). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: A visit with our favourite oak. The fairy tale drawing is by British book artist Helen Stratton (1867-1961).


On the shores of mystery

The Little Mermaid illustrated by Edmund Dulac

From Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore:

"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.

"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.

The Little Mermaid by Edmund Dulac

The Little Mermaid illustrated by Helen Stratton

"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. 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."

Me & Tilly on the Devon coast

Sea Maidens by Evelyn de Morgan

Words: The passage above is from Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter Books, 2010). The poem in the picture captions is from Red Bird by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2009). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Two paintings for Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); a drawing for "The Little Mermaid" by Helen Stratton (1867-1961); Tilly & me on the Devon coast, pre-pandemic; and "Sea Maidens" by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919).


On Black Tuesday

Visiting the oak

As Devon swelters in early summer heat and America burns with righteous rage, I'm turning to Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde.

"I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror, of the lives we are living," she wrote. "Social protest is to say that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, as we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will, within that feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, we can love deeply, we can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, 'Why don't they?' And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change."

Visiting the oak 2

''You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.''

Moss fern and feather

The quotes above and in the picture captions are from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lord (Penguin, 1984); all rights reserved by the author's estate.