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A Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water

There is a chapter in my (tattered and torn) Winnie the Pooh when it rains and rains and rains until Piglet finds himself stranded in a tree, musing that “It’s a little Anxious to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water.”

Didn’t we all feel that way during the September hurricanes in Texas and Florida,  the Caribbean Islands and Puerto Rico?  Television coverage alternated between graphics of one vast storm after another whirling down upon us and close ups of towns and villages, highways and shoreline communities entirely surrounded by floods.

Everyone down there must have felt just like Piglet:  “Here I am, surrounded by water, and I can’t do anything.”.

I attended a Paul Hawken webinar this week. He pointed out that when we puny humans hear about overwhelming natural disasters, we tend to ward off anxiety by freezing emotionally. The way the news is presented impacts us too.  “Battle” language about “fighting climate change” or “going to war with global warming”  convinces us that we are in a win/lose situation. Faced with such  a vast, existential threat to earth’s and humanity’s future, we feel like very small animals indeed; if somebody is going to “lose,.” and it will probably be us.

But Piglet is not without resources. He concocts a survival plan of putting a  message in a bottle. “IT’S ME PIGLET, HELP HELP!” Pooh finds it, and, though “a bear of very little brain” he is  is clever enough to cork up a big jar and float on (and below) it  to find Christopher Robin to read it. Christopher realizes that he and Pooh can go to Piglet’s rescue in his umbrella. (Considering that Pooh has acted very cleverly indeed, he christens their craft “The Brain of Pooh.”)

Paul Hawken’s Drawdown describes the many clever ways we can bring the time  when greenhouse gasses diminish closer.  It is basically a list of 100 technological and social solutions, a short chapter for each. They are all quite doable, things like refrigerant management (the top of the list as most effective), onshore and offshore wind towers, rooftop solar, managing food waste and production, the education of girls, planned parenting, etc.

Piglet is rescued from an overwhelming threat by his ability to formulate a plan, by Pooh’s little bit of  smarts and by Christopher Robin’s literacy and resourcefulness, none of which would do them any good were each not impelled by a will to action on behalf of the others.

As we watched the 24/7 coverage of hurricane flooding, our anxious hearts were lifted by all those people rushing around to rescue each other; white people wading out carrying black people on their backs and vice-versa, Cajun folks organizing flotillas of rescue boats, all impelled into action by community feeling.

And so we learn that global warming can be mitigated if we

1. Don’t just sit up there in our tree frozen with terror and anxiety

2.  Use our smarts.

3.   Brainstorm practical ideas

4.  And then, altogether, PADDLE!

 

 


 

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.

 

 

 

Review: Nina Munteanu, Water Is…:The Meaning of Water

Water Is…The Meaning of Water by Nina Munteanu. Pixel Press 2016

Are you fascinated by what goes on in the physical world? Are you curious about the inner workings of natural phenomena? For anyone like me who is fascinated by water, Nina Munteanu’s Water Is…:The Meaning of Water  offers wonderful analyses from minutia like the construction of a single drop to the way whirlpools and eddies form in the flow of a river and more macro issues like the relationship between the “stable chaos” of turbulence and quantum physics.

Water Is provides delightful explanations of things you thought you knew –

  • That “water occupies over 98% of a human cell molecule,”
  • That “what we do to water we do to ourselves.”
  • How water’s negative charge benefits the health
  • How water arrived in earth from the cosmos
  • What are we drinking, e.g. In various bottled waters?
  • Issues of sustainability at various locals- the Arab Sea, the Empire of Angkor

Though a practicing limnologist and water scientist, Munteanu considers herself “one of the mavericks of the scientific community,” attentive to what her colleagues term “weird water” – aspects of the way water behaves for which traditional science has not (yet) found formulas. The result is a trove of disparate treasures, like how Galileo understood water flow, the Chinese character for water,  Leonardo da Vinci’s water drawings, the Gaia Hypothesis, and David Bohm’s theory of flux

 

 

This is less a sit-down-all-in-sequence read than a quirkily diverse compendium of disparate wonders which I dipped in and out of, sitting on my cabin dock as the river babbled and eddied by me, all summer long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battle Writing

 

Of course there is a battle: this novel I am working on is called The Battle for the Black Fen.  The whole point is the battle. My three previous novels in the series are all geared toward battling it out in the end. I have always know there would be a battle.  But how do I write a battle?

Input from grandson #1: I haven’t killed enough of my own people.

Oh dear oh dear,  who  should I choose to die from among characters I have lived with and loved the whole series long? (Disclosure: we are talking twenty years here).

Input from grandson 2: you need a map!

(Query: Is this a guy thing?)

I drew a map, he drew a map, I superimposed them and made a nice copy, if I say so myself, on a special large-item machine at the copy shop, but the first novel’s publisher shrank it down so no one could read it.  Then my daughter  gently remarked that my map looked too amateur.  Besides, it didn’t cover the landscape my characters traverse in the last volume.

A wonderful cartographer, D.N.Frost, popped up on my twitter feed.  After considerable back and forth and much tweaking of detail, we had our map!

But I still have to write the battle scenes. Although I am no fan of action movies, I was impressed  by the way the battle was portrayed in the movie version of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Return of the King. There was action all over the place, but the director avoided muddle by going scene by scene, from one limited vignette of action to another. Enemies on elephants!   Ents (marching trees) join the fray!

In the build up to the battle for the Black Fen, my characters were in three companies and one enemy militia. Very orderly.  However, the purpose of the companies was to call widely scattered communities to battle, during which members of The Marshland Company, the Delta Company, and the Dunlin Company joined various allies. As a result, when the battle was joined they were distributed all over the fen among Crane Islanders, Stilt Walkers, Turtle Islanders, Fox’s Earth folks – you can see how complicated it all became.

That is where the way the Tolkien movie was constructed –  skirmish by skirmish – came in handy. Also, for a unity of perspective, I positioned my rear guard on the top of the Moor of Nern to watch the action spread over the fen below them.

In the middle of all this heady battle writing,  my excellent new map informed me that I had written southeast when it should be southwest and northeast mixed up with southwest and that, somehow, a couple of extra characters I never really developed have slipped into the action.  Edits all around.

(Query: has my  publisher figured out I am dyslexic yet?)

These last edits took place during a very  dark time in our lives, when the Power of Mordor seems to be closing in and the Dark Eye sweeps over our land determined to destroy our hopes for a better world of being .  And that is why we story tellers go on telling our stories, hoping against hope that the Ring of Power will not fall into the wrong hands and that, puny as we may feel, our strength will suffice for the battle.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

Rabbit Nests

Now comes that time of year, midsummer approaching, when my sights turn from Niebuhrian incongruities, the capitalism/commons paradox and even my favorite poems to what pops up in front of my eyes, to startle and amaze, from the world of nature .

I wanted to grow in my whole back lawn, which, I learned, was illegal.  I could, however, “landscape” a “wild flower meadow” in part of my yard, so demarked a crescent with a little green wire fence and now all kinds of things are growing there – gill-over-the-ground, little blue heal-all blossoms, and delicately fluffy pink daisies among the timothy grasses:

And also, startlingly, rabbits.

A rabbit or two has always appeared on my lawn in the summer dusk, nibbling quietly. But when my “wild flower meadow” was all grown in a rabbit left the shelter of the back copse to wriggle out a shallow patch in it, all of the way down to the dirt:

This really piqued my curiosity, so I had recourse to that all-time great compendium of nature lore, our friend Google.

What I learned is that a cottontail rabbit likes to make an oval nest in the meadow grass. I thought maybe she laid eggs there but – silly me – of course that’s where she has her babies. My house being in a much lawned-over suburb, she must have found the sudden appearance of my genuine meadow entrancing, but, as it turned out, too exposed to human beings.

The mother rabbit doesn’t stay in the nest with her babies but leaves them alone all day and night, only nursing at dawn and dusk to protect them from predators. Instead, she weaves a lid composed of grasses and her own soft belly fur and places it over her litter for camouflage and warmth.

My own rabbit never used her meadow nest, probably sensing my entranced presence on my porch, far too near for comfort.  A couple of weeks later however,  I found this interwoven lid near the undergrowth at the back of my yard:

My back yard rabbits are our common Eastern Cottontail variety, but there has always been something quite uncommon – even magic –  about rabbits to the human mind. I thought mine would lay eggs because her nesting reminded me of the giant rabbit Goddess Eostre, from whom Easter derives its name, and she is only one of the March Hares and Moon Rabbits, sacred receptacles for our awe and wonder at nature, down through the ages.

 

 

Another Spring Poem

Coming a close second to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ spring poem I wrote about last week is e.e. cumming’s #65 (he had an anarchistic irreverence about capitals and titles), especially because it is a poem that the love of my life read out loud to me on the ocean voyage where we (so very romantically) met:

I thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(I who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings and of the gay

                                  great happening illimitably earth)

……….

I taught poetry writing and appreciation for years, and on the first day of class I always asked my students to find a stethoscope and listen to their own heartbeats (alternatively, they could submerge themselves in a bathtub and get a friend to pound rhythmically on the outside). I wanted them to realize that poetry was not ultra-sophisticated and to be afraid of but as ordinary and familiar as their own heart beats, which go ta TAH ta TAH ta TAH in standard iambic pentameter.

The thing about Hopkins’ and cummings’ spring poems is that, when you read them out loud, you find a sequence of TAHs surrounded by a hodgepodge of tas in no such regular relationship.  It’s all in the accent, or downbeat, and that’s what makes their words leap around so festively.

It is spring, and we could certainly do with a bit of leaping around and festivity.

 

I like to play in yellow mud

all squishy-squash between my toes

I’d rather play in yellow mud

than smell a yellow rose.

 

(traditional children’s rhyme, in iambic pentameter)

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Spring Poem

I have always loved poetry, and I have always loved spring. Far and away my favorite poem in the world is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring”:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush,

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoling timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightening to hear him sing.

Try reading it out loud.

Did you notice something about the sounds?

It is written in a Welsh poetic tradition full of alliteration (words starting with the same letter) and “internal” rhymes that occur within the lines as well as at the ends. And the words sound just like what they are describing – anyone who has heard our American Wood Thrush, a relative of the English variety, knows how its song really does “rinse and ring” through the forest canopy.

I was so in love with Hopkins’ Welsh prosody (Dylan Thomas’s as well) that I wrote my own poetry in it. Fame-wise, that was one big mistake:  in the sixties and seventies, when terse verbal minimalism was in fashion, I was often dismissed as “Tennysonian,”  too “nineteenth century.”

Oh well,  my poems sounded terrific when I read them out loud; I was quite popular on the poetry reading circuit and was once known as a “Georgia” and, later on, a “Wisconsin” poet.  sic transit gloria mundi.