The Dark Mountain Blog

Dispatch 65: Wayfarer Waylaid

Occasional Shelter

They were the monsoon months. It is not even rain as such but a continuous descent of tiny droplets, barely visible to the eye; like a large, soft and misty blanket of wetness wrapping one’s naked body. Like all umbrellas elsewhere one of the Sihadi(1) leaves helps but not much when it is raining without let. After about ten days it stops for a week or so. Soon the sun shines through. Bodies and beings need to dry. After a few days the blanket lowers again. It is good for Penda(2). The loose soil does not run down the hill face nor broadcasted seeds wash away. Fear of being accosted by bears decreases; fastidious at remaining clean, they do not enjoy the wet season. Whereas other animals are usually wary of humans, bears are not. There are now more snakes, scorpions and other creatures.

I waited for a companion to walk with me to Sonepur. Jaggery and matchboxes had to be brought from further off Narayanpur. Jaggery was needed for an occasional sweet tooth, for Abujhmad does not have the sweet, or the salty. Of course there were honey combs and small wild mangos on the trees but they were not as readily forthcoming as the sweet tooth. I could not learn the art of making fire from flint stones and raw silk, the stones ever slipping through my fingers. Though there was almost always a large, dead tree dragged to the ‘middle’ of the village to get the hearth fires from3, I was not a success with that either. Blowing into the ancient hearth to convert the embers gently into a flame is an art not easy to master. Matchbox, dry grass, leaves and split bamboo came in handy. The village felt an unease about the matchbox and continued with the dead tree or flint.

The distance from Garpa, the village of my residence, to Sonepur was about 30 kilometres; from Sonepur to Narayanpur about 40. In the beginning I visited Narayanpur every four months or so for such errands. It was the nearest market; also the nearest road, bus stand, post office, tea shack, jalebi shop and paraphernalia. Of about 70 odd families Sonepur is the only non-Abujhmadia village in the region. Garpa with its seven scattered huts came second. Compared to the three or four huts of an average Abujhmadia village, Sonepur is a city of sorts. Apart from the Halbas it has a Jogi (Hindu mendicant sub-caste) and a Panka family. Pankas are makers of tudbudis (musical drums) and players of the flute during festivals. There is agriculture and milch cattle. Abujhmadias do not know agriculture, nor do they milk cattle.

The rough terrain of hills, large boulders, moss-covered slippery trails, thick and – at places – impenetrable vegetation, wild animals, other creatures, rivers and streams made the journey hard. If there was a strong shower somewhere far away – of which one would not know – the river or stream would rise abruptly. One could be swept away midstream. Nor was it easy then to clutch onto one of the big boulders for they were moss-covered and slippery, too. Usually those on the other bank waiting for the waters to subside would jump in to the rescue. People on the other bank were, however, a chance and rarity. There may never be a bigger deterrent than wild and untamed Nature; nor better defence. Walking alone was forbidden by the wild and its circumstance. Unlike the outside world Abujhmad has not conquered its landscape, nor its distances. Nobody had to caution anybody against walking alone. It was as much a ‘given’ as cautiously crossing a road of busy traffic in a city lest it be fatal. Whereas the walk was hard, finding a companion was harder. People did not visit other places except for fairs and festivals. The practise of visiting friends or relatives  was almost non-existent. Even the notion of ‘friend’ was practically absent. Animals do not have friendships, nor trees or hills. ‘Friendship’ seems to have arisen much later with coming of human societies and complexities in relationships. Just like vocabulary and work, people in Abujhmad did not need many relationships, nor were existing relationships needed much. That need or sensibility to run errands, too, was superfluous. People did not have work in another village; or even their own.

For Village Congregation
Apart from Sonepur or Narayanpur, there were other travels, too – to Hikunar, Ehnar, Nelnar, Kutul and other villages of the deep interior. Everywhere one needed a companion. In the initial stages, walking was mostly for ethnographic purposes. As time went by and the inner apparatus began waning, wild Abujhmad was gradually beginning to descend on me. All needs as such began wilting too. Wild Nature takes over eventually; just like the shorn Penda patch on a hill face reverts to untamed vegetation when left alone. Eventually both ethnography and travel dropped. Like others in Garpa I began staying put. It was then I realised how much inner apparatus one carries unnecessarily. Ethnography, geography, history, earth, space, memory and vision, wisdom, values and ideals, ideas and concepts, relationships and friendships… much of it worthless. Abujhmad is an altogether different centre of living.

Having spread the word amongst our large village of seven huts, I would wait for someone. After a few days or weeks even if someone did come along the ‘problem’ remained still. For, after reaching Sonepur I had to wait for another companion to Narayanpur – in the same ‘timeless’ frame. Walking was in stages, interspersed by days and weeks – all for such elementary needs as matchboxes and jaggery. At either place the wait was an average of 10-15 days. It could be much longer during monsoon for none wanted to risk with the rivers, thick undergrowth and  slippery climbs. A journey of three days could take anywhere from 20-30, or even more. The baggage of my sense of time and its needs made life hard. Eventually both jaggery and matchbox were given up. Waiting endlessly to do something, not knowing when and with whom it would be done, is always hard. When there is nothing to do or nowhere to go, waiting, impatience, anxiety, companion or friends do not come into play. Mercifully, like match boxes and jaggery, ethnography and research weaned too. I felt better.

Many a time it was Masiya who accompanied me to Sonepur – more out of pity than purpose. At Sonepur I was usually put up by the Panka family. Or, if the taste buds longed for chicken curry, it could be had only at Verma guru ji’s in the 4,000 square kilometres of the region. I then stayed with Verma guru ji, who lived alone and was versed in the ways of the outside world and chicken curry, including free procurement of chickens from frequently unsuspecting parents. Sonepur had Abujhmad’s only school and guru ji was the headmaster. He was a friend and the only one with whom I could speak in Hindi (he came from northern Madhya Pradesh). He stored cooking oil, onions and some elementary dry spices. Though the luxury of a suitable chicken was most appealing to the buds, staying with the ‘musical’ family was to my heart. They looked after me as their own, for such is human warmth everywhere. But that also meant cutting firewood in the forest for the family and getting the head-loads home, herding the goats into their enclosure before sunset and releasing them early in the morning lest they bring the heavens down – which they often did. An occasional breach in the household bamboo fence called for mending. Frequently, animal bones had to be powdered on a rock and mixed with crushed tobacco for the family to chew; or learning the art of trapping bird, going with others to catch fish and crabs and ‘earn’ my share. A nap in the afternoon was an invariable must. Much time was spent gossiping, joking or playing with children. Then came the dinner and all – humans, dogs, cats, poultry and an occasional goat –  sat around the family fire; humans with tobacco in mouth and spit in flames. Animals huddled for warmth; humans for warmth and the old man’s tales – tales of rains, insects, animals, gods, spirits, ancestors, streams and vegetation, of the misconducts of gods and spirits, and the punishments they received; of myths, rites and symbols. Halba stories are longer than the Abujhmadia’s and do not end so abruptly. Nothing had changed over the long years since the storyteller’s childhood, not even the pitch or intonations, or the verve and enthusiasm to huddle together each night for tales. Almost each family had this indulgence. As the tales unfolded, someone or other would roll to the ground, followed by someone else, then someone else, till the old man called it a day. Then babies and elders all slept with their backs to the fire for warmth and to keep the evil spirits, snakes and scorpions away. Someone snored, someone muttered, someone flailed a leg or two; others slept noiselessly. None complained. Youngsters in the rest of Abujhmad live in the village Ghotul(3) at night, at Sonepur they sleep at home. Halbas do not have Ghotuls.

Ghotul
This went on day after day and night after night. A companion was still hard to find but awaited nevertheless. When the time came we would trudge together to far away Narayanpur. About ten kilometres beyond Bengur river the terrain began easing up as gradually the outside world emerged. Lesser vegetation, lesser waters, lesser silence and lesser mysteries – it surely is a different world. It was time for the other to turn and hurry back before the sun went down. He would not be permitted to stay with me at the PWD Rest House or that of the Forest Department. As is the practice in other villages in India, none would ask me to bring back some provision – turmeric, spice, oil, shirt etc – from the town. It was not worth having.

Sonepur does not have many preoccupations related to work. It has many social ones though. Abujhmad does not have them. ‘Human affairs’ are as invisible and as still as Nature. Not much happens in its villages of three or four scattered huts. In this respect it is yet to be a human society. Sonepur is surrounded on all sides by Abujhmad. Abujhmadias come to Sonepur now and then for fairs, festivals and other occasions. Yet they do not take to its ways. Their sensitivities maintain a quiet and desolate distance.

Looking back at my journeys, I find the wayfarer has been waylaid.

1 Giant leaves of a vine; used as umbrella
2 Shifting cultivation
3 A semi-circular structure of thatch and bamboo in the village for unmarried youngsters. Once married, one can never re-enter a Ghotul.

Narendra‘s association with indigenous communities, their rhythms, flows and languages/silences of everyday living in Bastar goes back over 30 years. He has lived with and observed indigenous worldview, the non-doing communities, questionability of knowledge and knowing, ecological practices and sustainable livesnon-profit economy, traditional healing, forests and wilds.

Some of his field dispatches were published by Dark Mountain in June 2013, and 2015. Others have been translated and published in Finnish.

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The Secret Opinions of Rivers

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‘Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has,’ wrote the twentieth-century English poet A. E. Housman in a letter to a friend, ‘it may be inadvisable to draw it out … perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.’ W. B. Yeats, his Irish contemporary agreed and put the case more succinctly. ‘What can be explained’, he stated, ‘is not poetry.’

Poetry, like all the best things in life, makes sense but can’t necessarily be explained. This is not because it has no structure, form or meaning. It is because whatever the essence of a real poem is, it does not really operate at the level of the rational, calculative, reasoning mind. This is why analysis can so often kill a poem, as it can kill any piece of art. Dissection, with a poem as with a butterfly, is the surest way to reduce the curious, brittle essence of life to a slide-full of dead cells and hinged, hollow limbs.

Poetry is like love, or myth, or the sound of the rain in a primeval forest at dusk. Inherent in it is some power, some mystery. If constructed correctly, it can even be a form of incantation; of magic. When it works, the indications are physical: the hairs on your neck, as Housman also suggested, may bristle if you think of a good poem while shaving. If you don’t shave your neck, there may be a tingle in your guts or fingertips. Word-magic operates beyond the mental plane. Auden’s claim that ‘poetry changes nothing’ has never been true. Poetry changes everything, so thoroughly that it can be hard to see that anything has changed at all.

I wouldn’t claim that my poems have any of these qualities, though it’s good to have something to aspire to. I think there is another quality that a poem can have, though: one to which I also aspire, and one which a good myth or a serious fairytale has – it can be a form of communication between the world of humanity and the rest of life on earth.

‘Man’s half-dream’, wrote the Californian poet Robinson Jeffers in The Beauty of Things, ‘Man, you might say, is nature dreaming…’ As he so often liked to do, Jeffers ended this poem with a statement, which also doubled as his manifesto:

—to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion …

Call me a Romantic (I’d take it as a compliment), but I believe the world is more alive than we can currently understand, and that our society’s project of de-souling and de-animating it is the root cause of the sense of loss, the great ache, that seems to underlie so much of the modern project. Theologian and ecologist Thomas Berry presented the modern dilemma as a break in age-old speech:

We are talking to ourselves. We are not talking to the river, we are not listening to the river. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking the conversation we have shattered the universe.

When humans talk only to themselves, they shatter the universe. It is quite a claim, but it is the claim that Jeffers too was writing of when he warned the human-centric Modernist poets a century ago about that ‘diversion’. The diversion is an act of forgetting, and not just for poets. Forgetting that, in the words of conservationist Aldo Leopold, ‘mountains have secret opinions.’ Mountains, hawks, hares, great diving beetles, tardigrades, walnut trees, cloud banks. What else? We have to write to find out.

Seven years ago, in the empty places of Chilean Patagonia, I saw rivers and forests as I had never really seen them before: cold and wild and untamed. I have spent time in tropical forests and on Himalayan plateaus, but I had never before been in a wild, temperate environment where the climate and the species resembled those of my homeland. I walked in the great forests of Patagonia and felt as if I had stepped back 30,000 years into Europe as it was before the axe. It was a strange, haunting feeling: as if my animal body had returned home to a place it had never been.

The rivers had the same impact: they were wild and blue, raging and unchannelled. Threatened, too, by a giant mega-dam project which the Chilean government, in a predictable quest for ‘development’ was planning to impose upon the waters (but which, in a rare and beautiful piece of good news, they have since ditched, in response to widespread protest). I had never seen anything like this before. A poem is inadequate in the face of a river, but poems came roaring out of me then like water through a sluice. Wild places tend to have that effect on me.

It’s taken me more than half a decade to prepare those poems for publication, but my new collection, Songs from the Blue River, now seems like an experiment in trying to re-start the long-stalled conversation that nobody ever taught me how to have. In the central poem of the collection, the narrator hears the river’s secret opinion about him:

I was not sleeping when it rose manlike
from the Blue River and approached me on the shore.
This beast of water this column of spray
and foam blue in the early light
of a southern dawn.

It said I have been watching
and I am here to remind you
that you are animal and you kill
you are animal and you eat
you are animal and you run
you are animal and you grip
the unfleet land until its shape is your own.

I am river and I flow I will flow over you
if I can I will destroy you
if you can you will dam and harvest me
if I can I will break your dam and drown your cities.

You know we are only doing what we do
you know I do not need to be saved
you know there is no shame there is only being
you know that all of us are water

It’s hard to know how to reply when a river speaks to you, but he does his best:

I said I try to imagine you but I imagine me
I try to step out of me but I find myself returned

I try to unflex these ape claws
damp down these ape thoughts I aim
my arrow at the concept but it flies through and past

I say you are water not man I am man not water
we should come to an agreement
and the water says nothing because it is water

The world will not speak to me
because the world is not thinking
only I am thinking only my tribe is thinking

we are billions of us thinking
strung along this line we call time
thinking we are tracing it to its end
believing in ends

Thinking about rivers like we think about money
opening the veins of the world and drinking its heat
telling stories around the cooling ashes
we were made to be free we were made

There is an ache in all of my fingers
something is pulling at my tendons from within

There is nowhere to go but on.

I don’t know what the river would think of this, but I like to think the invertebrate kingdom would approve of my attempt to imagine an earthworm’s opinion about agriculture. ‘The cut worm’, suggest William Blake, ‘forgives the plough.’ Wondering whether a worm would agree with this opinion was the jumping-off point for my poem ‘Wretched of the Earth’. If nothing else, this fills a gap in the poetry market as it currently exists. There are surely not enough poems out there written from the point of view of earthworms.

This thing, forgiveness, it is no thing of ours.
Pull back the share, the steel, your eager weapon
blooded in mulch and crumb.
That was the war that changed everything.

The daggers, the rifles, we approve of these.
The scuds and the sidewinders, the bat-dark drones,
the robot suits and the self-healing minefields:
we encourage your work in these areas.

But the plough, the harrow, the tractor wheel,
the horse’s shoe that makes a pan of our place:
we defy them. We will live in the gaps
in your dominion. We will wait you out
here, beneath, the wretched

of the Earth you tricked to float like seabirds,
moored to nothing but your words.
Where will you roost when the plough
is stilled, rusts over, comes to soil again?
We have been patient.
We will bury you.

Humans – modern humans, anyway – often enjoy listing the qualities that make them ‘unique’; different from ‘the animals.’ This list has been shrinking enjoyably for the last century or so, as scientific discoveries force us to remove qualities or activities – language, song, art, agriculture, tool use, group mourning, slavery, war, genocide – which we had previously imagined only Homo sapiens indulged in. We still have a few features which are looking fairly safe from encroachment though. Clothing, for instance. Fire. Writing.

Now, as I write this, I suddenly wonder if these are all words for the same thing.

In which

The twined legs and the roaring blood
and the shade of the elms I have never seen
in my flat place by the river
where the still pool is overhung with osiers
and the time is always June before the war.

We move together where nothing has fallen
and beyond the trees there is only white
and the calling of the birds who have gone now
but who one day will come back.

One day, it will all come back.

Songs from the Blue River, by Paul Kingsnorth, is published by Salmon Poetry, and can be ordered directly from their website.

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Paul Kingsnorth is co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project and was one of its directors until 2017. His personal website is here.

 

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Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – Bearing Witness to a Disappearing World

Webp.net-resizeimageToday we bring you the last in our series of extracts from our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

We finish the series with Michael Malay’s essay on poetry and extinction, accompanied by an image by Bruce Hooke.

 

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Bearing Witness to a Disappearing World:
Poetry in a Time of Mass Extinction
 

In ‘Blacksmith Shop’, Czeslaw Milosz describes a childhood visit to the local smithy. He remembers the blacksmith standing above the anvil, hammering away at a piece of iron, and the incredible heat of the furnace. A group of horses stand outside, ready to be shod, while a collection of tools await repair: ‘plowshares’, ‘sledge runners’, ‘harrows’. ‘I liked the bellows operated by rope’, Milosz writes, and ‘that blowing and blazing of fire’. Transfixed, he watches as the iron is bent glowingly into a horseshoe.

Milosz’s catalogue of objects is mundane. The poem lists the normal accoutrements of a blacksmith shop: bellows, a pair of tongs, an anvil. Yet there is an intensity to the speaker’s gaze, and a tenderness to the poet’s voice, that transfigures what it names. Held lovingly in the space of the poem’s recollections, the scene is restored to the primacy of the present tense. ‘I stare and stare’, Milosz writes, recalling the gusts of heat at his chest. ‘It seems I was called for this: / To glorify things just because they are.’

I had reason to think of Milosz recently, when, early last summer, the Polish government defied an EU court order to halt logging in Białowieża, one of Europe’s last primeval forests and home to the rare European bison. And the thought emerged: if one task of the poet, as implicitly defined by Milosz, is to ‘glorify things just because they are’, what might it mean to write poetry today, in an era of climate change, environmental degradation and mass species extinction? How might one bear witness to a disappearing world? (‘Daffodils at the end of January!’ a friend remarked, uttering a sentence his grandparents would not have understood. Meanwhile, current rates of extinction are 1,000 times higher than normal background levels, with dozens of species dying off every day. In a few decades, whole forms of life – whole ways of understanding – have changed.)

Milosz exemplifies one possible response to the current tumult. Born in 1911, he was three when the Great War broke out, six at the time of the Russian Revolution and 28 at the start of World War Two, which he spent in Nazi-occupied Warsaw translating Shakespeare and writing for underground presses. Despite writing poetry at a time of great upheaval, however, he managed to keep faith with the aesthetic impulse to praise and to appraise, to record and to make – and, through making – to mend. He saw one function of poetry as holding up an imaginative shield to the world, by way of protecting things – people, landscapes, objects – from the ravages of historical time. That haven was ultimately a flimsy one – it was made of words, after all – but since words were carried from person to person, like secret letters passed between friends, the fragility of poetry was also its strength. Precious things, whispered into the ear, inspired a fidelity unlike anything else. ‘Working with Czeslaw is like reliving the whole of the 20th century through this prism of great specificity’, according to Robert Hass, one of Milosz’s English translators. ‘It has been very important to him to remember exactly how, say, wine was stored in 1930s working-class Paris, or the precise details of the elaborate hairdo of his piano teacher in Vilno in 1921.’

But Milosz was not only a poet of celebration. If one function of poetry was to affirm the beauty of things, another was to judge, censure, rebuke. ‘Do not feel safe’, Milosz writes in one of his poems, for the ‘poet remembers.’ He remembers those who ‘wronged’ their fellows, who laughed at the scene of the crime, and who blurred the line between ‘good and evil’. And, against these acts of destruction, acts which have an interest in effacing their own presence, the poet bears witness and testifies: ‘The words are written down, the deed, the date.’ The living, Milosz has written elsewhere, ‘owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.’

Today, one might say that the criminals are the Murdochs, Kochs and Tillersons of the world, as well as the multinational companies – the BPs, Monsantos and Cargills – who continue to plunder earth’s resources at a time of swift ecological unravelling. All the same, the marvels of reality continue too, in the form of great fish and bird migrations, the standing miracles of ancient forests, or the simple but mysterious thereness of the earth’s elements: air, water, earth, fire. Were Milosz still writing today, his ledger would still contain two columns: one for beauty, one for justice.

For all his exemplariness as a poet of witness, however, Milosz did not and could not foresee the complications of the current moment. Witness poetry implies the hope of restitution and redress – a rebalancing of the scales, even if that rebalancing is enacted aesthetically, through poetry, rather than institutionally, in the political sphere. But what hope for those countless creatures who perish without word or witness? What representations – legal, poetic, or otherwise – do they receive? Equally, how might one identify the deed, let alone the date of the crime, when the drivers of extinction and climate change are so widely distributed and its effects so unimaginably large? ‘O my love, where are they, where are they going’, Milosz writes in one of his poems, recalling a night when his friend pointed to a hare running across a wintry road. ‘I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder’, his poem concludes – but it’s an emphasis we might be tempted to reverse. In a landscape where brown hares are critically endangered – in the UK, their population has declined by 80% in the past 10 years – we do ask (appropriately, I think) out of sorrow.

As a poet, Milosz was concerned with the ‘esse’ of things –  that aggregate of qualities that made that thing quite unlike anything else. He was interested in what he called ‘the immense call of the Particular’. But the present moment is one in which the ‘Particular’ is itself at stake, in which ‘esse’ is critically endangered. This can be understood in a number of ways: biological and cultural. When a species becomes extinct, the tree of life is incomparably diminished: the world loses a singular genetic configuration, the result of millions of years of evolution. But more than this biological loss, extinction also leads to the unravelling of connections within a biotic community. The loss of a species is also a cultural event – it involves the disappearance of a whole form of lifethat totality of relations between a species, its environment and its human and non-human neighbours. When precious genetic cargo is sunk, it sends ripples through the ecosystem of which it is a part, setting in motion a whole series of changes, some of which we can measure, others of which are beyond our ken. It also sends ripples through time, showing us the gap between the landscape our ancestors inhabited and the landscapes we inhabit now.

English poetry looks very different from this perspective. In ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, W.B. Yeats dreamed of a place where the evenings were ‘full of the linnet’s wings’ – but we might read that poem differently now, as shadowed by a silence the poet did not hear. (Linnet populations in Ireland have declined drastically since the 1950s.) Similarly, in ‘Sunday Morning’, Wallace Stevens describes the ‘Ambiguous undulations’ made by pigeons ‘as they sink / Downward to darkness, on extended wings’ – an image which now feels ominous, a dark vision of disappearance itself. English poetry is likewise full of nightingales, cuckoos and mistle-thrushes – but their songs, which once thickened the sky, are becoming increasingly rare. ‘The Bird of Time has but a little way / To fly’, Edward FitzGergald wrote, in his 1859 translation of the Rubáiyát. The line ends: ‘and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.’

It is easy to become despondent, indeed sorrowful, about these losses: each day we are confronted with appalling statistics about the loosening footholds (and wing-holds) of mammals and birds in the UK, not to mention thousands of insect species whose habitats are being fundamentally changed by human intervention. As Ursula Heise reminds us, however, narratives of ecological decline, which often borrow from genre conventions such as tragedy and elegy, can easily turn into narratives of human decline. Environmental ‘crisis typically becomes a proxy for cultural concerns,’ she writes in Imagining Extinction, a way of telling stories about the fallen experience of modernity. We therefore need to understand when sorrow is misplaced – when it is a projection of cultural anxieties onto nature – and when it stems from a genuine reckoning of what is being lost. The risk of not doing so is to tell a story that begins to tell us – a hopeless story about inevitable decline.

The other risk of declensionist narratives is that they ignore the capacity of certain creatures to adapt during times of change. As Chris Thomas argues in Inheritors of the Earth, some animals seem to be thriving in the present era. We have damaged the planet beyond any reasonable measure, he admits, altering its ‘great chemical cycles’ and acidifying its oceans, but ‘we are still surrounded by large numbers of species, many of which appear to be benefiting from our presence’ and adapting to ‘this human-altered world’. He also argues that we should situate today’s changes in their ‘appropriate historical context, which involves time spans much longer than we are used to thinking about in our everyday lives.’ This is ‘necessary because the story of life on Earth is one of never-ending change: be that the arrival and disappearance of species from a particular location (ecological change) or the longer-term formation of new species and extinction of others (evolutionary change).’

This is not to discount the losses of anthropogenic extinction, which are immense, nor the profligacy with which capitalism exploits human and non-human life. The long view that Thomas takes may also come with a subtle danger. Deep time consoles us by reminding us of earth’s endurance and continuity, but such a view may also desensitise us to the present, to the precious and fragile life being lost now. We are thus relieved of the duties we have as citizens of the earth: the duty to articulate an alternative to the economic systems that are ravaging the planet, the duty to preserve our green and blue commons for future generations, and the duty to foster a notion of citizenship that places the human in humble relations to other creatures, as one ecological fellow among others. Nevertheless, the persistence Thomas celebrates in the natural world is real. And this persistence may offer its own form of hope – that we too may find ways of flourishing in uncertain times, or, more selflessly, that animal life will continue evolving and proliferating with or without their human fellows, inheritors of a future that will continue despite us.

All of which is to say that, although much has changed since his era, Czeslaw Milosz may still offer a guide for our times. The conditions for bearing witness have altered dramatically (extinction threatens the very reality of the ‘Particular’) and it may be harder to isolate the scene of the crime, such is the scale of the current unravelling. And yet the poet’s insistence on celebrating the beauty of the world, even as one who kept a record of ‘those who wronged’, is as vital as ever. To bear witness today means to grieve over what is going and gone, to resist a culture in which such losses go ungrieved, and to identify the forces – political and economic – that drive environmental destruction and extinction. But it also means to be captured and moved by the natural world, which every day presents us with little gates leading to heaven: the song of a blackbird on a summer evening, sea trout returning to rivers to spawn, a hare flashing across a wintry road.

Image:
Bruce Hooke
Stepping Out
The Art Farm, Marquette, Nebraska, USA
Striding along, expecting the road to stay solid below him, the man in the suit steps out, into the unknown. About to fall, he will crash to the hard, fertile earth. The eleborate plans in his briefcase scatter in the wind. By taking on the role of the man in the suit and photographing myself I seek to explore issues of power, authority and privilege.

Michael Malay is a researcher at the University of Bristol and a co-editor at The Clearing magazine.

Bruce Hooke is a photographer, sculptor and performance artist whose work focuses on the evolving human relationship with nature. While educated in ceramic sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Wesleyan University, photography has been a central part of his work for over 15 years. He lives in western Massachusetts, USA, where the land on which he lives is an important part of his artistic practice. bghooke.com

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

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Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – Dear Sophie

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

To give you a taste of the work inside, today we bring you Nina Pick’s astonishing letter to her unborn child, accompanied by an image from Ilyse Krivel. 

the night you were reborn into the eternal home

Dear Sophie; or The Art of Reproduction in the Age of Ecological Catastrophe  

 ‘Even the most perfect reproduction … is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.’
– Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ 

 ‘The melody of mothers’ speech carries through the bodies and is audible in the womb.’
– Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct 

 ‘“No!” I said instantly and at once.’
– Imre Kertész, Kaddish for an Unborn Child 

Dear Sophie,

Writing prose is like giving birth. The sentence exits the womb reluctantly; it screams as it leaves the body. I’ve never given birth but I can imagine. I’m writing these sentences because I don’t want children. Dear Sophie, this is for you.

Everything about children is repugnant to me. Their shrieking in the park on what would be an otherwise peaceful afternoon. Their wailing on planes where I’m stuck with them thousands of miles in the air and somewhere west of Chicago. Their whining as they trail behind their parents on a beautiful path to the beach. The schmutz of a cookie still lingering on their faces. The pitch of their voices asking their incessant questions. A puddling infant who looks for all intents and purposes like my obese grandfather. I don’t feel what I’m supposed to feel – a sensation in my ovaries, I presume. No joy, no desire, no longing. I feel nothing but a wave of repulsion, and gratitude I’ve made it childless this far.

I thought I’d say this at the outset, so you know where I’m coming from.

However, regardless of this all, I must say that I feel you waiting, as it were, in the wings. Even as I ignore you, rage against you, push you away, you are still there. A deep, still presence, patient, expectant. Sometimes I wonder if I have any say in the matter at all. When you want to enter the world, you will, and I will just be the door you came in by.

Why do you want to live in this world, here in this time and place? By the time you are 30 you may live a daily catastrophe beyond my ability to imagine. You may live on a hot, drought-stricken Earth as countries battle over what is left of its water. You may mourn the loss of the last animal species. You may be steeped in a culture so anxious and digitised that the human capacity for empathy, for connection and community, will be as obsolete as the rotary telephone. During your lifespan, even if I train you to live mindfully and simply, you will produce over 100 tonnes of trash. It will cost me $200,000 to send you to college, or you will be saddled with a debt you will spend many decades paying. Over the course of your life, you will leave behind a mountain of coffee cups, thousands of plastic bags, hundreds of discarded shoes and jeans and cellphones. You will contribute to the Pacific trash vortex with your water bottles and toothpaste caps. Your existence will add to child labour, fracking, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, factory farming and climate change. As a native speaker of American English, you will write, sing, recite poetry and make love in the language that is overtaking the world like a virus, endangering cultural and linguistic diversity. Even if I raised you, as I would, to be conscious of your ecological footprint, to live simply and work for the Earth, to eat grass-fed beef and grow your own vegetables – even if, in the best case scenario, you grew up to be an artist, a peace activist, a human rights lawyer, a teacher, a homesteader – your very existence would add stress to a much overburdened Earth. And that’s the best case scenario. You might vote Republican. You might be a software engineer. You might not care for the Earth at all.

So why here, why now? Do you see some beauty here that calls to you? The sheer fact of living? Do you have some role, some service, you are supposed to perform? Do you know something of the future that I don’t?

I think of all the times I have prayed for your inexistence. In bed, my boyfriend unprotected and still inside me, I’m counting the days of the month like the omer, reciting to myself the lines of my favourite Sharon Olds poem, in which she says, speaking from the little yurt of the testicles, ‘Stay here for the children of this father it may be the better life’. This poem is my prayer: Stay, Sophie, stay.

The way that other women pray for a child I pray for no child.

I don’t want to deny you what you want most in the world. To live, most of all. But I wonder that you can’t find another mother, one who longs for you and would gladly prepare a home for you in her body and her life. Why have you chosen me in particular? That first time I saw you, when you were floating over the bed, you winked at me. This was when I learned your name, Sophie. After my mother, and my great-grandmother. You made it clear that you were here and you were mine and you were waiting for me.

In my dream I am holding a child. I am playing Solomon, requiring two mothers to divide her. One mother is existence, the other non-existence. Will the real mother please stand up.

I am writing to you between the two poles of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At the pivot of the looking to the past and the looking to the future. To whom, to what, I wonder, do I need to make amends. Dear Sophie, should I be sorry for refusing you? Or do I have your best interests at heart? Neither the future nor the past encourages me to bring you into being. The view from both windows looks out on invariable loss. The Holocaust we have lived, the Holocaust (of the Earth, the animals) that we are currently living, and all the potential Holocausts to come. Even in the best case scenario, I would be bringing you into life in order to bring you to your eventual and inevitable death. No, I have no need to apologise.

Yet by not bringing you into being, I am denying you your life altogether. A kind of pre-emptive abortion. This is what my father – your grandfather – argues when I say I don’t want children. You are refusing a child a chance at life. Would you rather have not been born?  he adds, as if by not wanting a child I am negating not only her life but, retroactively, my own, as if opting for childlessness were also a de facto vote for annihilation. The subtext: Are you not grateful to me for giving you life?  Yes, I am grateful, every day, to be alive. Would I wish it on an unborn child? Maybe, maybe not.

Sometimes I wonder if what I feel of your presence is not a future figure but a ghost. The child that might have been born had Margot, my grandfather’s first wife, not died in the camps. The daughter that would have been, in place of the sons that were: the sons of my grandfather and grandmother. Impossible to think that if you existed my father would not. Nor would I. My life in exchange for yours. An impossible Solomonian bind.

Or are you perhaps the ghost child of my old lover? His then-girlfriend conceived when he was 20, and he accompanied her into the hospital room for the abortion. If you were this child, Sophie, you would be now, inconceivably, 12 years old. I can barely imagine this man as a father. How he would have been trapped in a disfigured marriage, a replication of his childhood with his mother, with whom he shared a bedroom until he was 15. Trapped, because that was his pattern. Why couldn’t you get trapped with me? I pleaded when we were breaking up. With me he felt a sense of freedom, he explained. Free to leave me.

After the abortion, he and that girlfriend stayed together for three more years, during which time she started carrying a pet rabbit on a leash to replace the child she had lost. As much pain as the abortion brought them, I believe they would have suffered even more with a child. And I understand where they were coming from; I would have done the same. Dear Sophie, I’m glad you didn’t visit me, unwanted, earlier, without asking, because if you had, you wouldn’t exist. Before you were you, I would have killed you.

So perhaps, Sophie, I am indeed asking for your forgiveness. Forgiveness for my reluctance, my ambivalence, for that tangle of desire and fantasy and adamant refusal. For praying both for your life and your annihilation. You come from a long line of displaced people, so perhaps, after all, this is what you were expecting – to be exiled from your mother’s womb, a refugee in the etheric realm: homeless, placeless, nomadic. To come this far on the boat from the land of the before-life, only to be turned away at the border. I see you standing there at the entrance to this world, your old-fashioned suitcase filled with your grandmothers’ shoes, and I reach out a hand.

Sophie, if we do decide to take those last steps forward together, this is what I ask of you: that you come here with respect for the great gift of your human form; that you care for your body, which is tender and irreplaceable and given to you by your ancestors, and for the worn body of the Earth, which is also your inheritance; that you will truly know how you are loved and how great is your capacity for loving; that you are present fully for the duration of your time here. May you experience boredom, joy, uncertainty and heartbreak. May you learn French and monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the formula for the radius of a circle. How to read, how to type, how to cook, how to plant a garden. May you know that you are of your ancestors but you are not your ancestors, nor is it your job to save them. They were dead before you got here: live your own life.

So before you enter the world, Sophie, look around. Is this the one you wanted? Is this the one you were hoping for? Dandelions, rivulets, chocolate cake, the New York State thruway, red-tailed hawks, styrofoam cups? Asphalt, seltzer, photons, pomegranates, fire, Elizabeth Gilbert, Led Zeppelin, luna moths, men? Delight, melancholia, claustrophobia, spaciousness, anxiety, discomfort, apathy, and the longing, longing, longing? A world of things and feelings, insides and outsides, beauty and pain, where it will be precisely this exquisite beauty that will hurt you most of all? If so, here it is. Welcome to the place you dreamed of when you dreamed of home.

Yours truly,

Nina

Image:
Ilyse Krivel
The Night You Were Reborn Into the Eternal Home
Digital photograph
The image depicts Sophia, the feminine aspect of Creation, her hands reaching out across the night sky in search of another in the universal darkness. The image was shot the night before the total solar eclipse of August 2017 at Serpent Mound, Ohio. Serpent Mound is an ancient effigy mound in the shape of a curving serpent, with both solar and lunar alignments. It is also at the site of an astrobleme, a location where there was an ancient meteor impact. Serpent Mound is considered by many to be a devotional sacred site and people from all around the country gathered here to witness the eclipse.

Nina Pick is an editor at Princeton Architectural Press and the author of two chapbooks, À Luz and Leaving the Lecture on Dance. The recipient of a 2016 Mesa Refuge Poetry Fellowship, her writing has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including several issues of Dark Mountain. She is passionate about exploring questions at the intersection of ecology, spirituality and depth psychology.

Ilyse Krivel is an artist who splits her time between Toronto and the hills of Kentucky. Through her work she aims to illuminate the ephemeral force at work between the cracks of matter. She dreams of the future as a forest dweller in the mountains. She will get there. ilysianfields.tumblr.com

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

 

Sign up here to get an email alert when a new post is published on the Dark Mountain blog.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – The Desert and the Sea

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

To give you a taste of the work inside, today we bring you poems from Natalie Young and Mark Rutter, accompanied by images from Robin V. Robinson’s photographic series Surfacing.

 

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Utah Complications
Natalie Young

I. Attempting to Explain State History to the Alien

  the white gulls upon the black crickets, like hosts of heaven and hell contending,  until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved.
– Orson F. Whitney, Mormon Settler and Apostle 

 A piece of the truth lies
in the bird’s real name: California gull.

Early settlers almost starved because of a cricket
invasion, insects as big as a man’s thumb.

Divine intervention (or migration)
brought flocks of gulls

who filled the air with white wings and cries,
settled on the fields, feasted and became

Utah’s state bird. Oral history is muddled –
Sunday school taught her and she tells the alien

how seagulls saved the pioneers’
crops from grasshoppers. Google clarifies

and confuses with more truth, claiming
the Mormon cricket was likely a shieldback katydid,

changing colour in mob situations, swarming
fields in a cloak of black.

Whatever the true labels, the bugs came and ate
corn and wheat, squashes and melon.

And no matter if they came for God
or the salt lakes, legions of birds

gorged themselves and saved a people’s

right to name a miracle. 

II. After Studying State History, the Alien Kills Weeds

Persecution is not uncommon in this state
or its people: Mormons, polygamists.

Massacres less common: Mountain Meadows;
Bear River Shoshone.

And though the alien has second thoughts
about extermination, he’s started

spraying unstoppable weeds
in the yard. The poison streams

out, accidentally hitting
adult grasshopper here, a baby there.

Camouflaged so perfectly
it’s always too late to retreat.

The alien takes concern
to the neighbour in a large sunhat. Don’t worry 

…………………they’re pests         they’ll take 

your garden    your greens         your sage 

munch and……pock 

………………………………they’re asking for it. 

The sun is directly overhead and he can hear
a cricket chirping.

Is the insect in trouble or confused
about what is appropriate,

what we do and do not do in the daylight?

The Mormons reached the American West in 1847 and settled in Utah following violent conflicts and religious discrimination in Illinois and Missouri (partially due to their practicing polygamy). The Miracle of the Gulls occurred in 1848, when a flock of seagulls flew into the Salt Lake Valley and ate hoards of insects that were demolishing the crops, thus saving the Mormons from starvation. In 1857 at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah, the Baker-Fancher emigrant wagon train was attacked by a militia of Mormon settlers; 120–140 people were killed, mostly families on their way to California. The US Army attacked a Shoshone camp at the Bear River in 1863, after years of clashes and raids on farms in northern Utah and bordering state territories – at least 240 Shoshone men, women and children were killed.

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Swimming in Spruce Cove
Mark Rutter

It is good to be yourself
to know your name
and who you are
but it is even better
to swim in the cove
when the tide comes in
thick with plankton
and small metallic green fish flash by
as you sit on a submerged rock
and the fish weave around you
like a glittering garment
for your other self
the nameless one
who is part of everything else

It is good to know people
who are dear to you
and who you love
but it is also good to know
a long fallen tree
no more than a trunk
with two wizened branches
who for thirty years
has circled the inner cove
never floating out beyond
the big granite outcrop
content to settle
in a new patch of mudflat
every summer
stripped of its bark and
bleached white
by salt and sun and sea wind
barnacles and sea snails
waiting out low tide in its cracks
so that it grins
like a dead whale
with broken baleen

Old friend
it is good to swim out to you
and hold myself still
in the tidal current
by holding onto your salt-white branch
to stand in the waves
supported by your trunk

Yes it is good to be a self
but better is the feeling
of swimming out through a cold current
and into a warm patch
the feeling of heat
radiating from
submerged rocks
the feeling of letting go
and flowing into
something without measure

Images:
Robin V. Robinson
Ladder and Boat
Life Saver
Unique gelatin silver prints from film using alternative photographic processes involving copper bleach and lith developer
The Surfacing series explores the unease one feels on the water and in life, on the edge between what is known above and unknown below, perhaps between the past and the future. The feelings that arise from these images remind me of the liminal state that we find ourselves in  swimming in a sea of uncertainty with man-made objects of perceived safety.

Robin V. Robinson is a fifth generation central coast Californian who considers herself a visual poet, inspired by nature and psychology. Her work focuses on how we experience the planet and ourselves, providing perspective on this unique moment on Earth. Based in Carmel, she was trained in the local West Coast photographic darkroom tradition, which she continues despite digital forces. Robinson’s work has earned international awards and is included in museum collections. robinrobinson.com

Mark Rutter has published three books of poems, most recently Basho In Acadia (Flarestack Poets). He lived on the coast of Maine from 1990–2002, and returns there every summer. Mark is also a painter and book artist, and examples of his work can be seen at the-art-barn.com

Natalie Young is a founding editor for Sugar House Review. By day, she works as an art director. Publications include Green Mountains Review, Tampa Review, Rattle, South Dakota Review, Los Angeles Times and others. Natalie is left-handed, half Puerto Rican, and a fan of Dolly Parton and Brussels sprouts.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

 

Sign up here to get an email alert when a new post is published on the Dark Mountain blog.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – Landscapes of Loss

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

To give you a taste of the work inside, today we bring you a conversation between peripatetic Dark Mountain editor Tom Smith and author and geographer Alastair Bonnett, discussing what yearning and nostalgia mean in an age of ecological crisis. Accompanied by artwork by Darrell Koerner.

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 Landscapes of Loss: A Conversation      Between Alastair Bonnett and Tom Smith 

 ‘Nostalgia stalks modernity as an unwelcome double’.
– Peter Fritzsche 

 Grief, loss, yearning and nostalgia: these are not fashionable topics. Rather, they are uncomfortable and personal themes, characterised by bewilderment, darkness and emotion. While quickening ecological devastation and endemic social pathologies increasingly necessitate the space to reflect on them, civilised culture begs to differ. Derived from the Greek nostos (home) and algos (pain), one contemporary novelist has written that nostalgia is ‘a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that is permanently lost.’ Nothing shall be yearned for in the imagination of the moderns; indeed, through our inimitable ingenuity, nothing of importance will be lost. Perhaps immortality awaits us, through cryogenics, or a life of silicon-based omniscience when the Singularity finally occurs. Perhaps we will bring extinct species back through cloning, and release them into places with names like ‘Pleistocene Park’. Either way, yearning for what has been lost is seen as an aberration, a deviation, or even, in the early days of modernity, as a medical illness.

Alastair Bonnett, professor of social geography at Newcastle University, thinks that the denial of these themes is a mistake, particularly in an age of ecocide. He has written at length about nostalgia’s geo-psychological roots in the ‘disorientation and bewilderment that can be brought on by loss of home, community and landscape.’ ‘Acknowledging nostalgia’, he writes in the introduction to his most recent book on the topic, ‘pushes us into choppier and less comfortable waters. Ironically, in coming to grips with this seemingly backward-facing topic, old-fashioned political maps have to be abandoned, or at least redrawn.’

Dark Mountain has also, in the past, provided space for the redrawing of maps, and to reflect on loss and yearning – from personal written reflections on place and change, for example, to the building of a Life Cairn at the 2013 Uncivilisation festival, creating a lasting memorial to the growing hordes of beings lost from the web of life. I therefore wanted to speak with Alastair about his work, to gain more understanding of a topic with apparently renewed relevance, not just amidst ecological collapse at various scales, but also given recent political developments across the globe.

TS: The themes of loss and yearning in the context of ecocide and environmental crisis; I have a feeling this is as much personal as intellectual for you, so perhaps you could tell me a little about how an interest in these themes arose?

AB: Well, as a young man growing up in the outskirts of London in the late seventies and eighties, I was very drawn to the anarchist movement and, in particular, to the Situationists1. I found the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord a revelation; this idea that we’re living in a society controlled and mediated by images in which nothing was real or authentic had an immediate appeal to me, and seemed to touch a nerve in a lot of young activists at the time.

However, it was already apparent to me that there was a quality to anarchist and Situationist thought that was rarely acknowledged, and that was its sense of loss and yearning. Rarely acknowledged, and yet it’s so obvious when you read Guy Debord and so many other radical thinkers that their ideas are rooted in a sense of disgust with human alienation and riddled with nostalgia. A sense of loss is a powerful theme in such work, but no-one in the ultra-left scene in London wanted to talk about it. In fact, loss and yearning were taboo. Radicalism was all about being forward-looking, of regarding anything backward-looking as conservative and associated with the old, who we wanted little to do with. So there’s a paradox here. Crucial threads of radicalism were clearly inspired by loss and yearning, but they were being buried and denied. So it made me wonder, what would it be like if we acknowledged these things?

I sat on those ideas for a long time because I couldn’t find a way into writing about them, or even talking about them. But this is an issue that just won’t go away. Modernity introduces all these incredible ruptures with the past, and it’s inevitable that modern people have a sense of grief and loss and, hence, are fascinated with the idea of alienation. This yearning can go in lots of different directions – it can produce Nazism, it can produce fascism, it can produce all sorts of things; it’s hydra-headed and politically mutable.

TS: Well, it seems you did end up finding a way to acknowledge it, and talk about it. Where did that lead?

AB: So, the first thing I did, some two decades after I’d begun thinking about it, was write a book called Left In The Past: Radicalism and the Politics of Nostalgia, which is a history of the power of nostalgia in socialist and anti-colonial movements. I was interested in going back to the early socialists, such as William Morris, Thomas Spence and others, and looking at how their relationship to place and nature and their sense of loss at the coming of capitalism motivated their activism. And then I tried to take this analysis forward to later radicals. However, one thing I didn’t engage with is environmentalism, because the questions around that were just too big for the book. That came later.

TS: Before returning to green thought and green politics, let’s go back for a minute to those early socialists. I don’t want us to get lost down the warren of leftist sectarianism, but there’s obviously a large gap between your reading of Marx and the views put forward by what we might call ‘orthodox Marxists’. Putting it mildly, the latter are famed for their forward-looking, technologically ‘Promethean’ views. From what I’ve gathered, you’re not just drawing from William Morris and those other early socialists who valorised human-scale production, but also saying that this theme of yearning and loss runs to the very heart of Marx’s work, whether he acknowledged it or not?  

AB: I think it’s really interesting, that tension between Marx and his romantic followers, of which there were many in Europe, not just in England. Certainly, William Morris – who didn’t really understand or read a lot of Marx but was attracted to his revolutionary message – thought of class struggle as a process in which the working class would reclaim their craft traditions and humanity. Marx himself imagined that he was escaping from this kind of romanticism. Yet he too was a kind of nostalgic because he set up pre-capitalist, ‘primitive communism’ – societies without money – as societies without alienation. He had a clear sense of authenticity and human wholeness as something that capitalism cut us away from. Marxism, then, as I read it, is taking us into the past through revolution. I don’t think this is a problem; it’s what radicals have done time and again. The problem comes when we don’t acknowledge our debt to the past; when we construct ourselves as purely ‘future-facing’ and pit ourselves against the past, trying to refuse and deny the taint of nostalgia.

TS: So, let’s segue into looking at the importance of these themes – of the past, of loss, of nostalgia and yearning – in the context of what we might call ‘green thought’…

AB: Let me just briefly turn back to my childhood. I was born in 1964 on the outskirts of London, in Essex, at the end of the Central Line, and every day, every week, I would see the natural landscape being destroyed around me; with new motorways poured across the fields. It was very obvious, and upsetting, to see what little nature that was left being so disregarded. When I used to mention this experience at academic conferences, I’d get a sort of rebuke: ‘You’re dealing with myths and fictions: pure nature never existed. Nothing real has actually changed.’ There is also an undertow that suggests that such issues only matter to the white middle class. These are common reactions but I find them incredible: the refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming, world-changing reality of environmental loss amazes me; it’s more than an intellectual avoidance strategy, it’s a kind of blinkered narcissism.

It’s the experience of environmental loss which I’m particularly interested in, more so than the statistics gathered by scientists. There seems to be a refusal, a kind of mass denial, of what people see out of their windows. You don’t have to be very old to have experienced environmental loss and it’s not just in one particular part of the world: you can talk to people anywhere – in Latin America, in Europe, in Asia – and they will tell you. People have different stories about it, but it is disconcerting how many intellectuals – especially radical intellectuals – have managed to avoid the evidence of their own eyes and, at best, frame the environment as just another ‘issue’, at worst, as a romantic myth.

TS: And this is what really grabbed my attention when I was reading your book, The Geographies of Nostalgia: Global and Local Perspectives on Modernity and Loss. You seemed to be treading a really unusual line in contemporary green thought, between extremes of holding ‘nature’ up as something solid outside of us, and which we can calculate and know and control, on the one hand, and thinking that everything is in flux all the time anyway, that nature never existed, and therefore any notions of loss are based on some sort of childish illusion or misunderstanding.

AB: The argument that there is no such thing as nature, that it is a myth or mere social construct, is a coping strategy. It is one of the perverse intellectual side-effects of ecocide. It is, though, an incredibly popular line to take in the social sciences and a lot of so-called ‘critical’ environmentalism. It is now pretty much the hegemonic wisdom in certain quarters. Introductory books given to students on environmental thought will commence by claiming that nature is a ‘social construct’. So even though environmentalism is, in many ways, growing in the outside world, it is being hollowed out in the universities, the very places where it should be being elaborated and enriched.

TS: These narratives matter.

AB: They do matter, because those self-styled ‘critical’ intellectuals are failing to lead on the environmental debate; indeed, they are undermining it. My argument here is not, I hope, a naïve one – it’s not actually saying ‘there is this objective nature out there and I know what it is’ – but it is pointing to the reality and importance of our experience of nature; that visceral, vulnerable and, in many ways, humbling experience. The attempts to set up ‘nature as a human artefact’ are the very opposite – they are the anthropocentric conceits of a species which sees itself as the lord and master of the universe. This notion that nature is our creation is wilfully arrogant and it has consequences: it means that getting rid of nature, destroying it, doesn’t really matter. It also means that we’re learning less and less from those non-Western cultures which have had a more holistic sense of the interplay of human and non-human life. As all this implies, far from being ‘radical’ or ‘critical’, I see these kinds of argument as the spin and propaganda of industrial modernity.

TS: Let’s explore this notion of holism and the past a little more. In your book, you take the example of recent work by George Monbiot on rewilding, and see it as somewhat parallel to your own arguments about the need to own up to ecological loss. Given that Dark Mountain partly came to public attention early on in a series of public debates with George, it would be interesting to hear more about the elements of his thought you find provocative.

AB: I was particularly drawn to George Monbiot’s book Feral, as you say, and his work around rewilding. That book engaged a lot of people, but I knew it would be ignored in academic circles because it just sends up so many red flags. ‘Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding’! All these terms smack of loss and yearning and nostalgia; all ideas that remain intellectually indigestible to a lot of people. But, actually, Feral is an important engagement with the problem of loss. Monbiot understands the plausibility and the allure of the notion that nature is a construct but wants to push beyond it. He gets that green nostalgia is a site of dilemma, provocation and creativity, and that we all live with this terrible, difficult paradox: of wanting change, of wanting progress, but also having a real, dramatic and anguished sense of loss and yearning in relationship to the natural world.

TS: Another figure you draw from in the same passage of the book, and which also surprised me a little, is William Cronon. He’s most famous for his essay ‘The Trouble With Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature’, often seen as the quintessential text to argue that nature – or wilderness specifically in this case – is a mere construction or artefact of language. But that’s an unfair reflection on him?

AB: Yes, that’s right. I was interested in Cronon because he’s very much seen as someone who talks about the myth of wilderness and the trouble with the idea of wilderness, and he’s placed alongside the constructionists. But actually, when you hear him talking about his experience of the landscape – such as in his essay ‘The Riddle of the Apostle Islands’, which appeared in the environmentalist journal Orion – when he gets personal, then his tone changes. He becomes more open to that sense of concern and worry and vulnerability. That made him more approachable to me. We are, I hope, moving into such a post-constructionist phase in green thinking and writing. A new mood is abroad and it is allowing a richer, more felt, vocabulary that has a more complex relationship to themes of loss.

TS: Which is surely a factor in the relevance of the ideas surrounding Dark Mountain over the past decade. Though, it must be said, there is something of a paradox here, isn’t there? We live in a culture simultaneously more saturated than ever before with knowledge about environmental calamity, perhaps reeling more from its reality, yet just as people appear to tire of being modern, things are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. The net grows tighter. You spoke of ‘strategies of evasion’ earlier, which could play a role. How widely embedded are these, do you think?

AB: A lot of people feel they have no control over their world; they hear all these messages about environmental catastrophe, and it’s overwhelming and very disempowering. They can do all sorts of things in response: they can pretend nature isn’t real; they can kill themselves; they can drink a lot… But one response, that the Australian environmental writer Wendy Shaw and I have identified and been writing about, is that people bunker down into a form of grief-laden consumerism. You could call it ‘shopping therapy’, I suppose, but it’s more serious than that. We have argued that it is a form of grief, and that it is a traumatic condition in which people are trying to literally buy their way out of the remorse and the sense of powerlessness that environmental loss and crisis creates.

TS: In terms of reshaping our understandings of how we move past such coping mechanisms, then, and how we deal with environmental change, do you feel that acknowledging the personal experience you spoke of earlier, that romanticism – used in a positive, rather than pejorative way! – can be the root of new, powerful and less classically humanistic stories? Rather than being something so ‘regressive’ that it removes from our potential to change things, or something that stops us seeing what is going on ‘objectively’, as processes based on numbers and figures and statistics do. Or even that there may be a symbiosis in those two ways of viewing environmental change, the romantic and the modern.

AB: Yes, I like the way you’re framing it there. There is such a thing as a creative, forward-looking sense of loss. And a forward-looking, creative path for romanticism. In terms of the way you’re framing it, that’s precisely how I think we can see a path from the past into the future, so we’ve got something to look forward to.

TS: I find that to be a refreshing antidote to all we’ve been hearing about the past in the tempestuous politics of the last couple of years or, going even further back, to the supposed equivalence – just as often made by those on the so-called ‘Left’ as the ‘Right’ – between place-based green thought and proto-Nazi ‘Blood and Soil’ slogans or beliefs. With the happenings of Brexit, Trump, and the often-remarked nascent rise of a contemporary fascism, all harkening back to a golden era, is it perhaps more necessary than ever to keep that creative aspect of romanticism and nostalgia in mind? Nostalgic yearning can result in all sorts of different outcomes, as you mentioned earlier.

AB: Well, green activists are often being finger-wagged by more orthodox leftists about ‘green fascism’ and ‘conservatism’. Those sorts of charges are, in a way, what I’m trying to respond to. I turn these accusations around and show that themes of loss and yearning are shared across the political spectrum. Such dilemmas are just as important in Marxism, anarcho-communism, Situationism. The difference is they have failed to generate an openness to paradox and dilemma, to a vulnerable sense of life. Instead they indulge a macho, very modernist sensibility. One of the great things about green politics – or, should I say, green culture? – is that it is possible to talk differently, to act differently, to admit that we aren’t the lords of the universe; that we are very limited and dependant creatures. Of course, nostalgia, loss and yearning are very apparent at the extreme ends of politics. Islamic State offers a nostalgic utopia, taking society back to what it imagines are the purified origins of Islam. Trump is constantly using nostalgic rhetoric – Make America Great Again. Brexit is another reflection of nostalgic politics. The fact that these conservative movements turn to the past leads to the assumption that they are the only types of politics where themes of loss and yearning are operating. But this is a profound mistake and means that people end up defining themselves in oppositional terms, as anti-Trump for example, rather than in terms of what our values are and what we want. To me, that’s about creating – and that means, of course, ‘re-creating’, or returning to – a greener, richly ecologically diverse planet.

TS: Before we part, then, perhaps you can tell me whether – or, indeed, in what way – your interest in the exploration of the unknown, the forgotten and the feral, ties into positively nurturing what you call ‘topophilia’, the love of place? After all, you’ve engaged with a wider audience on these issues in works of popular geography, like Off The Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World (titled Unruly Places in the USA).

AB: I’ve recently been writing about some of the world’s oddest and most forgotten spots. That book you mention has a sequel called Beyond the Map. It has been great to escape the world of academia and engage with a bigger audience. People are fascinated by the idea that, in a world that appears fully mapped by Google Earth, there are still places left to discover, surprises to be had. And there is a profound need out there for a more enchanting relationship to the earth. Stacking up the air miles no longer suffices; long-distance travel is losing its charm. As conversational material, telling people about your latest trip to see the tribes in Thailand is one notch below telling them about your dreams (actually, I love to hear about people’s dreams!). Travel and exploration need to be re-invented for a post-air miles generation and, in part, that has to happen by re-imagining the places we live in as sites of discovery and adventure. The Urban Exploration movement has been doing that for years of course. The Spanish version of Off the Map, which came out in 2017, had a big sticker on the front, which said, ‘This is not a travel book’. I loved that. Even though I travel all the time, and so am a hypocrite, I yearn to stop travelling: to stop confusing being with going.

  1. 1. The Situationists, or Situationist International, were a group of radical thinkers, writers and artists who played a prominent role in laying the groundwork for the May 1968 uprisings in France. Their analysis of 20th-century capitalism was most famously developed in the work of Guy Debord. 

Image:
Darrell Koerner
Trees
North Carolina, USA
From a series of photographs taken during an annual Thanksgiving week pilgrimage to visit family in Virgina and North Carolina. These images are from the countryside east of Raleigh, and are part of a larger project to honour the sacredness of the natural world, chronicling online at The Holy Earth Tantra of Gaian Natural Beauty

Alastair Bonnett is an author and academic geographer. His most recent books include an atlas of 50 world maps called New Views (Aurum, 2017) and Beyond the Map (Aurum, 2017), a book of journeys to overlooked places. His works on the relationship between radical politics and memory include Left in the Past (Continuum, 2010) and a number of academic articles on situationist nostalgia. He lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and works in the Geography Department, Newcastle University.

Tom Smith is an editor at the Dark Mountain Project. He recently completed a PhD in human geography at the University of St Andrews.

Darrell Koerner is a wondering Taoist living in Boulder, Colorado, and has been with Chelsea Green Publishing since 2007. Previous non-accomplishments include studying Rinzai and Soto Zen at the Bodhi Manda and San Francisco Zen Centers. Recent photos and writings at The Holy Earth Tantra of Gaian Natural Beauty kozandaishi.wordpress.com.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

 

Sign up here to get an email alert when a new post is published on the Dark Mountain blog.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – Walk Out Into the Rocks

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

The book’s striking cover is based on a specially commissioned rock painting by the artist Caroline Ross, painted in foraged natural pigments. Today, Caroline explains her practice and how that painting came to be.

 

sketchbook pages

I should tell you who I am, and what I think. But my opinions about anything are of little consequence: there are my connections and relationships, the things I do, and do not do. I am an ecstatic Dorset woman and every day I get to walk on the bright earth I am overjoyed. From the youngest age, the sea-edge was my constant companion, it’s where people from my patch go when they have good news, bad news, or no news. All our first kisses are outdoors, first fumbles are under the pier. Nothing good ever happens without you getting sand in your pants or shoes or both. How you find your first boyfriend is on New Year’s Eve around the clock tower in the square, like it was, back through the centuries, until they demolish it in your adulthood for traffic easing. This is the essential knowledge of all poor, arty, bookish, goth girls from our ends, (before the age of the internet), and there were quite a few of us, hence the Royal ‘we’.

In February I was sent to make rock paintings for the Dark Mountain: Issue 13 cover. In my bag I had hangman’s ochre from Oxfordshire; rosso ercolano, a red ochre from Italy found in paintings from the Paleolithic, via the Renaissance, to the present day; English willow charcoal; some water and a bristle brush.

I have always dreamed vividly and remembered my dreams, which vary wildly in tone, content, imagery and meaning. Over the last decade these dreams have made their way onto paper, into lyrics, journeys made, and thousands of words recording them all, working with them is part of my practice. It is a new thing for me to paint them on a rock, my usual scale of work can fit on a desk.

As I planned the Dorset trip I was not sure what I would paint, I wanted to let the rock surfaces inform any decisions, and not impose. What hubris… Turns out you can’t impose upon Portland stone with a stick of charcoal, I needn’t have worried. In my head I had characters dreamed the two previous nights, they seemed like ancestors, but non- or pre-human, my hand drawing them was also part of the narrative, unlike any dreams I had had before. On the train, the beings finally made it into picture form, using charcoal in a sketchbook made from rag paper that I had stitched with willow bark twine. All contained in a bag made of rawhide from a roe deer I skinned and ate last year. I like to make everything from scratch at least once.

I will state the unpopular fact: the Earth is alive and sacred. I always knew it and I know it again now, being mostly fully reclaimed from the grid-like grip of the machine. I don’t have one cogent argument to offer in defence of my love of land. It’s all feeling, which is why I can’t be a politician, environmentalist or a writer, perhaps. I tend to stop mid-sentence to light a candle or make an offering. In Parliament, at meetings with editors and in stand-offs with the police, this is not the done thing. What can I offer?

This painting, my movement and my life, in conversation with the earth.

The ancient yoga of Britain is walking, the pilgrimage. The ancient offering of these islands is conviviality in nature under the wild wood and stars. The wine of the land is spring water. Our altars are stones or wood set upright or recumbent. Reverence is raising love amongst family and friends, celebrating the turning of the year, the welcoming-in of strangers. Art, song and dance should be everywhere. It’s a crime that they’re not. It is equal parts Julian of Norwich and Julian Cope. It is eating large handful of cob nuts fresh off the ground and beating the squirrels to them. It is also making sure another handful get planted, then tending the hazel trees as they grow, pollarding a few for bean poles and walking staffs. It is remembering to wassail them.

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For years I researched my passions, studied with good teachers about early art materials, wilderness survival and Earth skills; then made a bed, bower and fire, staying warm all night and sheltered from the rain, cooking on embers of hazel and bony oak. Oak bark made roofing tiles. In my bower as I lay there under the wild raw thatch, it became clear that the best postures for a human to meet the land are walking, externally, and wonder, inwardly. At the end of the day you can lie under your wool blanket on a bed of springy spruce boughs and wait, open.

As I do each month, this week I rode the train over the great mouth of the River Tay at Dundee which takes four minutes to cross. The green-brown water was rolling under me and the water was flowing in two directions at once. The tide was coming in very strongly, flood tide. The river was full of winter rain flowing down to the sea, following its nature, and causing static waves that looked like the surface of flowstone in Cheddar caves, or like the skin of a great serpent. The wind was also whipping up small white caps on these standing waves. I saw all this with my eyes, but I felt it viscerally. The whole land pleased me so immensely: when I get held by whatever this earth energy is, it feels like this.

Over this entire archipelago, mountains in Ireland and the UK are not so high, even Ben Nevis can be walked in a day. There is no K2, no Ararat, or Eiger. Well-travelled sophisticates look down at their own mellow lands and do not realise that the valley and the mountain are two parts of the same whole, an ineffable thing that cannot be reduced to spot heights above sea level on maps. The real land magic here is the vastly-crenellated coastline. It is so long, going in and out of 100,000 inlets on over 1,000 islands. The rivers and the sea are an embrace, you can’t be sleepy in such arms, they can suddenly squeeze you, and you may drown.

Explaining my love of land to people, I have tried sincere clarity, and well-made arguments, but I never won over anyone for earth that way. Instead I get people excited about mixing paints from cherry tree gum and deep red earths dug, washed and graded by Jonathan the miner in the Forest of Dean, like his ancestors over the last 4400 years. Or by getting people to use their earwax to help mix a blue watercolour from indigo made from woad, and by boiling up oak gall ink from tree bits and rusty nails. If it doesn’t feel great in their body, they won’t care. Materials of earth foster love of land and its preservation.

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On Portland, Dorset, I slept overnight in a hut on the beach, listening to the roar of the spring tide on the pebbles. The cove where I stay has intriguingly shaped stones, which at closer inspection turn out to be sea-rounded quarry waste. The Weares themselves, the high cliffs and ragged, now protected, habitats along the coast, are full of lizards, raptors and tiny versions of wild flowers, happy in the ‘unimproved’ soil. This place is a fecund absence: the stone for St Paul’s Cathedral, Whitehall, The Cenotaph, and so much of what rebuilt official, religious and bureaucratic central London after the Great Fire was removed from here. You can still find huge blocks with Sir Christopher Wren’s sigil on, (an up-turned wine glass). To me this place is the uncivil inverse of the City of London, its exiled, wind-scoured, kestrel-eyed wild twin.

In the morning I gathered my materials, walked out into the rocks and saw what marks got made, it did not feel like decision-making. I was not ‘making my mark’ upon the land. It was tricky to make a way through the giant brambles to the right rocks. Though a clear cold day, with a whipping north-easterly wind, the huge rocks and sea cliffs sheltered me, and I even got a little sun-burned. Yellow, orange-red and black, plus almost white scratches into the rock itself, using smaller rock shards, were the materials. In my art I use these natural ochres all the time, but the difference with rocks is the grand scale they offer, and the unforgiving surface. It will have your knuckle skin as gladly as your paint. I tipped the ochres into two scallop shells then added water and used the stiff brush almost to scrub colour onto the stone. After a few hours balanced amongst giant boulders, in the dazzling gift-horse light of a late winter day, I took some photographs of what had been made.

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It rained hard the following week. Within five days the works themselves were washed away.

Caroline Ross makes drawings and art from archaic, foraged and natural materials. She taught these as an artist in residence at the Way of Nature and Dark Mountain course Fire And Shadow in the highlands of Scotland and in Romania, and at Wild Twins with Paul Kingsnorth, on Sherkin Island, Ireland. For 20 years she has been a student and teacher of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. She practises and teaches these things on an island in the middle of the River Thames and can be contacted at carolineross.co.uk

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

Sign up here to get an email alert when a new post is published on the Dark Mountain blog.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13 – Who Cries for the Archduke?

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to share a little of what you’ll find in its pages. Today we bring you a short story from Mike Cipra, accompanied by an image from Katie Tume’s ‘Extinct Icons’ series.

sacredbeest2017katietume
During his life, Archduke Franz Ferdinand personally killed over 350,000 animals. The logbooks kept under glass at Konopiště Castle scrupulously record each of the Archduke’s successes. Date and species. Occasionally, there is a lively, poetic commentary on the kill from Ferdinand himself:

‘14 August 1909. Ursus nerus. Not black exactly. More of a fine cinnamon colour. Struck the bear in its arse. Bear turned. Fired again. Guten NachtSweet Ursus.’

If the Archduke began hunting when he was ten years old (as Schumann has theorised in his scrupulous biography, Ferdinand: Last Scion of Europe), then the heir to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy would have needed to kill 22 animals a day to stay on track.

Twenty-two beasts a day! This pace is so frenzied that a few radical historians have suggested that Ferdinand began hunting at an age earlier than ten. 

 *

 The Archduke at 16 months, crawling into position behind a big ten-pointer. The animal stands cautiously, his breath leaving trails in the cold Moravian morning. Young Ferdinand unconsciously emits a senseless exclamation of childhood delight. The buck tenses. Ferdinand’s soft fingers fumble with the heavy trigger. A split second later, gunpowder roars in approval of the toddler’s strength.

The hunted buck collapses, and the Archduke is somersaulted backwards by the recoil of the well-crafted woodsman’s rifle. Eventually, the baby comes to rest near the exposed roots of an oak tree. He begins crying.

The young hunter’s wet nurse is rushed to the scene on horseback. As she swings out of the saddle, her heavy peasant breasts are already bared. But it is not the comfort of milk this young hunter needs now.

The Archduke has crapped himself. 


*

The day Kaiser Wilhelm came to visit, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the German premier shot more than 6,500 pheasants together. Within the first ten minutes of their visit, the Kaiser told a dirty joke involving the Tsarina of Russia and a missing box of snuff. The punchline had Ferdinand in tears. That Kaiser was such a crack-up!

All morning and afternoon, townspeople were employed to run, to clap their hands, or to produce any loud noise that might flush the brilliant pheasants into the open. These same employees were also responsible for collecting the dead birds in brown sacks and for plucking clean the pheasants. The pay for this enterprise was in flesh: a small share of the Archduke’s kill.

Two of the employees, coincidentally both boys in their late teens, were accidentally shot while flushing pheasants into the open. Their families received generous compensation from the Archduke and the Kaiser, respectively.

Any serious historian should take this into account – afternoons when European heads of state came to visit undoubtedly brought the remainder of the Archduke’s daily kill average down to a more reasonable level.


* 

 An excerpt from a letter Ferdinand wrote to his wife during the African safari of 1910, translated from the original German source material by A.M. Schumann:

… today we ate strips of barbecued zebra flesh, a bit overcooked but quite flavourful, not dissimilar from the venison we eat each September, when the forest is teeming with bucks and does. Today we are going after The King of the Hunt, as the natives here call him. It will not be my first lion, of course, but the tension is still quite palpable.   

The fellow we originally wished to guide this expedition has a name that means Lover of Lions in the local dialect. His face has been disfigured quite brutally by a lion’s claws. This was done to him at birth, as it has been done to all the men in his family for the last two generations. Through an interpreter, I asked why such a barbaric practice is allowed to continue in the 20th century. The man paused, then told the interpreter a long story.

The fellow’s grandfather, when the grandfather was a young man, got lost in the desert. He wandered there for a full week. On the seventh day, delirious from thirst and hunger, he came upon a female lion that had just killed a gazelle. The young man threw himself at the lioness’s feet, hoping for a quick and honourable death. But the lioness did not attack. She allowed the young man to drink gazelle blood with her. After drinking this blood, the fellow continued wandering until he found some outpost of civilisation. He survived and eventually gave seed to a prolific family. ‘And that,’ concluded the interpreter, ‘is why all men in this family are marked on the face by a lion’s claws, and why this man, Lover of Lions, cannot be your guide on a lion hunt.’

On the contrary, I felt that such a fellow would be the perfect guide. So I offered the stubborn African ten times, then twenty times, finally a hundred times the going rate, and still he refused me! Some people cannot be helped, and that is a major reason why, in addition to their innate stupidity and laziness, the poor of this world will always be poor.

I miss you tremendously, Sophie.  I will return to you with hunger and an aphrodisiac made from the mighty lion. Tell the children to study their history and mathematics, for these are the foundation of the world. Tell them also that Papa is going to kill a beast for each one of them.

Yours, and always yours,

Franz 

 * 

No matter how varying the opinions on the Archduke’s life, Franz Ferdinand’s death is generally accepted as the precipitating factor for World War One, a conflict which left somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16 million people dead, about half of them civilians.

A single bullet killed the Archduke, passing from the barrel of an assassin’s gun through his intestines. This historic bullet is kept under glass at Konopiště Castle. To see it, one must walk down a corridor lined with thousands of stuffed birds, bears and deer heads. The bullet is polished every year and placed on fresh satin.

Above the bullet is a framed photograph of the Archduke. He is dressed as a mummy. The photograph was taken in Cairo, three years before Ferdinand’s nation-polarising assassination in Sarajevo. Apparently, it was a custom for European nobility to have a ‘mummy photograph’ taken while they were travelling through Egypt. A little joke about death. A thumb-the-nose at The Reaper.

In his mummy photograph, the Archduke does not look jocular. Ferdinand’s moustache is waxed to even points, and his eyes register serious discomfort.

It appears to the casual observer as though death frightened the Archduke.

Maybe, as strict historians like Schumann have suggested, the interpretation of human emotion from a photograph is too subjective to be accurate, too reliant upon the interpreter’s own feelings and agendas. Perhaps the gauze around the Archduke was only a bit too tight that day.

On a writing desk adjacent to the mummy photo, there is a stuffed passenger pigeon, a gift from an American senator. The preserved passenger pigeon looks just as uncomfortable as Ferdinand does in his photo.

The process of taxidermy can sometimes do that to an animal. So can extinction.

In 1810, ornithologist Alexander Wilson estimated that there were over two billion passenger pigeons in a single flock. The birds were so prolific that the skies over American cities would darken for days with the arrival of the pigeons. Naturally, people would feel obliged to shoot them – for food, for sport. For civic duty. For order. For freedom. For the thrill of being able to extinguish life. For a momentary feeling of control over the great mystery. People kill for many reasons.

The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in 1914. It was the same summer that Archduke Franz Ferdinand took one in the gut. Since then, the Archdukes have been multiplying in secret, under different names and titles. Now they are the ones darkening the skies over many of the world’s cities. Now we are the ones darkening the skies, everywhere.

And the passenger pigeons, they are like words in a lost manuscript, the shadows of their former existence floating with perfect grace and filling the missing pages with a story we can no longer read, or even claim with credibility that we once heard. Imagine: two billion pairs of wings, and their electric song as they divided the sky.

Image:

Katie Tume
The Sacred Beest from ‘Extinct Icons’
Hand embroidery on cotton with gold passing, glass beads, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sequins, cotton thread
The bubal hartebeest was native to the land north of the Sahara desert  and was an animal of significance in ancient Egyptian culture. Its numbers sharply declined in the 19th century after the French conquest of Algeria. The non-human inhabitants of the region were exterminated alongside its people, with entire herds of hartebeest destroyed in single hunting expeditions. The last bubal hartebeest was shot in North Africa around 1925.

Mike Cipra has lived and written in landscapes ranging from Death Valley to the old-growth redwood forests of northern California. His short stories appear in several anthologies including Awkward One and Awkward Two, The Whirligig, and Danger City I and Danger City II. He’s just begun looking for representation for his first novel, Enviro.

Katie Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex. She is a fifth- generation needleworker who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand embroidery techniques. Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, pagan societies and the old gods. She is currently working on  projects around ritualising animal death and lost species.

Webp.net-resizeimageDark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

Sign up here to get an email alert when a new post is published on the Dark Mountain blog.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13

We’re delighted to announce the launch of our thirteenth book, an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change. Dark Mountain: Issue 13 is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or for less if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to share a little of what you’ll find in its pages. Today we begin with the editorial.

DM13_FRONT_COVER (1)

Being Human in the Thick of the Present

The painted figures you see on the cover of this book are no longer to be found on the Dorset coastline. The images made by Caroline Ross from ochre pigments and charcoal were quickly scoured from the uneven surfaces by ice and wind and violent rain. What looks like it would last for millennia lasted only hours.

What happens when we witness time scrub away evidence of our existence, when it covers our words with leaves, when our language becomes entwined with the lost tracks of animals? When letters turn into trees, pages burst into flames, when our language comes apart and its fragments cohere into other shapes? When we hold time in our bodies and not in our minds, what stories do we then tell?

So much of our discussion about life on this planet is rooted in the past – what we did wrong, why we made such awful choices, who is to blame. Then, as we build our cases against the offending parties and write tome after tome about the sins of our fathers, we leapfrog into debates for solutions, creating lists of best practices, which get us mired in predictions of disaster and rash preparations for apocalypse. We so easily look to the past for explanations, our meaning-making dependent on ancient cultural practices that still haunt our ways of knowing. But once the past satisfies our search for meaning, the future tugs at that satisfaction and our intellects settle in imagined worlds not yet formed. What the languages of blame and hope skip over are the quieter present moments where memory and desire are tempered. So much of learning to live with the reality of a present self is about relinquishing our obsession for our past and future selves. And so, here we are in the 13th issue of Dark Mountain caught in an existential bind, using language to explore being human by letting go of many of the things language creates.

With any number of destructive human behaviours to relinquish, there is one common reckoning that comes into focus, as we explore what to keep and what to leave behind – how our language and behaviours help construct our notions of time. Many of the works in this issue imagine what it might feel like to see ourselves more as biotic constituents living in emergent ecosystems, rather than as mere social conscripts tied to entrenched and tired ideologies. The stories, poems and artworks invite us to explore how we might live more fully in what critical theorist Karen Barad calls ‘the thick now of the present’.

As the living world buckles, many of us find ourselves re-examining the most dearly held beliefs about our own biology. In these pages, Nina Pick and Emma Giffard hold up motherhood as a troubled, complicated domain, once a woman recognises that the futures these new babies will inhabit are cloudy, opaque places menaced by what these offspring will inherit from their parents.

How we reckon the past largely depends on how much of the future we lay claim to. Michael McLane’s poem, for example, describes the use of a natural hot springs by different generations, and asks us to live with a fuller picture of history. Tom Smith’s conversation with Alastair Bonnett re-valorises the much-maligned feeling of nostalgia that stalks civilised life. Sarah Thomas, drawing on fragments of books salvaged from a house fire, examines how quickly disasters – ‘natural’ and otherwise – pull our attention away from the quaint and comfortable past to realise there is only this time we call Now.

Katie Tume’s icons, immortalising the great auk and bubul haaatebeest, show us how to honour extinct creatures with beauty and some measure of joy. In Kate Walters’ Horse Island Woman and Meinrad Craighead’s Woman with Ravens we see the fluid relationship between the human and the non-human, while in Katie Holten’s swirling list of microbial flora found on and in our own bodies, we see the collective bloom of the myriad communities of organisms that we refer to with the single term human. All these works help redefine that term. Each one of us is an ecological jubilation in real time!

But functioning as lived biological bodies, more centred in Barad’s thick now of the present, isn’t easy. It’s full of misdirection and miscommunication. It’s learning to re-imagine human language as speaking with other creatures through one’s own body, as Sara Hudston does with her horse, to learn to live together as imperfect beasts and give up our hunt for unicorns. Tuning human bodies to present-focused biological frequencies is to accompany Jane Woodhouse as she births lambs in Iowa. In the simple observation of how other creatures come into being, the human measure of time slows and we too learn to breathe like beasts.

To release our white-knuckled grips on the past and the future is to run through the ancient rocks of the Peak District with James Disley, surrounded by the crowds of weekend “nature lovers”. Being a present human being is to let laughter help release our anxieties with Andrew Boyd’s gallows humour and Natalia Zajaz’s comic poke at our human responses to climate change. To fully experience the feeling of letting go is to float with Mark Rutter in the thick now of ocean tides or learn to walk the most dangerous paths in nature with Kyle Holton, to bathe in and absorb our deepest fears of the elemental and animal Other.

We have learned by now, after 12 issues of Dark Mountain, that to fix the ills of the past by focusing all our energies on drafting our best and brightest future is to undervalue our current disrupted but still vibrant lives. Daily biological living goes mostly unattended and unnoticed because much of it is so uninspiring to so many of us. ‘You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm.’ With these words, Friedrich Nietzsche admonishes us to let go of our most damaging sapience, to feel more intensely what it is to be Hom:, a temporary stochastic spark in that great chain of biological being. To sense the worm inside is to see that such a creature is not inert. The worm still has purpose. It has dirt to get through, defecations to make, its whole body to grow back when the spade of a careless gardener slices it in half. This type of biological existentialism concerns letting go of so much of what we think it means to be human, to free our minds and bodies from damaging social practices to embrace the immediate, unexplored and ecstatic ecologies that are right in front of us. These few sentences can never reveal the complexities and richness to be found inside this issue. We encourage you to delve deeper. The ecologies of Now are calling.

The Editors, Spring 2018

ERRATUM: On p.200 we incorrectly attributed the author of ‘Bearing Witness to a Disappearing World’ to Michael Mahay. It is in fact by Michael Malay. We apologise for the mistake.

Webp.net-resizeimageDark Mountain: Issue 13 – an anthology of new writing and art exploring what ‘being human’ means in an age of rapid ecological and social change – is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues.

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Dark Kitchen: Mycelium Connecting

Today we continue our Dark Kitchen series, exploring themes of food and eating in times of collapse. For this month’s course, we join writer and permaculturist Matt Miles for a foraging expedition in the woods, following the mycelial threads connecting the ‘alien intelligence’ of mushrooms to human culture.

Chaga2
It’s a sunny August afternoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and I’m walking in the woods with my partner Tasha and some friends, Matthew and Jenna. We’ve gone no more than a few feet down a trail when Jenna
becomes excited and rushes off into the brush. I see nothing and have no idea what she has just found, but we all follow her. It’s a mushroom of some sort for sure, but not one that I, a foraging neophyte, would recognise. Matthew and Jenna confer for a moment, trading taxonomies in botanical Latin, and settle on an ID. It’s inedible so they leave it and return to the trail.

A few minutes later as we descend into a gorge, Tasha’s the one to spot a cluster of oyster mushrooms growing on a tree on the other side of a creek. Before I know it, Matthew’s perched like a surfer, hands in the air, torso balancing, precariously moving along a moss-covered fallen tree trunk that appears to be the quickest way across the creek. He’s 15 feet above the rocks of the creek bed and grinning like a little kid as he retrieves the delicious white cluster of fungi.

Our foray goes on in this vein for much of the afternoon, yielding several more edible scores. Near the end of our walk, Jenna exclaims ‘chanties!’ She’s found the first chanterelle of the day, a delicious and improbable find at this point in the season. Soon after that, we spot another patch of apricot-orange amongst the dead leaves of the forest floor. On closer inspection, this mushroom proves to be a hedgehog: just as tasty as the more famous chanterelle. Tasha, Matthew, and I also find some and return to the car with our bounty.

Later that evening back on our farm, we cook up the mushrooms and serve them on top of pizza baked in the cob oven I built outside in the yard. They are the perfect accompaniment to freshly made sauce from home-grown tomatoes, topped with Tasha’s goat milk mozzarella, and sprinkled with bits of the fresh Italian basil that proliferates on our herb spiral in the heat of summer.

Matthew and Jenna clearly love foraging, which is part of how they make a living, and their enthusiasm is infectious. But something else is happening too in those moments out in the woods among the trees and shrubs, like a dance or a conversation between them and the surrounding landscape. There is a sentience here: the forest, and particularly the mushrooms – they seem to be somehow aware of our presence, engaging my friends in a kind of dialogue through a subtle language in which they’re both particularly fluent.

I think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and how this excursion would have been a typical day for them. According to some researchers, paleolithic societies likely worked only a few hours a week to provide themselves with food, unlike later agricultural societies that formed the roots of what we now call civilisation. It was here that the notions of surplus, capital, interest, and planning for – or worrying about – a future of potential scarcity were born. For many of us alive today, this world obsessed with a myth of scarcity is all too present in our daily lives.

*

My entre into the world of mushrooms – not counting a few odd attempts at foraging in my old suburban neighbourhood – came mainly through cultivating shiitake mushrooms on my farm. Shiitake mushrooms grow on a variety of hardwoods, though oak is one of the best species to grow these beautiful and delicious mushrooms on. In my current locale, oak logs are easy to come by since the small-scale timber operations in the area are mainly interested in the larger trunk wood, often leaving the smaller limbs which make excellent substrate on which to cultivate shiitake. For several years now, I’ve successfully grown and enjoyed these culinary mushrooms which, as some recent studies indicate, may also have significant medicinal value. Growing them at a medium scale has provided me with a little bit of an income as well, since one pound of these mushrooms can fetch as much as $16 at local farmers’ markets.

Mushrooms have until relatively recent times been considered by many westerners only as a seasonal wild food, though some indigenous and eastern cultures, particularly in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, have long sought them out not only as a food but also as potent medicines in their pharmacopeias. Turkey tail, reishi, and chaga are three medicinal mushrooms well known for their multiple health-enhancing properties.

Turkey tail contains immune-system-enhancing and antiviral properties. Reishi and chaga contain beta-glucans – polysaccharide compounds known to help modulate the immune system – as well as terpenes and triterpenes, compounds known for their anti-tumour effects. Shiitake, in addition to being delicious and nutritious, also contains lentinan, a beta-glucan which slows tumour growth while strengthening the immune system. Lentinan is also known to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties.

The far more extensive and crucial links of fungal organisms in maintaining life on Earth have only recently come to light, however, and the critical role of fungi in the soil food web is now better understood. Mycelium is the technical term used to describe the vegetative part of the fungus that we typically associate with mushrooms. Mycelia grow from spores, which spread in long, filament-like threads called hyphae. Hyphae form networks of branching arrays like nerves through flesh, or the root systems of trees, connecting and intersecting with other genetically compatible hyphae to create the mat-like structure of the mycelium. Mushrooms are the visible reproductive organs of the mycelium, which is the much larger and usually invisible underlying fungal organism. Mycelial fungi are categorised based on how they nourish themselves, and there are three or four main types, depending on who you ask, though saprophytic and mycorrhizal mushrooms are especially important in the larger web of life.

Saprophytes such as shiitake are decomposers that break down biomass like wood, digesting lignin and cellulose and forming soil and food in the process. Without saprophytes – in conjunction with bacteria – the natural processes of decay and soil formation would not exist and the landscape would be covered in a thick layer of dead organic matter.

Mycorrhizae are fungi that grow in association with the roots of trees or plants, usually in a mutually beneficial partnership. Truffles as well as chanterelle mushrooms are both delicious and sought-after examples of edible mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizal partnerships exist between fungi and the roots of botanical organisms, ranging from grasses to the largest trees, in which mycorrhizal fungi live off the sugars secreted through the roots. In exchange, they provide that root system with nutrients, moisture, and minerals within reach of the mycelial network that extends far beyond the plant’s root system. Plants that exist in conjunction with mycorrhizal fungi are much more disease resistant than those that do not, so clearly there is an advantage to this partnership.

But connection with other organisms and communities is perhaps the most essential characteristic of mycelia, the collaborative and mutually beneficial functions of which, in many instances, offer up a working paradigm for sustainability within the food web and beyond. As with the microbial communities that define fermented foods, co-existing within both the guts of individuals and within the broader local food community that enjoy ferments, mycelia are living, sensing, collaborative organisms. The mushrooms they produce are a delicious challenge to the notion that food exists as an industrial commodity, a lifeless amalgam of chemical nutrients and calories.

Industrial agriculture, since its inception at the end of World War II, has sought to define food and its production in just such terms: as a formulation of chemical inputs and outputs, an engineering process to be managed with chemical fertilisers and pesticides – both of which represent peacetime economic transitions of the munitions and chemical weapons industries respectively, that flourished during the war. The so-called ‘green revolution’ of the late 1960s sought to employ the technologies and methods of industrial agriculture to eliminate world hunger and famine, yet almost 50 years later these societal ills persist while the resources and energy feed stocks underlying industrial agriculture grow scarcer. Industrial agriculture is a top-down, centralised, technology-and-resource dependent paradigm that jeopardises our planet and its populations even as it claims to nourish them, but most of all it is a model of disconnection, of alienation between food, its producers, and its consumers.

Paul Stamets, one of the most vociferous advocates in North America for all things fungal, has remarked upon the similarity and connectedness of mycelia to human networks, titling the first chapter in his landmark book Mycelium Running, ‘Mycelium as Nature’s Internet.’ In this chapter Stamets not only makes the case that mycelia in their organic structure represent a sophisticated type of natural network for sensing and communicating information, but that mycelial organisms manifest a form of consciousness in their own right. Here also Stamets makes mention of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, co-authors of Gaia theory.

Gaia theory posits that Earth’s biosphere, from its atmospheric and geochemical macro processes down to the level of the least sophisticated forms of organic life, represents an emergent and self-regulating form of natural intelligence, a sentience which seeks a state of equilibrium favourable to organic life. Stamets writes:

I see mycelium as the living network that manifests the natural intelligence imagined by Gaia theorists. The mycelium is an exposed sentient membrane, aware and responsive to changes in its environment. As hikers, deer, or insects walk across these sensitive filamentous nets, they leave impressions, and mycelia sense and respond to these movements. A complex and resourceful structure for sharing information, mycelium can adapt and evolve through the ever-changing forces of nature… These sensitive mycelial membranes act as a collective fungal consciousness.

That mushrooms tend to grow where people go seems to be a fact echoed by several other authorities on mushrooms and foraging. I have found it to be true that mushrooms tend to favour the borderlands, the marginal spaces between wild lands and human haunts. Over the last year of working on a building project on my farm, at the edge of a cleared section of land before it returns to forest, I noticed a proliferation of mushrooms never seen there before. The mushrooms – boletes, chanterelles, old men of the woods – seemed to have appeared in response to my increased activity in the area.

While it’s true that humans and animals tend to spread the spores of the mushrooms they make off with, thus aiding mushrooms in propagating genetic offspring, I sometimes wonder who’s cultivating whom here. As Michael Pollan so eloquently demonstrated in his book The Botany of Desire, plant species as diverse as cannabis, apples, tulips and potatoes have evolved in their own mutualistic relationships with humankind to cater to the changing cultural norms of society while simultaneously ensuring a successful continuance of their own genetic lines. By appealing to the human desire for sweetness, for example, apples have essentially evolved in a mutualistic relationship with human beings, who will thusly ensure the apple’s perpetuation to meet humanity’s need for this particular taste. As the subtitle of Pollan’s book, A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, indicates, there is a reciprocal perspective present in many of our ‘human’ relationships amongst the natural world. In this light then, the myth of human centrality and free agency falls apart when we begin to acknowledge the extent of our interrelationship with other forms of life in the more-than-human world.

The late ethnobotanist and psychedelic advocate Terence McKenna believed that the addition of psilocybin mushrooms to our pre-human ancestors’ diet was a major catalyst for our evolution to Homo sapiens, particularly with regard to the advent of language, the making of art, and the universal primacy of religious experience. McKenna even went so far as to suggest that psychedelic mushrooms represent a form of alien intelligence that interacts with us through its own peculiar symbolic language present in the psychedelic experience.

In addition to the similarities with the human-created model of the Internet, Paul Stamets has also noted the likeness of the mycelial form to others that occur naturally throughout the universe, in particular, hurricanes, galaxies, and representations of dark matter. The ‘mycelial archetype’ as he calls it, seems to represent the natural pattern of expression of matter and energy flows. To me, the interlaced threads of hyphae diverging and combining endlessly to form a mycelium is an apt visual metaphor for the web of life, for a model of natural connectedness.

 *

I’m sipping a cup of tea made from chaga mushrooms as I write this in early March. Although chaga is deadly to some species – a parasitic fungus that grows like a cancer on lesions in birch trees, ultimately causing their death over a span of years or decades – it is beneficial to humans, used historically as a folk medicine and in ongoing research. I foraged the chaga from the bark of local birch trees a few weeks ago with my friends Cameron and Janie. The tea is sweet and intense, earthy and delicately fragrant, like chocolate with a faint hint of clove or mild incense. I’ve added cinnamon, goat milk and honey. The elixir warms and energises on this chilly afternoon.

 

How to Grow Shiitake Mushrooms on Oak Logs

Shiitake mushrooms are known to grow on many types of hardwoods, including sugar maple, ironwood, beech, sweet gum, hickory, alder, black birch, basswood, hornbeam, cherry, eucalyptus, sassafras, and sourwood; however, most commercially available spawn strains favour red or white oak. Oak species are common and fairly easy to identify throughout much of Europe and North America, and parts of Asia and Australia, and oak is one of the traditional substrate used to grow these mushrooms in China and Japan.

While it is possible to manufacture spawn from the spore print or tissue culture of a shiitake mushroom, these techniques require some advanced skills and experience doing biological lab work. A much better alternative is to buy sawdust spawn or wooden dowel plugs pre-inoculated with spawn and use these to inoculate logs. Shiitake spawn is commercially available in many countries through various companies, most of which do business over the Internet and will typically ship to any address. This how-to will cover inoculating with dowel spawn, since this is the simplest technique.

Donko_Cap_Shiitake

Materials

Dowel spawn. Select a strain that will grow well in your climate and with your available species of log; spawn is commonly classified as wide-ranging, warm-weather, or cold-weather. Wide-ranging spawn is typically the most accommodating.

Logs. Procure a sufficient number of logs to inoculate with the corresponding amount of spawn. A package of 1,000 dowels will be sufficient for up to 20 logs. The logs should be between four and ten inches in diameter and no longer than four feet, shorter for wider diameter logs. The logs should be freshly cut and no older than six weeks.

Food grade wax. Cheese or soy wax are best, though beeswax or sealing wax can also be used.

Hammer or mallet

Electric drill with drill bit corresponding to diameter of dowel plug

Heat source. A hot plate or camp stove or chafing dish is necessary to melt the wax.

Pan or metal container to melt wax in. Old coffee cans or other heatable containers work well for this. Consider using a can or pot within a larger pot of water to make a double boiler to avoid the risk of the wax catching on fire.

Brush or dauber. Any type of small paint brush or cotton or foam dauber will work.

Procedure

Drill each log with one-inch-deep holes at six-inch intervals down the length of the log to form a row. Space rows at two-inch intervals, offsetting the start of each row a few inches to form a diamond pattern. Try putting a ring of tape or marking the drill bit with a magic marker at one inch to ensure you don’t drill too deep.

When each log has been completely encircled with spawn holes, begin filling them with spawn. With a hammer, tap each dowel into the hole until its top is flush with the log bark.

After the log has been filled with dowel spawn, seal each hole with a coating of hot wax. This protects spawn from exposure to the elements and moisture loss, and will hasten the mycelial colonisation of the log.

Position the logs in a loose ‘crib’ stack in a shady spot outdoors to allow the spawn to incubate. A crib stack is a stack where the the logs are arranged next to each other lengthwise in layers, with each layer running perpendicular to the next. The first layer should be kept off the ground with blocks or an old shipping pallet. Incubation usually takes anywhere from 6-18 months. If you get less than one inch of rain per week, thoroughly water the logs. It is especially important to maintain moisture levels during the incubation phase or the mycelia will die.

Stacked_Logs

The logs will begin to fruit on their own after a rain or watering when the mycelia have fully colonised them. This is sometimes apparent when the ends of the logs become covered with white mycelia, but ultimately you will notice primordia formation or ‘pinning’ occurring; that is, the nascent mushroom cap emerging on or around the waxed-over dowel holes.

If using a wide-ranging or warm-weather spawn, you will be able to force fruit your logs every eight to ten weeks by submerging them in a water filled tub or vat for 24 hours. The water should be at least 10° C colder than ambient temperature. Soaked logs should be stood on end in a shady spot after they have been soaked. Most cold-weather strains do not respond well to forced fruiting and should be allowed to fruit naturally.

Over the next five to ten days, you will notice mushrooms growing from your logs. Some caps will grow as large as five or six inches in diameter, and most will be larger than an inch. Harvest them by cutting or breaking the stem from the log when they have noticeably stopped growing and before heavy rains or high winds are expected.

Shiitake store well in a refrigerator for up to a week, but they can be dehydrated and stored indefinitely in glass jars or plastic bags. All shiitake should be cooked before eating however, as some people have difficulty digesting the raw mushrooms.

Images: Chaga mushrooms by Matt Miles; Donko cap shiitake mushrooms by Matt Miles; Stacked logs by Matt Miles

Mushrooms_3Matt Miles is a writer, poet, permaculturist, maker, and enthusiastic foodie. Among others, his interests include mycology, vegetable gardening, and most things fermentation related. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where he and Tasha Greer run the reLuxe Ranch, a whole-systems farmstead. He occasionally blogs at the-way-back.com.

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