Monday, November 21, 2016

Seeking words to help us see


I work with words. One could say that a lot of what I do with my day is work with words.

I write. I write for this website. I write for a CNC Facebook page. I write as a writer – essays, poems, I’m trying to finish a book, my third, and I give talks, do PowerPoint presentations, go to meetings, speak in communities. And I read – voraciously.

Words are my work tools. It’s one of the ways I work for New Creation - on its behalf, in the hopes of it.

And so I found company and some consolation in these words on a Nov 9 Facebook post in the aftermath of the Trump victory from a writer whom I much admire, Terry Tempest Williams, because the tools had failed me and I was having a very hard time writing at all:
It is morning, and I am mourning.
And the river is before me.
I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them.

I stood with Lake Michigan before me, a glacial lake left here when the ice finally retreated after a long Ice Age. It represents for me all that has gone wrong with our human industrial age – it is polluted, invasive species have destroyed its original ecosystem, it is in demand and threatened by future demand as humans drain aquifers around the nation, toxic algae appears each year, and some beaches pose health risks from e.coli.

And the lake represents for me all that makes this work important to me, all that makes this special place worth saving – its beauty, the way the water changes color with the sky or the direction of the wind, from deep blues to slate gray, sometimes blending with the fog that roles in at certain times of the year disappearing the horizon, the days of calm when the mallard and merganser ducks, the coots, and the geese float lazily on the surface and the days when a gale blows in and it becomes a wild animal crashing on our shores.

The sounds! Oh, if you could hear the sounds, the way it sloshes, not like the ocean with its steady rhythm of waves, the deep roar like thunder when the big waves are breaking, the crinkling sounds from the motion of ice in the winter as the water beneath causes it to undulate (one of my favorite words in the whole world!), or the loud cracks in late winter or early spring when the ice begins to let go.

I drink this water. Every day, I drink volumes of this water. And so it is life source for me, though treated to keep out all the threats to my health – heavy metals, pharmaceutical waste, dangerous bacteria, and more.

I have been known to do little ceremonies by the water with stones or prayers whispered on the wind, deep bows of gratitude, or opening my arms wide to the sun when it peaks up over the horizon in the morning.

These words. My words. Trying to communicate. Trying to connect. Or maybe just using them as my way of crying out in the wilderness…or what remains of it.

These are hard days, my friends. These are hard days for us all.

Terry also wrote this:
Let us pause and listen and gather our strength with grace and move forward like water in all its manifestation: flat water, white water, rapids and eddies, and flood this country with an integrity of purpose and patience and persistence capable of cracking stone.

I believe that because I have seen it. If you haven’t been, go to the Grand Canyon and see what water can do. And that’s only one chapter in water’s ancient story on this planet where water is the very element that made life, our lives, my life, possible.
Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Do not see Donald Trump as cause. He is effect. He is manifestation of something that has gone very wrong in the human journey. Do not pretend that we are not all part of that story. The industrial narrative, the narrative of extraction-production-consumption-waste, the narrative of cognitive separation of the human from Nature (as if that was possible even a little tiny bit) brought about by our age of the “enlightened” rational mind, the narrative of western individualism and the male god who judges each of us for our personal sins, and perhaps especially the narrative of the “American Dream” and “American exceptionalism” – we have all been part of that narrative. We have all partaken of it with ways of life that are consuming the planet, destroying from beneath and around us the very Web of Life that holds us, within which we dwell, on which we are utterly dependent.

And in this time of chaos and turbulence all around the planet, it seems most humans are retreating to that primitive part of our brains, to tribalism, to fragmentation, to even more separation from one another, and a refusal to understand – understanding being impossible if we only put the mirror up before others and not ourselves.

"What has been hidden is now exposed," wrote Terry Tempest Williams. Are we prepared to look at it this time – to really, really look deeply into what is happening here, and to the planet, to the human community and the community of all sentient and non-sentient beings?

Source: Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute

Total darkness is descending on the Arctic now, the time of year when the new ice begins to quickly form in the deep cold of northern winter. THAT IS NOT HAPPENING THIS YEAR. Instead, the sea is still losing ice. A recent report indicated that the Arctic region has seen temperatures 36 degrees ABOVE normal! And a few days ago the Los Angeles Times reported that there are 102 MILLION dead trees in California – 66 million more since May, a 100% increase since 2015, and the rate of death is rising fast because of drought, climate change, and voracious beetles invading all the western mountains from the Canadian Rockies because the winters are no longer cold enough to kill off the year’s population.

This morning I spent more time than I planned catching up on events at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I do a daily check-in each morning on Facebook pages with updates and videos from this ground zero of our struggle to stop construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, the struggle to protect our waters – the ones we need in order to be alive. And this morning’s reports were beyond heartbreaking. Yesterday, attempts by the Protectors to reopen a highway bridge that has been blockaded by the police for many weeks now was met with military force – with percussion grenades and rubber bullets shot directly into people’s heads, hands, and ribs, with mace and pepper spray, and perhaps most dangerous of all, water hoses despite temperatures in the 20s. Medic teams treated more than a hundred people for hypothermia, gross bruises and bleeding head wounds from the bullets, and those sickened by the gas.

And still they persist. Our Water Protectors will be out there again today and the day after that, and they just keep on asking us to stand with them in any way we can, even if all we have is the energy of our prayers. Hundreds of people from around the country will be there for this long “thanksgiving” weekend, about which Frank Archambault, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stated: 
“We have a very harsh day coming up now,” he said. “In my family we never celebrated
Thanksgiving. It was always a day of mourning for the day that genocide began on this continent. This all just goes to prove what we’re talking about.” [in “Standing Rock protest: hundreds clash with police over Dakota Access Pipeline,” The Guardian, Nov 21, 2016].

Can this culture come to terms with this? Do we understand how grievous the wounds really are, how violent and brutal the history, how profoundly unjust this system that has brought us to this moment? Because if we don’t do that – really come to terms with it – new creation will be forever blocked here. And if we can finally allow ourselves to see what brought this moment about, how do we move from it? How do we move OUT of it?

When I started writing an hour and a half ago, I had no idea where this would go. When you open the space to let emergence come, you just never know what will, then, emerge. So these are the words I have now. I will have other words in days to come. But I hope these serve us in some way in this difficult week when the nation pauses to give, um, thanks, though for what is not clear right now, while also beginning the annual orgy of consumption and credit card purchases to buy stuff that corporations need you to buy in order to make profits and “create jobs.” And every item purchased will have required taking something from the Earth, and more will be taken than the Earth can possibly regenerate, and more waste will be created when all that stuff eventually gets thrown away. 

Until we are prepared to stop this insanity, until we are prepared to throw out this toxic system - toxic to body and spirit and our precious Earth – and start again.

~ Margaret Swedish 

All photos except "Defend the Sacred" - Margaret Swedish

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