Thursday, 15 May 2014

Climate Change and the Arts: Mary Oliver

After a long silence on this subject, I'm returning to my musings on climate change and the arts. Something that's been preoccupying me is the feeling of belonging, or lack of belonging. Where is the home of the human? Often environmentalists can feel guilty simply for living - that they cannot live without causing some sort of harm. This might be living on a low income, and having to buy Aldi's cheapest, unorganic or air-freighted food (in its plastic packaging), or having to buy cheap clothes, or travel. We feel we shouldn't have children. We feel we part of a species that's got out of control, like wasps, rabbits or cane toads. Such thoughts are not great for one's sense of self worth.

Are guilt and fear good reasons to be an environmentalist? It's good to be honest about these things - the fear one feels. But for a movement to grow, to embrace all, it must have love at its centre. Humans are animals - just like other animals, we need a home, and a place to belong. How can one celebrate life, while being ashamed and apologetic about one's own life, with all its imperfection and the inevitable harm it causes?

This poem by Mary Oliver is a meditation on guilt, belonging, humans and our place in the natural world. For me it helps reforge the links between the human animal and other animals (and non-animal life).

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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