When the first rains fell
we did what was necessary
– Alberto Blanco, ‘Poor Memory’
We live within the confines of a civilisation in a time that only values the fixity of things, the rigid buildings we hastily retrofit against flood and earthquake; its technologies and objects of desire. We see the stars in the sky and number them, but we forget that the netted patterns between them and their courses across the sky are as much a part of their nature and meaning as their hard pinpricks of light. The invisible exchanges that make sense of our place in the world below.
In his extraordinary work, Sand Talk – How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, Tyson Yunkaporta describes five ways of Aboriginal thinking – kinship mind, storytelling mind, dreaming mind, ancestor mind and pattern mind. All five are different ways of seeing the land and ourselves within it, that practise living in balance and relationship with all beings on Earth. Each perspective is woven into the repeating rhythms of ritual and storytelling that hold communities and cultures together through time. They increase our capacity to make connections across species and territories, allowing human beings to be ‘custodial’ for places and living things.
For this autumn’s special issue we invite you to engage in these ways of thinking and being and share your experiences within the ‘ark’ of a book. Wherever we stand, in the landscapes of our forebears or uprooted and scattered to new ground, whether pressed into the dust by colonising forces or mentally severed from the Earth, we nevertheless inhabit an ancestral physical and imaginative form that is indigenous to the planet. We still have the capacity to connect with the living systems and the dreaming of places. Part of this capacity to remember is the creation of a space, a vessel to contain this knowledge.
Inspired by events in history such as the valiant guardians of the Russian seed collections during the siege of Leningrad, as well as the book-rememberers in the imagined future of Fahrenheit 451, ARK seeks to chart a meaningful course through our troubled present. We welcome on board the testimonies of guardians of rivers and mountains; language- and story-keepers; protectors of creatures and birds; caretakers of a path or ancestral way; makers of a disappearing craft, throwers of pots, weavers of fabric; the growers of heritage crops; and curators of ritual places and song.
The farmed Earth and our city neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly monocultural, where even ‘diversity’ becomes a commodity within a globalised corporate system. The world’s fields and orchards, once home to thousands of species, now host nine dominator food crops. Hundreds of agricultural varieties are reduced to the most profitable single seed or creature, from the Holstein cow to the Cavendish banana. Inside our bodies, the microbiome, faced by an onslaught of industrial food, has lost 50% of the flora that would keep, not only our bodies but also, by connection, our minds, feelings and social interactions, stable and vibrant and alive.
When looking at the world in such crisis it is hard to know which way to turn. As the forests continue to burn and the floodwaters rise, as the birds and insects and creatures continue to disappear, as societies tear themselves apart and democracies crumble, what can ordinary people do? In response to this dilemma, Dougald Hine once wrote as a ‘journeyer of resilience’ through northern Europe:
If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you.
In spite of the violent advance of monocultures everywhere, they are all dependant on industrial inputs and vulnerable to breakdown, in the way a self-organising and complex ecosystem is not. The reintroduction of diversity and complexity within a system can, if given a hand, regenerate depleted bodies and soil, restore degraded landscape back to rainforest and prairie. It can inspire people to do unprecedented acts that are often hidden from view. In Sheaf, our small co-produced book of regenerative stories about grains and growers, farmers Fred Price and Col Gordon tell how they have tested over 4500 landraces of barley, wheat and rye that have been grown for thousands of years in places from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, as well as their native Somerset and Highlands, ‘not to grow a museum of the world’s grains but to understand what thrives in the conditions in our fields (and) is suited to ecological farming practices in the future.’
It is in this spirit of diversity that this book advances, in search of official and non-official culture keepers across the world and through time: from the last speakers of a Greenlandic language, to the guardians of the vanishing vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California. We hope to document not only those cultural pivots guarded by elders of traditional communities but also future-thinking modern people who have decided to stand by a place or practice in the spirit of preserving it against the odds. To show the kinds of love, commitment and kinship those decisions demand and inspire others to think of their own lives in this way. To investigate how we can build a new resilient culture from archaic foundations.
In Dark Mountain’s year-long creative workshop, How We Walk Through the Fire, that follows the ancestral solar year, a group is meeting up to create such a forward-looking culture, as the project has strived to do since it began over a decade ago. For two months now, artists and writers from Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, across the United States from Alaska to Kentucky, from Finnmark and the Outer Hebrides to the cities of Paris, Berlin and Vienna, have gathered around the fires of their homelands and asked: how can we honour our kinship with beasts, with the elements, share our knowledge of plants and haptic skills? How can we celebrate the turn of the year with our stories, songs and dances? In an unravelling time, how can we stitch ourselves back into the fabric of the world?
In an unravelling time, how can we stitch ourselves back into the fabric of the world?
A people’s imaginative relationship with the diversity of the planet is like mycorrhizal fungi within soil, a capacity to communicate with and nourish all living beings within an ecosystem. When our capacity to connect in this way is, like the soil, destroyed by monoculture, life withers. Our imagination becomes inert, just a receptacle for the artificial mechanics of production. Given the right conditions and time however, we can work to restore those abilities. We can remember how to act and be together in the spirit of the ceilidh and the kiva. The more we increase these connections the stronger a culture becomes. A culture that can give back and reflect the beauty of the Earth, rather than the tawdry illusions of disconnected people.
ARK sets out to foster these regenerative conditions: to show an ensemble story of resilience in times of extinction, and to house a record of the extraordinary lengths ordinary people will go in order to preserve life in collaboration with the Earth.
Our books have always been deliberately diverse, a mixture of genres, mediums, people and places, each one housing up to 70 contributions of writing and art that cross-reference and form an interconnected whole. For the last three issues we have worked alongside sister organisations, from art.earth for our ‘requiem’ Issue 19 and The Extraction Project for ABYSS. Following this shape, Dark Mountain: Issue 22 – ARK will be created in collaboration with the Wilderness Art Collective, a UK-based non-profit organisation of artists, explorers and environmentalists whose work discusses the plight of the Earth’s wildernesses and wildlife and encourages re-engagement with and preservation of the natural world.
We are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, artwork, photo essays, portraits, testimonies, ceremonies, patterns and recipes – as well other contributions that might not fit any of those categories – that celebrate the core elements of human culture and the people who decide to preserve them as the world heads into uncertain waters. As with all our anthologies, do read the Manifesto for an idea of the uncivilised writing and art we might be seeking.
We look forward to seeing what you send us between now and May.
Dark Mountain: Issue 22 will be published in October 2022. The deadline for submissions is Friday 13th May. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines. Please note this is a new online submission process and form, so do read carefully. Thanks! We cannot read or respond to work that does not fit within those guidelines.
IMAGES: Blueprints from The Embrace Ark project by Angela Cockayne, an installation of over 500 selected works assembled over a period of 20 years into a contemporary cabinet of curiosity – on board an old 40-four foot wooden vessel, moored in a rewilded pasture in rural Cornwall. In a modern-day act of retrieval, commemoration and futurity, The Ark Embrace is about to host a collection of ‘undiscovered species’ and objects responding to the themes of the Wunderkammer. A film of the project can be found here: https://vimeo.com/236244391
Dark Mountain: Issue 24 – Eight Fires
Our Autumn 2023 full colour edition is an ensemble exploration of the eight ceremonial fires of the year, celebrated in practices, stories, poetry and artwork.