Poetry and Water

Does anything that touches water bend it?
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Or does the water bend to receive it?
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Is water subject to gravity?p1410974

Or does it make an empty space under a willow tree, for the leaves to fill?p1410973 Is that what we drink? The emptiness that is fullness?p1410964

If water fills what is empty, might it not simultaneously empty what is full? This tide flat in Borgarfjörður, Iceland, at dusk (2:30 pm in November), for example?

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Does it have a double spirit?

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Hraunfosser, Iceland

Is that what we bring to it, or is it the gift it gave to us and which we give back?

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What if looking into water really is looking into the mind?

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Are not words only pools, cupped mouths, that can fill with it, or empty with it?

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Borgarfjörður

Yes, this is a choice, to place before words, or after, or, like water, between: where they simultaneously are and are not.

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There are also rushes.

The People of the Grass

Just look at this Great Basin Giant Wild Rye in the late November sun. It’s growing up the hill from my house, in land set aside for new houses. Actually, it was planted, to mitigate the effects of road-building and house construction — to embed that work within an act of ecosystem reconstruction and natural sustainability. Beautiful, isn’t it.p1410294

It’s more than beautiful, actually. There are three seasons of stalks here. One has lost its seeds to winter birds and the knees of deer as they knock their way through in the snow. The grass uses the energy of both to cast its seeds at a distance from the stalks. When the seeds land on the snow, their darkness gathers heat to melt their way down through the snow to the unfrozen soil below, watered by the snow they melted to make their path. Down there, they sprout, in the warmth of sunlight magnified by crystals of melting snow. By the time spring comes, most of “spring’s” work is done. This is the grass that first drew settlers to the Pacific Northwest. The Cayuse War of 1848, which started all the other Indian Wars north of California, was fought in this grass, and, in part, over this grass. Two hundred years ago, this grass, and its seeds, were valuable, for fibre and food. In the North Okanagan, where I live, giant wild rye is not as plentiful as it was in the Cayuse’s Walla Walla Valley. Due to its relative scarcity this far north, I think it’s safe to say it would be surprising to find unbroken stands of grass with year-old seeds and three-year-old stalks, untouched by human hands. The stuff is too valuable for that. So, look again:

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This is nature without humans. They have been removed from it. It was forcibly done, Replanting the grass without bringing the people home to it is still removal. It doesn’t matter what words are applied to it. Colonial societies, even in their mature, independent phase (we call it “post-colonial”), often claim a right to the land on the principle that all human activity is natural. Yes, it is. It is still violence, though, even if it is called beauty, or ecological regeneration, as long as it does not bring the people back. We could do that, you know. We have shown that we can plant riches.

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For the moment, they are empty. In romantic poetry, this sense of loss (in this case “a lost Eden”) intensifies the sense of beauty. The effect is called “bittersweet longing.” In post-modernist poetry (post-colonial culture’s equivalent to romanticism), it is called “desire.” It is more than either. It is a waiting, an offering, an emptiness actively calling to be filled, and a gift. Do we dare take it? Do we dare not?

Bringing the Water Home

I bring home the name of water. It’s not that it reflects the sky, as the picture below from Hvalfjörður shows, so much as it brings the light from the sky inside it. So many substances reflect light from their surfaces. Their substance must be inferred from a superficial glance. Humans are pretty good at that. In fact, we’ve built a civilization around it. What we haven’t built in contemporary times is a civilization around the interiors of things, and around the way they hold light within before releasing it again. It seems a small thing, but look at it.

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Skorá.

This is, after all, the process of the sun. There, it takes every photon of light 100,000 years of bouncing around in the sun, of being reabsorbed and re-emitted, before it leaves the sun to travel to, well, this Icelandic river. It is also the process of photosynthesis, in which every photon of light bounces around in a tiny reflective chamber. One in 2000 or so gets eaten by the little blue-green algae kept hostage at the chamber’s core. That’s a lot. You can see that effect of light in the grass and the hayfield above, and even, in deeper tones, in the birch and poplar woods. If we want a new relationship with the earth, we would do well to start right here, not with water as a substance (vatn, in Icelandic), nor even with water as a flowing and a becoming (á, in Icelandic, from aqua, as in aquaduct, or, as we know it in English, river), but as a deepening and a holding, a way of stopping light for a moment, manipulating it for various mysterious processes and then letting it go.p1400402 Along the way, it concentrates attention, and life. We, you and I, have an ability to see that. That is an approach to the human visual impulse on which a new relationship to the earth can be built. To start with, human eyes are filled with water. We see through it. It’s hardly a wonder that we can see its depths. As for its name? Well, it embodies the eye, but its name comes from the open mouth and throat that receive it: water, aqua, á (ow)… they are all an opening and a receiving. An eye that is a mouth? A mouth that is an eye? Both and neither.

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But it’s a good start.

A Walk in the Fog

Boundaries show the limits of consciousness. When they are foggy, magic happens. Look how this grove inhabits the fuzzy boundary of the fog. It holds to itself and yet extends, not only across the pasture but into the fog. It makes sense. The grove is all about holding to itself and yet remaining open, drinking wind and eating light. Is it an active force? The question is absurd. It is a balance.p1300783

Now, look what happens when we pull back and include a human boundary called a wall. The tree is ‘contained’. It does its magic work within a human frame. That frame is what we call ‘civilization’. Note how it walls us out as much as it walls the tree in. To get to the tree we have to pass through the wall. We can be either on one side of it or another, but not both at once… unless we take the wall down stone by stone and carry them back to the quarry where they were once dug.

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Fortunately, we have other metaphysical technologies. The one below is called a “way” or a “path”. In North America, we would call it a “trail”, but that’s a peculiarly colonial word, as fragile and riddling as a wall. A path is better. A way that extends to no end, from no beginning. A dancing ground, so to speak.

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The trees know this. Look.

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These paths for water rising into the sky don’t dissolve with the seasons. The tree neither lives outside of them or only at their tips. They are not histories. They are moments of presence. Now, add the wild. In this case, an ibex. This non-human point of view makes the entire scene as wide as the universe. It looks back, not just out of this animal, but everywhere at once.p1300861

That looking and that presence is who we are. Walls have contexts. They are not the path.

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They are not the way.p1300903

The way is not through the trees. It is among them.

Growing an Old Language New Together

A language is not a string of beads on a wire that you hook around your neck, fiddle with, mumble along with, and presto, you have a smart phone. An indigenous language is rich, complex, dynamic and strange. It contains the nuances of this image:

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English is such a language. It is a form of poetry, wit, delight and play. However, if you are a human needing to communicate across languages, then the thing for you is Globish. Don’t take it from me. Take it from the BBC:

Globish — a distilled form of English, stripped down to 1,500 words and simple but standard grammar. “It’s not a language, it’s a tool,” he says. Since launching Globish in 2004 he’s sold more than 200,000 Globish text books in 18 languages.

 

“If you can communicate efficiently with limited, simple language you save time, avoid misinterpretation and you don’t have errors in communication,” Nerriere says.

 

Source: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20161028-native-english-speakers-are-the-worlds-worst-communicators

You also don’t have this.

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These are cultural choices. For an English speaker, Globish requires mental surgery. You have to hack away at your mind and your earth with a rock, against a long tradition of cultural, linguistic and environmental development that stretches back at least 2000 years. In the Okanagan, in the North American west, for example, language means a choice between being colonial or one of the people and the land. Globish is vital, but it doesn’t address that issue. It is not this:

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The end of human effort today s enriched communication between humans and the earth, all together, in the deepest, most dynamic method possible. That is the task before us who still live on and with this earth: to put the earth back into the language, before we are only left with colonial experience. We owe new speakers of English the respect of giving them the ability to find this and include it in their global discussions:

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To “meaning”, “understanding,” “intention” and “communication”  another real need can be added: poetry. English and Globish are separate languages, with separate purposes. There is much we, as native English speakers, can do to make bridges with the native Earth speakers in other languages, to bring their intimate knowledge to the conversation. At the moment, Globish can’t do that. It can only grow from such effort.

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We can only grow from such effort. Let us begin.

When Trees are Hills and Hills are Trees

p1300900Look how simple these high European landscapes are, how swept by the sea, how chewed by cows, how much the earth has been given over to the sky. Now, compare with the Okanagan, where overgrazing by cattle leads to bushiness.

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Look how high European oaks root in that sky, in a world without colour, but with exquisite shades of light and dark, in a weave of time.

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And compare that to the Okanagan, where there are no oaks.

 

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Here it is the land that moves in time. Here a walker passes through the hills the way a celebrant (or a cow) passes through the oaks of the Jura. Friends, these hills are our trees.

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Plants are the hills between them.