Hallowed Ground – by Mother Eagle

For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.

And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project. This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.

Both practices are types of excarnation, whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice of air sacrifice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has completely degenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.

I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence. The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.

I began to research animals on the IUCN Red List that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats. My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.

Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad 

The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.

Sawfish 

The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth 

The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.

Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat 

One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.

Geometric Tortoise 

A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.

Gooty Tarantula 

This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.

 

Kate Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand-embroidery techniques. Kate’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species.

 

I Felt Despair About Climate Change Until a Brush With Death Changed My Mind – by ALISON SPODEK KEIMOWITZ

This piece is an extract from an article published at Slate. You can read the full text here.

I was dying. Not just in the way that we’re all inching inevitably toward our own deaths each moment; I was hurtling toward a specific death with a name, a shape, and a timeline. I was 37 years old and I was dying of leukemia.

I was lying in a hospital bed, so ill that diagnosis, when someone finally named the doom I had been feeling in my body for months, was a relief. At least the sense of vague terror and impending catastrophe I had been feeling had a name. A cure, in the shape of a stem cell transplant, was possible, but it required the complete and utter dissolution of myself, dangling my broken body over the edge of the very cliff a cure is meant to postpone.

It wasn’t just my body that dissolved in those weeks: My mind and soul were also broken apart, fragmented, and brought to the edge of ruin. In medical terms, I became depressed, hallucinatory, and delusional. And in medical terms, the team of doctors really didn’t have jack-shit to prescribe me except for patience.

I was visited by a mindfulness practitioner during this time, but I was too far gone for prolonged mindfulness practice, unable to bring myself to a set of exercises that had sustained me prior to illness. There was simply no self to bring. Instead my visitor asked me to count to four, in line with my breath. And then to do it again. And to come back to this simple counting whenever I needed it. I could get to four, and then four again. I could get through my pain, my nausea, my misery, for the count of four breaths. And then I could ask myself to do it again.

This practice didn’t make me feel better. I was still miserable and broken and absent. But it gave me the space to sit with that misery, call it by its name, and know its shape. That was valuable, just as the name and shape of the leukemia diagnosis had been valuable some months before.

Three months after my stem cell transplant, I returned back to my home, my husband and children, my life. One year later I returned to work as a professor of chemistry and environmental studies, teaching the same material I had taught before my illness. Some of it was banal: procedures for balancing chemical reactions, reassuring in their straightforward clarity. But some of it took on a new emotional significance—specifically, teaching about climate change, biodiversity, and extinction.

This planet is dying. Not just in the way that life on Earth is always, inevitably beginning and ending, that species are rising and falling, that extinction and evolution occur, and that temperature and sea levels cycle dramatically and irregularly. In the 21st century, Earth is hurtling toward a specific death with a shape, a name, and a timeline. It is dying of global warming, climate change, extinction, biological annihilation, and ocean acidification. The exact names and the exact timing is debated, but the overall trajectory of life on Earth is well-understood: We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the odds of human civilization reaching the 22nd century are often estimated at no better than 50/50.

You can continue reading this piece at Slate.

By Alison Spodek Keimowitz

Global Earth Exchange – June 16th 2018

“We can’t wait any longer to love the places we’re losing!”

Next Saturday June 16th is the 9th annual Global Earth Exchange Day. Organisers Radical Joy for Hard Times invites people to ‘find and make beauty in wounded places”. http://www.radicaljoyforhardtimes.org/events/2018-global-earth-exchange/

There are 7 simple steps to doing an Earth Exchange:

  1. Go, alone or with friends, to a wounded place.
  2. Sit awhile and share your stories about what the place means to you.
  3. Get to know the place as it is now.
  4. Share what you discovered.
  5. Make a simple gift of beauty—often a bird made of materials the place itself provides.
  6. Take photos of the place, your group, your gift.
  7. Send Rad Joy a photo and a short description of what happened for their website.

This year, the Global Earth Exchange kicks off PEOPLE BINDING THE EARTH, a year-long project in which participants’ gifts to their beloved places will include marigold yellow yarn.

Where is your beloved, wounded place? Will you join in?

 

A New Mourning: Remembrance Day for Lost Species – by P.K. Read

In this modern age of nature disconnect, can a ritual lamenting extinct animals and lost habitats help people cope with environmental devastation?

This article is reproduced with the author’s permission from Undark magazine, where it was published in April 2018

AN OVERSIZED PAPER MÂCHÉ sunflower rose like a pale moon against the dusk of a central Brighton park. Amid the shivering group of 30 people on the chilly south coast of England, a funereal gong sounded. Several faces were hidden behind self-made bat masks in black and pink. Some wore construction paper bat ears. One woman sported a set of massive fine-mesh bee spectacles like cartoon aviator goggles. They were all there to participate in a mourning ceremony for the Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS).

I stood among them, maskless and foot-cold, unable to decide whether this was wonderful or absurd. In the grand scheme of conservation, what difference could a ritual for pollinators held in a narrow park between two busy Brighton streets make?

According to a 2016 United Nations-sponsored study, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (bees and butterflies) and 16 percent of vertebrate pollinators (bats and birds) are currently threatened with extinction. As pollinators are increasingly endangered due to habitat loss and pesticides, so too are the plants they pollinate — including an estimated one-third of global food crops that rely on insect pollination.

One of the unspoken aspects of extinction is that, with the exception of a few iconic animals (the passenger pigeon, the dodo), knowledge of an extinct animal all but vanishes once the species is gone. The ecosystems in which the animal or plant played its own role will alter, adapt, and depending on which species are lost, survive in one form or another. Barring dedicated research, human knowledge of that animal vanishes because often, our understanding of that species’ place in its system is nascent or non-existent when the animal goes extinct.

When Persephone Pearl, the artist at the center of the group in Brighton, viewed a taxidermic thylacine in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2010, she was deeply moved, first to tears, and then to action. The thylacine, a unique carnivorous marsupial that went extinct mainly due to hunting in Tasmania some 80 years ago, became the inspiration for a ritual that would honor the passage of creatures most people had never heard of. It’s since become something of a mascot for RDLS, which has been held annually since 2011.

RDLS is part of a growing movement that uses art and performance to confront the loss of animals and places to human development. This includes honoring endlings, a sweet word for the last survivors of species doomed to die. What I was watching, it turns out, was performance art, grieving, mourning, and community building, all wrapped into one.

Experiencing sadness at personal loss is as easy as falling down. But how do we mourn a bee or a butterfly, a bat or a bird? Talking about habitat loss is nothing new. Henry David Thoreau wasn’t just complaining about the perils of industriousness for the soul when he wrote about “shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time.” Still, this particular kind of dramatization — dubbed ‘eco-grief’ — was something new for me. RDLS and groups like it are essentially creating outlets for coping with this sadness. The problem with denying death’s stealthy proximity is that, when it comes, we find ourselves unrehearsed.

The rituals of most religions are, by definition, for and about humanity. What we are missing is a conscious preparation for death’s possibility — not necessarily ours, but that of Earth’s other species. This is where artists can step in.

“Most of those heavily involved in RDLS have at least a partial creative background,” says Matthew Stanfield, a relative newcomer who has been closely involved with the Remembrance initiative since 2016. “Artistry has been and continues to be a big part of the initiative.” RDLS is a loose collective that invites anyone to participate; there are no blueprints other than a mutual desire for expression.

Pearl, with bright orange socks and a thick hat that did nothing to disguise her emotional focus, kept her hand on the giant sunflower as if it were a talking stick. Eyes closed, she explained the paper flower and its embellishment of dead flowers was a symbol of pollinators, of the crops that are grown with pesticides that affect pollinators; it was a stand-in for both the natural world and the world of agriculture.

Stanfield, a young man with barely tamed hair and dignified manner, had a prepared statement of the rising necessity of rituals for mourning out of respect for the animal “ghosts of our fellow travelers.” It was a good speech, half improvised and all the more heartfelt for it.

Everyone paused and regarded the sunflower, which was due to be burnt as a pollinator pyre. It was torn and bent in a couple of places from being dinged against lampposts during our procession from the gallery to the park. An older man, greying beard bundled against the cold in a large scarf, exchanged a glance with Pearl and embarked on a more upbeat statement of what can be done, action that can be taken to support and protect pollinators in the U.K.

Before he got more than a couple of sentences in, Pearl stopped him. “I’m sorry, wait. I’m just not ready to move on yet. I’m not in the place for solutions yet. I’m too pissed off.”

She launched into a bitter litany of complaint. She’s as pissed off as someone might be who knew each bee personally, and watched them crumple and die. Her voice shook and she squeezed the tip of a sunflower petal to a sharp paper dart.

This RDLS gathering reminded me of my 1960s California hippie childhood, replete with countless self-fashioned ceremonies in all their messy, well-intentioned glory.

At this point, people pushed up their pink and black bat masks or wore them like scarves. The bumblebee goggles were removed. The procession through the streets had been a cheerful, bumpy rollick, but now the real face of grief and anger behind the absurdist theater was revealed.

One thing I’ve learned is that real spectacle starts where tamed emotion ends. At the pollinator procession, people aired their grievances, and all of the complaints began with anger. Isn’t anger at an original insult, at a profound loss, the very cornerstone of grief?

That might be why, in spite of being there as an observer, I heard my own voice rising with those around the sunflower in Brighton, lamenting a recent loss of my own: an old cherry grove lost to suburban development where I live in rural France, and the numerous birds’ nests in the unfinished house walls that had been smashed one day in early spring.

I only realized how furious I still was while standing there in Brighton. Angry at the impatient developers for not waiting a couple of weeks until the fledglings had flown, angry at the loss of the orchard, angry that I had fed groups of birds through several winters only to have them killed for the expediency of a construction schedule, angry at myself for not doing anything about it. There was a murmur of sad disgust as I finished my story, a moment of shared silence while I pictured the grove in its former glory, rich with birdsong, thick with bees, heavy with summer cherries. Then it was someone else’s turn.

When I was a kid in Golden Gate Park, I used to lie on the lawn, facing the sky, and feel myself as a part of the grass and trees, the park, the life all around me. There was no inkling then that any of it could ever disappear, or that I would be ill-equipped to confront the empty spaces that awaited.

Stanfield told me that learning about endangerment and species loss is how he got involved in the natural world in the first place. In this modern age of nature disconnect, where fewer and fewer people experience nature in a direct way, I suspect he’s not alone. Like Persephone Pearl and many others, Stanfield felt a fascination with certain extinct animals such as the thylacine.

The endearing strangeness of the thylacine draws people in with the seduction of a bygone era, like a crush on a long-dead movie star. Online conversations are replete with shared images and information, affectionate mash notes, and insider tidbits. What prods people into outrage is the injustice and recklessness of thylacine history, the government-sponsored bounty hunting and extirpation of a unique creature. This anger often piques an interest in species that are undergoing the extinction process today, or which have recently become extinct.

Most of the people I spoke with while discussing RDLS are open about experiencing depression. Creating rituals for dead species would seem to be the last thing that would alleviate the blues. But if the colossus of human impact on the environment weighs heavily on their minds and hearts, they say work with RDLS offers comfort.

A 2014 study by researchers Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School on the value of mourning rituals in times of bereavement looked into the role that rituals played in building resilience when dealing with feelings of loss. A key discovery was that ritual — any ritual, private or public, traditional or personal — helped people cope with misfortune, as long as it was actually practiced. From burning the photos of a broken relationship to continuing the activities shared with a deceased spouse, those experiencing loss felt better by processing their grief. If tears and wishes can offer respite from sadness, it’s action that gives us control over grief.

Water, earth, and fire are the ritual standbys of humans, and at the pollinator procession, it was time for fire. The brisk wind (a fourth reliable element of ritual) had risen, so the large paper sunflower was broken into pieces that could be burned in a small fire pit rather than go up in a larger conflagration. The flower was big and took forever to burn down, the air was frigid, and people started to drift off with the ashes into the dark of night. That’s the problem with homemade rituals. It’s hard to tell when they end.

Maybe it was the harsh wind or the smoke from the burning sunflower effigy, but I shed a few tears among strangers in Brighton. Walking alone toward the English Channel afterwards, I was surprised to find that I had actually released some of my anger about the birds that had visited my garden annually, and now were gone.

Grieving is never going to get easier, but it can be shaped. It’s no surprise that the RDLS ceremony was a loose wobble of lament, humor, and ashes. It’s a new approach to a new phenomenon. Of course we should all be doing what we can to prevent habitat loss, to prevent extinction where we can, in whatever way we can. The extinction wave right now, unchecked by immediate human action on a vast scale, will affect and afflict everyone in unpredictable ways.

Pretend it’s not happening or acknowledge that it is, the wave is already crashing, and the horizons are changing. It’s time to figure out what kind of ritual raft will keep us afloat.


P.K. Read is a freelance writer and translator with an interdisciplinary background in history and environmental strategy. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, Litro, The Feminist Wire, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She blogs at champagnewhisky.com.

A Life Cairn for Mauritius

The creation of the first Life Cairn memorial in Mauritius for the Dodo: policemen came in uniform, the two largest environmental groups on the Island were present, mixed with locals, school children and scouts. The youngest and the oldest laid their first stones. The Shankha was blown and we gathered, broken hearted, to lay the memorial for the Dodo and for all the iconic species of Mauritius driven to man-made extinctions.

Thank you especially the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, Eco-Sud Lagon Bleu and Pepper and Mas from Yaima for contributing your beautiful song “the Sacred.” Here is a clip to get a feeling of this extraordinary event.

All life to carry one life, one life to carry all life.

By Andreas Kornevall, Earth Restoration Service

Bestiary – by Joanna Macy

Bronx Zoo, Alexis Rockman, 2012-13

Short-tailed albatross

Whooping crane

Gray wolf

Woodland caribou

Hawksbill sea turtle

Rhinoceros

 

The list of endangered species keeps growing longer every year.  With too many names to hold in our mind, how do we honor the passing of life?  What funerals or farewells are appropriate?

 

Reed warbler

Swallowtail butterfly

Bighorn sheep

Indian python

Howler monkey

Sperm whale

Blue whale

 

Dive me deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother ocean where I once swam, gilled and finned. The salt from those early seas still runs in my tears. Tears aren’t enough anymore. Give me a song, a song for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.

 

Giant sable antelope

Wyoming toad

Grizzly bear

Brown bear

Bactrian camel

Nile crocodile

Chinese alligator

 

Ooze me, alligator, in the mud whence I came. Belly me slow in the rich primordial soup, cradle of our molecules. Let me wallow again, before we drain your swamp and pave it over.

 

Gray bat

Ocelot

Pocket mouse

Sockeye salmon

Tasmanian kangaroo

Hawaiian goose

Audouin’s seagull

 

Quick, lift off. Sweep me high over the coast and out, farther out.  Don’t land here. Oilspills coat the beach, rocks, sea. I cannot spread my wings glued with tar.  Fly me from what we have done, fly me far.

 

Golden parakeet

West African ostrich

Florida panther

Galapagos penguin

Imperial pheasant

Snow leopard

Mexican prairie dog

 

Hide me in a hedgerow, badger. Can’t you find one? Dig me a tunnel through leaf-mold and roots, under the trees that once defined our fields. My heart is bulldozed and plowed over.  Burrow me a labyrinth deeper than longing.

 

Thick-billed parrot

San Francisco garter snake

Desert bandicoot

Molokai thrush

California condor

Lotus blue butterfly

 

Crawl me out of here, caterpillar. Spin me a cocoon. Wind me to sleep in a shroud of silk, where in patience my bones will dissolve. I’ll wait as long as all creation if only it will come again — and I take wing.

 

Atlantic ridley turtle

Coho salmon

Helmeted hornbill

Marine otter

Humpback whale

Steller sea-lion

Monk seal

 

Swim me out beyond the ice floes, mama. Where are you? Boots squeeze my ribs, clubs drum my fur, the white world goes black with the taste of my blood.

 

Gibbon

Sand gazelle

Swamp deer

Musk deer

Cheetah

Chinchilla

Asian elephant

African elephant

 

Sway me slowly through the jungle. There still must be jungle somewhere, my heart drips with green secrets. Hose me down by the waterhole; there is buckshot in my hide. Tell me old stories while you can remember.

 

Desert tortoise

Crested ibis

Hook-billed kite

Mountain zebra

Mexican bobcat

Andrew’s frigatebird

 

In the time when his world, like ours, was ending, Noah had a list of the animals, too. We picture him standing by the gangplank, calling their names, checking them off on his scroll. Now we also are checking them off.

 

Ivory-billed woodpecker

Indus river dolphin

West Indian manatee

Wood stork

 

We reenact Noah’s ancient drama, but in reverse, like a film running backwards, the animals exiting.

 

Ferret

Gorilla

Jaguar

Wolf

 

Your tracks are growing fainter. Wait. Wait. This is a hard time.  Don’t leave us alone in a world we have wrecked.

Responding to Loss in Nature – by Daniel Hudon

How do we as citizens and writers respond to loss in the natural world? Since I began to write my book, Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals (now available), several years ago, loss in nature has been frequently on my mind. I gave my first ever poetry workshop on this theme at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival last weekend, and judging by how early the session filled up (soon after the schedule was announced, back in April), people are hungry to engage with the topic.

What have we lost? I asked the participants at the beginning of the session. They answered:

  • fireflies
  • honeybees
  • the flight of the monarch
  • coral reefs
  • clean water
  • the night sky
  • the sounds of nature

and more.

A formidable list, which I supplemented with elephants, tigers, rhinos, pangolins, sharks, orang utans, bluefin tuna, songbirds, amphibians, mangroves, wetlands, neighbourhood trees, sea grass beds, glaciers, mountain tops, and diversity in nature (see the work of Bernard Krause).

Our task as writers is to engage with challenging issues and I would love to see poets take on loss in nature more frequently. Whether to grieve and lament, honour and eulogise, forewarn and remind (not to mention rant and rave!), our responses in poetry can help others process their own feelings regarding environmental change. Look at Mary Oliver’s poem, Lead . After the two inciting incidents (the loons dying over the winter and the friend’s description of one in its death throes) she folds in all the things she loves about loons – the things we all love, including its wild and uncanny call. Her response is our inspiration, a heartbreak that reminds us not to withdraw but to engage.  “Here is a story/ to break your heart”  she begins. And she ends the poem with:

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

Without this frame, the poem would be incomplete.

Historically, loons nested in Massachusetts but were extirpated in the late 19th century. In 1975, a pair of loons was discovered nesting at Quabbin Reservoir. Today, there are approximately 32 nesting pairs of loons on 14 different lakes, ponds and reservoirs in the Commonwealth. Loons are listed on the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act list as a Species of Special Concern. In general they require 1000 acres of water per nesting pair, islands for nesting and limited human disturbance, which makes the Quabbin Reservoir ideal.

However, loons are being poisoned by ingesting lead fishing gear – hence the title of Mary Oliver’s poem – this is the leading cause of mortality of loons in New England. They do this either by eating the minnows used as bait, then swallowing the hook, line, and sinker or by scooping lead sinkers off the bottom when they ingest small pebbles. Lead sinkers and lead weights less than one ounce are now banned in all inland lakes in Massachusetts in an attempt to curb the problem.

We had a lively discussion about the poem and it seems I could have based my entire session on it. But we also looked at a handful of other poems, chosen from Earth Shattering , a terrific anthology of ecopoems edited by Neil Astley, The Dire Elegies: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America, the Amsterdam QuarterlyThe Lost Species Day website and Canary: A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis.

While journalists and scientists have to tell stories and present evidence when they write about loss in nature, poets have an advantage in being able to draw from seemingly unrelated events – or from their own experience — in order to evoke particular feelings.

One of the shortest poems we looked at was Condor from The Dire Elegies, by Massachusetts poet Susan Edwards Richmond:

When there is no sky left                                                       
big enough                                                                                
to hold that bird,                                                                    
 let it die.                                                                                                                                                                                          

Then dig my grave close by. 

So terse, and yet so evocative at the same time. I love the prophetic voice she adopts in the first section of the poem. My hunch is that she took a simple detail like the ability of condors to soar, a detail that she loved, and turned it inside out to make it sound fresh and authoritative. Her real response follows in the last line  Then dig my grave close by. As one of the workshop participants said, the success of the condor is our success, and its failure, should that occur, will be our failure too.

In a writing exercise, we tried to get at the prophetic voice she uses in the first section, but we didn’t have time to share responses. Still, I feel we accomplished a lot in that one hour frame. My blurb on the festival website promised, “By challenging ourselves to engage important environmental problems, you’ll come away both with new material and with renewed connection to the natural world.” Ambitious, to be sure. But if only it were that easy to connect with nature! Nevertheless, given the engagement and energy of the participants and the response to the theme, I’m looking forward to doing more such workshops soon.

Daniel Hudon is an author of short fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is also an educator, working as a lecturer in astronomy, physics, maths, and writing at colleges in the Boston area. Readers can follow his recent writing on the topics of species reduction, ecology, and environmental literature, at his website. His book about the biodiversity crisis, Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader, is now available for pre-order here: http://penandanvil.com/brief-eulogies/ 

Connect with him on Twitter @daniel_hudon.

Broken open – by Persephone Pearl

Broken open

wrung out

limp

eyes tiny swollen things

limbs heavy and immobile

yet I want to stay like this

to lie by the embers while the cold wind whips me

press my face against stones while my tears roll through the gaps between them

shout into blackness and feel the wind push my cries back into my throat

fall down and pummel the ground

my heart so full that it has cracked wide open like a burnt rock from the heart of the pyre

 


Last night in Brighton we held a funeral for the thylacine, extinct since 1936. The meeting point was at ONCA, where we gave people whiskers and Lost Species Day stickers when they arrived. Glitter, fur, black garb, leopard print, tails, ears: the gallery was full of people curious, open, ready for this, tangibly in need of this kind of space.

I preface the procession with a disclaimer/ celebration:

This is an experiment, there are no rules, we are inventing it all together because we need to – 

Then we press pieces of paper with the names of lost species into their hands and pockets, and off we all go, carrying an effigy of Benjamin, the last thylacine. We only made a head and a tail, and they are connected by a great length of white sheet that many people hold and drape over their shoulders. We’re a motley crew: Ellie at the front in her thylacine mask made from an old teddy bear, tolling the Bell for Lost Species as she goes; Gary with his dark glasses and his tambourine like a Krishna devotee; Alex the bewhiskered numb-fingered ukulele player; people with masks with lanterns; my son Felix running around like a paparazzo with a borrowed GoPro. People smile as we pass by, or shake their heads and mutter “bloody humans” when they hear that it’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

Wake up, shouts Andreas as the bell tolls. It’s time to wake up!

Is this alright, I am thinking. Is this enough? I want this to be enough. I need it to be enough for the people who have come. Yet what could ever be enough?

Through the Pavilion Gardens – for a moment we nearly end up on the temporary ice rink – then down onto the ink dark beach, crunching over pebbles all the way to the foreshore with this strange snaking hodgepodge creation. It stinks of fish down here but instinctively I want that – to perceive, viscerally, the processes of life and death.

The thylacine-snake is laid out in a circle with head and tail meeting in the middle – a great wonky ouroboros – and we gather shufflingly around it. Matt steps into the centre and tells the story of the thylacine – its uniqueness, its niche, its scapegoating, persecution and extermination.

Then, people speak from the edges of the circle of the things they wish to remember tonight:

I want to remember the wolves and bears of this land shot to extinction

I want to remember the boreal forests of Canada given way to tar sands

I want to remember the great forests of Germany now all but gone

I want to remember the red gazelle, though I never knew of its existence till now

I want to remember Toughie and the lost amphibians

Down, I am sinking down, dropping so far, held by the voice of the sea and this fragile circle of vulnerability

I want to remember the lost forest people of Brazil and Panama

I want to remember Berta Caceres the murdered Honduran indigenous environmental activist

I want to remember the unborn Native American children poisoned by the persistent organic pollutants in the Great Lakes

I want to remember the murdered Thai environmental protector who inspired so many people

Further, let me drop further down –  I am ready for the abyss, I feel the sides rushing past me as I fly – but are others frightened? Is this too much? How much can we bear to look at? 

I hold in my thoughts the protectors at Standing Rock

I hold in my thoughts the bees and the pollinators

I hold in my thoughts the protesters defending the woods of Leith Hill from oil exploration

I hold in my thoughts the web of life that is sustained by the soil and I commit to restoring the soil

I give thanks for the worms

I give thanks for the return of the beavers

I give thanks for the wasps and their great work

I give thanks to all the people who give their lives in service to the earth that they love

I could stay here forever.

And then Ellie is saying, Come on then, let’s burn it, and I am wondering, Is it too much, are people too cold, is it too difficult? And we are stumbling about, placing offerings into the mouth of the thylacine, while Andreas plays Amazing Grace on his flute. Lu-Lu in the lemur hat is lighting the paper and up goes Benjamin, a sudden exquisite blast of brilliance in the dark. Just like that.

I sit by the fire, almost touching it; my friend Flor and I tend the flames and I watch every moment. I must stay until the very end, just as I had to at my mother’s funeral when the gravediggers came with their little digger and pushed the heavy clay over her coffin. The tears come now. All I can do is cry, and hold onto strangers.

My comrade Andreas takes one of my tears and puts it into the fire. He says the earth’s song is out of tune and the tree of life is withered. We need to howl and weep, for how else can we water the withered tree or bring music back into the voice of the earth? He recites a poem by Antonio Machado, taught to us by our friend the brilliant Martin Shaw:

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odour of jasmine.

‘In return for the odour of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odour of your roses.’

‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’

‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’

Remembrance Day for Lost Species – ONCA @LostSpeciesDay from hyperoculus on Vimeo.

 

Lost Species Day Joy Giving – by Megan Hollingsworth

ex·tinc·tion wit·ness is one in a growing coalition of artists, educators, museum curators, scientists and writers forwarding International Remembrance Day for Lost Species (Lost Species Day).

This year, ex·tinc·tion wit·ness joins Your Yoga in Bozeman, Montana for Joy Giving. Lost Species Day Joy Giving practice is focused on grieving discovery and the total cost of a doctrine that has long made legitimate by law the exploitation, removal, and murder of men, women, and children, all non-human organisms, and whole communities.

Lost Species Day offerings have been highlighted throughout November at the Lost Species Day blog. Jeremy Hance wove a lovely chorus of Lost Species Day voices in “Why don’t we grieve lost species?” (The Guardian, 11.19.2016.) Gatherings have begun. November 27th, folks wearing stripes climbed trees in urban Glasgow to honor disappearing lemurs. Others, not necessarily wearing stripes, joined parade for lost and nearly lost species in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. For Joy Giving details, visit the  REMEMBRANCE page and be sure to explore the breadth of Lost Species Day offerings.

Standing Rock may be the global epicentre where mass battle or mass peace will be decided. It feels important to note that the violence inflicted on human beings who stand to protect Missouri river water is not surprising given how this continent came to be occupied by white-skinned folk, who arrived running from and with our own long-inherited trauma. And how murder is a standard practice for securing prospects in today’s global market.

Much of today’s overwhelming grief is anticipatory. There is fear that what has been established in protective laws and protected areas will be lost to the final breath of a dying era that’s damaged everyone and cost so many.

Among decisions that will determine the health of water and, thus, whole communities is Scotland’s call, anticipated 2017, on whether or not to allow dangerous hydraulic fracturing – ‘the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas’.

Then there’s “Canada’s Standing Rock” – the B.C. tar sands pipeline conflict. Hydraulic fracturing, gold and uranium mining that threaten U.S. national forests and parks. 3,700 dams proposed globally while the recommendation from scientists and economists is dam removal. And more…

If the desire is a present and future free of fear-invoking violence, we must stop fearing the present and future. The collective consciousness must be cleared of anticipatory grief. And this is done by clearing individuals of anticipatory grief.

I invite you to let your imagination go to a world without flowers. Without the child’s laughter. Go all the way there and sit awhile. Grieve that darkness, which exists today for some members of Earth’s global community. Then, be present where you are. Then, see the flower and hear the child laugh as if for the first time. Be so grateful for their existence that you fall to the ground asking only what you may do to help someone other than yourself.

The Lost Species Day Joy Giving practice is designed to move practitioners through 108 feelings associated with experience, resolving the person to joy for the very prospect of being alive and a generally peaceful mind. Many – more or less structured – practices, including breathwork, chanting, and dance, have been designed to accomplish emotional purification.

This is old information. Yet, human awareness of mass species extinction is quite fresh. And, so, the effort of Lost Species Day to create and establish rituals fitting for this fresh consciousness.

Most warn that livings will become more challenging before improvement, so please be gentle with yourself and others. Just as I complete the final edit on this post, I’m reading a tweet from Bill McKibben“This is a graph of total global sea ice. The red line is this year. Something is very very wrong.” 

Truth is, it’s morbid out there. My most recent poem Y?, is written in response to 250 puffins washed dead upon Saint Paul Island during what’s been an unseasonably warm autumn from Montana North to the Bering Sea. And dire drought yields wildfires and unbearable air consuming Southeast communities. My arms reach out for everyone.

As the mother of a six, nearly seven, year old boy, my heart would like to sink in the uncertainty. I’m clueless to the looming challenges. Then I remember the wonder and creative genius of biomimicry’s sweet blossom – natural wisdom that wants to break through each and every person just as chemically-laced water at high pressure will split rock. Just as the election has split losers, now fighting one another, in the Dream that eventually nobody wins given the associated nightmare is reality for most.

I want my son to shine in a culture that serves biomimicry to pre-schoolers. That’s 100% possible if mineral extraction stops, large dams get removed, people and lots of perennials thrive. The beauty is that all this, already begun, is catalysed by the split in this union that’s forced the light of human kindness, understanding, and reverence through the cracks.

Autumn is an ideal season for grieving and within the overarching Season, there’s an alchemical masterpiece brewing. What falls does rise. To know sorrow is to know joy and to experience the fullness of life. Please unite with others, near and far, in this fullness November 30th.

Lost Species Day ritual need not be elaborate. Sincere, if brief, words of gratitude form the most potent prayer. And, as is noted in Jeremy Hance’s post in The Guardian, grief has many faces, humour and gratitude among them.

Liturgy of Loss – by Nick Hunt

What words can do justice to the disorientating, vertiginous experience of loss that accompanies an awareness of the unfolding of the sixth mass extinction? These words by Nick Hunt were used at a DIY ritual event held at the Dark Mountain Uncivilisation festival in 2013. Juxtaposing humour and the mundane with the epic and unknowable, they are offered here by Nick as inspiration for Lost Species events this year. Please write your own extinction liturgies and eulogies, and share them here too. 

Ladies and gentlemen, men and women, friends, humans, homo sapiens, homo heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, finders, losers, St. Lucy giant rice rats, loves, lost loves, dears, Schomburgk’s deers, darlings, Darling Downs hopping mice, American lions, Tasmanian tigers, Bermuda night herons, Bermuda triangles, objects, possessions, lost keys, Geeze, Nagumi, Etruscan, Eyak, Basque-Icelandic pigdin, passenger pigeons, words, languages, memories, laughter, laughing owls, Ilin Island cloudrunners, short-faced bears, sharp-snouted dayfrogs, welcome to the Liturgy of Loss.

We ask you now to throw our loved ones’ ashes in the Ganges, to wrap their bodies in flags and drop them in the sea, to stand around the cold church hall eating canapes, to slam our whisky glasses down on the coffin, and finally recline on the topmost tower and let the vultures carry our bones away.

And let us also check five times in the same pocket for your missing mobile phone, and the train ticket that has joined the odd socks in the cupboard under the stairwell of the night

And let us also search in vain for the word for the memory conjured by the particular smell of our mother leaving the house in a rainstorm while potato cakes almost burn in the oven while the cat sicks up the pine needles of last year’s Christmas tree.

And let us also remember our never-to-be-realised childhood dreams of employment as bears, robots, kings of volcanoes, revolutionaries, outlaws and millionaires.

And let us also remember all that we’ve lost without knowing: the sound of the wings of the passenger pigeons that no longer darken the sky whistling over the empty grassland where there is no grass any more and soon there will be no land. The phantom limbs of our orchards, hayricks and other bucolic appendages. The rusted bicycle frame with no gears, no wheels, no brakes, no bicycle, locked outside a boarded-up shop on a street you no longer walk down.

We ask you all to sing of the sadness of things you love and let them go, to laugh at longing, to celebrate the seasonal and circadian rhythms of loss and return.

Ladies and gentlemen, nonhumans, broad-faced potoroos, root-spine palms, dinogorgons, Karankawas, golems, bigfoots, pravoslaverias, you are in the Liturgy of Loss…

We will now forge a Liturgy of farewell for vanishing things. These three certified ritualologists will lead you outside to speak of the things that you love and the things that you’ve lost. We ask you to make a simple offering, a sketch or a few words to represent a personal absence for the forthcoming Immolation of the Darlings, the culmination of our ceremony.You will bring your songs and offerings back here, and the Liturgy will begin.

Ladies and gentlemen! Tarpans! Great auks! Aurochs! Lacunae! Misplaced ephemera! Pieces of the world! Fragments! Missing jigsaw puzzle pieces! Extinct hominids and the extant cousins of extinct hominids! Come! Gather! Make haste! Scurry! Eroded statues! Runes that can’t be read! Please proceed back inside, please proceed back inside, for the Liturgy of Loss is about to begin, the Liturgy is about to commence! Loss! Loss! Loss! Loss! People! Ex-people! Missing persons of the future! Small but essential lost pre-fabricated garden furniture fittings! Soviet notions of a utopian future! The Liturgy is about to begin!

After words, after songs, come only flames and silence. We ask you now to proceed to the Fire of Forgetting for the Immolation of the Darlings, to finally lose the things you’ve lost, and then to go your way in peace and lose yourselves in the world.

 

Image: mandala from Feral Theatre’s Remembering the Javan Tiger. Photograph by Abi Horn