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

RDLS 2018: invitation to participate

Drawing by Matt Stanfield

Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS), November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct species. These naturally lead to the stories of critically endangered species, ways of life, and ecological communities. Set up in 2011 in response to species extinctions resulting from human activity, RDLS is an opportunity to make or renew commitments to all who remain and to collaborate on creative and practical solutions. The primary intention of the day is to create spaces for grieving and reflection. Previous activities have included art, processions, tree planting, building Life Cairns, bell casting and ringing, Regenerative Memorials and more. Explore this website for examples of past events.

For 2018, RDLS invites events on or around November 30th to mark the extinction and endangerment of marine mammals and/or the ongoing threats to seas. The focal lost species for 2018 is Steller’s sea cow. Alternatively, RDLS participants are welcome to focus on any lost or disappearing species or ecological community. Please see the list of suggested activities below.

Steller’s sea cow

Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a large marine mammal whose living relatives are the dugong and the manatee. Steller’s sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction. The story of Steller’s sea cow story has much to teach about how species can be extinguished with shocking speed.

Steller’s sea cow was named by Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who noticed the creatures whilst shipwrecked on Bering Island during a scientific mapping expedition of the Arctic. Much of what is known about the sea cow comes from Steller’s 1741 observations. Fur hunters, who then set up a trading post on the island, subsisted on sea cows, which were easy to hunt as they were slow moving and rarely submerged. All the sea cows were gone by 1768.

Growing up to nine metres in length and weighing up to ten tonnes, Steller’s sea cows provided refuge for many species, including fish, several species of crustaceans now extinct, and resting birds. They communicated with sighs and snorts, fed mainly on kelp, and were monogamous and sociable. Mothers nursed and raised one baby at a time.

Illustration by by F. John

Suggested RDLS activities:

  • Respond to the story of Steller’s sea cow or focus on the story of another marine species, community or issue you’re passionate about. Other examples include grey whales, orcas, vaquita, eels, krill, otters, salmon and many more.
  • Focus on local stories of extinction or endangerment, and on ways to restore relationships with one or more species of your ecological community.
  • Explore links between human-induced extinctions and other forms of structural violence.
  • On days before or after RDLS, organise or participate in personally and collectively restorative activities (e.g. beach and waterway cleans, tree planting, gardening with pollinators and soil in mind).

How to join RDLS 2018

 

Getting to Know the Last Ground Sloths – by Matt Stanfield

The Americas lost most of their giant beasts when a wave of extinction swept them between the twelfth and the eighth millennia BC. Precisely what caused this cataclysm remains a source of controversy. That said, humans appear to have expanded their range of settlement in the Western Hemisphere around this time, so it is likely we had at least a hand in the matter.

At any rate, amongst the victims of the prehistoric American extinction pulse were the giant ground sloths, a highly successful group once found from Patagonia to the Great Lakes. Yet the ground sloths’ final curtain did not come down in the eighth millennium BC. Colossi such as Megatherium americanum might have vanished, but on a series of refugia, remnants persisted. The last ground sloths still wandered Caribbean forests around the time that Ancient Egypt’s first pyramids were raised. These animals were much smaller than their lost relatives. The biggest, such as Megalocnus rodens of Cuba, were comparable in size to a large sheep.

Detail of a Megatherium americanum skeleton cast, Natural History Museum, London. Image: Matt Stanfield, 2018

The Caribbean islands are thought to have lost at least seven sloth species in the last nine thousand years, with at least one within the last five thousand. It is believed the end of the ground sloths was precipitated by human settlement in the Caribbean, six thousand years or more ago. Certainly, few ground sloth remains have been carbon-dated to times much beyond the earliest evidence of humans on their islands.

The relative proximity of these creatures’ last days to our own time fascinates me. Compared to their continental kin, the Antillean sloths are obscure, with restorations of their life appearance hard to come by. Wanting to develop my understanding of these peculiar leftovers, I decided to try a life reconstruction of one such sloth. I selected Acratocnus ye, whose scientific name translates into English as “yesterday’s powerless sloth”. Taxonomists can be very cruel…

A. ye, though tiny compared to titans like Megatherium, was not as hapless as its name suggests. Standing on its hind legs, the solidly-built sloth reached a respectable metre or so in height. This is far in excess of the roughly guinea pig-sized Hispaniolan hutia, the biggest native mammal species remaining in A. ye’s former range.

The obscurity of Acratocnus ye meant I could only find a few pictures of subfossil bones and a medium-resolution image of a complete skeleton for reference. This limited supply of visual references suited me well. I prefer reconstructing obscure animals because not only does uncertainty give me more room for imagination, but, on a more prosaic note, the fewer total drawings of a species that exist, the fewer better drawings than mine there are likely to be! Below is a sketch of the skeletal photo which I used as the main reference for my piece (I think the original image is copyrighted, hence the reproduction).

Sketch of a reconstructed Acratocnus ye skeleton, Matt Stanfield, 2018

Reconstructions of recently-extinct species are not only a learning experience for me, but an emotive one. Working on these pieces forces close consideration of those anatomical details that define an animal’s appearance. This process, I find, infuses a personal notion of the organism’s essence into my memory. It actually has a vaguely devotional feel to it, since I usually feel more attached, in some way, to creatures which I have drawn, as opposed to those I have not.

In the case of ground sloths, the matter of the animals’ “essence” is a challenging one to address. If you wanted to reconstruct the life appearance of say, a sabre cat or mastodon, there are living creatures which provide a viable reference point. Less so for ground sloths. Contemporary tree sloths are highly adapted to an idiosyncratic lifestyle, meaning that even the smaller ground sloths had a markedly different external appearance to their arboreal relatives. Thus, I aimed to give my Acratocnus a “look” distinct from extant animals.

Acratocnus ye, Matt Stanfield, 2017

Ground sloths being tricky to pin down visually, I found that the Acratocnus ye on my page passed through various “looks”. Initially, the stocky legs and long tail gave the lost mammal taking shape on the page a kangaroo-like aspect. The addition of a barrel-shaped torso conjured up thoughts of a bear standing on its hind legs. When it came time to cap off the Acratocnus, it took some work to stop the head from (unexpectedly) resembling an otter’s.

After dozens of hours, the piece was complete. Sadly, due to the technique which I used, it doesn’t photograph brilliantly. Be assured though that thousands of individually-drawn hairs went into the pelt, not to mention the time taken on claws, eyes, muzzle and ears. Whilst I’m finally satisfied enough with my tribute to A. ye to make it public, there are various snags I was unable to fully rectify. Firstly, the limited reference material caused me some confusion regarding the sloth’s feet (which is why they aren’t shown). Second, not having a scale for the species, for most of the drawing process I envisaged A. ye as about double its actual size. Resultantly, my ground sloth has a bit more heft than it perhaps should. Lastly, I somewhat lazily portrayed Acratocnus ye in a very over-used pose for ground sloths: rearing up and leaning on a tree. There’s no excuse for my repeating of this tired trope. Nevertheless, I hope that you enjoy my visual salute to a virtually unknown animal that vanished on the very cusp of the historical era.

Matt Stanfield

With reference to Cooke, Dávalos, Mychajliw, Turvey & Upham, ‘Anthropogenic Extinction Dominates Holocene Decline of West Indian Mammals’, in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. August 23, 2017. 48:301-27. Consulted at https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-110316-022754

With thanks to Mo Hassan of https://www.mocoillustration.com for help with translation of A. ye’s binomial

Lost Species Day 2017 – some events

November 30th 2017 saw a range of participatory events happening across the UK, USA and other parts of the world. Here are the ones we know of:

Pembrokeshire, Wales: Permaculturist Debbie Rees and artist Emily Laurens hosted a pollinator procession through the polytunnels at Blaenffos Permaculture Market Garden.

  

Glasgow, Scotland: Galgael held a sharing circle at the weekly community meal, focusing on the meaning of remembrance for lost species and on the decline of pollinators with poetry, reflections and commitments. Organiser Svenja Meyerricks said, “At the end I chucked my tobacco on the table to publicly announce my intention to quit smoking for good, because of the adverse effects pesticide-heavy monocultures like tobacco crops have on pollinators. Wish me luck!”

Svenja also wrote about the RDLS on the Bella Caledonia blog here, and thanks to her awareness raising, a group of Glasgow school children learned about pollinators and will be planting pollinator friendly seeds in the spring.

Georgia, USA: A small group of homeschoolers focused their attention on RDLS for the whole week. Organiser Kim Cornelia Banton, writer and content manager at Solutions Spotlight explained: “At the start of the week, I introduced the meaning of the day and how different people have participated in the past. Then each day leading up to RDLS, we discussed how different kinds of extinctions are caused by human activity and spent some time each day learning about animals from different places across the globe that have become extinct within the last hundred years. In line with this year’s theme, we also spent some time exploring pollinators. The kids fell in love with the Xerces blue butterfly of the San Francisco peninsula and opted to memorialize this particular species with their art.”

  

 

Oakland, California, USA: Extinction Witness, Pollinator Posse and Giant Puppets Save the World collaborated to host the Lake Merritt Regenerative Memorial and Pollinator Procession. Lucille’s Regenerative Memorials are publicly accessible green spaces ranging from small plots in community gardens to verges, fields and groves in parks or forests. Their intention is to support the human grieving process within the context of life’s complete cycle of birth, decay, death, and birth.

Chicago, USA: Musician Rebecca Jasso and friends held a concert.

Sacramento, CA, USA: Erin Reschke and friends held a riverside ceremony and potluck, wit a talk about the ancient history of the river lands.

 

New York, USA: Ecological artist Jan Harrison created a new series of pastel pieces depicting bats. See the whole collection here.

Los Angeles, USA: Embroidery artist Sherrell Cuneo made this tribute to the Xerces blue butterfly:  

and continued to develop her long-term project, the Mourning Gown:

Melbourne, Australia: Artists Gabbee Stolp and Michelle Stewart ‘s RDLS exhibition To the Future Lost was ‘a space for reflection, a poignant reminder of our human relationship with nature and the destructive impact we humans continue to have on the Earth… a wunderkammer of objects characterising endangered species, as a tribute to Australia’s many critically endangered flora and fauna.’

Brighton, England: ONCA Gallery hosted Extinct Icons & Ritual Burials – an exhibition for RDLS. It featured works by artists Katie Tume, Hannah Battershell, Clare Whistler, Sol Howard, Susan Richardson, Megan Powell and OX Art. (Read an artist profile of Katie Tume by John Platt for RDLS on The Revelator here.)

Off site, ONCA outreach artist Ellie Liddell-Crewe ran projects with teenagers at St John’s SEN College and Brighton & Hove Pupil Referral Unit. After exploring artefacts at The Booth, Brighton’s natural history museum, participants made pollinator-inspired masks and art which formed part of the RDLS exhibition in the gallery.

ONCA also hosted a bat mask making workshop for children (and dogs) …

 

…and a Procession for Pollinators which took 45 participants on a route that ended at local organically-managed green space, The Level. The withy structure, which was burned at the end of the gathering, was made by the Hailsham-based Material Collective.

Finally, ONCA hosted a panel discussion called ‘Daring To Hope’ with three extraordinary artists and campaigners who all explore approaches to art and ways to sustain activism and hope in the Anthropocene: Clare Whistler, artist and co-founder of WATERWEEK, Louise Lily Gibson, creative communication/ BSL specialist and photographic artist, and Josie Cohen, campaigner for Pesticide Action Network – UK.

Brighton, England: Artist Adrian Ventura did a series of daily sketches in the lead-up to November 30. See the full collection here

Brighton, England: Artist Miranda Ellis invited passersby to her studio and offered warming memorial mead, seed bombs containing bee-friendly flowering plants, and an opportunity to learn about bees.

Brighton: University of Sussex researchers  held a symposium, ‘Memory Beyond the Human’ on deep time and extinction alongside artists and researcher RDLS researcher Matt Stanfield.

Brighton: RDLS stickers appeared around the town overnight…

Galway, Republic of Ireland: Transition Tunes Galway hosted a Sing for Our Planet event.

Oxford, England: Helen Jukes wrote a piece for the Dark Mountain blog.

Malvern, Worcestershire: Buddhist temple gathering.

Dublin, Republic of Ireland: Artist and creative entomologist Nessa Darcy held a solo exhibition of works called Bugonia.

Heidelberg, Germany: Council of All Beings. Inspired by Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects.

Madrid, Spain: Bionic Dance Festival‘s lost species- themed dance competition was won by a Brazilian dancer whose piece embodied Amazon deforestation.

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: The Good Grief Network held a candle-lit vigil in the Salt Lake CIty Peace Garden, with poetry and reflection.

Montreal, Canada: Artist Katrine Claasens collaborated with staff at Redpath Museum to run a workshop with children learning about extinct and endangered species through the museum’s collection. As Katrine explains, “We started out by listening to rainforest sounds and then investigating the history of species lost to human activity. The museum curator gave a tour of the extinct species. We then removed some of the specimens from the museum display, with the children carrying them in a solemn procession through the museum to a room where we painted them. It was a very moving experience.”

  

Dorset, England: Movement artist  Sandra Reeve hosted a vigil and performance.

Frome, Somerset: End of life doula Mike Grenville led a procession up Cley Hill to read Bestiary by Joanna Macy.

Winchester, England: Giraffe Social Enterprise hosted a performance of Andrew Boyd’s ‘Twelve Characters in Search of An Apocalypse’.

Fiji, South Pacific: NatureFiji and Anniemalsartist held a day for the Kulawai bird and invited people locally and around the world to make and wear kulawai masks  in support of the beautiful critically endangered pollinator.

Skagway, Alaska: Artist Kim Burnham made this piece about the monarch butterfly:

London, England: Illustrator Louis T Fowler made a new piece called Return to Splendour.

Telegraph Hill, London: Bridget McKenzie organised a simple action of a winged bench which people could sit on to become an insect and hold a message. Some bees (Emma Garofolo from Mischief Makers, and Stephanie Patient) also came along to amaze and inform. Many conversations and connections were made. Everybody that passed by expressed support, and a wish to green the area and make it pollinator-friendly.

Kings Cross, London: Collaborative storytelling Bee Wreath. Ecological artist Beckie Leach led a workshop to create a giant wreath made of bees. Participants each made a paper bee from paper, wrote a story on it and added it to the wreath.

London: Comic performer Luke Rollason did a special performance of his acclaimed clown show Planet Earth III at Leicester Square Theatre for RDLS. Planet Earth III is a low-budget one-man nature documentary, set in a future where our worst predictions came true – following ecological collapse, thousands of endangered species are extinct, including the BBC. But one plucky intern isn’t giving up…

Planet Earth 3 – Luke Rollason Trailer from Alex Wood on Vimeo.

London: Artist/ activist Liam Geary Baulch made this poster, inspired not only by the  RDLS 2017 pollinator theme but by the speculative storytelling of interspecies feminist academic Donna Haraway and others.

Hastings, England: Artist Daniela Othieno made tiny pollinator memorials.

Hastings: Jilliene Sellner made a sound piece on insect population collapse, inspired by Silent Spring

Online: Hapi & The Lost Species made a track for RDLS.

Extinction Symbol

Lake Merritt Regenerative Memorial & Pollinator Procession

This is a 2.5 minute brief on 2017 Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th events at Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge in Oakland, California.

Thanks to Kristin Tieche and Susan Bradley for recording and finishing this film. As well, to event partners Toni Tone of Giant Puppets Save the World and Tora Rocha of Pollinator Posse, participating artists and musicians, including Cello Joe and Heather Normandale and Biketopia Music Collective, the anonymous event sponsor, and ALL who participated.

Extinction Witness and Giant Puppets Save the World connected at Bioneers in 2016 and again this year. Our gratitude goes to Bioneers for the annual conference and year-round communications, which serve as a hub for inspired networking and creative, healing collaborations.

To learn more about Lucille’s Regenerative Memorials, please visit regenerativememorials.com.

Megan Hollingsworth, writer & creative director, Extinction Witness

A Hope-Infused Anthropocene – by Megan Hollingsworth

If, as the thesaurus suggests, hope is a motion opposite of despair, then today’s hope is grieving.

For when the morning’s news is notice that, from Tasmania to California, kelp forests are being replaced by sea urchin barrens (Alastair Bland via Yale Environment 360, November 20, 2017) due to warming waters, a splitting sadness of this intangible loss that is a dying ocean is invoked. Unexpressed, as in to be unrelieved, this sadness gets added to the collection of grievances in a body’s burden. Grievances that include children mercilessly killed when they run and trees because they cannot.

Unexpressed, this sadness does nothing to stop the grievances from continuing. And this is why I am wary of any other professed hope. Hope, like despair, can become fantastic, all-consuming, unreal. This hope as grieving is an activity that keeps me real. With awareness of children burned alive in boats meant to rescue them from an oil spill, this hope as grieving is what informs my decision to refrain from flying across seas on a whim even when that whim allows the possibility to engage with others in person to address this hope. With awareness of albatross babes who starve on bellies full of plastic, this hope as grieving is what compels me to pick up every tiny piece that I see lying on the ground.

This hope as grieving is why I want to throw all of me into honoring the chronic grief known only to a mother who has carried a child in her womb and lived to bury this child in the ground, the womb of all wombs. And, the power of a mother’s grieving is why I want to infuse this hope into how the Anthropocene is understood and described. Thus, lived.  To encourage a whole and healing perspective on the Anthropocene: “a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change” (Wikipedia), extensively storied in simple terms as the age humans destroyed themselves and everyone else living – the end.

To encourage this whole perspective, I’ve crafted this description of the Anthropocene as I see the era:

Anthropocene: The age in which human population has grown to the degree that the trauma in denying right relationship between mother and child can no longer be ignored and, so, right relationship is being restored.

Offering description of the Anthropocene in present time within the context of original wounding – severance from the mother – impregnates this moment with every moment’s true potential for healing because the original wound is unavoidable, can be healed, and has traditionally been recognized and resolved. I foremost want to encourage this healing perspective of the Anthropocene because every child is gifted with the capacity to dream themselves and their future into existence. And I can imagine no graver an injustice than to serve a child hopelessness when hope is what brings gestating potential to fruition.

Hope as grieving is the call to action implicit in Generative Memorials, a cooperative effort aligned with Remembrance Day for Lost Species.  As the age of isolated self-interest ends, Generative Memorials invite open displays of grief and celebrate devotion to collective well-being. These living memorials are rooted in the understanding that birth, not death, is the ultimate sacrifice. That death is a part of the life cycle that inspires a sorrow equivalent to the joy in the child’s birth. And that death’s regenerative peacekeeping potential goes unfulfilled when this pure sorrow goes unexpressed.

Hope today, as always, is grieving fully that which can be lost.

Note: ‘A Hope-Infused Anthropocene’ is part of a call to action included at the close of Megan’s forthcoming poetry collection, anticipated 2018. For more on Generative Memorials, please visit Grief & Generation at Extinction Witness.

Photos by Mary Ann Blackwell, courtesy of Extinction Witness

Lament

Two new works especially made for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2017, in honour of lost and disappearing pollinators.

Xerces blue – Sherrell Cuneo Biggerstaff (Embroidery)

The Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) is an extinct species of butterfly in the gossamer-winged butterfly family. The species lived in coastal sand dunes of the Sunset District of San Francisco peninsula. The Xerces blue is believed to be the first American butterfly species to become extinct as a result of loss of habitat caused by urban development. The last Xerces blue was seen in 1941 or 1943.

Silent Spring – Jilliene Sellner (Audio)
Silent Spring is the title of Rachel Carson’s book published in 1962 warning of the impending environmental disaster of unbridled industrial pesticide manufacture and use. This sound piece refers both directly and indirectly to Carson, related or inspired work such as Massive Attack’s track Silent Spring, Steven Stucky’s symphonic poem of the same title, as well as crop spraying and extracts from David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and Maggie Gee’s The Ice People. The work is a lament and dreaming of reversal knowing what otherwise lies ahead.

Malaise Traps – by Helen Jukes

Type honeybee into Google, and a drop-down menu appears with a list of suggested search terms. I add a ‘c’ and it throws up honeybee collection or collapse; add a ‘d’, and it’s declines or decorations for your home. I work my way through the alphabet; ‘l’ is unequivocal. Honeybee losses 2017, 2016, 20152014.

Some days I can’t tell if honeybees are coming or going. In a sense, they’re everywhere – collecting on our shelves, decorating our homes. In the supermarket this week I passed bee-themed mugs, place mats, bath towels and lunchboxes – not to mention the honey (LOVE bees, the girl at the checkout told me, when I told her I was a beekeeper. She showed me her bee earrings and a bee-shaped pendant. I really love them, she said, tucking the necklace back inside her shirt collar). And yet, elsewhere, out therewhere the real bees live, we’re told there are losses and declines and last month I heard a new word, insectageddon.

That came from an article about a study in Germany, among the first of its kind. Between 1989 and 2016, 1,500 insect samples were collected across 63 sites – a total haul of over 50kg, and several million flying creatures. The results are disturbing: a 76% drop in numbers, over 27 years.

Since the paper was published, more scientists have stepped forward to suggest the findings are likely to reflect a pattern occurring across Europe and beyond.

We’ve heard already about losses to honeybee, butterfly and bumblebee populations; these findings dramatically extend the scale. Around one third of our global food supply is dependent upon honeybees and other pollinating species – if flying insects were to disappear, not only would we lose individual speciesour landscapes, our ecologies, our diets and so even the stuff of our own bodies, would also be radically changed.

It’s one thing to read headlines like these; another to absorb them. The words are big. They’re dramatic, they’re catastrophic. I imagine they’re probably driving the appetite for honeybee mugs and bath towels – loss can make us grabby. Yet when I look out of the window, it is not catastrophe, not ageddon, that I see.

A few years ago, when I was living in Oxford and about to become keeper to a colony of bees, this was something I’d been struggling with. I’d read about honeybee losses in the papers. It sounded bad, but it felt remote; I wondered what would happen if I stepped to one side of the newspaper headlines and got to know a colony firsthand. Would I sense a slippage, a thinning? And would I, in my slim end terrace with a weedy garden out back and a work/life balance tipping dangerously towards collapse, find a way of sustaining the bees in my care – of keeping them?

I bought a suit. I got a colony. was suddenly more involved in another creature than I had been for years. I tended them, fretted over them. I hefted pieces of hive and beekeeping equipment. It was both a love and a labour.

My garden was bordered by a crumbling wall, a hedge and a high fence; standing inside it, I couldn’t see very far at all. I could see the sky. I could see a warehouse roof, our neighbours’ house, the tops of the trees lining the allotments. I could hear the traffic on the road outside, and the man who shouted as he walked. I wasn’t mindful of much of this; I was busy focusing on the hive. I had to become very attentive to what was happening inside it; to watch for slight shifts in the activity of the colony that might signal disease or pests or a drop in available forage. I wanted to get to know their rhythms, understand their processes (these were different, I realised, on different days – a colony is as changeable as the weather).

Up close like this, I learned a little about the landscape. A little about how bees make sense of the world, how they perceive it. And, by watching their journeys, by looking forwhat they were bringing back, I learned something about what they were finding out there, beyond the fence; about what their world was composed of. Honeybees collect pollen for feeding young and nectar for making honey; they temporarily ingest the nectar when they carry it back to the hive, and stick the pollen to their knees. A few months in, a friend showed me how to tell the source of these pollen nubs by their colour, and so make a fairly reasoned guess as to where the bees had flown. Deep yellow might be dogwood; soft green was probably meadowsweet. I felt like a detective, sifting for clues. Except that, for the most part, the clues were in a language I didn’t speak.

A honeybee colony is like nothing else. It froths and boils and quivers and shakes; it murmurs and thrums and whines. Lifting the lid of a hive and taking a look inside can be a disorienting experience – the bees are so foreign, so far from your familiar, they can make you feel completely lost; they can also turn you around, and inside out – they can rearrange how you see. They rearranged and reorientated me.

I’m writing this on a wooden stool, in the window of a small cafe. They have baklava and free wifi. I can look out and see a road and a row of houses; I can look out and see the silvery rim of a stand of beeches, a heap of ivy hanging over a wooden fence, two kids in jeans with mud on their knees kicking a punctured football at a wall. For the last half hour, I haven’t actually looked out of this window at all; I’ve been reading about that German study, the one that prompted calls of an insectageddon.

Today I am interested not so much in the findings, but the method. I have been learning(as the football bounced off the window of a passing car, and the car stopped, and the boys made a run for it,) about malaise traps. A malaise trap is like a tent on stilts, pitched at one end and made of netting. Inside the pitched roof there’s a funnel leading to a collecting cylinder with a quantity of ethanol inside, a killing agent. The other end of the tent is wide open; when insects fly in, they head up through the funnel and get trapped in the collecting cylinder. The basic design was invented in 1934 by René Malaise, hence the name. It was the sole means of sampling in the German study.

Over the past 27 years, between the months of March and October, malaise traps were placed in 63 nature reserves across west Germany. The cylinders were emptied and their contents weighed every few days. The work was done not by scientists but amateur entomologists, who visited and monitored the traps and made detailed recordings of the weather. They had strict instructions. The samples were weighed (with minute accuracy, since the creatures were featherlight); the weights later combined and compared. Leaving a trap open for a prolonged period can be harmful to local insect populations, so those used in the study tended to be moved from one year to the next, and for this reason the pattern that emerges reflects not the individual stories of specific sites, but something more like an accretion; a collecting up and laying out through time of umpteen temporaryand scrupulously recorded views.

I wonder about those amateur entomologists who emptied the collecting cylinders, who tramped down to the tents each week. Did they have a sense, as they tipped the alcohol-soaked specimens onto the weighing scales, of the extent of the pattern unfolding? Did they sense disaster? Or was the change was too small, too slight to notice week-to-week?

Nature reserves exist with the sole purpose of preserving ecosystem functions and biodiversity, so to find such a sharp decline in resident species is alarming. The researchers studied the findings; they factored in changes to land use and the weather. Neither could account for the declines, which occurred throughout the growing season, and irrespective of habitat type. Large scale factors must be involved, they reasoned – but such factors lie beyond the scope of their investigations.

A nature reserve is a protected space but it is also a form of island, and recording only the environmental changes inside the parks will never give a complete picture because islands don’t exist in isolationAlmost every reserve included in the study was surrounded by agricultural land, which over the last half century has undergone a process of rapid intensification. Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature, Professor Dave Goulson, one of the researchers, is quoted as saying. With the loss of field margins, increased pesticide use and year-round tillage, vast tracts of land [are now] inhospitable to most forms of life. It is possible that insects were flying beyond the perimeter of the reserves to find their foraging and nesting habitats had disappeared; or that chemicals present in the wider landscape were directly harming them.

There is an urgent need to uncover the causes of this decline, the researchers conclude. And so call upon all of us –scientistsamateur entomologists, beekeeperssupermarket cashiers, and people sitting in cafe windows – to join in the work of uncovering. To come close enough to see the detail, to pay attention to small things with the express aim of extending our range of vision, of better reading and making sense of the whole. Such a task will involve getting lost, giving up some of our go-to means of understanding the world, and drawing connections in places we hadn’t before. It will be a love and a labour. And it can start right now.

This essay is reproduced from the Dark Mountain Project blog with the kind permission of the author and the editor.