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.
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
For the past year I have been working on a series of pieces based on the ritual burials of animals.
This series explores the way we as humans share an ancient history of ritually honouring animals in life and death, and invites the viewer to consider how the sacred place those animals once held has now changed. In the transient nature of life and death, there are clues all around us of the importance and significance certain animals have – in the names of plants, in the folklore and mythology of global cultures.
Inspired by ancient Celtic burial rites, the composition of each piece suggests a burial ground where the spirit of each animal is ritually honoured with sacred plants, symbols and runes.
Our ancient ancestors believed in reincarnation. Although specific funeral rites varied throughout Europe and indeed the globe, one common thread is that the human remains were being prepared for another world, where they would be infused with spirit and live again. Early on in this project I visited the British Museum and saw examples of ‘grave goods’ – objects of personal and spiritual significance placed in the grave or burned, believed to travel with the soul to the next life.
Many tribes or clans were believed to be descended from animals. We know of ‘Cat People’ in Scotland, and ‘Wolf Tribes’ in Ireland. Some families were even said to have descended from animals; at least six families in Scotland and Ireland were thought to share ancestry with the seal. In our early tribal culture, most had their animal totems – Sheep and Raven people in Sutherland, Horse people of Kintyre. In Switzerland they have discovered altars to the Bear more than 70,000 years old. Ceremonial headdresses made of antlers over 10,000 years old were found in Yorkshire.
Our ancestors chose to be buried with their animals, as guides or companions. Although hunting was commonplace, every part of the animal was used – even its excretions for healing rituals. The hunt itself was considered sacred, and the Goddess was asked for permission before daring to take the life of any creature. Animals held a role in our ancestors’ society far beyond anything we recognise now.
This series specifically looks at ten animals, all native to the British Isles at some point and all with special cultural or religious significance to pagan communities. Despite the sometimes literally God-like status some of these animals once held, many are now either endangered or lost entirely from the UK. In fact, of these 10, only 2 have populations defined as ‘stable’. Certainly it is true that every single one of these creatures faces persecution in some way.
The Arctic Hare was the original Hare of Britain, later replaced by the Brown Hare, probably brought by the Romans from central Europe. The Brown Hare is the only game species without a closed season when hunting is prohibited. Numbers have declined more than 80% in the last 100 years, a trend that continues.
There are 18 species of bats in Britain, all endangered and protected by law, and at least 12 species worldwide are now extinct.
Although frogs are numerous, their numbers have declined by in the UK by 75% in the last century due to habitat change and destruction. There are only 2 species of toad left in Britain, the Natterjack Toad is one of the top ten most threatened species of the UK.
Wolves were hunted out of existence in Britain in the18th century, the last one thought to have been killed in Scotland in 1743.
The Bear cult is one of the most ancient on Earth. It lived in Scotland until the 11th Century.
Otters are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan although it is the only species of this series whose numbers are confirmed to be on the incline in England.
Deer are not threatened in the UK, although this is undoubtedly due to huge numbers being owned and managed as a game species, on private estates and country parks, rather than being a ‘wild’ animal.
The Wildcat is critically endangered. In Britain since the Iron Age, and still existing in Scotland, its numbers could be as few as 400.
The Fox is the only species in this series both truly wild, and with a population considered stable, despite still being hunted and considered vermin throughout the world.
Finally the Barn Owl’s numbers have declined severely in the last few decades, with as few as 4000 breeding pairs remaining in the UK. They have coexisted with man since prehistoric times but a loss of habitat and change in traditional farming practices has put them on the critical list.
When I began this project, it came from my lifelong love for folklore and ancient mythology and a desire to explore this. However, researching each of these animal’s stories, learning of their magic, their power, and in many cases of their centuries of persecution borne out of human fear, I discovered I was personally marking each animal, ritualising my grief too. Even the process of embroidery can often be a meditative one. The in and out of the thread, the inhale and exhale. As I come to the project’s completion I feel both a sense of catharsis, and a strong desire to continue sharing the stories of species we have lost, species we are losing.
Who was it who first decided to name the harebell? What were the circumstances? Were they enjoying the golden late spring, watching the wild Hares boxing and dubbed the first flower they saw? Has a harebell ever been placed on a Hare’s grave? Has a great Bear’s body ever worn a crown of oak leaves?
Do we know when it was, or who our ancestors were when they first became aware of species disappearing? Or the moment when they – when we – first decided to stop ritually marking the death of animals?
Katie Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex. Born in 1980, she is a fifth-generation needleworker 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. She completed her first formal training in 2015 at The Royal School of Needlework in Coloured Metal Threadwork. You can read about her fictional muse Mother Eagle here, in a short story she wrote about her. Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, pagan societies and the old Gods.
Find Katie on Instagram: @mother_eagle_embroidery_art
At home I am making an origami boat out of paper. It is covered in scrim, dried teabag papers and used coffee filter papers and adorned with natural materials – moss, lichen, bark, sheep’s wool. It ‘s to be a “spirit boat” for a ritual to mourn the many species which have been lost or are at risk of going extinct.
In the shamanistic tradition of Arctic Europe, spirit boats were made to journey to other realms of reality or to carry the souls of the departed on to the next world. I am making several spirit boats each with a different theme. I have sewn the found bones of a rabbit on to the sides of one boat and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This boat is to commemorate extinct mammals and will carry the names of those that have recently disappeared – the Javan Tiger, the Quagga, the Pyrenean Ibex…
On another boat I’ve attached feathers, twigs and eggshells; this one is for the extinct birds and it too carries names of recently extinct species – the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Kangaroo Island Emu, the Laughing Owl, the Crested Shelduck, Mariana Mallard…
A third boat carries the names of recently extinct insects and other invertebrates – the Levuana Moth, the Cascade Funnel-Web Spider, the Polynesian Tree Snail, the Pearly Mussel. It shall have paper wings.
Yet another will be for plants and forests.
As habitat destruction continues with climate change, urbanisation, changes in agricultural practice and other wanton human practices, habitats and species of all kinds around the world are dwindling and disappearing faster than ever.
On 30th November, Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I shall take my spirit boats to a favourite stretch of the River Adur in Sussex where lines of pollarded willows stand on the dishevelled floodplain. There the water is still like glass, rippled only by passing swans. A dead tree stands sentry-like, its contorted limbs reflected in the mirror waters below. As the sun sets I shall lower my boats into the water, each lit up by a tea light and as dusk settles they shall drift off with the gentle current as a last farewell.
This article on Remembrance Day for Lost Species is reproduced from the Guardian with the permission of the author Jeremy Hance.
In early 2010, artist, activist and mother, Persephone Pearl, headed to the Bristol Museum. Like many concerned about the fate of the planet, she was in despair over the failed climate talks in Copenhagen that winter. She sat on a bench and looked at a stuffed animal behind glass: a thylacine. Before then, she’d never heard of the marsupial carnivore that went extinct in 1936.
“Here was this beautiful mysterious lost creature locked in a glass case,” she said. “It struck me suddenly as unbearably undignified. And I had this sudden vision of smashing the glass, lifting the body out, carrying the thylacine out into the fields, stroking its body, speaking to it, washing it with my tears, and burying it by a river so that it could return to the earth.”
Pearl felt grief, deep grief, over the loss of a creature she’d never once seen in life, a species that had been shot to extinction because European settlers had deemed it vermin. Yet, how do we grieve for extinct species when there are no set rituals, no extinction funerals, no catharsis for the pain caused by a loss that in many ways is simply beyond human comprehension? We have been obliterating species for over ten thousand years – beginning with the megafauna of the Pleistocene like woolly rhinos, short-faced bears and giant sloths – yet we have no way of mourning them.
Still, Pearl didn’t push the grief under or ignore it. Instead, she sought to share it. In 2011 Pearl, who is the co-director of the arts group, ONCA, and the theatre group Feral in Brighton, helped organise the first ever Remembrance Day for Lost Species. Held every November 30th, it’s since become a day for activists, artists and mourners to find creative ways to share their grief for extinct species – and reinvigorate their love for the natural world.
“We hope the Remembrance events will function as funerals for humans do,” Rachel Porter, a co-founder of Remembrance Day for Lost Species and a movement therapist, said. “Such rituals are ancient, embedded within us. We are just placing this common ritual into an unfamiliar context.”
Most of these events are not large – they are not thousands of people marching on government buildings – but more like the number of people who would attend a funeral for a loved one. They are communal and largely intimate events, full of things you might expect and others you might not: such as burning pyres, chanting, poetry reading, bell tolling and processionals.
But there are no rules to the Remembrance Day for Lost Species and anyone can start a public event or hold a private ceremony. This year, they are going on all over the world, including a dinner for the dodo in London, a poetry reading in Berlin, and a remembrance ritual for the thylacine outside of Brisbane, Australia.
Graphic designer and art therapist Julia Peddie, who is hosting the thylacine ritual in Australia this year, said she remembers as a child first learning about how humans wiped out the dodo – and how the knowledge crushed her.
“I can only imagine how children feel now, witnessing such enormous losses, and wonder if they are desensitising in order to cope,” she said. “Remembrance Day for Lost Species provides an opportunity for children and adults to connect with their grief, and in doing so, reclaim a part of themselves.”
photo of Bex Anson’s shrine to the Caribbean Monk Seal taken by Abi Horn
The vitality of grief
But let’s be honest, many of us probably find the idea of attending a funeral or walking in a processional for a vanished species a little foolish. It may even make us feel something more profound: vulnerable. But Pearl said this is only to be expected.
“If grieving for a lost person is difficult, grieving for ecosystems and species is entirely novel and challenging.”
She said that as a global society we have lost the knowledge of how to grieve even for our closest loved ones, quoting teacher and author Stephen Jenkinson who writes that our society is “death phobic and grief illiterate.”
“We struggle to talk about death and dying,” Pearl said. “It is seen as a terrible thing, to be avoided at all costs. We are afraid of upsetting people, and of awkward conversations.”
But at what cost? According to Porter, our inability to show grief – or even allow ourselves to feel it – may lead to mental illness.
“The grief might become misplaced if it’s not recognised and misguided grief could be destructive, it could manifest as depression or anxiety.”
In contrast, displaying grief can result in catharsis. In an emotional process first described by Aristotle over 2,000 years ago, pent up, intense feelings are allowed safe release through ritual. Afterwards, mourners are able to move forward, maybe even with more wisdom than before.
“Actual grief is hardly practiced today,” Megan Hollingsworth, a poet and founder of the collaborative art project ex·tinc·tion wit·ness, said. “If it were, children would neither be murdered in war nor would they go hungry and homeless in the streets of the world’s ‘wealthiest’ nations. Water would be protected. The desires of ‘grown’ men and women would not ever trump the needs of any single child, let alone whole communities.”
Hollingsworth, also one of the founders of the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, will be holding a bell tolling ceremony in Montana on the 30th.
Tear your hair for the extinct
But grief doesn’t occur only when we lose loved ones. Ask anyone who has seen a local forest they once played in as a child demolished for another cookie-cutter development or has watched as fewer bees and butterflies show up in their garden each summer. Or ask any conservationist who has to witness year-after-year as the species they work with slowly vanish, ask any marine biologist about coral reefs or any Arctic biologist about sea ice. Grief can extend far beyond our human parochialism.
“We realised that there was a hunger for a way of grieving ecological loss through ritual,” said Porter who in 2011 directed a Funeral for Lost Species through her group, Feral Theatre. This was an outdoor theatrical performance in a churchyard that included various traditional forms of mourning and tilted between somber and whimsical.
Porter believes many people are simply “stuck in a kind of denial” when it comes to extinction, biodiversity loss and environmental crises.
“If we face it honestly and fully we have to face our own collective shadow, our out-of-control destructive urges and acts. These are terrible, terrifying things to face alone,” she said.
Part of this denial is also due to our growing disconnect from nature.
“Many humans now solely interact with domesticated animals and plants. Some have no experience whatsoever of intact forest, field, and aquatic community. The total loss of other community members, their families, and life affirming ways then is an utterly distant abstraction,” Hollingsworth said. “Yet in grief, as in love, humans are wired for intimacy. “
According to the founders of the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, grieving in a ritualised ceremony removes our isolation from other mourners – we are after all grieving communally – and cuts through the denial.
“For those in denial bearing witness to acts of remembrance and honouring reminds them non-aggressively of something that they are pushing away. That is why making these rituals public is so very important,” Porter said.
In the end such rituals may help people transform their perfectly understandable anger – which is “connected to the disregard and destruction of the natural world,” according to Porter – into something ultimately productive.
Providing a real outlet for grief could help people finally take action and change the world for the better.
“Potentially, in our sadness, we can vow not to continue to let it happen, and acknowledge the role we humans are playing in causing the extinctions,” Peddie said. “Grief can provide a pathway for taking responsibility, and making a commitment to take action.”
Such rituals also allow us to view extinction in a novel way. So much of the information we receive about extinctions and biodiversity decline today comes from science, not from personal experience in the wild. And while science is necessary, it is often represented in wonky papers or press release that are bloodless, cold, even inhuman – a recitation of facts rather than a proper elegy for the lost.
But many probably fear that allowing themselves to feel the grief – really feel it – will result in a personal collapse. Hollingsworth said that an environmental studies professor once told her: “‘I can’t think of this as grief. That would be endless.’”
But this is “where the misconception lies,” according to Hollingsworth. Grieving doesn’t bring endless suffering, but healing and health.
“What happens when I don’t grieve someone’s death? What does it mean not to feel or express sorrow when someone passes unnecessarily due to my negligence? Just the thought of this is chilling to me as the sociopath is brought to mind,” she said.
Grief can be funny too
This doesn’t mean such events have to be sombre and drowned in tears. No emotion is wrong, according to the founders of the Remembrance Day for Lost Species. They are not afraid to throw humour and whimsy into their rituals.
“Often at human funerals people share funny stories about the dead person and it gives a relief, a release from weight of loss, and it can bring a celebratory feel,” said Porter.
Laughter can be incredibly powerful, even during a ritual mourning.
“Humour allows us to softly break through denial and isolation, to damp down the tempers fire, to create space in between the agony, the fear, the chaos,” said Porter.
Recently, Pearl attended the Stories of the Anthropocene Festival in Stockholm where she held a remembrance ceremony for the thylacine. Attendees were asked to share their stories about extinction – but first they had to step through a glitter curtain.
“If you can make people laugh, you are halfway to love. You can take people to deep places. You can encourage them to take risks,” she said.
But sombreness is okay, too, the founders insist. It all depends on what you are hoping to create within the context of the ritual.
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Legend says the world’s last thylacine died cold and alone. The story is that it was mistakenly locked out of its nighttime quarters at the zoo in Hobart, Tasmania during an unusually cold night in 1936. The animal, which was never even identified as a male or female, perished from exposure. That was 80 years ago this year.
While the last thylacine may not have actually died from the cold, it certainly died in a kind of loneliness that is almost impossible for humans – seven billion and rising – to comprehend. It was, after all, an endling. The last of its kind.
And yet do we barely remember it, let alone weep for it.
Julia Peddie said the 80th Anniversary of the extinction of the thylacine “went fairly unnoticed in the mainstream media” even in its native Australia.
Despite little media around the anniversary, Australia still has a lot of “nostalgia” for the thylacine, said Peddie, to the extent that some people believe it still inhabits the wild lands of Tasmania.
Perhaps, this is a kind of denial in action, an inability to accept the extinction of what once was; a denial that may continue to allow Australians – and people around the world – to ignore the losses going on right in front of them.
Australia is an epicentre of extinction. It has the highest mammal loss of any country on Earth. Since European arrival, the country has lost at least 30 species of mammal. And another was lost just this year: the Bramble Cay melomys, the world’s first mammal known to have gone extinct due to climate change.
“The stories of lost species remind us that things do end, they do die, that we are causing irrevocable and deeply distressing changes – but that the ending’s not yet written for the stories of rhinoceros, of hedgehogs, of phytoplankton,” said Pearl.
So, really, why don’t we grieve for the passenger pigeon, the golden toad, or the Yangtze River dolphin? Or how about Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog which just vanished from the Earth in September? Why don’t we rend our garments for the woolly mammoth, or tear our hair for the dodo or smear our windows with ash for the great moas that once roamed New Zealand? It can’t hurt. It could only heal.
“We need to imagine and invent new rituals for the Anthropocene,” said Pearl. “What would a memorial for the Caspian tiger or the elephant bird look like? A memorial for the Great Barrier Reef? For 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2?”
The age of the Anthropocene is an age of grief, put simply. Not showing, sharing or indeed feeling that grief will make it all the more unbearable. But a collective keening may be key to moving forward and creating a new society that fully respects and cherishes the millions of life forms that call this planet home.
War memorial to the passenger pigeon by Camilla Schofield
Graveyard of Lost Species is an ambitious collaborative project and temporary monument by artists YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble commissioned by Arts Catalyst. The artwork – created from a local wrecked boat, and placed back into the Thames Estuary carved with people’s stories of changes in the area – is a physical but decaying memorial to what is passing as our environment and society transform.
The project records and acknowledges wildlife, marine creatures, microbes, people, livelihoods, fishing methods, landmarks, mythologies, and local dialects that once flourished in the Thames Estuary and are now disappearing under multiple threats. The artists worked with local inhabitants of the Leigh-on-Sea and Southend foreshore from 2013 to 2016, to gather knowledge and expertise about these ‘lost species’ and discuss how people and ecologies adapt and respond. The culmination of the research is now imprinted on the boat originally called The Souvenir.
Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble says: “How do you make a monument that, rather than creating a smooth ideological space in which all people are expected to feel and believe in the same way, instead accounts for difference and allows for the contradictions and conflict of history, that lets all the different voices speak out? It might be a community but there is not unity of story – there are vastly indifferent interpretations of what’s going on. We are creating an anti-monument that will come apart, like the memories, over time.”
During Summer 2015, The Souvenir, a 40ft 12 ton Thames Bawley boatwreck, was resuscitated from the Estuary mud flats. She was cleaned and re-configured, whilst sited in a prominent public setting on Belton Way, the main thoroughfare between Leigh-on-Sea station and the old town.
Arts Catalyst’s Programme Manager Claudia Lastra says “Without the thriving local industry there once was, The Souvenir had fallen into disrepair and become impossible to restore. Since it was built in 1933, local people have memories of this boat. It is a landmark, part of the Estuary’s landscape, and part of the archeology of this fascinating ecosystem. This project allows its heritage to remain public.”
The Thames Estuary is changing rapidly with new industrial infrastructure in construction, including the largest container port in the UK. The estuary’s sea marshes, tidal flats and muddy waters are critical wilderness zones for biodiversity conservation and species migration. Simultaneously, they are also zones for leisure and tourism, fishing grounds and the sites of historic wrecks. Graveyard of Lost Species is part of a wider project commissioned by Arts Catalyst, titled Wrecked on the Inter-tidal Zone,that seeks to explore art’s responsibility to understand and communicate such environments and cultures.
Photo credit: YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble, Graveyard of Lost Species, Leigh-on-Sea, UK (2016)
Take your pick. Claim space. This is pluralistic, exploratory, inventive work that urgently needs doing by as many people as possible in as many ways as possible.
The ritual structure here has been put together by Chicago-based Christian elder and minister Terri MacKenzie who welcomes anyone to use or adapt any part of it for Lost Species Day. We will share more structures and suggestions for approaches here in coming days.
Extinction Grieving Prayer
Use two candles; prepare suggested (or other) music and video. Directions are starred. Adapt in any way that facilitates use.
Call to Prayer
“Today, the dusky seaside sparrow became extinct. It may never be as famous as the pterodactyl or the dodo, but the last one died today… ” – An excerpt from “Science” by Alison Hawthorne Deming
What you call resources, we call our relatives. – Source unknown.
* Light the first candle. It honours all the species that have gone extinct in our lifetimes.
Great Giver of Life, we pause to remember our place at the beginning of the Sixth Great Extinction on Planet Earth. For 13.8 billion years creation has been groaning: bringing to birth, becoming more complex, more organised, more conscious. The other great extinctions during the past 450 million years happened by forces beyond anyone’s control. Now, for the first time, our species is ruining whole ecosystems, aborting entire groups of interdependent species.
We acknowledge that we play a part in this dying by our carelessness, ignorance, and indifference. Forgive us our part in the death of healthy ecosystems and the resulting extinction of creatures in whom we believe divinity lives and acts.
Litany of Affirmation
We affirm the Sacred Mystery that caused and continues Creation.
We affirm the 13.8 billion years of our Universe.
We affirm the billions of galaxies, each with its billions of solar systems and stars.
We affirm the multiple transformations during the 4.5 billion years of Mother Earth’s life so far, and the relentless evolution towards ever-greater consciousness in the future.
We affirm the millions of species that have inhabited our planet in beautifully-webbed communities: microorganisms, plants, fish, birds, mammals . . .
We affirm that we came from Earth and exist, like all species, in a communion of subjects.
Litany of Grief
We grieve humans’ lack of awareness of, and concern about, the destruction of interdependent communities that have taken billions of years to develop.
We grieve the climate disaster that is extinguishing habitats and the multiple species within them.
We grieve the more than one-in-four flowering plants, the one-in-five mammals, the nearly one – in-three amphibians, and the one-in-eight birds that are vulnerable to being wiped out completely. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
We grieve the Golden Toad, native to Costa Rica. It has not been seen since 1989, when a single male was found, the last of its species.
We grieve the Pyrenean Ibex. The last of this species naturally born was a female, Celia, who died in 2000.
We grieve the St. Helena Olive, a small spreading tree, the last of which perished in 2003 primarily due to deforestation and invasive plants.
We grieve all our extinct brother and sister species, the amphibians, fish, birds, mammals, plants and trees, and their diminished habitats.
We grieve the humans whose sustenance and livelihoods are threatened by this disruption in the food web.
We grieve the deaths of ecological martyrs: Sister Dorothy Stang, Dian Fossey, Chico Mendes, and the over 900 other activists slain since 2004. (Global Witness)
* Listen to and/or Sing: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Perhaps for v. 2 and 3: species, workers. (If needed, Joan Baez’ version)
* Extinguish first candle. Light second candle. It honours the threatened species that remain and our desire to protect them.
* Quiet reflection: For believers, our faith is tested by our concern and care for creation. U. S. Catholic Bishops: “Renewing the Earth” 1991
We are grateful that 90% of species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.
We are grateful that British oil company Soco International agreed (June 2014) to suspend exploration in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas (pictured here) and thousands of other species. We thank the over 750,000 people who signed a petition to stop the oil drilling.
We are grateful that the Zoological Society of London released its list of birds most at risk of extinction based on evolutionary distinctness and global endangerment (EDGE) in April 2014. This information will help conservationists decide where efforts should focus first.
We are grateful that the population of the California Least Tern, listed as endangered in 1970, grew from 225 recorded then to 6,568 recorded in 2010.
We are grateful for all of the habitats that have been saved so the interdependent species within them can escape extinction.
We are grateful for the many people throughout the world who dedicate their time and efforts to keeping habitats and species alive so they can give praise to their creator by their distinct lineages, attributes, and contributions to the web of life.
Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations. – Pope Francis
To save species, we must save ecosystems. To save ecosystems, we must reduce climate change, pollution, poaching, invasive species, and over-consumption. Mentally check the things on p. 4 that you already do for this. There might be something else there that you would want to do.
* Read quietly: Consciously deepen appreciation of the glory of creation, its long story, the place of Divine Mystery in it, and humans’ dependence upon it.
Pray for the healing of creation.
Reduce all energy use.
Transition to renewable energy sources (for electricity).
Encourage institutions to invest in renewable energy and to divest from fossil fuels.
Drive less and/or reduce gas use by not exceeding 60 mph on the highways (and other ways).
Avoid produce, meat, and poultry from factory farms.
Buy recycled products.
Reduced use of plastic.
Carry water in a thermos (not bottled water).
Avoid genetically modified foods (GMOs).
Lobby for laws to protect habitats and species.
Include Earth-care concerns when choosing legislators.
Join (or cooperate with) a group working to conserve, restore and protect habitats and species.
* Discuss: Einstein said Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge points to all that is. Imagination points to all that could be. What kind of Earth “could be”? How can we contribute to co-creating it?
Great Giver of Life, we come from, and we dwell in, the magnificent world in which you live and act. Our species is causing extinctions; our species can prevent them. Let us not be thwarted by the immensity of the challenge, for the Power working within us can do more than we could ask or imagine. May the flame of this candle continue burning in our hearts, reminding us to help our threatened relatives.
* Extinguish second candle.
Enlighten us to find you in all Creation; empower us to treat it accordingly. Through Jesus Christ, whose respect for Earth inspires us to live as he did. Amen.
* Sing: “The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God” or “Touch the Earth” (Kathy Sherman, C.S.J.) or another appropriate song
* Share a sign of hope with one another (or a sign of peace)
My days are filled with warmth, food and loved ones, with creative work, with the beauties of a slowly turning mild Autumn.
But my nights are running with the blood of children, with flood waters, with tears. My dreams are filled with running, with searching for home, with people who will never go back home. In the night, we leave home in a rush, but I insist on carrying our pond above our heads because the frogs are spawning. I dream of fishing boats heading down the Thames, in front of the Houses of Parliament, piled with dead people like so much compost in a wheelbarrow. I dream I am trying to buy farmhouses in France to house all the children from the Calais jungle.
I’ve absorbed the stories of the day and they play back repeatedly in the dark. But truly, my nightmares contain less pain, less torn flesh, than the reality behind these stories.
Terror is abroad. Each day a new toll, like a clock of cities, already struck or waiting. But terror has truly made itself at home in Syria. Despite truces, the bombs keep falling on the hospitals and remaining civilians. It’s a Gordian knot, a hell ball of fighting. Hundreds of children bloodied, forever traumatised and killed in Aleppo, and Russians poised to inflict more crude damage.
Thousands of lone children wandering, clustering in places that are unsafe and cold. The questions run through our heads constantly: How can we bear it? How can our own lives be so beautiful while this happens? How can we do something, some action, that will be enough, without breaking up the beauty of our own life and facing this darkness, enough?
Everyone in the world, however far from the US, has tinnitus from the ticking time bomb that is the orange fascist Trump running for President and leading in the polls. Trump who has 75 legal battles about his personal conduct, including a trial for child rape.
In the UK, a nation is cleft by the EU referendum and our PM insists on bypassing all our nation’s parliaments to press ahead with a hard Brexit. Despite the High Court ruling today that the Royal Prerogative cannot be used to trigger Article 50, Theresa May immediately appealed the ruling. Hard-right Brexiteers have immediately begun calling for blood, the most extreme petitioning HM Forces to take over the Government and suggesting that Jo Cox’s fate will come to all MPs they disagree with.
Brexiteers seem to misunderstand time, thinking that Brexit has already happened, saying ‘see, the economy hasn’t crashed yet’. But Brexit hasn’t happened yet. And anyway the pound is falling, to a 168 year low, and is still falling. It will surely be an unfolding story of crashes and losses over many years, and potentially leading to the crashing of the EU itself.
And this also is happening: It has been 56C in Kuwait and Iraq on some days this summer, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, hotter than is possible for many animals to be outside. American and Russian forests have been burning. Louisiana, India and China have seen historic flooding. Warnings of more and more species on the brink of extinction. The maths on climate change have had to be entirely recalibrated. 2C of warming is already baked in.
And there are small pieces of good news – a cancelled dam in the Amazon, millions of trees planted in India, cities pledging to divest from fossil fuels, small or even grand acts of heroism and design – but at the rate of the bad things happening, there have to be some good things.
I am seeking explanations, and solutions. I spend inordinate hours reading articles and trying to come up with logical disentanglements of the situation. The explanations I sit with for longest are the ones that admit complexity, that go to root causes, and therefore do not have easy solutions. When confusion kicks in those of us who ask questions lose the will or the consensus to act, while those who have simple answers step in and mount campaigns.
Here’s my latest inadequate and pompous-sounding attempt at an explanation.
Human exploitation of the planet’s resources, in particular fossil fuels, is causing catastrophic collapse of the biosphere. The 1%’s exploitation of the poor, in the process of extracting and processing these resources, and selling stuff to people that makes them sick and addicted to consumption, is causing unmanageable inequality and social dis-ease. This is the spirit of wetiko, humans cannibalising their own life-world as if they are separately alive from it. With this spirit rampant, we have overshot our global ecological limits and are now experiencing what military risk analysts call ‘resource insecurity’. These analysts have long warned that resource insecurity risks stirring conflict as people migrate and fight over territories and resources, and have to migrate again. Most states have not heeded warnings and not yet transitioned enough to renewable energy or local ecological agriculture, or to deliberative democracy. The powerful states prioritise controlling the supply of fossil fuels that are at the root of their capacity to provide for their citizens and accumulate wealth for a few. The Middle East is the crucible of conflict, catalysed by drought and food prices, and interventions by oil hungry nations. From this crucible come the victims, the displaced, and they are seen as terrorists by the xenophobes of the so-far protected states. Individuals who seek the most power in this state of chaos play off different interest groups against each other. They have no values other than the desire for power. The people supporting these demagogues feel liberated – they see the potential for licence to be as bad as they can be. Their self-enhancing, self-protecting tendencies are reflected back at them in these populist leaders. Power is promoted as a good. Therefore violence to protect self-interests is seen as a good. It is a vicious downward spiral – like the Ant Spiral of Death – people following each other into a mill of entropy.
But, the complex and clumsy explanations like these are not in the news, at least not at the forefront of the big channels, because big media channels are owned or influenced by the corporate and political elites upholding the system that is causing collapse. The only thing we can do is to try to explain and share what we think.
That’s why I started a Facebook group called Everyday Ecocide. It highlights how our everyday thinking and communications are blind to the environment. Our culture does not have an ecological way of knowing. By neglecting to include and value what is other-than-human, we not only fail to notice its damage and depletion, we contribute to it. Ecocide means the destruction of the natural environment. This group aims to highlight incidents in media, institutions or everyday society, of forgetting or obscuring of ecosystems, biodiversity, non-human persons, the importance of climate change, or ecological solutions. Do go to Facebook and request to join.
Another way of exploring what is really happening is to pay attention to the members of our community who cannot speak, many of whom are not only losing their habitats but losing their entire line of inheritance. These are the species losing their entire existence. They can be honoured, celebrated and mourned – in creative ways – on the Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30th November.
This article is reproduced with the author’s permission from Huffington Post.
I saw my first Remembrance Poppy last week. It was big, faded and taped to the inside of a cottage window. It had obviously seen several years’ reuse, and it called to mind the time I collected up poppies discarded by my classmates after Remembrance Sunday, not from an urge to conserve, but in a spirit of adolescent provocation. I’d decided to wear one throughout the year and daily replaced those yanked from my buttonhole by scandalised teachers and prefects. I’m a little reproached by that memory as I am by that of my schoolboy self annually fidgeting through the two-minutes’ silence marking Armistice. The remembrance statistics are dismally familiar: over 1.25 million UK military personnel killed since 1914; many times that shattered by injury, trauma or both; just one year since 1945 during which a serving member of Britain’s armed forces has not been killed.
Last month reports of a casualty of a different sort of conflict went viral. Apparently the Great Barrier Reef, a vast living structure, bigger than the UK, Holland and Switzerland put together, had died. Though marine biologists later denounced the obituary as premature, none questioned the assessment of Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, that, “We are precipitating the conditions for a mass extinction .. Up near Lizard Island there’s hardly any coral at all. It looks like a war zone.” For years the reef has been under sustained attack on two fronts: from acidification of the ocean, stemming from our relentless pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere, and from declining water quality, caused by run off of nitrogen fertilizers used in intensive agriculture.
And of course corals aren’t the only species besieged by human behaviour. Our erosion of biodiversity has its own dismal and ever expanding set of statistics. Extinction rates are conservatively estimated to be 1,000 times higher than normal; credible research puts the global decline of wildlife at over 50% since 1970; and Megan Hollingsworth of Extinction Witness talks of the human assault on biodiversity as, “a war pushing an estimated 75 to 200 species each day over the sharp edge of extinction.” If it is a war, it’s one that, despite its scale and shocking implications, is largely ignored.
In contrast, the lead up to Remembrance Sunday will bring the military losses of human-on-human conflict into sharp focus. This will include those suffered at the Battle of the Somme, the anniversary of which it is this year. Among the British and Commonwealth men who perished there, a vast number were lost without trace. Though it was impossible to locate their bodies for burial, their 72,000 names are immortalised on the imposing Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval. Hollingsworth’s upper estimate for current species extinction per year is a similar 73,000. The vast majority of these species – not individuals, but species – will vanish without any media or public acknowledgement. Nor will governments be commissioning a memorial to them anytime soon.
It was frustration at the collective failure to observe and mourn these colossal losses that in 2010 spurred a coalition of artists and educators to launch Remembrance Day for Lost Species, which now takes place annually on November 30th. If the naming and timing of the initiative looks provocative, it’s not intended to be. Those involved grasp the power of the customs, ceremonies and emblems employed by the Poppy Appeal in memorialising the dead, and see a strong case for a comparable approach to honouring and drawing attention to lost species. Writer Nick Hunt explains Remembrance Day for Lost Species as an opportunity for
“developing rituals for coping with loss as much as it’s about education and awareness. It’s a recognition that telling facts about extinction doesn’t always reach people on an emotional level. We hope Remembrance for Lost Species can jolt people into a different sort of awareness.”
Something needs to. Our species’ talent for denial is a special one. And there is a sense in some quarters that only emotion can help us cross the no mans land between facts and figures, and action. It’s more than 50 years since marine biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, the book that exposed the pervasive poisoning from chemical pesticides, and that is often said to have launched the modern environmental movement. The specific peril of DDT may have been largely erased, but there remains a horrible suspicion of inevitability to Carson’s vision of
“a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”
Thinking back to that boy who struggled through a mere two-minutes’ silence, I really hope we humans find a way to truly feel what it is we are doing to our planet; that through our feeling, we act to spare our own offspring a much deeper, far more dreadful silence. In the coming days as the nation pays respect to those who fell in battle, I will also be looking to a future which embraces Remembrance for Lost Species with conviction, a time when whole communities process, lay wreaths, recite poems or enact other rituals out of respect for the species we have killed, and as a mark of our commitment to add no others to the roll; a time when no one will be reproached for wearing a Remembrance for Lost Species badge all year round.