So, I went on that 2-week journey to Alberta in September, the Athabasca River Pilgrimage, with 5 Canadians, a trip into "the heart of a wounded planet" (one of the titles I have given to my presentations). You can go to my last post, astonishingly TWO months ago (who knows where the time goes, indeed), to read about it and what I learned there.
The transition is this: that journey shifted my direction, altered my path, created new themes and insights to explore in my writing, as well as creating a kind of urgency over getting enough financial support for my 501(c)(3) that I can keep on paying my rent (that annoying challenge for many a writer).
The river keeps on flowing, keeps on speaking to me and through me. It wants space. It wants to be known. It wants us to pay attention, because its story right now is the story of this sorry world, of industrial civilization, of human hubris, of the loss of wisdom to understand our place in the ecological whole and what it means to lose that place by destroying everything around us - as we are doing, that being the path we are on right now.
It needs those to whom it communicated its wisdom to stay alive, to keep listening, and most of all, to keep telling the story.
So I write and I have done some presentations, and I will do more next year - and the force of the flow that wants to write it down keeps pushing up against any limits I feel because life keeps demanding the practical stuff of getting the car fixed and the groceries paid for and...and...
This is all such an old story. This culture rewards financial prowess and economic innovation, not the arts, and certainly not art or written words that reveal its shallowness, its precariousness, and the certainty that the culture's current path is a disastrous one.
An old story - still a true one.
I am writing essays and poems. I am submitting an essay or 2 or 3. I am trying to write not just about the journey but about its meaning, what it reveals, the depth of my encounter with the river, the glacier, the creatures for whom the river is life, the forests and the vast destruction of forest, the industrial wounds being inflicted at monumental scales on the beauty, the wonder, the essential eco-communities of Alberta that we need to stay healthy and intact in order for us to survive.
It's more than sawing the limb on which we are sitting, more than digging away at the earth that holds us as we stand on the edge of the cliff - it's more dramatic, more like setting fire to the logs beneath our feet, and us tied tightly to the pole with all the ropes of our addictions to this way of life.
That's the tension. It's hard to sleep sometimes.
Many, many of us hold that tension. At times it bursts, hard days, those. But if we can hold it balanced well enough to articulate, some stunning creative expression emerges. And since mere news stories, research and reports, international conferences, and even the actual experience of profound change seems not enough to break the spell of the economic culture, art that does that - art and poetry, images and metaphors, that cause the "breaks" - may be among our most essential tools in the toolkit of trying to save our basic humanity within the whole that is being torn asunder by those still under the power of the spell.
I have a new book emerging from the pilgrimage and started it out with an essay. I was excited with the result and how pregnant it is with possibility for opening some of its themes more fully. That is the next BIG writing project, though I will practice in-between times with shorter pieces and the poetry that has made me a much better creative prose writer.
Here's a work in progress:
I was walking along the Lake Michigan shore
the other morning in a thick pre-dawn fog,
the kind where the air and water become one,
all distinction faded into an imperceptible,
but permeable whole,
as if, should you step off solid ground
and enter it
you would disappear
the disorientation perhaps welcome
the ice floes, the ducks, like ghosts
floating in the cloud that enveloped us
in one seamless shade of gray,
It is possible that when that fog finally clears for us (if it ever does), we may be facing a terrible truth about our chances for survival. Or, never allowing ourselves the clarity we need right now, we may get smacked down without ever knowing what hit us.
Art and writing have within them a mission to clear the fog, to offer a clear view, through the kinds of images and metaphors and stories that cut through the deceptions of the culture and blow the thick clouds away. We may not like what we see, but it may be good to remember that we will not only see what we most fear - that awful need to change everything - not only what is grim and hopeless, but also the sunrise, the stars in the night sky, the horizons, the beauty, the magnificence of this Creation - along with the path that could heal even the worst of the wounds we have inflicted.
The whole of the planet and all of humanity are in a time of transition. The evidence is everywhere and it is clear. An epoch is ending, no matter how desperately we cling to it. The extremes of weather these recent years ought to wake us to something. Let's not be afraid to say what that is.