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Wild Speculations and Ruptured Paradigms

Last summer I wrote an essay about whether climate warming will cause the extinction of the human species, so when I came across an article by Lucy Jakub on “Wild Speculation: Evolution After Humans,” I was interested in her startlingly idiosyncratic take.

I  spend many happy hours facilitating Socrates Cafes, where people ask philosophical questions and examine philosophical premises in an open-minded and open-hearted manner. As I read Jakub’s survey of speculative writing about the end of the species, I found myself querying the writers’ premises about how we got to this pass.

Geologist Dougal Dixon  (who assumes in those innocent years that it is a new Ice Age that will do us in) devotes his 1981 After Man to a scientific study, based on evolutionary genetics, of life forms that might evolve when we are gone.

“Humans go extinct because we lose our evolutionary advantage by adapting our environment to our needs, rather than the other way around.  When the resources needed to maintain our civilizations run out, we are unable to adapt quickly enough to survive. Crucially, nothing takes our place, and the planet reverts to an Edenic state, uncorrupted by knowledge.”

Let’s look at this philosophically: Dixon considers our capacity for adaption the fruit of our advanced cognition, which  isn’t advanced enough to prevent us from depleting our own ecosystem. But if this is so, is it our knowledge that corrupts us or poor choices about how to use it?

We did not all make those choices. Only a small (if powerful) elite of westernized humans – mostly male and mostly industrialists (think of Wordsworth! Think of Dickinson!) propose such a preposterous idea. Their presumption that human beings are separate from and in control of nature serves their bottom line and profit motive, while the rest of us have come to realize that we are more like ruinous genes running amok within it.

Jakubs  describes the “Speculative world-building,” of science fiction as a way to explore solutions to our environmental predicament. But Pierre Boulle, in his 1963  Planet of the Apes, is less worried about what is happening to the environment than what is happening in the pecking order, namely “man’s fall from dominance,” while Brian Aldiss, similarly, frets in his 1962 novel Hothouse that human beings have ceded control to (of all things) vegetation.

Do you see the pattern here? Nature (apes, plants) is a terrifying external force usurping human  power/over everything.

As we move into recent decades, however, Jakub notes that the “bourgeoning environmental movement led to a new genre, Eco-fiction, whose authors -Ursula K. Le Guin, Louise Erdrich, and Barbara Kingsolver- are especially beloved – mourned not the fall or humanity but the degradation of nature and our lost connection to it, and whose utopias didn’t necessarily include humans.”

Is it just a coincidence that the three authors she cites are women?  Or is the premise that nature is a degradable  “other” less  universal than it seems?

When women novelists write about nature there is a significant gender difference in our premises. In the 1980s I analyzed more than 300 novels by women to compare women heroes’ quests to those outlined (for “man”) by Joseph Campbell. What I found was that while his male hero took women as both “other” and embedded in an alien and dangerous realm of nature,” women saw themselves as deeply integrated in and interdependent with the green world around them.

In recent years, both men and women have embraced the Gaia hypothesis that our planet is an organism within which we and all other life-forms live and must maintain a mutually beneficial balance.  Meanwhile, Eco-fiction has become a widespread and popular genre to the extent that Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction lists more than 1000 volumes from all over the world.

Mary Woodbury, its most thoroughgoing curator, describes Eco-fiction (as) ecologically oriented fiction, which may be nature-oriented (non-human oriented) or environment-oriented (human impacts on nature). . .Eco-Fiction novels and prose zoom out to beyond the personal narrative and connect us to the commons around us – our natural habitat.”

Ecology deals with the interactions of organisms within a system and takes human beings as one of those organisms. Eco-Fiction. in Woodbury’s definition,  is connective and understands nature as our commons. How we are to do the work of that connection and how we are to take our rightful place within that commons are questions this excitingly speculative new genre raises in our minds and hearts through the deep truths of storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFINITE GAMES, INFINITE HOPES

I have always loved Geoffrey Chaucer’s send off to Troilus and Criseyde:  “Go, lytl book, go, litel myn tragedye” (go little book, go my little tragedy).  I intone his hail and farewell every time  put a manuscript in the mail or, more recently, hit the  send button which delivers it to my publisher in an internet instant.  It is my affectionate send off for a book I have spent years writing, my fervent prayer that out there upon the deeps of the reading world someone will enjoy this bread I am casting upon the waters.

And so, this week, I am sending The Battle for the Black Fen,  the last of my four-volume eco-fiction series that I have spent twenty years writing, out into the world.  Everything that I have ever longed for – love, friendship, family fellowship,  a life led in harmony with community and nature, human beings working together for the good of our beloved planet – is in my Infinite Games novels.  Here, in the final novel to the series, it all comes down to one decisive conflict between my self-sustaining Marshlanders and greedy developers.

Years ago, apropos of  white writers using tribal images and spiritual practice in our work, my Native American students challenged me: “Don’t you have some nice Euro-pagan ancestors you can write about instead of us?”   That was when the Fen Tigers,  marsh dwellers in the east of England who fought for three hundred years to keep their wetlands from drainage by “Merchant Adventures” and who probably  included some of my  Lincolnshire ancestors, became my inspiration.

It is all about the  question of whether we can build the worlds we long for or whether we will be crushed at last by greed and environmental degradation.

Can we abandon our finite games between winners and losers, between people with power and people they have power over? Is there time, before the demise of the human species or of even our entire planet,  to engage joyfully together in infinite games where everyone wins and we all share power amongst us?

In the Metro Detroit Area, you can buy your copy of The Battle for the Black Fen at the Paper Trail Books, 414 South Washington in Royal Oak.  All four volumes are available at Amazon.com.

 

FOG

I have always loved the fog, especially after bright hot August days in Maine when it rolled in from the Atlantic and the horn at Seguin began its plaintiff chant. Fog has often been a welcome  presence for me, soothing the bright edges of life that cut so sharply.

These days, I like to watch fog roll across Lake Michigan, or sit by the Betsie River as the mists dissolve.


 

Even here at home,  foggy mornings  soothe my spirit.

 

 

 

 

Toward the end of the first volume in my Infinite Games series, my characters are entirely dependent upon the fog to escape  enslavement  and exploitation in the early industrial city of Brent:

But where was the fog? The winter days remained relentlessly bright and sunny. Clare and Bess at the loom, the Fisher folk by their boats, the Marshlanders in their huts and the little spinners in the weaving house all prayed long and hard for the Gray Mother to come to their succor. But January wore on, and no help came.

Late one dark afternoon in early February, when the sun had already set, Rivelin was taking his turn at watch near the jetty. The two boats had been ready since midwinter: sails unfolded under the hatches, oarlocks wrapped in felt for silence. But the winter nights remained clear and moonlit, pricked with a thousand stars. Rivelin was watching for one of these stars because when it appeared he would be relieved for his dinner. It was Sirius, the Dog Star, and it emerged twinkling and blinking as it rose from the southern horizon but then, suddenly, disappeared. Rivelin became alert, sniffing in every direction. His sensitive nostrils picked up a damp, greenish smell. Out in the marshes of the bay, first one reed and then another acquired a wispy skirting. As the grey tendrils crept inland, one watcher after another passed along the signal that the time for escape had come.”  

The Marshlanders.

 

 

 

Midsummer, and the Living is Exciting

By this time most summers, I expect my living to be easy – keeping up with my correspondence, a blog here and there, short pieces of nature writing to accompany lots of time out of doors – but this summer, things are more exciting than usual.

With the help of my (very) patient publisher, Mary Woodbury of Moon Willow Press in Canada, I am doing the final proofreading of The Battle For the Black Fen, the last novel of my eco-fiction series.  Our publication date is August, so I have kept my eyes on my computer screen to find every lost comma, confusing bit of dialogue, and typo.

A couple of tips I have picked up while proofing: in dialogue, always state who is speaking.  Silly me, I figured that if I know who it was, my reader must get it too; similarly, if I start with “Clare thought” and have her musing away about other characters besides herself I had better bring her name in again, even in the same paragraph. And those pesky quotation marks that seem to have vanished into thin air, not to mention the commas and periods before the ends of the quotations…..needless to say, my eyes have been glued to the page.

I never like to dwell in my brain for days on end,   so I have been to my Betsie River cabin a couple of times, and every visit the temperature has plunged to 50 degrees or lower during the (summer?) nights. The wood turtle laid her eggs in mid June; now that other people appreciate my nature observations,  I did my duty as a “citizen scientist”  by reporting her to the Michigan turtle authorities.

By the end of June, tiny fry have hatched and flit about in the warmer shallows, and les becs scies, saw-toothed ducks (mergansers) that give the river its name, are busy and active.

And so are the beaver. Last winter they didn’t fell whole stands of slender trees but were hungry enough to chew completely around the trunk of a sturdy hardwood:


 

This circular gnawing serves two purposes:  the beaver get to eat the inner bark that they can reach and, at the same time, fell the tree so that they can eat the rest. I have never seen them drag a tree this heavy into a dam. It might be possible, but I think mine are bank beaver, only stripping such larger trees for nourishment.

So I let the babble and ripple of the river rest my mind for a while, strengthening my spirit for one last edit of my novel.

Every day of this daunting political year, my fictional battle between a self-sustaining nature-loving people and cruel enemies greedy for wealth and self-aggrandizement seems less a fictional plot than a grim reality. We are trapped in a finite game of victory and defeat; only if we give up on this hoary and outdated paradigm will any of us – enemies and friends alike –  survive. Are we strong enough, smart enough, open-minded enough, resilient enough to abandon the utter destruction of win/lose, you-or-me thinking for an infinite victory where everyone wins, nobody loses, so that we can enter at last the worlds we long for?

 

 

 

 

THE ROAD TO BEAVER MILL

On the front page of my web site I described Bethany leaping off a cliff into a gale. With the publication of the third volume in my Infinite Games Series, The Road to Beaver Mill, you can find out what happens next.
While eleven year old Bethany is excited and enthusiastic about soaring through the wind on a winged pony, her mother is purely terrified. Nonetheless, Clare must ride into the storm while the rest of the Marshlanders leave their refuge on Cedar Haven to climb the perilous Cliffs of Doom. It is time to call their allies to battle lest their enemies succeed in entirely draining their marshlands.
The problem is that everyone knows about these plans but Bethany, who is too stubborn and self-willed to trust with such important secrets. She visits her friend Ben’s Western Fisher folk, who want nothing to do with her; her own Eastern Fisher folk cousins welcome her warmly but she runs away from them too, stowing away on a ship heading for the dangerous merchant city of Brent.
My new novel is a Kindle Select Book, available here from Amazon.com .

 

 

 

 

MAPPING OUR WAY THROUGH THE DARKNESS

Last week we left Frodo walking fearfully toward the dread Land of Mordor. This week we find ourselves on a  perilous journey, every bit as daunting. We who have longed for a green and pleasant country of  fellowship and amity suddenly face the possibility that everything we have spent our whole lives working for could be overshadowed and destroyed.

These days I spend half of my week writing eco-fiction and half on environmental activism. The Infinite Games Series alternates utopia and dystopia,  the world of my self-sustaining Marshlanders against male domination fueled by economic greed. In plotting evil I look the worst possibilities of human behavior straight in the eye, but in seeking The Worlds We Long For I  tell stories about how good folk fight back.

There are four volumes in the series, two of which I have self-published.  In October, I received the immensely happy news from Mary Woodbury at Moon River Press that she will publish the last volume about The Battle for the Black Fen this year. In in the meantime, I am bringing out the third volume, The Road to Beaver Mill,  as a Kindle Ebook.

I keep a map of on the wall of my study to trace the perilous quests my characters undertake.  This autumn, I realized how amateurish it looks, so I got in touch with a marvelous cartographer, D.N. Frost, to produce a more professional-looking map for my  series. Here it is!.

World of the Marshlanders: eco-fiction of Annis Pratt http://www.dnfrost.com/2016/11/world-of-marshlanders-map-commission.html A map commission by D.N.Frost @DNFrost13 Part 1 of a series.

Are my novels escapes from the dystopian conditions of our present world?  Not at all: I intend them as stories that model how we can carry our little rings of power –  the will for the good which is our most precious possession – through the dangerous times in which we are called to live.

In the second half of my week I do environmental activism. What use is that now, with climate deniers come to power, threatening the fate of our beloved planet?
I work with two groups:  the Green Sanctuary Ministry of my local Unitarian church and the  Citizens’ Climate Lobby. an organization promoting carbon fees directly returnable to American households.
Grounds for hope:
       The rest of the world plans to carry out the Paris Agreements, even if the U.S. opts out.
         We can work for real change at the local and state levels where progress can be maintained; cities produce 70% of emissions and many have already put stringent climate legislation into effect.

The Eye of the Dark Lord is turning in our direction.

eye-of-doomFrodo’s ring could destroy the world, so he had to throw it over the cliffs of doom. The power of our rings is our small individual wills and our ability to combine with each other to create the world we long for.

HAPPY MAY DAY!

                                         May the blessed time of Beltane

                                         Inflame the soul of all beings

                                         From the depths to the heights

                                        From the heights to be depths,

                                        In the core of every soul.

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Plotting Evil

Once I suspended my descriptions of ideal communities every couple of chapters to insert thoroughly bad goings on, I found the alternation from good to evil and evil to good created a satisfactory narrative rhythm. Rising suspense and an awful event followed by better times before the cycle repeated itself not only made for a better read but was also philosophically satisfying. That’s the way life goes, after all – the way it challenges our mettle.

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