But what does this $1.6 million project accomplish, in a modern human context? Does giving people a chance to see three rivers running together encourage them to change destructive habits or forge deeper connections with nature? Or is this environmental vanity; an expensive project in a neighbourhood with one of the highest poverty rates in the city? Throughout history sacred sites have often been located at confluences, but – in a reductive culture that tells us that, far from being one, we are individual units separate from the rest of ‘nature’ – is there any sacredness in the notion of confluence today?
And, in an age of crisis, are confluences always good? The pandemic now ravaging the globe is the result of confluences, of viruses flowing from one species into another, and then surging into populations and over borders – accelerating through those extraordinary human-created confluences that are international airports. This follows a similar pattern to Aids, a viral confluence between chimpanzees and humans that followed encroachment and poaching in the rainforests of the Congo. Often such deadly convergences are the unintended, but predictable, results of human incursions into animal habitats, and what we invade can then invade us: increasingly large wild animals, from elephants in India to polar bears in Alaska, are shot after straying into human habitats because their own have been despoiled.
Today, with climate-related disasters dramatically worsening year by year – global heating, wildfires, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, methane release, soil degradation, mass extinction and unforeseen tipping points – we find ourselves approaching a frightening singularity: a confluence of catastrophes that threatens to bear us away.
And yet, amidst all these disasters, other convergences emerge: minglings, mergings and mixings that tell another story. As humanity spreads into nature, nature is quietly spreading back: peregrine falcons hunt and breed in the canyonlands of Manhattan skyscrapers, and Chicago now harbours a population of up to 4,000 coyotes. In the UK, foxes have colonised cities for at least 200 years and deer are now following that trend, appearing in the parks and gardens of the most congested cities. And in urban spaces across Europe from Rome to Berlin, wild boar are drawn to the streets by rich foraging opportunities, sometimes bringing them into conflict with humans but more often coexisting.
As such creatures challenge us to merge our habitats with theirs, might these creeping convergences affect a change in us? Might the ‘self-domestication’ of adaptive species – a phrase coined by evolutionary scientists Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods in Survival of the Friendliest – have the effect of making us humans a little bit more wild by learning how to share habitats?
What meetings of cultures, environments, identities, species and planetary crises are shaping the times we are living in? And how do we navigate them?
Humans are not, and have never been, islands. We live in a time when the concept of borders, of impermeable lines between individuals, species, ecologies, climates and weather systems is increasingly being exposed for the fiction it always was. Science increasingly teaches us that we are not exceptional; that boundaries are porous or non-existent; that we share 50 per cent of our DNA with trees, and 70 per cent with slugs; that ‘dead’ rocks were once shellfish and forests; that everything comes from star dust. These discoveries are not new, although scientists like to tell us they are. Most cultures knew this long ago, and some have not forgotten it; only in the last few hundred years have certain segments of humanity managed to convince themselves that borders are fixed and static.
And then there are human confluences that churn and roil with this ecological and social diversity. As old borders begin to break down, some people sense that we are already intermingled and diffused in intersecting ways, part of the thrumming world and not only discrete entities and individuals. Others dig in and build walls, in ways that mirror the walls built by states to keep certain bodies out. Meanwhile those who have always known that the land is under threat are having to explain, yet again, what ecological justice means to those who are just waking up to ‘ecology’. And the social media revolution brings previously separate political tribes and social groups into closer contact, able to learn from each other – or shout at each other – across the divides. So we struggle mightily at many of these junctions.
Dark Mountain: Issue 21 takes as its starting point this idea of confluence. In the spirit of streams merging into one, this book will be a collaboration with our friends at saltfront, a Utah-based environmental humanities literary and art journal for a radically new type of ecological storytelling. The Dark Mountain Project was born in England, taking shape in conversations in pubs along the River Thames, in London, Wales, Scotland, the chalk downlands of Hampshire and the soggy uplands of Dartmoor; while saltfront was conceived amidst the rabid growth of Salt Lake City – where the Three Creeks Confluence Park stands now – whose residents are still closely connected to alpine forests and snow-covered peaks, deserts and red rock canyons. These diverse perspectives on human habits and habitats are another confluence, and we hope to gather many more in the book. What meetings of cultures, environments, identities, species and planetary crises are shaping the times we are living in? And how do we navigate them?
For this issue we are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, artwork, photo essays and interviews – as well other contributions that might not fit any of those categories – that investigate confluences, connections and intersections. As with all our Spring anthologies, we also welcome work on subjects that are not specific to this submissions call but that might find a home in Dark Mountain; see 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 November.
Dark Mountain: Issue 21 will be published in April 2022. The deadline for submissions is Monday 15th November. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines carefully. We cannot read or respond to work that does not fit within those guidelines.