Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surface stories I

I've just been listening to the news and am sitting now with a tight throat and a knot in my solar plexus.

Our world's airwaves are clogged with stories of war, incest, murder, Facebook deviants, paedophilia - and, of course, the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This man-made disaster has all the toxicity and virulence of a very black plague; its full reach and impact, quite beyond our imagination.

This morning it was confirmed that the oil has entered the current we have all so hoped it would not, and is drifting North towards Florida Keys - oh god, no. What have we done? What of the manatees? And the turtles? And the corals and fish and anemones and plankton and brine shrimp and foraminifera... What of the birds? And the fragile communities of plants and animals living on the intertidal zone and all along those shores? I feel deeply, ongoingly shaken by our appalling capacity for willful devastation. Such glorious creatures we can be; so tender, fierce for love, compassionate, attentive, courageous and nurturing. But oh, how blithely we underestimate our shadow, our inbuilt propensity for blindness, self-delusion, mindless, large-scale destruction. What irreparable havoc we are capable of unleashing.

W. B. Yeats's poem is stampeding around inside my chest ---

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned. . .

In What is Life? - a book I tend to carry around with me - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan write -  
". . . We and many other animals sleep and wake in cycles that repeat every twenty-four hours. Some ocean protists, dinomastigotes, luminesce when dusk comes, ceasing two hours later. So hooked are they into the cosmic rhythm of the Earth that even back in the laboratory, away from the sea, they know the sun has set. Many similar examples abound because living matter is not an island but part of the cosmic matter around it, dancing to the beat of the universe.
Life is a material phenomenon so finely tuned and nuanced to its cosmic domicile that the relatively minor shift of angle and temperature change as the tilted Earth moves in its course around the sun is enough to alter life's mood, to bring on or silence the song of bird, bullfrog, cricket and cicada. But the steady background beat of Earth turning and orbiting in its cosmic environment provides more than a metronome for daily and seasonal lives. Larger rhythms, more difficult to discern, can also be heard. . . " (pg 240)
". . . Knowledge about the varieties of life on Earth - life which, from pond scum to tigress, is connected to us through time and space - serves to inspire. That excess is natural but dangerous we learn from the photosynthetic process of plants. That movement and sensation are thrilling we experience as animals. That water means life and its lack spells tragedy we garner from fungi. That genes are pooled we learn from bacteria. Modern versions of our ancient ancestors, the protoctists, display versions of the urge to couple, and of our capacity to make choices. Humans are not special and independent but part of a continuum of life encircling and embracing the globe. 
Homo sapiens tends to dissipate heat and accelerate organization. Like all other life forms, our kind cannot continue to expand limitlessly. Nor can we continue to destroy the other beings on which we ultimately depend. We must begin to really listen to the rest of life. As just one melody in the living opera we are repetitious and persistent. We may think ourselves creative and original but in those talents we are not alone. Admit it or not, we are only a single theme of the orchestrated life-form. . . " (pg 246)
As a way of reminding myself to look more closely and listen more attentively, I'm thinking of posting a weekly series of 'mystery images' that shine a light on the surface landscapes of ordinary, every day things. I invite you to join me in this quasi-meditation on our natural world...

Here's the first one -

What do you see?


  1. It's all too sickening ... and when I can bear to look at the faces of those responsible, I see only expressions of a bland form of self-pity. How inconvenient it all is for them this tiresome accountability. There's a 'stop picking on me' and 'just leave me out of it' droop to their poor little bottom lips. Stop harassing me, it's taking the gloss off my after-dinner whisky. Not a shred of any sense of responsibility to be found there.
    I love your idea of a form of counter-action and solidarity with the nature's quiet power and beauty.
    The seed-head of a thistle?

  2. Claire -- In your opening jeremiad you didn't leave any space for the one piece of really GREAT news this May 19th -- my birthday! I'm sorry but the realisation of having made it this far in reasonably good shape (though far from perfect) means I'll have to postpone any depressed reaction to whatever annoying gestalt is presently holding us down un til tomorrow!

  3. Dear Kay - we are going to have to go a long way back before we can begin to go forward again. For all our so-called 'sophistication' we humans are dismally slow learners.

    Not the seed-head of a thistle, but close!

  4. I agree, Mim - we all have a part to play in this. Alas. Alas.

  5. Happy Birthday, Geoffrey. Of course you should be celebrating. It's your birthday! Congratulations on 'making it this far.'

    Lamentation and jubilation are like siblings who share a room in the same house. They take it turns to holler out. When the time is right, we do well to allow both their full voice?

    Go well. C

  6. I agree with Mim: we're all irresponsible.

  7. A stunning post, Claire. Magnificent and devastating. Now that this ever-growing plume has entered the Gulf Stream, the impact on the Florida Keys and up the Eastern Seaboard of my country will almost surely be horrific. In addition to large, corrective dollops of meditation on humanity's place in the interdependent dance of life, I believe some global action is called for as well. We have in The Hague a court that tries and convicts persons for war crimes, crimes the world agrees are beyond even the justifications of warfare(!). This incident suggests it is time the world community established similar standards for environmental crimes -- crimes against the Earth. Kay Cooke is correct, the expressions on the corporate faces betray hardly an iota of shame or remorse (except possibly to shareholders). Wonder how they would look if, as CEOs of BP, Halliburton, et al, they were facing international criminal charges? That might focus their attention a bit more on responsible practices.

    As for your visual meditation, I think I know what the picture is of, but since that's not what you asked . . . what I see is a tribunal of Gaia, amassed to the horizon to deliberate on what to do with us as a species.

  8. Well spoken, John - we are all irresponsible.

  9. Terrific post. With days or weeks of Obama announcing that he intended to open up the oceans for more offshore drilling,this catastrophe happened. It's not just an oil spill - it's a volcanic eruption of oil a mile deep that has already surpassed Valdez. It's as if the earth was saying, "More drilling? Really? I don't think so."

    I would like to see BP go bankrupt over this and hope that some of these bozos end up in prison. I live in Florida and now that the spill has entered the loop current, this is going to be disastrous for the wildlife here.

  10. Thank you for your comments, Timoth.

    The thing is, we're all accountable. Each and every one of us carries the same basic ingredients of light and dark. What's manifesting/being acted out in the Gulf isn't simply 'over there' or 'out there'. There's a bit of that impulse in all of us. I think that's the thing I find most disquieting about all this. The oil spill is an overt expression of a similar, unwelcome potential that resides in all of us. I speak for myself here, of course... how much (or how little) do I do in a day to add to or subtract from environmental (im)balance. We all need to pay more attention - at any rate, I know I do.

    re; The Hague and all that goes with that... As far as I'm concerned, nothing about war is ever okay - let alone justifiable. Nothing. Not ever.

    (I understand that counter-attack is not what you're advocating here... you're advocating on behalf of accountability. I just needed to say that about war...)

    I would sooner we took our personal and collective protest into prayer or meditation (whatever form fits) than into aggression or into a 'you slapped me, now I'll slap you' kind of scenario.. The thing is, the latter approach cannot help but reinforce a modus operandi that's more to do with recrimination and vengeance, rather than resolution and unification.

    I like to think - naively perhaps - that we can go further by thinking 'what can we do FOR... this, this and that' rather than 'what can we do AGAINST those same things...' ?

    I am not countering your comments here - simply setting down a few of the thoughts they've prompted. Thank you for making me think more about all this, and our place in it the whole tragic mess of it.

    In the end, no jury and no amount of external finger-wagging can change the hearts of Man. Accountability begins at a personal level and is a conversation we all need to be having with ourselves first? (What can I do to make things even the tiniest bit better?)

    My intention here - and most times - is to ask questions rather than make statements. I do not have any answers. . . All I know is that who we are (our common/uncommon humanity) both delights and grieves me.

    Your interpretation of the image as Gaia's tribunal is a powerful one - perhaps one of the things we can do is invite her and her tribunal IN so that we can more fully enter into a dialogue with her and her very best principles?

    There is much still to be said, and plenty of time for it, too. Thanks for contributing to this discussion, Timoth.

    L, C

  11. Trish and Rob - thank you for visiting, and yes, we're all distressed and outraged. More than anything I feel for the defenceless creatures whose habitat is being engulfed and who have nowhere else to go. The thing is, we speak of different oceans and current systems, etc... but in effect, one sea wraps its way around all our countries' edges; water connects us all and it cannot be pushed back, coaxed or contained. Ultimately what affects one has the potential to affect all?

    It occurred to me this evening that if - symbolically - water represents the collective unconscious, then this catastrophic contamination has something quite profound to tell us.

    I'm by nature an optimist but this gets my heart pounding and I can't pretend otherwise.

    Take care -

  12. Hi Claire. Thanks for your response -- as always, graceful and wise. To fight the dark forces of the world we need love and justice pulling as one toward the light -- the equanimity of Mandela and the condemnation of Nurenberg. As for all of us being responsible, our insane, insatiable appetite for fossil fuel does make us culpable, I agree, but there are individuals in board rooms and on that oil rig who were responsible -- accountable, blameworthy -- for what occurred, the explosion, the fire, the deaths, the environmental disaster. We as a world community owe it to ourselves and the principles of justice that they be held answerable for all they have wrought.

  13. Hi Tim - I'm so pleased you came back to continue this conversation; thank you.

    ". . . We need love and justice pulling together as one towards the light." Yes, THIS is what we need.

    I hear what you're saying re; our collective culpability and, too, the fact that the reckless irresponsibility demonstrated by certain oil officials and Powers That Be needs not to be discounted. The conglomerates need to be brought to their knees over this.

    It's your sentence about love and justice that stays with me. There's hope in it.


  14. This is a mind-and-heart-provoking posting, Claire. I keenly anticipate your 'mystery images.

  15. Thanks, Pen - your spotting the mushroom nudged something much bigger into the open - I'm grateful. L, C xx