Dougald Hine, Dark Mountain’s co-founder, in a recent post discusses how several writers associated with the Dark Mountain Project have found their work spread throughout the internet, more so than in the recent past, perhaps as a result of the increasing disintegration of the bedrock of old stories that are no longer integral to the way the world looks today.
As the Dark Mountain Project moves forward into a new phase, Hine reminds us that a journey into the liminal may be a key to discover or re-discover within ourselves and our communities the dangerous change needed to face the challenges.
“Art can hold a space in which we move from the arm’s-length knowledge of facts, figures and projections, to the kind of knowledge that we let inside us, taking the risk that it may change us. Art can give us just enough beauty to stay with the darkness, rather than flee or shut down. Like the bronze shield given to Perseus by Athena, art and its indirect ways of knowing can allow us to approach realities which, if looked at directly, turn something inside us to stone…Art can teach us to live with uncertainty, to let go of our dreams of control. And art can hold open a space of ambiguity, refusing the binary choices with which we are often presented – not least, the choice between forced optimism and simple despair.
These are strange answers. For anyone in search of solutions, they will sound unsatisfying. But I don’t think it’s possible to endure the knowledge of the crises we face, unless you are able to draw on this other kind of knowledge and practice, whether you find it in art or religion or any other domain in which people have taken the liminal seriously, generation after generation. Because the role of ritual is not just to get you into the liminal, but to give you a chance of finding your way back.
Among the messages of the liminal is that endings are also beginnings, that sometimes we need to ‘give up’, that despair is not a thing to be avoided at all costs – nor a thing to be mistaken for an end state.”
Please read his entire post here which includes links to some of the recent writings mentioned previously.
“There are always individuals who are a little too sensitive to spend all their time hanging around other humans, because they pick up too much from nervous systems that are the same shape as themselves. If someone depressed walks in the room, they find themselves getting depressed, and if someone happy walks in they’re immediately joyous. They’re too easily influenced by other humans, and yet their sensitivity is just right for entering into a rapport with a very different shape of awareness, with an owl, for instance, or an oak tree, or an ant.
These particularly sensitive folks tend to gravitate quite naturally to the edge of any traditional culture, where with one hand they can turn toward the human collective, but with the other they are open to the whole field of other-than-human powers. They become the intermediaries between the culture and the living land.
I think that every culture worthy of the name recognizes the need for such folks. These persons are the boundary keepers, those who tend the boundary between the human community and the wild, more-than-human world in which human culture is embedded. Their craft or work is to keep that boundary porous, to ensure that it remains a fluid membrane and doesn’t harden into a static barrier.”
“When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections or political arrangements between human nations, and which should put those events into deep perspective. I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world’s wildlife has gone, and half the world’s forests, and half the world’s topsoil. I see that we have perhaps two generations of food left before we wear out the rest of that topsoil. I see 10 billion people needing to be fed. I see the highest concentration of carbon in the atmosphere since humans evolved. I see coming waves of political and cultural turmoil resulting from all of this, which makes me fear for my children, and sometimes for myself.
Our stories are cracking: the things we have pretended to believe about the world have turned out not to be true…In such times, we write to make sense of things, and to examine our stories in their proper perspective. We write new stories because the old ones are half-dead now.
I think we could make a case that most of the world’s great religions, philosophies, artforms, even political systems and ideologies were initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that: sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility: it is a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edges of things brought ideas and understandings from the forest back in to the kingdom which the kingdom could not generate by itself.”
“I’m really interested in the landscape of the mythology and the mythology of the landscape. That’s where I get curious. And so for the last twenty years I’ve been taking people up out into the few remaining wild places in Britain. And also that led to a certain curiosity into where does wildness still reside in language itself. Could there be places within stanzas within stories within poems where old gods still reside. And so quite naturally I’ve been brought back into story as a way of articulating wild information, information from the edges.
For me a compelling story is when you feel a variety of intelligences at play. And I would go so far as to suggest that culturally for thousands of years, stories in their fullness in their efficacy were a form of negotiation with weather patterns, with the movement of the hunt, with the dreams of the people, with the bones of the dead, with the future memory of those to come. All of that was present in the story, which can be told as simply as ‘Once upon a time, there was a woman at the edge of a great forest.’ But make no mistake, some of the most incredible thinking of our age is transmitted through stories.”
(All Photographs by Jerry Uelsmann)
The Winter Solstice may be a solitary event
Roamer of the Subterranean Forest
or a gathering to tell new tales
‘The Telling’ from Feb 2013
May the coming light bring you comfort and courage
(As for me, tonight I’ll be standing near the edge of the trees)
The Place Where You Go To Listen
“Songs are thoughts which are sung out with the breath when people let themselves be moved by a great force, and ordinary speech no longer suffices.
When the words that we need shoot up of themselves, we have a new song.”
— Orpingalik, a Netsilik elder
“They say that she heard things…
At Naalagiagvik, The Place Where You Go To Listen, she would sit alone, in stillness. The wind across the tundra and the little waves lapping on the shore told her secrets. Birds passing overhead spoke to her in strange tongues.
She listened. And she heard. But she rarely spoke of these things. She did not question them. This is the way it is for one who listens.
She spent many days and nights alone, poised with the deep patience of the hunter, her ears and her body attuned to everything around her. Before the wind and the great sea, she took for herself this discipline: always to listen.
She listened for the sound, like drums, of the earth stirring in ancient sleep. She listened for the sound, like stone rain, as rivers of caribou flooded the great plain. She listened, in autumn, for the echo of the call of the last white swan.
She understood the languages of birds. In time, she learned the quiet words of the plants. Closing her eyes, she heard small voices whispering:
“I am uqpik. I am river willow. I am here.”
“I am asiaq. I am blueberry. I am here.”
The wind brought to her the voices of her ancestors, the old ones, who taught that true wisdom lives far from humankind, deep in the great loneliness.
As she traveled, she listened to the voices of the land, voices speaking the name of each place, carrying the memories of those who live here now and those who have gone.
As she listened, she came to hear the breath of each place — how the snow falls here, how the ice melts–how, when everything is still — the air breathes. The drums of her ears throbbed with the heartbeat of this place, a particular rhythm that can be heard in no other place.
Often, she remembered the teaching of an old shaman, who spoke of silam inua — the inhabiting spirit, the voice of the universe. Silam inua speaks not through ordinary words, but through fire and ice, sunshine and calm seas, the howling of wolves, and the innocence of children, who understand nothing.
In her mind, she heard the words of the shaman, who said of silam inua: “All we know is that it has a gentle voice like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children cannot be afraid”.
The heart of winter: She is listening.
Darkness envelopes her — heavy, luminous with aurora. The mountains, in silhouette, stand silent. There is no wind.
The frozen air is transparent, smooth and brittle; it rings like a knifeblade against bone. The sound of her breath, as it freezes, is a soft murmuring, like cloth on cloth.
The muffled wingbeats of a snowy owl rise and fall, reverberating down long corridors of dream, deep into the earth.
She stands, motionless, listening to the resonant stillness. Then, slowly, she draws a new breath. In a voice not her own, yet somehow strangely familiar, she begins to sing…”
Alex Ross in the New Yorker regarding John Luther Adam’s 2013 premiere of ‘Become Ocean’,
“The title comes from lines that John Cage wrote in tribute to the music of his colleague Lou Harrison: “Listening to it we become ocean.” There are also environmental implications, as Adams indicates in a brief, bleak note in the score: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”
Adams asks the question in the above video, activism or art? – a question that is fleshed out in the explorations of The Dark Mountain Project – A collection of activists, artists, poets, writers, scientists, and others who are trying to discover a new narrative to carry society forward into an unknown future.
Jeppe Graugaard in his latest post on the Dark Mountain blog begins with this quote
‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening. Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small.’
Graugaard interviews Bernie Krause, author of ‘The Great Animal Orchestra‘ whose work he says
“is an intriguing exploration of biophonies as a wellspring of human culture and a potential source for redefining our relationship with the natural world. Krause believes that ‘biophonies contain the acoustic compass we need to guide us along the route of an ever-challenged planet’, and that listening to what is going on in habitats across the planet can help us map out a viable course into an uncertain future.”
Krause believes we are culturally illiterate, in the sense that we are illiterate of the so-called natural world.
“Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, posits that as we lose access to wild habitats and thus our connection to the natural world, we become impaired with what he has identified as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, a type of infirmity that introduces debilitating kinds of physical and emotional tension into our lives. I, too, have found that in my life, especially with the incredible rate of loss of wild soundscapes. As we hear them we’re endowed with a sense of place – the true story of the world in which we live. With their loss the health of every contiguous biome as well as our own sense of well-being is affected in complex ways since it implies a conditional change for almost all the living organisms that inhabit it whether human or Other.
It also occurs to me that the loss isn’t happening in a time frame that we’ve learned to accept. It unfurls way too slowly for us to get it. And we’re challenged when it comes to a sense of overview – seeing the whole picture – sometimes referred to as seeing the forest for the trees. You know, in the common media we are dealing with four frame cuts – the minimum instant in which most of us are capable of getting any information from sonic or visual cues. The problem is further exacerbated because we’re distracted by so many other things. So these cultures, languages, soundscapes disappear before our eyes but our minds can’t comprehend the staggering loss because we’re asynchronous with the timing of life itself. We’re further impeded because we live in such a state of disbelief and denial. Therein lies the core of our illiteracy.”
Krause goes on to explain how economic and corporate ‘progress’ has sped up the debilitating loss of the natural habitat of so much of the planet. With the disappearance of the interwoven sound that emerges from the layers of communication that build upon different species – from insect to amphibian to mammal – the music that the world expresses is forever lost. The quality of life diminishes and the only way it can be experienced is through an artificial and ersatz expression of wilderness.
Here is an exercise. Listen to the audio samples on the Wild Sanctuary website and pay attention to how it makes you feel. This is an example of the music we have lost and are losing.
In the Ted Talk below, Bernie Krause’s account of what happened in Lincoln Meadow, reveals what happens to the complexity of an environment if even seeming small changes occur. As Krause says, “A sense of place is the true story of the world we live in.”
Charlotte du Cann in writing about the most recent and last of its kind Uncivilization festival, touches on ideas that echo inside me, touching something that longs for the same level of purposefulness. I do not want to follow in her footsteps but her story as someone who walked away and found an old/new way to be in this world is like a beacon. She is a way-shower. Her words are like a battle-cry, to those who attended and to those of us excited by the possibility of navigating in the dark. She speaks of writers here but I also take it to mean any creative expression. The following are brief excerpts (Bold emphases mine)
“To navigate the wild world, and to navigate the realms of the imagination means you can’t stay in the tight blinkered form society has trained you to live in. You need to break out and move in all directions in space and time: up into the realm of sky, into the underworld, from the left to the right hemisphere of the brain, back into the past, forward into the future. Writers learn by their art to make these shifts. They know it is not enough to experience phenomena, what you see in the dark has to be brought into the light and articulated, grounded in our everyday lives. That’s the work. It is our function as creative beings to give words to everything we see.”
“Writers bridge time by placing events in a circle, rather than a straight line. That’s when you realise, whatever you are doing now has happened before and it’s time to make your liberating move. Time and transformation are the deep mysteries of the earth, which is why the Empire hates the changing nature of the breathing planet, and all who follow its wild contours. It wants to keep its ancient timeless grip on life.”
“What is the fabric that holds us together and yet does not bind us?
…Mostly it’s a culture at a crossroads, caught in a paradox: because it knows nothing in its reasoning mind, and yet knows everything in its heart and bones and sinews, of how things need to be. Knows that at this point not to give your gift, your words, your song, your presence in the space, feels like a betrayal. A culture that does not disappear into its mind or become mute in the face of everything falling apart, including the story of the person you once were. A culture that puts itself on the line and does not go to sleep, though the lullaby of Empire entices us to forget ourselves at every turn“.
“That’s how a network works. It is invisibly connected through the powerful memory of the heart. Everything we experienced is within us, as we inch our way down the mountain, feeling the unknown territory with our bare feet, the roughness of the stone in our hands, moonbeams spiralling through the trees. That’s what I came to say: a people who see in the dark are a people on their way home.”
“I’m not sure I told you around the fire when I was dancing, when I was running from place to place, when I was standing outside in the rain, watching your faces, sitting beside you at that stream, but I can say it now. Now I’m not rehearsing.”
“The story starts at the end of everything.”
Read the rest of her amazing post here
The Uncivilisation festival is organized by The Dark Mountain Project, “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself, [Who] see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unraveling, and [who] want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.”
At this year’s Uncivilisation festival Andreas Kornevall is supervising the building of a ‘Life Cairn‘ modeled on the one pictured here that he and Peter Owen Jones started in 2011. (from the FB page) “A Life Cairn is raised in recognition and honour for all the species of flora and fauna – mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, crustaceans, arachnids, trees, lichens and plants of all kinds, that have been rendered extinct at human hands.” The Life Cairn is a sibling to Joanna Macy’s Cairn of Mourning, part of her practice called ‘Honoring our Pain for the World’ from her Work that Reconnects.
Macy’s work teaches that the process of waking up to the reality we face is a spiral that takes us through 4 stages – and that it can be a one time experience or an ongoing one that we continually move through. Gratitude, Honoring our pain, Seeing with new eyes, and Going forth are the stages for the work.
Mourning is part of acknowledging our pain. Uncertainty is now the horizon line for an ever increasing part of the human community, especially those of us who have been immune and sheltered from much of the chaos and destruction that we have been ignorant of or have refused to acknowledge. This uncertainty and the destruction of the world are in fact intertwined as the reality we thought we once knew is unraveling. The second step toward waking up may be just to acknowledge that there is something to be mourned. There is something lost that cannot be retrieved. It might be our view of the world or our place in it. There is a wild part of us that has died along with the other wild things that are no longer here. As Andreas writes, “The wild is caught in a fireblaze, the flames seem too high to stop. If we cannot grieve for all that is being lost in the wild, then it was never loved.”
Rima Staines captures this feeling succinctly with her cover art for the ‘From the Mourning of the World’ LP, A Dark Mountain music project.
She writes that the world mourns and, “from her tears grows music: music to wail and sing out and bow and strum and beat out the thrum of our griefs. And from the music grow green leaves, spiraling their new life from the alchemy of tears.”
Through these tears will we grow fresh eyes? What world will those eyes envision, within us and without? There will be many hard questions to come.