Of Plastic and Plasticity
Peering out over open water: green wash,
No spot of black to mark a seal, nor sight
Of white to indicate ice upon which to strike,
The bear turns about, towards dry land,
And trundles away from the shore,
Following a novel scent, not so sure
To signify a meal, but more appealing
Than sterile saline. The stench of humans
Almost overpowers hunger, pull of putrefaction,
But cautiously the bear pads across scraped
Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and
Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.
A sharp set of claws upturns tins and other
Things the bear has never seen, and finds skin,
Bones and shreds of flesh of prey never tasted:
Not even raw; changed in a way it can’t fathom.
Other animals abound – gulls and foxes and
Neighbour bears. But she fights for her share
Of the spread-out spoils of some unknown
Carnage, scavenging scraps of flesh amid debris,
Some of which is stuck with string, some
Clinging to wrappers – has to be eaten also –
But are surely shed easily enough
As would be ingested seal skin and bone.
Some men with glasses from a far observe
The animal with consternation, as it with
Relish ingests the refuse: Earth’s greatest
Quadruped predator reduced to such. But
Others shrug at suggestions of contamination,
Considering the data and the sea state –
Since even artic snow and summer rain contain
The same chemicals as the landfill, and
The seals are a dish equally intoxicating
From fish swimming in poisoned brine.
What use, they wonder, a pristine scene
Without seals within reach of a beach,
Other than to produce a perfectly clean
Bear carcass: healthy except for hunger?
The bear, on the other hand, now on land,
Is pulled by the wind past the dump, to
More varied carrion. Carcasses lie in woods:
Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;
Moving, the quarry could become new prey
Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.
The pinipeds themselves, if they are to survive,
Shall someday have to haul up on a shore to pup;
Walrus, too, must beach for calves to breach.
Eventually, perhaps, an adaptation to such crap
From our waste, awash in any water, solid or not,
They encounter, can give a chance for all species
To scarcely subsist somehow in a new balance.
But such hopes fast melt in plasticity’s absence.
Not the most up-beat of poems, but in some way a tiny bit optimistic for the predator if not species of large mammal facing the most precarious future of us all….
Those of you who follow me on Twitter, will have seen the photos I posted of the forest fire that burnt through the hills near the village n the Valdorba/San Martin de Unx area of Navarra where I stay on weekends outside Pamplona.
The fire came close, about a km away, but the wind thankfully shifted and it did not come up the other side of the valley towards us in the end, though we did have to evacuate officially after emptying the house of anything we wished to save – which for me only amounted to the spare medicines I keep here, one book from my large collection and a couple of jumpers with sentimental value. I did think it prudent to take 800 year old statue of the Virgin Mary out of the little church, just in case.
The fires here are not generally set by farmers looking to clear land, though they are sometimes caused by accidental sparks from machinery during harvesting. The extreme heat and extended drought made any spark potentially disastrous, and the high winds made fires spread almost unstoppably – there were several over that same weekend in the province.
The cause of this fire hasn’t been clarified, but the local farmers union are adamant that the underlying problem is the reduction in sheep grazing on the hillsides and the environmentalists push to leave the mountains to themselves rather than intensively manage them…
Well, I hadn’t been able to go up to see the aftereffects of the disaster until a few days ago – now a month after the event.
I cycled down to the valley to the village of Maquiriain which was close to being burnt, but was eventually also saved, up along the main road that was the final fire break, to a village at the head of the valley called, Olleta, and from there turned up to the top of the hill and then back along the tracks joining the windmills.
It was a long cycle, and hot – the tail end of another heat wave that passed over us the week before. In the interim there had been a storm or two, but mostly dry sunny days with the chilly north wind blowing as usual.
The most obvious thing is that the experiment of planting pine trees was a huge error, just like it is in many other areas of the world. The living trees left should be felled for timber or paper and native trees let grow – or be planted or seeded from local trees if necessary – instead.
The trees that burnt most were pines and those nearby suffered from the heat.
The densest stands of oak did not suffer so much and seemed to have protected one another (probably because of increased humidity within copses) and even some fields.
The huge snowfall we had in October didn’t seem to have dropped so many boughs in the area I saw as in trees around our village, so probably didn’t have a huge effect, but I did see that under the trees with fallen limbs there was more ash when the wood burnt, and the trees probably also suffered from more open canopy effects.
The juniper bushes burnt to crisps, as did a lot of box, and some other small shrubs I’d know the name of, though that has to include roses and brambles. These will regenerate, I suppose from seed, and some brambles are already coming up. The evergreen oaks are sprouting – from trunks that lost all their leaves and are only sticks, as well as those with shrivelled brown foliage.
Those with trunks too badly burnt have some sprouts from roots, and I suspect more will come with rains and patience for them to get to the surface.
The sheep or other grazers would have probably not had changed much at all. The grass would have been eaten before it burned, yes, but not the juniper and box, as even the horses don’t od much to stop it, so fire is actually the best way to reduce it, and the forest will benefit long term – if the climate change can be reduced in time to have any forest.
The farmers union and other lobby groups are sponsoring a story-telling event for the local kids: how to avoid causing fires in the future. One hopes it does not slant towards recounting legends and myths of the old days… when the mountain was not wild, but was more like a commons-like park or ranch.
Just to be clear, I am in favour of cattle on the hill, as I am the horses, but I wonder if the farmers union would agree that an underlying condition we need to deal with is reducing the CH4 levels from intensive cow production so as to reduce climate change leading to heat waves and forest fires of the future…
There are realities and there are coping mechanisms.
My six-year-old is a big nature fan. And I am faced with the task of explaining the fate of nature in addition to its wonder. And sometimes it’s too hard. Thus the poem.
Planting a Flag Upon the Shifting Baseline
Passing an afternoon in the local park
Beyond the playground with youngest
Child exploring our natural world around
Appears bare over and above weeded beds
The park hosts ducks and if lucky a few
Unseen moles given away their holes in
Tight mown lawns . The pond produces
Not a dragon nor damselfly these days;
Frogs do not call nor drop from Lilly pads.
Starlings must suffice for birdsong in
The absence of other sopranos. Sparrows
Tweet where warblers once had trilled.
Cherry blossoms bloom only for humans it
Seems: no bees now humming about branches.
But the sun still burns as the Earth turns,
And instead of telling tales of yore;
The beings which beautified our world before,
I plant my flag upon the shifting baseline
And allow my boy appreciate the birds and
Insects that are left: ants on the rocks,
Grasshoppers blending into the too-late left
Unmown blades; daisies and dandelions yet
Lovely even if aren’t orchids and goldfinches
No longer glorify the scene as they seek seeds.
The ducks are enough to look at despite there
Once being more dainty denizens in the reeds:
For thus we seize upon the joy we need,
The only hope for wonder left clinging
After the stupid, searing, sundering of greed.
The Enjoyment of Spring
February leaves light frost on the park grass,
But the birdsong cutting the chill silence belies
This skin of sparkling crystals; harkens from
Recently breakfasted birds animated to action
As the era of excitement approaches, already
Cold soil broken by budding narcissus prepared to
Perform their demure golden pouts and beside
The warming morning rays upon me shows
The strengthening sun will soon scatter the ice
And afternoon will even induce disrobing, thus
Dallying in sun-drenched dales.
Yet, still, I feel
Almost ill at enjoying these delightful days when
We know elsewhere gale forced storm surges
Swamp grasslands with salt, wind whip trunks
Down like twigs, just as most we need them
Growing. The mountain slopes are bare of snow:
Instead several fires on-going, and a bushel
Of other evils await.
Even here, these trees
Are leaving too soon; petals, peeping weakly
Into shape shall feed few bees this spring,
And we fear for their fruits come summer.
For the grass beneath the white seems damp,
But even the soil is dry, and blades soon scorched
As we wait for rains, disappeared more than delayed,
During a drought seeming set to last till March.
I wrote this poem after a pause in the park on the way to work, the same day I saw this video of the storm surge back in Ireland where they were hit by several named storms while our farmers in Spain were desperate for rain.
Well, another year’s over, and a new one, just about to be begun…
And what have we done?
Well, we hung on in there, I hope. It’s been pretty crappy. There has been a flood of shit news, and it’s not getting any better, nor will it anytime soon, if it ever does.
I know it’s not nice to think of depressing things this time of year, but after the floods in Pamplona (and then downstream in the days afterwards) a few weeks back, I wrote this poem….
I don’t hope you enjoy it, but do read it.
And watch Don’t Look Up while you are at it, this new year’s break.
It’s Only Getting Worse
The recent flood recedes from fields;
Ducks return to the river, magpies
Scan the sodden banks for stranded
Shells of drowned snails and worms
About the larger flotsam: scarves of
Polytunnel plastic wrapped round trees,
Piles of pallets and branches, miscellany.
The older bridges have weathered well,
While barrier walls and fences will
Have to be mended. The stench of
Fetid faecal matter mulched in mud
Hovers over the flood plain as men
Spray down streets, machines sweep
Up debris, sewers are pumped clean.
The greatest flow of water recorded,
The worst flood in living memory; but
Just another on a list occurring during
One news cycle – Bolivia got battered
And a mile-wide stream of tornadoes
Thrashed six US states, leaving deaths
In its wake as well as destruction of wealth.
And it’s never getting better, as a
Song says: the slippery slope we sang
About is beneath our soles now, and
We’ll slide ever faster, repeating wreckage,
Building back broken bridges, other
Constructions lasting less time until
The next deluge or other artificially-
Exacerbated natural disaster.
The things we counted on for
Christmas will be dependant on
Whatever’s already arrived: the
Shipping and chips yet pending
Slows supplies perhaps until a
Year passes, but the shortages
May last till we die; living again
With scarcity, like our ancestors
In times past we thought we’d
Superseded, but let ourselves slip
Up, back, due to too much greed.
So these scenes we’ve seen recently
Are those to keep upon our screens:
Fond memories of former times
When our world was right, and we
Never accepted the sun was setting
Till we saw nothing but dark night.
I know we have just too many things on our minds, and that it’s easier to stick to the day to day, but this is going to be our day to day soon enough if we don’t drag our so called leaders into the daylight.
They say you never know yourself if you’re going crazy… perhaps it seems those around you are tho ones who are really crazy.
We call this weather crazy, but aren’t we really the crazy ones for not recognising it for what it is, and indeed really basically fucking batshit crazy for letting it happen without doing anything useful to stop or slow it, and in fact being the cause of it all…. and all the time knowing that it’s going to come back and not just bite us on the arse, but beat the shit out of us, till any sense we have left will be knocked out of us.
The Reaping of Disdain
Pink blossoms add extra beauty
To an autumnal almond tree:
Orange and auburn leaves left
Before falling with the frost
At least formally expected
If it arrives as it did normally in
Sun and clear sky
Seem apt background to marvel
At young walnuts dotted on a
Bare-leaved tree, wondering if we
Will get a second harvest this year.
Like the oilmen grinning as the
Ice melts for their machines to
Begin drilling without awaiting
We reap the short-term
Gains until the true harvest of
Our disdain, ignorance, apathy
Ripens in silent screaming of
Ecosystems stretched to snapping.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, when the weather was colder – now it looks like we’re far from having a white Christmas.
But we can still enjoy the simple things, even if it is only by ignoring the difficulties awaiting us in the new year and beyond.
Silence before the Squall
Snow falls past pine trunks
Like solidified silence: almost
An extension of dawn’s tranquillity
Before squalls scream across canopy
Sending flakes flurrying down
To pale box and holly’s leaves.
As hours slowly pass, and white quietly
Deepens, the wind weakens and settles
Like drifts. Then, as evening stretches,
A strip of cloud opens to allow sunlight
Illuminate the scene before twilight,
Suffusing with diffuse golden radiance
The shifting mists along the ridges, red
Shrouding windmills. Imbuing soft sunset
With orange fire across the ice instead
Of another storm sending us scarpering
Inside to hide, it seems such gentle
Splendour shows us the scenes
Awaiting us after all our playing, and
For all our attempting to prepare
For her vagaries, in the end, we will
Flit like flakes upon her wind, for
We are but Nature’s playthings.
Happy Christmas everyone!
For those looking for a quiet read, or a nice E-reader gift, check out my books….
Some of them are on sale with Smashwords from today!
How quickly it comes, now, this thing called spring:
Crocuses suddenly splatter bank in violet and blue
Blackbirds burst out with twilight tunes as
Bats trawl back and forth for rising flies proving
This apparent death of winter weather is true.
Considering I was sledding in a village near where this photo was taken yesterday on this very day last year, I only hope a blast of snow doesn’t kill the flowers unfolding, nor catch the bats too early out of hibernation.
I wrote a blog post – a poem, really – about watching the planet from a distance. We sometimes think that what we have around us is of utmost importance, but it’s probably not, it’s just a jot in time.
Well, as I read the book, Against the Grain, and I see that civilisations fall almost as often as they spring up from the sweat of their subjects. I am feeling less attached to this one we are currently living in.
The history of our planet is basically people doing bad things to other people and species to keep themselves in the lap of luxury if at all possible.
The last century is an anomaly in giving any power (superficial though of course it is) to the common man (or woman, if she’s really lucky.)
If we see all the stuff written about past civilisations, all dug up from the ruins, often when those now living in those places have no idea about them, no memory, no stories, just some stones they might have found and used as foundations for their own houses, we see how fragile, how faint is the mark of these societies, really. They disappeared most of the time.
So what if we disappear too?
In the past, the people subjugated by these states didn’t all die – many or most escaped back to a former type of life, and were probably happier for it, definitely better off in terms of diet and health. So why lament the demise of the rulers?
I live in this world, of course. I am dependent upon it. If it were all to disappear tomorrow – as I said back on New Years Eve 1999, when we wondered if the Year 2000 bug would stop the world – then I’d be dead in a matter of months. I can’t just walk away from the status quo, go and grow beans and catch animals. I am attached to the technology for life, and though I teach my children about wildlife which might help them when the cities are destroyed, my daughter is equally diabetic and unless I learn how to distil insulin from dead deer and rabbits, we’ll be as dead as anyone else when the disaster hits.
But people will survive.
Some will walk away, south or north where the weather is better. Humanity will continue, just as it did after the collapse of other societies. Some people will remember how to live outside the shelter of our cities and society. Apart from the plastic everywhere, this small snapshot of history will become as forgotten as the rest.
Our descendants, if we have them, will build their cities on top of ours, like we have on others, so our buildings will be discovered accidentally some day like we find the remains of the Roman walls and medieval castles when we dig out subterranean car parks.
The beech trees will survive, shifting north and south, possibly all the way to Antarctica, where they once grew before during a time when the world had a similar atmospheric CO2level to today. Most of the other plants will probably struggle on, too, though much of the fauna will die out, to be replaced eventually in time by other species.
It’s a real fucking pity, a goddam waste, that we allow this to happen. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, to quote some fuckwit from the annals of insurance fraud. The age of stupid, like the documentary.
We could keep the world looking the way we want it if we move our asses.
To allow it to change from how it suits us is like letting the house burn down because you’re too lazy to pick up a fire extinguisher.
I remember visiting Niagara Falls years ago, and being told that the quantity of water allowed to flow is much reduced not just to produce electricity, but to ensure that erosion doesn’t move the falls upstream – which would mean having to move the viewing platforms from where they are now. And that would be silly.
If that kind of sense was applied to our current problems, we would see a lot more action on the climate change front.
Our society might have a sea-change in our economic activities, but it will be unnoticeable on a grand scale, just like the difference between agriculture in England growing turnips in the 18thcentury is indistinguishable from growing grain in Egypt two thousand years ago.
But moving London, Alexandria, Miami and all those other seaside towns kilometres inland will be a major change that will be seen clearly in the archaeological record of our planet.
And because we won’t be around to explain it, they’ll be confused as fuck as to how stupid we were. Stupider than Easter Islanders.