Xenotopia: – “an uncanny or unsettling landscape; an ‘out-of-place place’

~~~ as defined by Robert Macfarlane, with an illustration ~~~

I’d planned this week to share some of the salmon myths from around the world, a perfect follow-up to last week’s post. But this has been a turbulent week & I find myself distracted.

…The continuing wars & crises all around the world & the rips in the very fabric of Life on Earth….. Here in the U.S. I am still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decisions to expand so-called gun “rights,” to overturn Roe v. Wade, and now to limit environmental protections. I was shaken this week to hear Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) proclaim that “The church is supposed to direct the government.” Although it confirmed what I’d expected, I was still stunned by Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing in which Cassidy Hutchinson bravely & explicitly described how the explosive, tantrum-prone former-president and his collaborators plotted to overthrow our government & destroy any attempts at democracy — a plot that is still alive and well in many state legislatures and in the extremist views of many of our citizens. And I am grieving the deaths of people seeking a safe life — this week more than 50 human beings killed, left locked in the over-heated back of a semi in Texas.

Add a couple of slightly stressful appointments this week and I have ended up feeling like Dorothy dropped into Oz, like Alice stepping through the looking glass & falling down the rabbit hole. I wonder where I have landed.

I am taking off a couple days to ground myself and to try to figure out where I am. I am spending time and finding solace with animals and garden and trees.

                      LOST

"Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
 Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
 And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
 Must ask permission to know it and be known.
 The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
 I have made this place around you.
 If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
 No two trees are the same to Raven.
 No two branches are the same to Wren.
 If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
 You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
 Where you are. You must let it find you."

                                                                 ~~~ David Wagoner

Seeking Sanctuary

Dreaming of Salmon at Summer Solstice

I’ve been thinking about Water these last weeks. But this past Tuesday was the Solstice. In Celtic traditions, the Summer Solstice is — like Samhain (our Halloween) in late autumn — a Fire festival associated with the lighting of great bonfires and the opening of thin places between worlds. Still I kept musing & wondering about Water. Then I found a story of the relationship between these two Elements as told by mythologist Michael Meade and quoted in Terri Windling’s blog https://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2021/08/water-wild-and-sacred.html:

“Of the elements (which some people count as four, and others count as five), water is the element for reconciliation. Water is the element of flow. When water goes missing, flow goes missing. The ancient Irish used to say that there are two suns in the world. One you see rise in the morning. The other is very deep in the earth, and it’s called the black sun or inner sun. It’s a hot fire in there; no one knows how hot. The earth is roughly seventy per cent water because of that hidden sun inside. When the water goes down, the earth heats up too much – part of the global warming that’s happening everywhere. It happens inside people also, because people are like the earth. People are seventy per cent water like the earth, and people have a hidden sun – or else we wouldn’t be ninety-six degrees when its forty degrees outside. Everyone in the world is burning, and the water in the body keeps that burning from becoming a fever. What happens literally also happens emotionally and spiritually, so when people forget how to carry water and how to use water to reconcile, you get an increasing amount of heated conflict, as we’re seeing around the world today.”

So — it is, as always, a matter of Balance. I was able to celebrate both Fire & Water at the Summer Solstice.

*******

I was born in the U.S. Midwest & have visited but never lived on the NW coast of North America. My brother and two women I have known since our earliest childhoods in Iowa have long lived there. My niece & nephew were born there and stayed. My sister has lived in Oregon & is now a short ways south, near majestic (and perhaps mythical) Mount Shasta. And I often find my heart drawn to the great forests, beautiful island-studded coastline, and native arts & myths of British Columbia — the home of Raven and Salmon, who people my dreams.

Somehow, Raven and Salmon have both lodged more and more firmly in my heart over the years. I have, hanging in my studio, a set of prayer flags I made many years ago in a workshop with the eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill. We were given 3 prompts for the flags:

The first is the picture of my inner self, who I really am.

The second is that which hinders me from manifesting my true self.

The third is a symbol of what it would feel like to come home to my self — and it surprised me by being a Salmon.

I recently came across a poem, written even further back, that intertwined Salmon & Language (and is used to close today’s post). While looking for that poem today, I came across another old poem of mine that I’d quite forgotten:

SALMON SINGS OF HER RETURN

Suddenly I felt a change, a shift
in the wide dark salt, 
narrowing my world from 
flash of chase and feast to
strict path clenched
by desire more ravenous for
movement than for flesh.

No longer consuming but
consumed by some austere 
pulse, my every sense alert to
the pulling and tugging steering me
through vast and briny plain until

at last — familiar somehow —
the faintest of traces in the tide, then
a new sweetness surging,
insisting, freshening.
A beautiful current presses my snout 
and I answer with thrust and 
plunge of tail, spine against 
the spate, channeled, bound, 

devoured now from within as
my skin reddens, flesh flames. 

Let me swim higher up, deeper in. 
Let me leap past rock, talon, teeth. 
Let me dig nests in gravelly birthing bed. 
Let me pour out from my belly 
	ten thousand fiery suns.

Only then 

Let my body be given to raven, bear, river silt. 
Let ocean feed mountain.
Let my next body be in this place  
	a tree --
        rising, rooted, and green.
 Let my roots inhale water to 
 breathe out 
 once more into this
 circling and radiant world.

	                             ---  MCK

This week I’ve been weaving the doll I mentioned last time — curious to see what she would teach me about the colors I’d gathered and about myself. For such a small piece of weaving, I’ve been amazed and amused by how many missteps, lessons, and stories she contains!

When I took her off the loom, I saw not only the long warp ends but also the many many weft ends streaming off her body.

As I sewed in the ends, I found myself collecting even the smallest pieces of yarn I cut off, thinking “Not a drop should be wasted!” She is now filled, along with a water-worn stone & 5 seashells, with these bits of yarn — “drops of Water” from the weaving of her body.

As soon as I saw her, I knew what offering her arms would hold. Two or three years ago, I wove an amulet bag & placed inside it a long-treasured ceramic salmon button to which I had added her golden roe being laid in the river. Now, that salmon has swum into the arms of my prayer.

She is a Prayer for Earth's Waters & for the Salmon,
messengers between sea and stream, saltwater and fresh

PRAYER

What is prayer but the
unbarring of the heart,
the freeing of its rivers for return to the sea.

Sometimes it is not enough to depend on seepage through the old hidden cracks.
Sometimes it is not enough to let the concrete spillways do their job.
Sometimes it is not enough to open the floodgates.
Sometimes you must turn off turbines, abandon irrigation ditches, just
	dismantle the whole damned thing.

Let the rivers run free:
rainfall, snowmelt, even the ancient glacial ice from distant peaks.
Flood, drought, the ups and downs of season upon season, heading
always home.

And after a long, long time, the sweet water may
call back the salmon to spawn again in the furthest pools.                                                                                
Let them come in silvery leadings, insistently struggling
upriver against all odds to the place they know is their own.

Words are salmon, prayers returning.
And if they are as certain to die in the safe pool of your page
As salmon are to die in the riverine shallows, remember the
fertile eggs they leave—minute, perhaps unnoticed, yet desiring life.
Then, too, their flesh is
in any case
sweet.
 
                                                                      - - - MCK

It’s June!

Having been battered this past month by chronic cardiac conditions — resulting in deep fatigue & a fair amount of brain fog — I don’t have much to offer today. But the green and growing world outside does!

Life wants to live! The kale that was munched by the big old groundhog has, in spite of the unseasonable heat, grown again & the Hopi sunflowers, denuded and broken by some neighborhood critter, have valiantly sprouted new leaves and grown some more — a few are even trying to bloom!

The bumblebees are feasting in the salvia.

And the canna lilies in which hummingbirds delight are just beginning to offer their bounty.

MORE THAN ENOUGH  by Marge Piercy

"The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
 All over the sand road where we walk
 multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
 white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
 the scene drifting like colored mist.

 The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
 clumps of flower and the blackberries
 are blooming in the thickets. Season of
 joy for the bee. The green will never
 again be so green, so purely and lushly

 new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
 into the wind. Rich fresh wine
 of June, we stagger into you smeared
 with pollen, overcome as the turtle
 laying her eggs in roadside sand."

Weaving, Stitching, Felting, Dreaming — Loving the Connections

I spent our days in the mountains enjoying the in-gathering of place & soul and letting my old body recover from the activity, stress, and excitement of the previous weeks. Our house is under contract, but we are allowed to stay in it until we move into the Friends [Quaker] Homes continuing-care community on August 9. An odd in-between space….

Oh, and when we got home from the Blue Ridge, I found that my healthy, thriving, tall Hopi sunflower plants had been decimated — almost every leaf eaten & some of the tall stalks broken. The upper leaves were definitely too high for our resident groundhog so, at first, I thought “birds.” It may be so, but last night I dreamed it was a raccoon enjoying them, just as the raccoons on our farm enjoyed attacking the stalks & taking the corn on the day before it was just ripe enough to pick. Alas for my dreams of purple dye from the seeds…… But I do know there are raccoons in the neighborhood & I can’t help but admire their wild ways of surviving in an urban environment. Several years ago, when our previous dog kept eating all the new sunflower shoots, I learned that sunflower leaves are especially nutritious. No dye for me, but healthy raccoons! I end up smiling….. and remembering Linda Hogan‘s poem:

 The Way In

"Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
 Sometimes the way in is a song.
 But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
 and beauty.
 To enter stone, be water.
 To rise through hard earth, be plant
 desiring sunlight, believing in water.
 To enter fire, be dry.
 To enter life, be food."

*******

The engagement with my current fiber endeavor continues to be a fascinating adventure. As I have been struggling to understand how the 3 pieces (a female spirit/mask + a male spirit/mask + the land of which they are a part) could co-create/co-evolve with each other, I have had a lot of time to think about how these processes actually have happened and are still happening at all levels within Earth Community as a whole and within each of her individual elements/beings/selves. The beautiful on-going flows of energy and matter in & out & between & among….The growing, blooming, ripening, being eaten, & sprouting again in a wholly new form…. So much to contemplate. So much to love.

When I finished felting this home/context for the masks just before going to the Blue Ridge, I fell in love with it & didn’t want to put anything on it. I thought maybe I should make a different setting for the masks.

But, of course, the felted piece is not a mere “setting” and the spirit masks cry out, “We, too, are a part of this one whole — neither the felted piece nor either of the us would have come into being as we are without the other two. We are all one thing evolving together.” And I, too, am a part of this evolution — also changing and growing in many ways. I’m curious about what will happen next.

In preparation for their placement, I have finally been sewing in the loose yarn ends on the backs of the two masks. Usually sewing or weaving-in any loose ends is a straight-forward, simple activity. But because I was working only with yarns & fibers I had on hand, I found myself mixing a variety of mismatched yarns — two or three being worked together in different combinations to form the weft. So — so many ends!

I wish I’d thought to take a photo before I started. At least I can give you a glimpse of the final unfinished corner of the second mask. Imagine the whole inside of the mask as a snarl of yarns with no interest in being tidied up…. As an introvert, the dense & wild interior was very familiar — but occasionally, as with my own inner tangle, rather annoying.

I think it must have been these days of finicky work that suddenly brought to mind a wonderful poem by Pattiann Rogers that I hadn’t thought of for years. I am delighted to share it here.

By Pattiann Rogers, from her collection of poems 
Song of the World Becoming
"God Is In The Details," Says Mathematician Freeman Dyson

"This is why grandmother takes such tiny
stitches, one stitch for each dust mote
of moon on the Serengeti at night, and one half
one stitch for each salt-fetch fog
following the geometries of eelgrasses
in fields along the beach.

And this is why she changes the brief threads
in her glass needle to often--metallic bronze
for the halo around the thrasher's eye,
ruby diaphanous for the antenna tips
of the May beetle, transparent silk
for dry-rain fragrances blowing
through burr sages before rain.

She inserts her needle
through the center of each elementary
particle, as if it were a circling sequin
of blue, loops it to its orbit, sewing thus,
again and again, the reckless sapphire sea,
a whipping flag of tall summer sky.

Sometimes she takes in her hands
two slight breaths of needles at once,
needles so thin they almost burn
her fingers like splinters of light.
She crochets with them around each microscopic
void, invents, thereby, an ice tapestry
of winter on the window, creates a lace
of peeper shrillings through flooded
sweet gale, secures a blank jot of sight
in the knitting of each red flea
of zooplankton skittering mid-lake.

God's most minute exuberance is founded
in the way she sews with needles
as assertive as the sun-sharp loblolly
that she sees with her eyes closed:
in the way she knots stitches
as interlocked as the cries of veery,
peewee, black-capped chickadee and jay
that she hears with her ears stopped;
in the way she whispers to her work,
recites to her work, spooling every least
spider and air trifid, every hue
and rising act of her own hands. Try
to escape now, it reads, just try."

Words Patched Together

Last week was very intense. I suppose there must have been “stress” involved as I tried to do more than I could, but what I felt was just the intensity. It was actually good. Amidst all the house things that had to be done by Monday and the garden work that called for a timely response, I was also aware of a strong need to complete & felt, at last, the fiber context that has been changing and co-creating itself with its two recent spirit masks. On Sunday, I greeted the fibers once again and, because of the limits on time to think & re-think & over-think, I just plunged in. My noisy control-seeking mind simply had to move out of the way and let heart, intuition, and hands carry on — without interruption — their conversation with the fibers of wool, silk, and llama. I felt thoroughly engaged with the fibers as we worked together — or sometimes wrestled with each other — and as we opened to each other’s ways. I would speak more about the experience, but in the end I can only say it was deep and very old.

This morning I was reassured by Mary Oliver‘s advice:

"..... just 
pay attention, then patch 
a few words together and don’t try 
to make them elaborate, this isn’t 
a contest but the doorway 
into thanks, and a silence in which 
another voice may speak." 
                                             

~~~~~

~~~~~

We came up to the Blue Ridge Mountains Tuesday afternoon. I am comforted to be held, like a tired & fussy child, in the embrace of these wise ancient stone Beings. Shortly after our arrival, a magnificent pileated woodpecker stopped by. I had not seen one since we moved into town. His presence was pure gift.

At this altitude, it is still early spring. I spend long stretches of time just being with leaves only recently broken out of their buds. Tiny oak leaves are a newborn red, waiting for sun to wake them so they can suckle on its light. The small leaves of many other trees are bright green but still crumpled, like the wings of newly emerged butterflies.

Today the clouds have been drifting lower & lower, their gray mysteries gradually muting the forest.

Enough words for now…..

 "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. 
Don't claim them. 
Feel the artistry moving through 
and be silent." 

~~~ Rumi

“What we are creating is creating us.”

(today’s title is a quote from Adah Parris)

In my 4/15 post, I lamented the “problems” I was having with my current project. Later, re-reading what I had written, I began to recognize that the situations I encountered & named “problems” weren’t problems with the fibers but problems with me! I had forgotten to maintain respect for all the partners in this co-evolution/co-creation — fibers, loom, and self. I had apparently forgotten that respect means respect not only for the gifts but also for the limits of each participant. In my mind, I can easily conjure up all sorts of exquisite possibilities — and I was spending too much time in my mind. Feeling some sort of need to hurry, I seem to have forgotten that only with relaxed awareness and respect can loom & fibers & self be woven together in the dialog through which the mask emerges. I’d forgotten the words of my teacher Luisa Teish: “Before you begin a new venture — especially before beginning a ritual — be sure to set a clear Intention. Every beginning is a crossroads where Trickster waits. If you have no clear Intention, Trickster will be happy to choose a path for you…. You may find you’re not happy with his choice.”

For me, work with fiber is a kind of ritual to bring blessings into the world. But, when I began this project, I had an idea rather than an Intention. And, sure enough, Trickster sent me down a path where I found myself seeking control, trying to force the fibers to comply with my grand idea. The further I went, the more muddled I became. Finally, I was completely immobilized by the knots into which I’d twisted both the fibers & myself. I was forced to pause and catch my breath — and as I began to breathe, I began to remember. I remembered and renewed my Intention of blessing through making. I remembered to respect all participants in the process & the process itself. I remembered to offer common courtesy both to the fibers & to myself. The tangles & snarls & knots fell away and a new path opened.

As I pondered this more deeply, I realized that I’d been unwittingly replicating some of the current cultural norms that I despise: I was effectively treating the fibers not as respected individuals but as “resources” that I could force to conform to the grandiose picture in my mind, to do what I wanted. Somehow feeling hurried & trying to push myself beyond my inherent limits, I was sliding into an arrogance akin to that of the culture that is currently engaged in the destruction of Earth community (including both human and more-than-human).

It is no coincidence that “Trickster” was the name used by more than one indigenous tribe to refer to the invading colonists, who — like the Tricksters of story & myth — ignored or willfully violated the limits/boundaries of the world as it existed (and who continue to do so today). I had refused to respect limits and had approached this particular act of making as Trickster might have done, so — just like Trickster — I got thoroughly entangled in the mess I’d made.

And yet, as Lewis Hyde says, “Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.” For all his trouble-making ways, “Trickster the culture hero is always present … to keep our world lively and to give it the flexibility to endure.” As the title of Hyde’s book says, “Trickster Makes This World.”

Having once more found a balanced relationship among materials, process, and self — having set out at last on my Intended path — I am now thoroughly enjoying the few hours I’ve found this week for making. It is once again not work but play. And the games the fibers & I are now playing with each other and the dances we’re inventing — while Trickster plays his flute! — are, for me, joyful times of growing, learning, and (dare I hope?) serving. Life just doesn’t get much better than that! And I can’t help but laugh with Trickster at the rough path he slyly pointed out as I began my current journey, because it — with all its aggravations — eventually lead me to deeper understandings & to possibilities I wouldn’t have imagined for myself. That old trickster!

In Beauty
the world is begun.

It is woven on the loom
of the Cosmos,
while Trickster
plays a song upon the warp,
tangles weft threads into
new configurations,
ties unexpected knots,
enlivens the simple surface 
with his rowdy dance.

In Beauty
it is begun.

In Beauty
it is woven.

In Beauty
it shall be finished.

“In and out, up and down, over and over, she wove her strands of life together, patching hole after hole. Eventually she saw it was much more than the threads that gave her strength; it was in the very act of weaving itself that she became strong.”

~ author unknown ~

For Earth Day — and every day

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement—get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. Never treat life casually. …[B]e amazed.”  ~~~ Abraham Heschel

mck

Another World is Possible

by Rose Flint

We can dream it in, with our eyes
Open to this Beauty, to all
That Earth gives each of us, each day
Those miracles of dark and light–
Rainlight, dawn, sun, moon, snow, storm grey
And the wide fields of night always
Somewhere opening their flower
stars – this, this! Another world is

possible. With river and bird
Sweet and free without fear, without
minds blind to harmony, to how
We can hold. We have been too long
Spoiled greedy children of Earth, life of rocks and creatures
Slipping out of our careless hands.
We must stand now and learn to love
As a Mother loves her child, each
cell of her, each grain of her, each
precious heartbeat of her that is
Ourselves, our path and our journey
Into our dream of future, where
another world is possible
cradling this one its arms.

From Questions for a Resilient Future
HumansandNature.org

The Glorious Trespass of Simply Loving the Earth

Ryan Serito

~~~~~~~~~~~

“Our most urgent need at the present time is for a reorientation of the human venture toward an intimate experience of the world around us. If we would go back to our primary experience of any natural phenomena – on seeing the stars scattered across the heavens at night, on looking out over the ocean at dawn, on seeing the colors of the oaks and maples and poplars in autumn, on hearing a mockingbird sing in the evening, or breathing the fragrance of the honeysuckle while journeying through a southern lowland – we would recognize that our immediate response to any of these experiences is a moment akin to ecstasy. There is wonder and reverence and inner fulfillment in some overwhelming mystery. We experience a vast new dimension to our own existence.” ~ Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe
(from the April 2022 Reflection of The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World) http://www.beholdnature.org

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Those of us who are part of an industrialized-capitalist-consumption culture are immersed every day in a multitude of situations that program us to consider ourselves Separate — separate from Earth & all her beings, including others who also call themselves “human.” For example, as I was scrolling through free photos of “person in nature,” I immediately noticed that most of the shots centered on humans atop some kind of peak or pinnacle or other. Many of them were hikers with all sorts of expensive equipment. This is a small example of how our “modern” culture places humans (mostly, in the photos, of European ancestry) & their technology (gorgeous backpacks, etc.) at the top of everything. It conjures up (visually & metaphorically) the cultural belief that Earth’s community is a pyramid, rather than the interconnected web that we know it to be — a pyramid where the humans are always at the top.

What joy to jump over those seemingly impregnable walls of separation and to once more find ourselves where we have always been — in a world of possibilities both ancient and new, embedded in Earth’s community!

As I’m sure others have said before me, perhaps the best possible form of resistance and revolution is simply to love Earth and all her beings & to act from love, kindness and (not transitory “happiness” but) indestructible joy!

As we're  surrounded by the symphonic bursts of Life in the Spring, 
it's an easy time to join in the celebration 
and to explore this active resistance further.  
The best time is always now - 
The best place is always here -
for we are always in the midst of this precious Earth community.

Sheshagiri KM — India

As so often, Mary Oliver says it best:

            WILD GEESE

"You do not have to be good.
 You do not have to walk on your knees
 for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
 You only have to let the soft animal of your body
     love what it loves.
 Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
 Meanwhile the world goes on.
 Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain
 are moving across the landscapes,
 over the prairies and the deep trees,
 the mountains and rivers.
 Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
 are heading home again.
 Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
 the world offers itself to your imagination,
 calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
 over and over announcing your place
 in the family of things."

War, Peace, Story, Language, Art

I have been doing my small work of making this week. The mask that I showed you a couple weeks ago (2/11), having already declared herself a Spirit of the Betwixt and Between, has suggested that she would be most comfortable in a forest at twilight. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. And Dreaming Towards Dawn (1/28) has also clarified her requests. Next week I’ll say more & send pictures, but today I want to share the art of an award-winning Ukrainian poet and of a Ukrainian painter.

On February 18 & 24, the CBC (Canadian public radio) spoke with the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk (still in Kyiv) and with the Ukrainian-American poet and scholar Oksana Maksymchuk & her husband, Max Rosochinsky, who have translated Yakimchuk’s poetry. You can hear the broadcast & read an accompanying summary at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/ukrainian-poet-lyuba-yakimchuk-reflects-on-war-and-the-burden-of-a-motherland-1.6364864

Lyuba Yakimchuk is no stranger to armed conflict. She grew up in a small town in the eastern part of Ukraine where separatists began armed conflict after the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. Her parent still lived in that region & refused to leave. They planted potatoes & they slept on their harvest in the basement during the shelling. Yakimchuk wrote the poem excerpted here:

prayer

"Our Father, who art in heaven
of the full moon
and the hollow sun

shield from death my parents
whose house stands in the line of fire 
and who won't abandon it
like a tomb....
[....]
our daily bread give to the hungry
and let them stop devouring one another

our light give to the deceived
and let them gain clarity 

and forgive us our destroyed cities 
even though we do not forgive for them our enemies

and lead us not into temptation
to go down with this rotting world 
but deliver us from evil 
to get rid of the burden of a Motherland - 
heavy and hardly useful

shield from me 
my husband, my parents
my child and my Motherland"

For the past 5 years, a sniper has occupied the poet’s childhood home.

Yakimchuk speaks of Story and of Language during war time. The meanings of words are not the same in regions at war and those at peace. In her poems, she demonstrates how war deconstructs not only cities and individuals but also language itself. In the interview, she states that “Language is as beautiful as the world. So when someone destroys your world, language reflects that.” In her poem “Decomposition,” Yakimchuk writes:

"...there’s no poetry about war
     just decomposition
    only letters remain
    and they all make a single sound — rrr ..."

And stories — Both Yakimchuk & her translators speak of the ways that “a nation is narration.” Russia and the Ukraine have differing narratives about Nation & about The Golden Age. In the former, history has been rewritten to accommodate the narrative of Mother Russia.

Yakimchuk also describes the dangers of the traditional Ukrainian stories that say heroes are to be found only among the dead. [This reminds me of Trump’s comment that McCain shouldn’t be considered a hero because he had been captured, not killed….] From the article accompanying the CBC interview:

“War is also a story maker,” said Yakimchuk. “There are damaging narratives in every country — in Ukraine as well … Ukrainians believe that the heroes are dead people. According to [this narrative], a person who managed to stay alive, to survive isn’t a hero. And this idea is very dangerous when war is here.”

She points out that it is the survivors who can shape the stories and the future.

Yakichuk says succinctly [again from the CBC article]:

“I believe culture can program people for behavioral models, and that is what I mean when [I write about] a ‘burden of the motherland,'” said Yakimchuk. “It’s our burden, which in the end we should cope with. And we should invent new stories to tell ourselves. If we don’t, our enemies tell them for us.”

The poet and her translators all point out the difference between praying for Victory or for Peace. Words have meaning, words matter — Does one pray to achieve a success which still carries the seeds of on-going war or to change the narrative to something new and completely different? Perhaps this is something we all need to think about, not only in the political sphere but also in the depths of our own lives.

And still, in spite of everything, her translators point out that Yakimchuk’s poetry includes a sense of playfulness, an affirmation of the small everyday joys of life and the little acts of kindness that bind us together. May we, too, remember all that is good in life and build upon that foundation.

from Song of Peace:

     "To Death, said the enemy
       and we said, To Life!
       New life stirred in us
           new pride.
       To Death beat his bullets,
       Lechayim, earth cried
       after the holocaust --
       bursting into bloom.
      To Life, greetings fly
      as field salutes field...
   ...The sun fills up
      the earth's green cup
     Lechayim! Lechayim!
                            To Life!"

…..

We tell stories & share insights not only with words, but through all our creativity, including the visual arts. In her newsletter a few days ago, Julia Fehrenbacher posted this painting by the Ukrainian artist Olesya Hudyma — “Angel of Peace for the Ukraine,” painted in 2015 just after the revolution and during the fighting in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbas) where she had grown up and where her parents still lived. In the midst of turmoil this vision is a prayer for and affirmation of Peace:

“Angel of Peace for Ukraine XII,” 2015 – Olesya Hudyma
https://www.olesyahudyma.com

[I hope you will check out her website olesyahudyma.com to enjoy her beautiful artwork. So many of her paintings are filled with exuberant brushstrokes and color and with details (especially in her Fantasies) that capture the spirit of the Ukraine and its traditional folk arts & tales.]

Remembering the people of the Ukraine
and all the humans and other beings of this Earth community,
let us sing a song of Peace.

The Land Speaks in Swans….

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves in all directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer's hooves in the snow.
Language, but no words.

— Tomas Tranströmer

I love this poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It always reminds me of the summer of 1964, which I spent in Kenya and Tanzania as an undergraduate research assistant studying baboon behavior with Dr. Irven DeVore. In addition to the required reports of my observations, I’d planned to keep a personal journal of my own feelings & experiences — but I couldn’t. For these, I had no words.

Those were the days when, for example, it was OK for a scientist to talk about struggles for “dominance” among animals or about “instinctive bonding,” but any mention of emotional relationships or personal preferences among animals was met with outraged cries of “Oh No! Anthropomorphizing! Not Science!” [And, of course, that’s still true in some circles today.] I had to record the notes needed for the research project in the typical scientific language that pretends to be devoid of personal perspective, emotion, or judgement. And, of course, the constraints of this scientific language we used to translate our observations & experiences created the illusion of distance from the actual bio-scape in which we were, in fact, not some disembodied & unconnected “observers” but active participants.

For the deeper experience of spending whole days alone with a multitude of diverse other-than-human species, I found I could construct no adequate English sentences. I complained to myself about the “limits of language” but, of course, I was surrounded by a multitude of aural & visual languages akin to the “the marks of roe-deer’s hooves” — some of which I did learn. “Language” itself was not the problem. It was my own native English language — with its inherent tendency to separate & depersonalize — that led to my frustration. I imagined that the original languages of peoples native to & woven into that place — human languages that had arisen in close attunement to the languages of the land & its other inhabitants — might include not only a vocabulary but also a grammar through which I could have found ways to express my feelings and experiences of relationship. [I have since learned that this is true of Native American languages.]

My husband & I encountered the same problem years later, when we lived on a farm in the woods near the Blue Ridge Mountains. We could not find English words to use as a short-hand to describe our relationship with the clear mountain river that ran near our house. To say “our” river suggested an “ownership” that did not exist & which would have completely contradicted the nature of our relationship. We were not the “possessors” of the magical river. It was relationship, not possession. Respect, love, admiration, and humility….

Even terms like “nature” (meaning “other” than human) and “environment” (that which “surrounds” — i.e., is distinct from — something) cut us English-speaking humans off from our true kinship with Earth community. Trying to describe my experience of being with the swans this past week presents a similar sort of conundrum….

The time at the refuges was beautiful — overflowing with beauty … both the beauty of the swans and other creatures themselves & the beauty of my own comprehension of kinship with them… and so much more.

This was not the completely immersive experience we’d had with the great migrating flocks at Chincoteague, a refuge established in my birth year of 1943 & bearing fewer obvious marks of human control. Many of the swans we saw here in North Carolina were dispersed in small groups on fields that had been specially flooded after the harvest. We did see one large gathering of tundra swans (hundreds, thousands?) on the far side of Pocosin Lake. At one point, something must have disturbed them for they all rose together, filling the air with the loud music of both wings & voices as they swept in one coherent cloud around and around the lake before settling down again on the water. Majestic, awe-inspiring, far beyond words…

And I had the good fortune of watching from only yards away as otters swam and hunted under the water. Two rose separately to the surface, each with a big fish in his or her mouth, and galumphed off into the woods on opposite sides of the drainage ditch. One had to cross the dirt road where we were standing. I’ve seen otters swimming and playing — sliding on ice on the river near our old home — but I’d never seen one moving on land. Like the swans, so graceful in their water element but more awkward-seeming in their land-bound movements. Again, beauty….

Another blessing was my encounter with the land itself. Flat, flat, completely flat. [I’ll never again complain that the land around Greensboro is too flat!] I quickly became aware of all the drainage ditches & dikes that, over the hundreds of years since the European incursion, have turned the land from a variety of biologically rich swamps into fields for industrialized agricultural production. Not until the mid-1980s were national wildlife refuges established in this area of eastern North Carolina to at least partially restore some of the wetlands & to offer some protection to native plants and animals, including the great flocks of migrating birds. Current “management” includes such programs as on-going research, soil & water supervision, prescribed burning, and cooperative farming — a complex response to a complex situation.

It reminded me of our recent trip to the elk restoration project in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia and Kentucky. Ironically, the elk restoration was located on the “restored” land that remained after mountaintop-removal mining. At least it seemed an acknowledgement or gesture, though small, of restitution for human destruction of our kin. Needless to say, my response there, as it was last week, was mixed — grief for the destruction of irreplaceable Earth communities, hope for the efforts that are being made to mitigate the devastation & move into a more compassionate future.

Anyway, my husband & I were much restored in mind, body, and spirit by last week’s encounters. And my curiosity was also set aflame with many wonderings — about the land and its history, about the “official” human relationships with animals (e.g., the discontinued red wolf recovery project may soon be re-instated), and about the tundra swans themselves & their incredible annual migrations. How can the swans fly round-trip every year from Alaska & northern Canada to the mid-Atlantic seaboard of the U.S.?!

Our individual inner well-being, like our physical health, cannot be separated from the well-being of Earth community — from the well-being of all our relations. As always, the poets say it best:

Ah, not to be cut off, 
not through the slightest partition 
shut out from the law of the stars. 
The inner -- what is it? 
if not intensified sky, 
hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

photo from Pixnio