Restoration – a call out for Dark Mountain: Issue 17

A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
– from ‘Return’ by Robinson Jeffers

After the establishment of Yosemite National Park, 40 years after the indigenous Ahwahneechee had been killed or expelled, forest fires were aggressively doused by the National Park Service. But after a while, rangers noticed that giant sequoias – the park’s biggest attraction – no longer seemed to be reproducing; their rock-like cones dropped from the trees but failed to release their seeds. It took the authorities decades to understand what the problem was (the Ahwahneechee could probably have told them, if they’d bothered to ask): the cones required extreme heat in order to open. Naturally occurring fires were not a threat to the sequoias but a crucial part of their life cycle. Now fires are allowed to burn, or even started deliberately, and new generations of sequoias are rising from the ashes.

Destruction and restoration might seem to be diametrically opposed, but they are often two sides of the same coin. As so much around us is being destroyed – from ecosystems and species to languages and cultures – restoration has recently emerged as a focus of green movements worldwide: not only fighting to ‘conserve’ the wild nature we still have, but working to renew what has been lost, to return despoiled ecosystems to their former richness. Ecological remediation has scored significant successes as forests, wetlands, rivers, coastlines, grasslands, bogs and water meadows have seen the return of biological complexity.

In Scotland, the charity Trees for Life is working to restore swathes of the Highlands, reforesting and rewilding acres of sheep-wrecked land. In Africa millions of trees are being planted to combat desertification, from the ‘Great Green Wall’ across the Sahel to successful collective efforts by small-scale farmers. Otters, until recently practically extinct in the UK, are now present in every county in England. In the US and Mexico, California condor have regained much of their former range, bouncing back from a population of only 22. European bison have returned to the Carpathian Mountains, and in ‘reserves’ at sea where industrial fishing has been banned, marine life is flourishing. The reintroduction of keystone species in United States national parks has resulted in astonishing trophic cascades of life; the example of how wolves change rivers is an inspiration.

It is not only physical, tangible things that emerge as part of this trend. Indigenous movements across the world are fighting, often literally, for the restoration of long-suppressed languages, cultures and cosmologies, preserving essential knowledge about other ways to live – ways that do not depend on extraction and ecocide. Meanwhile, many in the developed world are beginning to look back to older ways of being, returning to the physical and immediate, reviving lost crafts and skills, reminding themselves of what it might mean to live closer to the land. The movement to grant legal personhood (with corresponding legal rights) to supposedly ‘inanimate’ rivers, mountains and ecosystems – the Te Uruwera Forest, the Whanganui River and Mount Taranaki in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna in India, and the Atrato River in Colombia – represents another type of restoration. To Western minds this approach might seem new and radical, but it is merely a return to what indigenous and traditional peoples have always known: that humans are not the only beings deserving of life.

As may be apparent from the above, re words – from the Latin prefix meaning ‘back’, ‘anew’, ‘again’ – are very much in fashion, peppering ecological and social movements across the world. Even as governments compulsively drive ecocidal growth, as species and ways of life are pushed into extinction, as beauty and complexity are steadily stripped away, calls for restoration, renewal, return, repair, regeneration, rewilding, rebirth, resurgence and rebellion grow stronger by the day.

Calls for restoration, renewal, return, repair, regeneration, rewilding, rebirth, resurgence and rebellion grow stronger by the day.

As with all language, however, re is slippery. Depending on what’s being restored, repeated or rebelled against, the concept of ‘going back’ isn’t always a good thing. A ‘rebellion’ against political correctness can be a cover for a return to bigotry. The ‘regeneration’ of urban spaces is invariably a euphemism for forcing out the poor. The idea of ‘return’ is similarly two-faced; there are some things we shouldn’t go back to, even if we could. In this age of climate breakdown, undesirable returns are evident everywhere: from carbon in our atmosphere to microplastics in our seas, pollution that we thought had ‘gone’, because it could not be seen, has come back to confront us with the consequences of our greed and thoughtlessness. Our planet’s climate as a whole is returning to temperatures not seen for millions of years. In the coming change, whether we like it or not, our cultures and civilisations will inevitably return to conditions we thought were long-since left behind. 

Perhaps, given the evidence of human hubris and overreach, the concept of ‘restoration’ needs balancing with ‘retreat’. Restoration often has a human-centric slant; we are the heroes swooping in to fix broken nature. Once again, it is up to us – self-appointed stewards of the Earth – to put right what we got wrong (and in doing so, it goes without saying, to save ourselves). There’s a precarious balance, and possibly a misunderstanding, between ‘fixing what’s gone wrong’ and ‘abandoning what’s gone wrong’. We tell ourselves that what the planet really needs is increased, ‘corrected’ human interference – when actually a decrease in effort, particularly from the polluting economies of industrialised countries, would go further to allowing nonhuman systems to flourish. 

Chernobyl is a classic example of what happens when humans leave things alone – albeit after having caused catastrophic damage. Over the past 30 years biodiversity has thrived; wolves and boars stroll down empty streets past abandoned playgrounds, deer graze from the kerbs of once-deadly highways. Though cancer is rife in creatures living in the exclusion zone, their populations have expanded on a scale unseen elsewhere. For most wild creatures, nuclear holocaust is, on balance, less harmful than having humans as your neighbours. The same can be seen at no man’s lands, closed borders and demilitarised zones; the DMZ between the two Koreas is one of the most biodiverse places on the peninsula, home to 88 endangered species including Amur leopards, Asiatic black bears and Siberian tigers. Across Europe, the growth of cities and the decline of rural populations is having the effect of increasing forest cover, as agricultural land is abandoned and the weeds grow back. 

Our last Spring anthology was largely a response to the fires that swept much of the world in the summer of 2018. It seems appropriate, then, that this issue might examine what comes after; not the green shoots of recovery, exactly, but the seeds of creative change. Our Spring anthologies do not have strict, prescriptive themes, but they often seem to converge around a central idea. This call is intended as an inspiration or a provocation. We are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, poetry, artwork, photo essays and interviews – as well other contributions that might not fit any of those categories – that delve into stories of restoration, regeneration, revival, repair, retreat, renewal and return, both in a literal sense and in ways that are less obvious, perhaps exploring some of re’s messier, more ambiguous sides. As with all our anthologies, we also welcome work on other subjects that have nothing to do with this submissions call, but which you feel might find a home in Dark Mountain. Have a look at 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 17 will be published in April 2020. The deadline for submissions is Friday 15th November. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines carefully. We cannot read or respond to work which does not fit within those guidelines.


Image: Eden Again by Meridel Rubenstein from Eden In Iraq, a water remediation project, expressed through environmental art and wastewater garden design, which will provide urgently needed clean water for in southern Iraq.  Simple wastewater recycling technology supports a garden that embodies the rich cultural heritage and tradition of the marshes and the Marsh Arab community.


Dark Mountain: Issue 15

The Spring 2019 issue is a collection of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and artwork that responds to the ‘age of fire’.


Read more
  1. Dear editors of Dark Mountain,

    I very much admire your project, and would love to submit work for you to consider. I was not able to find a way to that, however. Please advise.


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