September 25, 2019

carnation, lily, lily, rose

why was she drawn to the garden at nightfall? so small, barely past toddlerhood, she would slip out after dinner, while the adults were occupied with washing up, or talking in their incomprehensible way over wine glasses. free of the house, she wandered amongst the plants at ease. lilies waved about her head, their scent heavy, intoxicating, full of a looming sensuality she had no words for yet. rose canes towered above her, a veritable cathedral of thorns. she knew better than to touch them but always did, finding the small prickly catch against her skin oddly pleasing; she admired the thorns, curved, crimson tipped. she loved to touch the furry silver leaves of lamb's ears, or the pale dusty fronds of the artemisia. bent over the carnations, she gently stroked their ruffled petals and inhaled their fragrance. small stones shone in the fading light, and sometimes a moth would waver by.

she never had more than a few minutes to herself in her green kingdom. always after a short interval, she would be missed and sought. her mother grew many things in the garden besides beautiful blossoms and table herbs---there were other plants grown for medicines and charms, and some were not safe for inquisitive hands and mouths. before the twilight gave way to night, down the path would come her mother or old beata from the kitchen to fetch her back inside.

she loved the garden just as much in winter as in summer. her mother would suffer no cutting back of stems or dried leaves, insisting the withered leaves be left with their seedheads and tangled sticks for the comfort of the birds and insects. in the winter garden, she learned different lessons than the lush ones of summer, but no less important. the structures of things laid bare by frost, and the frost itself, enchanted her. she loved to see it all glittering in moonlight, in her stolen moments there.

her mother had told her the names of all the plants, and sometimes she would murmur them to herself in a sort of song or poem as she moved from one to another: carnation, lily, lily, rose... for her fifth birthday, her mother and beata strung lanterns from tree to tree, and let her have her cake in the dusky garden, and she delighted in the glowing globes transforming her favourite place with golden light. light in darkness, the names of things, the knowing of a plant by its scent or touch---so many small magics came to her in the garden.

and in the garden she learned about the immortal cycles of life, seeing through the seasons the transformation of things: how a bud became a flower, how a flower gave way to fruit or hip, and that to seed, and then the seed's long sleep in earth, and its shooting forth into the sun again. all things she watched intently, with a wordless wonder, and her mother watched her through the windows, filled with both wonder and grief at all that lay before her girl.

September 20, 2019

in tenebris

no government anymore
but this slick circus
come one, come all,
see the treacherous,
rump-fed runions baying
at the ragged remnants
of democracy, equality,
and any decency

hidden hands twitch strings
that pull a jerky dance
from the clueless or corrupt,
an ever-changing cabinet of maggots,
a charivari whose kettle-drumming
conceals their deeper work
of long-wrought
unravelling and rot

at the head of the parade,
trumpkin in harlequin livery
happily capers and scrapes
at the gates of hell
gibbering, leering puppet-fool
fanning ancient hates and
peddling soviet-era snake oil
to the red-hatted rubes

and little sick pence none-the-richer
who, despite his pious posturing,
strokes golden calves and
tucks into his trundle nightly
under satan's brassy bed
where he dreams of mommy,
and the simpler times
of nursery rules and tales

and muckle mite mitch,
soft-shelled, soft-spoken, purse-lipped,
un-pinnable, slippery swamp thing
whose whole-cloth lies and strategic evasions
should raise hackles on any hearer
yet somehow he always slithers through
unscathed, while the wickedness he works
goes off without a hitch

so the sorry sideshow goes,
circus wagons circled 'round an evil bonfire
made of the disrespected bones of the dead
and the dreams of the living
we have forgotten who we are, were,
and should have been,
listening to idiots' tales, full of sound-bytes and fury,
dignifying nothing.

September 16, 2019

her working title

too bright the light,
too hot the sun,
and the wind too harsh,
and yet i crave to visit the desert

my back and legs are weak,
i cannot climb, and yet
the mountains call to me

i love the moon
in every phase and face,
and the stars i love,
yet rarely do i wake
and walk out to see them

i am old and young together,
i am wise and foolish both
i know my heart and head,
my motives and my fears,
but not how i came to be
so contradictory

unless all women are so,
un-simple, perversely whole,
defiantly humble
and entreatingly arrogant,
conciliatory and unrepentant

though i think not.
i have met few as free as i feel,
if many freer in fact
am i gently fierce
or fiercely gentle?

inside my chest
beats a kernel of truth
fed and steadied
by a nameless flame
a fox-fire flicker
that can rise
in a consuming flash

and you,
who hold at times my body,
do you think you know me?

in all my tides and flames,
my pomegranate womb
and fire-seeded heart,
my ever-tender hands,
skinless shivering soul,
unwearying curiosity,
eyes china blue, sea blue,
my rapunzel hair,
appetites and aversions,
aching bones,
precise speech, long silences,
thread bridges thrown
across chasms of breakage,
do you know what you hold?

how could you know
more than i know of me?
we fear the fire,
and that will have to be enough.

July 8, 2019

who raised you?

were you raised by wolves, the nuns would ask, whenever our behaviour fell strikingly short of expectations.... well, no---there's a sad dearth of wolves where i live. we haven't had wolves or bears about for such a long time here, though a few black bears linger in the mountain areas, and lately a stray cub was sighted only an hour or so away. no, i never had the privilege of learning from wolves. but i was taught many things by other creatures in my youth, and i still look to my kindred for wisdom to this day.

i was not raised by wolves, but partly by foxes. i watched their interactions, their hunting, their cat food filching, the joyous gambols of the cubs and their noisy courtships. i learnt about motherhood from madam foxes who tended their kits with both playfulness and, occasionally, with no-nonsense discipline when needed.

i learnt mothering too from groundhogs, when watching mother ground-pig standing as she nursed her two littles filled me with kinship, and a tenderness fit to burst my heart.

definitely i owe gratitude to cats for providing warmth, comfort, and companionship to my lonely infancy and childhood. from them i learnt the importance of cleanliness, respect for personal space, play, and napping as an art form.

i learned much from birds. swans taught me about beauty and loyalty and the strength that may hide beneath softness. herons taught me the importance of patience and stillness. hawks and eagles and osprey showed me how to hunt, and that persistence is the key to success. from crows, i saw how to keep a balance between being social and being individual, and that regular discussion of things is helpful. i got colour theory from goldfinches on sunflowers and indigo buntings amongst the wheat and cardinals against snow, and from the straying peacocks who adopted me.

from skunks, i could see the value of using your less pleasant capabilities as a defence, but only when truly threatened.

otters showed me endless cleverness and taking joy in life, and the ability to be at home in multiple elements, swift-footed on land and quick-silver in water as they are.

horses and stray dogs were my playmates. they taught me the delight of swift movement and company that spoke little, asked little, and gave much.

wandering the farms, i observed the ways of cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs. i learned that some of my food had eyes and feelings and preferences just as i did, and i was taught to examine choices unquestioned by others.

squirrels taught me to collect and store bounty in season, that nature provides for those who pay attention.

i watched the rabbits and deer browsing at ease, suddenly becoming still if a predator was suspected, then choosing the right course of action---either to bound away with all one's speed, or to return to calm feeding---depending upon further information. no wasted effort, no long anxiety, no second-guessing. i compared this to the humans i knew, and judged the deer and rabbits to be smarter, in the main. the panic of the fleeing deer is a passing thing; we humans linger in our fear and poison ourselves with it.

i heard the bobcats before i saw them, calling in the night like crying children. i saw from their den sites----in a south--facing rise in the woodland, with fine sandy forecourt and a hidden back door for emergencies---the importance of a safe and pleasant house in which to raise one's young.

snakes taught me to watch my step. and that someone very other may be harmless or not, according to their individual type and circumstance, but not his species as a whole.

skinks and salamanders taught me that not all of the reptile world are frightening. they ate and played in the water and lay in the sun with simple bliss, and never a hiss or threatening movement.

many fish showed me how swimming should be done, though i never went as lithe through the water as they did. and jellyfish taught me that a pretty top may hide a sting beneath.

beetles and butterflies and dragonflies showed me that nature held animate jewels amongst her treasures, more beautiful even than those in my mother's jewel-boxes.

toads and frogs by the pond instructed me in metamorphosis, when shining clusters gave rise to tadpoles who grew into the hopping friends i saw chasing bugs, when they weren't being chased themselves by the stalking heron.

from fireflies i saw the importance of letting your light shine in darkness, as it will draw others like you nearer.

from raccoons i could see the joy of finding something really delicious, and also that it is right to wash your food and paws before eating.

from bats i learned that there are ways to navigate other than just vision, and that some people fear what they do not understand.

from turtles i could intuit the value of knowing when to pull into yourself, when to become a fortress versus when to plod forward trustingly on your way.

i observed bees moving from flower to flower, absorbed in their work, immersed in sweetness, and knew that was how life should be. i saw their hives filled with honey and knew that magic was real in the alchemy that turned pollen into honey.

coyotes, expanding into our area from lands far to the west, taught me about opportunism. one may thrive in a new place when a competitor has gone. also that humans will deny what they see when it doesn't fit their paradigm, as i was not believed when i reported seeing a coyote at first. years later, when they were more numerous, people finally accepted their presence and stopped seeing 'dogs' or 'strange foxes'.

and i was taught something by the absent wolves, too: i saw how balances change when a member of a community is gone, or when a member assumes too much importance. people often say that there are too many deer, when what they should be saying is there are too many houses and roads and shopping centres, and far too few wolves. the lack of wolves taught me that all members of a community are integral to its health, that too little and too much are equally bad things, and that hubris destroys integrity and vision.

i was raised by a few civilised people and many wild folk...who raised you?

July 4, 2019

pleading the 4th

neither great nor good
we stand (or kneel)
starry cloths lie limp
upon the sultry sky
and if my hand goes
to my heart
it is only because
it hurts

June 13, 2019

midwifing the future

lately there has been much discussion about eco-despair, and the unavoidable degradation of everything, and the urgency of action to fight---or at least mitigate---the climate disaster. all of which is needed. however, many good people are struggling to hang on to hope, or to find a way forward in its absence. i have said before that i believe in doing the right thing whether one has hope or not. and i have said that i think the most effective way to fight climate change is to act from a place of love and connection. i truly believe that; we got here through a lack of love and connection. but over the past few days i have been pondering if perhaps we also need another metaphor for our struggle, a different prism through which to view it...

we have spoken of fighting a lot: fighting the effects of climate change, slowing its advance, combatting ignorance and apathy, looking to a heroic science to save us from the consequences of our collective actions. i've even read phrases like "science will be the most potent weapon in the war on climate change". intelligent people have pointed out that individual actions will not matter much, and that only the prompt, concerted efforts of sweeping government mandated policy changes in developed and developing nations can have any effect. others, also intelligent and engaged people, have written of the necessity for leveraging scientific advances to invent new ways of sustaining our lifestyles in a changing world.

none of these statements is wrong in itself, but none of them is completely accurate either. i respectfully disagree with any assumption that individual actions do not matter; perhaps a single person's choices do not affect much, but their influence as one of many matters very greatly indeed. it is true that sweeping governmental mandates would massively speed and amplify necessary changes, but there is a peril in relying upon governments to effect change. governments are slow, unwieldy, and often corrupt. most are so deeply intertwined with corporations and maintaining the status quo and the idiotic premise of unlimited growth that it's likely governments will be the last on board with any truly deep, meaningful solutions. i suspect that the only way governments will be useful is if individuals en masse change their own consumption behaviours to transform business and finance and use their own voices and votes en masse to replace most elected officials. and while science will play a huge part in monitoring conditions and creating sustainable energy and other solutions, ultimately it isn't going to "save" us. our current way of life is unsustainable, and if there is to be a future that is decent, we shouldn't be trying to preserve it. science is important, but it needs to be disentangled from the narrative of human privilege, of dominance of and detachment from the rest of nature, of which it has long been a part. no, we really need a new story, a new metaphor. not a heroic quest with slain dragons. not a war, however just or noble. not a fight at all. we need a different way of seeing this struggle---in which every being is involved---one that makes space for new vision, new behaviour, with inspiration and affiliation instead of fear and fighting as its language and goal.

to this end, i propose that we begin to think about human response to climate change as a birth: for the first time, we are being given an opportunity to create consciously a global future. we are the midwives of the future of our world. it's the biggest, most important, and potentially the most beautiful home birth that has ever occurred on planet earth since the beginning of life itself and its wild spiral into rich diversity, and every human being is involved in bringing this new creation into existence.

birthing has many useful lessons for the process in which we must engage as we move forward.

1) trust the process.

childbirth progresses best in a calm, prepared home environment. most births are most sensibly and safely done at home. people and other animals have been giving birth for untold millennia. more often than not, it just works. humans, who have a harder time of it and tend to worry more, benefit from having the support of others who have experience with birthing. we need to look for stories both past and present that describe successful births, and bring the tellers of these tales forward to those preparing for this birth. we need to look at examples of historical humans who lived more harmoniously and reverently with their environments, and invite the wisdom of present-day indigenous people whose life-ways offer lessons in sustainability: these are the doulas and midwives of the past and present successes, and thus the best midwives for our future.

the place of science in birthing is to help with complications. most births don't require science or surgery, but when they do, it's a great gift. we as a species will experience some complications in bringing the future to birth, and scientific thought and innovation will be immensely valuable. but for our everyday actions, for this great home birth as a whole, ordinary people doing ordinary things in the most natural way, day after day, is the midwifery most needed.

2) expect discomfort.

birth hurts. it's unbelievably painful, and it's messy, and raw. it's frightening. it pushes you to the edge of endurance. it's not subject to rules or expectations. you can't and shouldn't control it. there will be many areas and occasions in the transition to the future in which we will suffer pain and grief. we are going to lose our old world, our old selves, our old stories. every birth brings a woman to her knees, and when successful, sees her reborn as a mother as well as ushering a new life into the world. the pain is awful, but it doesn't last forever, and once begun, the only way out is through. we are all in the first stages of labour, and we must be prepared for disruption and discomfort and sorrow.

3) make peace with uncertainty.

no one knows, when labour begins, how that labour will go. the form and duration, the level of pain, the presence or absence of complications, even the survival of mother and child---all are uncertain. any woman who has been through it can tell you that the uncertainty is one of the worst things about it. and still we do this tremendous yet ordinary thing...and it is worth it.

we don't know what the future will look like. we don't have to know much---we just have to focus on the process of bringing it to life.

4) look to nature.

we need to emulate nature in making most of the daily life choices that are integral to transforming human lifestyles into some form that supports what is best in us without destroying our greater home, the earth itself. close observation of natural systems will remind us what we should be aiming for, and help us work toward it with a model of abundance and cooperation rather than fear of scarcity and competition. our homes, whether single dwellings or communities, need to be more self-sufficient, grounded in real productive earth.

as preparing a home for birth requires cleaning house; so too do we need to purify our lives from toxic chemical inputs, unnecessary items, and waste, and commit to clean air, soil, water, and energy for all.

5) go to the root and the heart.

birth happens at the root of the body. it's primal, not cerebral. it tests our heart in the process. our heads got us into the ecocidal mess in which we find ourselves, but our heads aren't likely to get us out.  thinking and words are useful, but they are not the only nor the deepest sources of wisdom. we need to go back to the roots of human life, to the necessary and sustaining. we need to remember what enough is. we need to embrace the freedom of lives that don't rob tomorrow to enrich today, or take the means of life from others to add luxuries to ours. we need to listen again to the quiet but sure knowledge of the animal body---our own and each others'---and to the voice of the heart which feels its own pain and joy and also that of others. the body knows how to give birth, and it knows how to live. the heart knows how to endure, celebrate, and communicate, and it has the intelligence we need to shape life.

6) embrace the shadow.

when we place ourselves in opposition to climate crisis, we are not opposing something external to ourselves---fighting climate change is fighting the dragons that escaped from our own minds, our own severed souls. it is the consequence of our own actions, our carelessness, our disconnection, our lonely arrogance. climate change is the shadow of modern humanity writ large upon the world. as we spread over the globe, ever more numerous, ever more capable, and covered it with harder structures and polluted it and squeezed it insatiably, we told ourselves stories of our own sinfulness and guilt, and also told stories of our separateness and our uniqueness among all life. we forgot how to experience the divine in the world. we exploited each other and tormented each other for gods and for gain. we exploited and tormented other beings far beyond any need. we both felt and fled from our sorrow and guilt. we forgot that life is cyclical and hewed to a linear view of things. we tore ourselves out of the matrix, then tried to distract ourselves from the resulting grief.

when we speak of fighting climate change, what we are really saying is that we are fighting ourselves. we've been doing that for so long, in a variety of ways, and it hasn't done us any good. i say, it's time to put down the words and ways of combat and try words and ways of making whole. let's craft a story in which climate change is the wake-up call for humanity, the call to come home to ourselves as we best can be, and to the earth our first and only home. there is still guilt, still urgency, still sorrow in that, but there is also the chance for redemption and healing. just as the pain and suffering of labour is coming from within and experienced through our own bodies, yet results in something desired and transformative, embracing our shadow and feeling fully the results of our actions is the only way to reclaim our wholeness.

7) celebrate life.

framing the quandary that confronts us in the language of battle is less helpful than framing it in the language of labour. this is a struggle, it is painful and scary, but more than anything it is a work. it is in many ways the only real work before humanity, apart from our daily work of living and rearing good humans, for the foreseeable future. there are millions of us labouring together, and there will be millions more joining in as years go by. we cannot sustain our energy to do the work, and we cannot find the inspiration needed to do it well, if we are continually steeped in outmoded stories of scarcity and greed, war and disconnection. we must rejoin ourselves to the whole fabric of life. we must frame  our work in terms of what is life-affirming and celebrate what we cherish, the greater life of which we are part, and what we are creating for future generations of beings. a labouring woman finds strength to endure it in the thought of the child to be placed in her arms. we too can find strength in remembering that what we endure, we do for Life itself. we are not 'fighting'; we are creating a future and bringing it to birth.

June 12, 2019

tree wisdom

i was delighted to see that Terri Windling's post today ( was about the book "Overstory", and about trees, and how truly akin we are. i've always had a great reverence for trees, and the more i learn about them, the more convinced i am that they are as much our kindred as other living creatures on this earth...

Windling quotes Barbara Kingsolver's comments on how alike humans and trees are:
"They compete for their livelihoods and take care of their families, sometimes making huge sacrifices for their children. They breathe, eat and have sex. They give gifts, communicate, learn, remember and record the important events of their lives. With relatives and non-kin alike they cooperate, forming neighborhood watch committees -- to name one example -- with rapid response networks to alert others to a threatening intruder. They manage their resources in bank accounts, using past market trends to predict future needs. They mine and farm the land, and sometimes move their families across great distances for better opportunities. Some of this might take centuries, but for a creature with a life span of hundreds or thousands of years, time must surely have a different feel about it."
---Barbara Kingsolver, in a review of "Overstory" by Richard Powers

Powers himself, in an interview also quoted by Windling, reminds us that we are indeed here by the grace of trees: 
"The salvation of humanity -- for it’s us, not the world, who need to be saved -- and our continued lease on this planet depend on our development of tree consciousness. We are here by the grace of trees and forests. They make our atmosphere, clean our water, and sustain the cycles of life that permit us. Just begin to see them. See them up close and personal. See them from far away across great distances. Notice all the million complex beautiful behaviors and forms that have always slipped right past you. Simply see, and the rest will begin to follow. Every other act of preservation depends on that first step."

there is so much wisdom to be found in humility and simple, loving attention...when we look at things from the perspective of Other-ness, from a kind of reductive or mechanistic thinking, we miss so much. we blind ourselves with our hubris, with our illusion of separation. we quite literally fail to see the forest for the trees. if we could re-learn to see with humble eyes, with connected hearts, we would see our way home, i think. recognising the personhood and agency in all life is the first step on that homeward path, for it allows us to learn from the greater intelligence in the fabric of life. it re-establishes us in our correct relation to other beings. there is, to me, no fear---and indeed i find it greatly comforting---in viewing humanity as simply one of a myriad of life forms, all related and necessary.  if we are to do this in a meaningful way, though, it will mean confronting our own behaviour: all the ways in which we have acted destructively and carelessly, and with arrogance. this is necessary. the privilege we have arrogated to ourselves as humans is both artificial and toxic, to us and to all other life. and as in most areas, giving up privilege does not lessen our experience, but rather enriches it. we will find in affiliation and cooperation a far greater sense of being at home in the world than we ever could in ranking and competition. if we were to observe trees, for example, through the eyes of kinship, we might get lessons in relationship, in community, in the value of diversity, in the importance of roots, in communication, in selflessness, in flexibility of thought and behaviour, in patience, in gratitude...and very possibly, in the restoration of hope.

carnation, lily, lily, rose

why was she drawn to the garden at nightfall? so small, barely past toddlerhood, she would slip out after dinner, while the adults were occ...