Ecopoetics and Anne Waldman

Pensacola is blessed with many strong writers and poets. The West Florida Literary Federation leads the region in advancing the creative spirit. That includes supporting a Poet Laureate. Jamey Jones is the current Poet Laureate in Residence. He and the Federation brought my attention to Anne Waldman.

That I had never heard of Anne is both a testament to my ignorance and to the important role of the Federation in enriching individual artists’ and the public’s experiences in the arts.

From CNN -
From CNN –

Check out Anne’s moving Manatee Humanity. Her reading introduced me to the potential of poetry to advance understanding and compassion for a fellow mammal.

Anne talks about an encounter with a manatee in an aquarium in Florida.  In other interviews on her website, Waldman describes Ecopoetics, a term I had never read.  While you are on Waldman’s website, click around to listen to other performances. You are in for a treat and a powerful force for good. There is nothing ambivalent about Anne.


The Eye of the Falcon

Don’t Forget Florida’s Forgotten Coastline

20140217_100305The Forgotten Coast of Florida near Port St. Joe, on the St. Joseph’s Bay, is one of the remaining intact ecosystems in the state and well worth a visit. This photo is near an Indian midden where you can view layer upon layer of broken shells left behind by Indian communities that shelled and fished on the productive bay.

Near the Old Salt Works Cabins on highway 30E, the bay is accessible down long weathered boardwalks. Visitors walk out into the muddy recesses or shallow waters where they can see urchins, tunicates, fiddler crabs, and juvenile fish that use the area as a nursery. 20140216_095052_4_bestshotPeppered through the sea grass beds we found the casts of horseshoe crabs from molting seasons before. My friend, Barbara, is an ecologist who spent the four days of our trip collecting casts and abandoned urchin shells. She described the sea grass beds along the bay as a treasure of Florida’s natural environments because they function as a nursery for numerous species of crustaceans and fish that are important economic species for the Gulf region and primary filters of pollutants that keep the water quality high.

We met a young family from the Atlanta area who were putting together a small catamaran to sail around an enclosed area of the bay on the St. Joe’s Peninsula that arcs like a curved arm protecting the shoreline from storms. Their young sons were busy seining for fish and other sea life. My friend joined them to teach a little ecology in the best environment in the world where children can see the ecosystem at work.

IMG_7142Earlier we had visited the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Education Center founded by Jack and Anne Rudloe, two of Florida’s important writers and educators about Florida’s marine wildlife. Priceless Florida, The Living Dock, In Search of the Great Turtle Mother, and Shrimp are just several of their many books. The lab and education center are filled with touch tanks and aquarium where families can learn about many species not easily seen from shore such as loggerhead turtles, and octopuses.

20140217_115901Later we visited the St. Andrews Marina which is a working marina where you can observe a variety of fishing vessels. The one pictured here has turtle-excluder devices (TEDs) that allow fast escape of turtles when they are caught up in the netting. Before this apparatus was invented, sea turtle deaths were much more numerous.

St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park is a wonderful place to snorkel, kayak, fish, camp, and bike. Carl, Barbara’s partner in life and biking enthusiast, enjoyed the 27-mile round trip on a newly completed bike path from the Old Salt Works Cabins to the entrance of the wildlife refuge. The refuge on the last seven miles of the peninsula is a terrific walk where you can observe thirty foot dunes – how much of Florida’s coastline once looked before massive storms and human activities have diminished their size and capacity to shelter the coastline.

Seven Gems

These are books and authors that I  have read and reread that I am posting today for you and especially your thoughts if you too have read them.  These books are dear to me for their wisdom—powerful narratives that explore indigenous and European values through the experiences of characters. Some, like Loon Feather, are of the rarest beauty.

This original meeting of Two Minds began 500 years ago on the North American continent and play-out today as we make decisions regarding wilderness, use of public lands, climate change, and our basic human relationship with each other.

The Seven Gems

Loon Feather by Iola Fuller (1940)

The Man Who Killed the Deer by Frank Waters (1942)

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven (1973)

The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers (2004)

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich (2006)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2011)

The Dawn Chorus

Aldo Leopold: “If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part of it is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota in the course of eons has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Aldo Leopold, the 20th century’s most important conservationist, is brought to life in this recent interview on Living on Earth.  Steve Curwood interviews Stanley Temple, Professor Emeritus in Conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is a Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Specifically, Aldo regularly recorded the dawn bird chorus on his farm.  This journal increases in value as a baseline record of bird species on a worn out piece of land which he bought to restore to life.  Over decades the Leopold family replanted trees and native plants—often a disheartening activity as many perished before some “took.”

In this interview, Temple explains how he found an unpublished manuscript from the Leopold papers, archived at the University of Wisconsin.  Leopold used one of the first light meters of his time to coordinate the level of light from night to dawn with the sounds of the first birds—the Dawn Chorus.  What got recorded for all time was an invaluable record of the environment against which today’s environmental elements and biodiversity can be compared.

Unlike what is happening in general to habitats, Leopold’s land has increased in biodiversity due to its restoration of native vegetation and watershed.

Enjoy the recording during the interview, and also, a current recording in which the sounds of the birds are nearly drowned by the noise from a nearby freeway.

Aldo Leopold on the Colorado

Aldo Leopold has been a lifelong inspiration for me and someone whose writings I turn to often.  For the first time, however, I am reading Round River, published in 1953 by Oxford University Press.  The second chapter, The Delta Colorado, chronicles his trip with Carl Leopold on the Colorado Delta region below the U.S. border starting in San Luis and going deep into a wetlands wonder before the Hoover Dam caused its long slow death.

What struck me were two things: 1) the amount and variety of wildlife that dwelt therein (now vanished or reduced to small numbers), and 2) the amount of game it took to keep two grown men from hunger.  Leopold’s daily journal entries are fun, informative and definitely from a “guy’s” point of view.  He’s getting to know the land by hunting, canoeing, hiking, and exploring its contours.  They meet and try to talk with a Cocopah youth on horseback – unheard of today in that region.  The record is point-in-time, when that region and all its communities were at the brink of massive environmental and cultural change that most did not fathom.  Up stream three hundred miles near Parker, Arizona the realization of other men’s dreams would radically change the lives and fortunes of many by siphoning off water for development in the seven states of the Colorado River Compact.  Ironically this agreement was signed the very same year Leopold made his now famous trek.

Round River is a collection of lyrical prose.  Leopold is one of our best writers in this genre.  Sometimes I just read his works for the sheer joy of its language and easy style.  This little book of essays includes many gems including one about the nature of hobbies (A Man’s Leisure Time) that is still instructive today:

A good hobby may be a solitary revolt against the common-place, or it may be the joint conspiracy of a congenial group.  That group might be the family.  In either event it is a rebellion, and if a hopeless one, all the better. ~ p. 8, Round River, 1953, first edition.

American Pubic Media “On Being”

I know that my discovery of “On Being” at 6 am on my local public radio station,, reveals just how out of it a person can be in a world with a cornucopia of media sources. Apparently the program has been broadcasting since 2008! However, humbly, I submit this link to this interview with Terry Tempest Williams.

The recorded podcasts on their main page are a treasure trove of some of our greatest spiritual voices and cultural innovators. This might be a very good way to “reset” your moral compass after a day or week out on Main Street.

Krista Tippett is the moderator. The link above to the unedited discussion with Terry includes many personal statements by both Terry and Krista that give additional insights into their focus and personalities.

I’ve been reading Terry’s books, blogs, and following her activities for the last 15 years. I am convinced that she is on the forward edge of an emerging sensibility that seeks to bring together divergent perspectives in American culture  for open dialogue and understanding. She gives numerous examples of how she personally is able to sit with people who hold opposite points of view and learn from them and stay in the dialogue….

If you read one book by Williams, read Refuge. You will understand then how Terry weaves the deeply personal, landscape, religion, spirituality, politics and the art of dialogue. This perspective might be similar to present and previous Earth – focused cultures  (e.g.  native cultures worldwide; ancient earth-based cultures.) However, what is evident in this interview and many others on the site, is an emergent blend of our best past and present thought. There is a heightened awareness of something much greater than ourselves, the issues at hand, and what we can perceive.

Listen and learn from a person who has learned to stay in the crucible of conflict and transform it into something of beauty….

Transparency in Reporting Science

The EPA is under scrutiny about its estimates of oil inundation from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. At issue is direct access to scientists at the EPA without oversight from the EPA administration. Congressman Raul Grijalva has been critical of the EPA policy that scientists cannot respond directly to journalists or government officials questions. Read below from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

WILL EPA SIT OUT SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY RULE-MAKING? — Memo Implies EPA Will Not Clarify Scientists’ Right to Publish or Speak with Media

Washington, DC — Despite a White House directive that federal agencies strengthen their procedures for ensuring scientific integrity and transparency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is apparently planning no changes, according to an internal EPA e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, EPA scientists will continue to lack consistent rules for publishing studies, speaking at scientific conferences or answering questions from the media.

Hope Beneath Our Feet

Hope Beneath Our Feet, Restoring Our Place in the Natural World is a new anthology of essays by authors who responded to this question: In the midst of environmental crisis, how can we live NOW?

I am unabashedly promoting the book because I am one of the authors. To be published along with the writers and thinkers to whom I have turned for inspiration over the last twenty years, is a huge honor for me. Some of these mentors are: Frances Moore Lappé, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez and Howard Zinn.

The book’s genesis is the work of Martin Keogh, its Editor.  In the forward, Martin describes how his children expressed a sense of hopelessness about the future as they considered climate change or nuclear war—challenges that dwarf our sense of being able to make a difference. He wondered how human beings can keep hope and live well in very uncertain times. In 2006 Martin issued a call to writers to submit an essay answering the question above.

The book is published by North Atlantic Press and is now in its third printing – barely a month after its release.

Once Upon a Time on the Gulf of Mexico

Turtle Island churns under the soles of my feet on this fair-weather day on the Gulf

NOAA Photo
NOAA Photo

Turtle Island churns under the soles of my feet on this fair-weather day on the Gulf.  The ocean is green near the shoreline—pea green. I’ve never seen that before. I wonder if an algal bloom is forming in warmer seas. A battalion of brown pelicans coasts on dark arched wings over the waves.

Children build sand castles and bob in the surf while far out at sea large fishing vessels ply the waters for bigger catch. I can see one person atop a scaffold with a line trawling behind. I wonder about toppling into the cold, thick waves so far from shore.

There are few shorebirds but it is late in the day. They are probably on the bay side of the island resting in warm dunes. A moveable feast of beauty and abundance, we call this Santa Rosa Island named to honor a young woman from Lima, Peru who lived 500 years ago.

How arbitrary our histories.

Take the story of Caretta caretta. She doesn’t even know we’ve tagged her with a dichotomous term to set her species apart from others. Her only inclination is to find a darkened shoreline and lay her burden down.

Buoyed by the salty water she paddles with strong legs through the currents.

Through heavy lid, she looks toward shore and vaguely remembers its smell and warm, gritty touch. Suddenly she recalls the hovering gulls with their piercing eyes and angular beaks. She quickens her advance in hopes she might outpace the probabilities.

The moonlit shore is quiet as she takes purchase on the shifting sand below her. She looks from just under the water. Bright lights might turn her away to find a place where pale moonlight guides the way instead. It is instinctual.

And should she come ashore and dodge the beach chairs and plastic bottles, to lay a hatch of eggs, and later when they emerge, so tiny and vulnerable, will her young head toward the sea with its shimmering moonlight, or will they head for the Holiday Inn instead?

Countless volunteers tend turtle nests all along these Gulf shores to redirect hatchlings toward the ocean. Does it mean they are no longer self-sustaining?

Caretta caretta, loggerhead turtle mom, come back! Come back!

Will she find a place to lay her eggs? If she doesn’t, will she release them into the water and watch as a devouring host of predators gobbles them up as fast as they emerge?

And, what of it…what if all the Caretta caretta’s disappear? Will it change my walk on the beach?

To answer that question we would have to observe this beach over the long arc of time—not the brief period of a human lifetime.

If we could go back even a thousand years (a bleep on the screen of geologic, Earth time) we’d see an abundance of birds, perhaps many we’ve never seen here before. And the waters would team with crustaceans; you could just scoop up dinner with your hands.

We’d be looking at an ocean web of life that compares to today’s web like intricate lace to an old net. But if we do not know that, the old frayed net looks pretty good.

A Yale psychologist gave this phenomenon a name: intergenerational, environmental amnesia. Basically, we’ve failed to remember our origins; we’ve forgotten to tell the human story.

That story tells us how we evolved with a host of other species, interdependent on each other. In a far distant land, in a far different world, our kind began humbly dependent on the whole.

We were part of something that worked, found its rhythms in a sort of give and take that leveled the playing field for all. Some little guys had the gift of a poisonous bite that made the big guys shy away and so on.

Then we evolved an opposable thumb and a frontal cortex. We were powerful beings by virtue of our new intelligence. We learned to cooperate and bring down beasts that towered over us. We covered our bodies with their hides and set out to explore the world at large.

We got caught up in our own ingenuity; we forgot our origins, intent on harnessing nature to our collective dreams. This was our infant sensibility.

Today our task as a species is a difficult one: we need a dose of emotional honesty to accept that we aren’t as great as we’d thought. What’s superior about spoiling paradise, about circumscribing the futures of our children?

Well, we can chalk it all up to immaturity, for our species’ evolution is new and our learning curve is a sharp one. We’ve got to use our talent for the good of all. We can’t repair nature’s living webs, but we can give her a chance to do it herself.

For Caretta caretta we can turn down or turn off our lights, sit out on the decks of our homes and watch the waves glisten in the moonlight, listen to the oncoming waves. Is that so bad?

Native American wisdom recognizes the Earth as Turtle Island, the continents forming plates on her back. In this era of human pervasiveness, we are changing the body of the Earth in which every living thing finds a source of life.

For most of our species’ history we did not know that. But now we do recognize our impacts on the ecosystems that created the biosphere.

Caretta caretta’s plight to find a darkened beach points us toward a path we could take. If we turn off our lights, she might find a place to lay her eggs, her hatchlings a way back to the ocean, and for us a reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions.

It is rare for us to make these connections. Small though they seem, it is myriad of these that need correcting.

Global warming threatens our very existence. Since we are the cause of it, we can stop it. Doing so will correct our species’ relationship with so many others and begin to set things right again.

Caretta caretta’s story is mirrored in the stories of countless species feeling our footprint.

We must take up the cause for each of them where we live with the firm conviction that enhancement of life anywhere enhances life’s chance of survival everywhere.

Identify a small area of land or a nearby river and defend its integrity with your life.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song. It’s a symphony.

Oil Globs on Santa Rosa Island: It’s Here

The People of the Forward Stampede

Late this afternoon I drove to Santa Rosa Island, to the entrance of a seven-mile stretch of undeveloped barrier island, protected by the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore, one of our priceless U.S. National Parks. While there was a long stretch of beautiful beach, as I walked west toward the end of the island, I began to see oil – firsts dime-sized, then bottle-cap, then hand-sized: thick crude oil, pooled and hardened among shells and sea grasses on the high tide line. Adjacent to this pollution, black skimmers sailed by with their long lower jaw skimming in the shallow edge of the surf and Least Terns dive-bombed for small fish not far off shore. Surely they must be tasting and smelling this invasion of foreign substances. We can only guess what is happening to fish, corals, jellies, dolphins, plankton…I am so profoundly sad about this awful time when we are facing our ourselves –  our ways and wants. It is NOT a pretty picture.

Only a few days ago this was the image of this treasured coast at sunrise:

And to think we are risking this and our families health for a culture addicted to speed and consumption and which cannot function without an enormous and uninterrupted supply of oil. Will it be worth it when all this plays out? And, it will continue to playout over months and years and there will be other catastrophes like it where we have taken enormous risks as the People of the Forward Stampede.

They will all be impacted by the oil catastrophe and eventually it will reach to our children and us through our air, food, and spirit.