Things With Feathers: Bringing things back

Hello, dear readers.

So it’s been an intense few weeks! For me, personally, I had a series of deeply unpleasant emotional events, followed shortly by some truly wonderful (but also intense) new spiritual understandings, which collided quite spectacularly just a few days before the election. So that was fun timing. I also started taking an incredible permaculture course, which is full of brilliant people who want to improve the state of our cities and landscapes, and I cannot wait to see how that unfolds (I hope to share some of that here, too). So with all that, my head has hardly had time to stop spinning so that I can process everything. I’m really exhausted, excited to see how the things I’ve been learning will play out, and also terrified about the kind of world they will be playing out in.

I have also been heartened to see the way people are coming together, reaching out to one another, and speaking out against oppression, from my friends and family to state and city governments – and to keep reading news about progress that has already been made.

I don’t post these things to say “gosh don’t look at the bad things, don’t be so ~negative~” but as reminders that things are not all bad, that progress has been made and will be made, to remind myself (and you!) of a tiny sampling of things that are good in the world, that we are working to preserve and improve – and to provide a break from focusing on those things that are exhausting and terrible. It is so important to give yourself time to rest and enjoy something; our minds and emotions and bodies need breaks from stress. I do not want to lose any of you to despair at the immensity of the truly terrible things we are facing.

So! I’ve been filing away a bunch of positive stories to share.

But before I move on to those, here are links to two other essays I’ve written that seem appropriate to bring up again. One is “Life Support Systems,” about hope, joy, and love as forms of resistance and sources of resilience.

Joy is life affirming.

The other is “Why Hope?” – about the value not of “wishful thinking,” but the hope that comes from reminding ourselves of previous victories, and the serious necessity of doing that.

. . . Feeling problems are overwhelming and vast, and no solution has been come up with, creates despair and depression, states in which people feel like taking action is pointless; therefore, remembering similar efforts that have succeeded – and sharing those memories – is a vital antidote to that despair, which provides impetus (hope) to keep going and working towards the specific as-yet unachieved goals.

And now onward to the good news! Here are some things to celebrate, to find joy and new energy in.

From the “Even Walls Fall Down” department:

Taking Down Dams and Letting the Fish Flow. I’ve written previously about the removal of the dams on the Elwha River in Washington; this is about the removal of two of three dams on the Penobscot River in Maine. First erected in the 1830s, they caused populations of migratory fish to nearly collapse. Two of those dams were removed in 2012 and 2013, and despite the massive loss of population and blockage of close to two centuries, the fish are returning in impressive numbers. Along with the fish, of course, come other species, including osprey, eagles, and many less noticeable species. Even wild systems that look severely degraded can turn out to be very resilient.

From the “Rebuilding it Better” department:

Kansas Town Decimated by Tornado Now Runs on 100% Renewable Energy, Should Be Model for Frack-Happy State. In 2007, the town of Greensburg, Kansas, population 1,500, was leveled by an E-5 tornado. Half its population left permanently, but the town has rebuilt itself – and rebuilt itself as a city fully powered by renewable energy sources (Kansas is very rich in wind, for one). Further, the city provides “curbside recycling and conserves water with low flow fixtures and collects rainwater for irrigation and grey water in toilets,” making them a model for other cities to follow.

And closing with two items from the “Cute Animals” department:

Resurrected From Dead, Oryx Returns to the Wild. Thirty years after being driven to extinction in the wild, a small herd of scimitar-horned oryx – the successful results of a captive breeding program – has been released to their native land in Chad. The people behind this program hope to release 500 oryx over the next five years, to create a self-sustaining wild population that will also help restore the ecosystem they live in.
A group of scimitar oryx at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, Great Britain
A group of scimitar oryx at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, Great Britain. From Wikipedia; photo by “The Land” CC BY-SA 3.0
Via birdhism on Facebook: The world’s fastest parrot lives in Australia, and is critically endangered. Habitat destruction was part of the problem, but then people learned the population was also being heavily decimated by a predator: the sugar glider. However, the swift parrot is now “having breeding success on Bruny Island where they are free from their introduced predator, the sugar glider.” A campaign to raise money to install nesting boxes for the birds, combined with arborists carving little hollows for them into trees, has helped the birds raise new families by providing ample nesting spaces in the predator-free forest (source).
Swift parrot baby, via birdhism's Facebook page
Swift parrot baby, via birdhism’s Facebook page
 May your days ahead be filled with similar successes.

Fjothr Lokakvan

fyothrFjothr is an environmentalist, Lokean, and bioregional animist living in Cascadia, with a great many Norse Giants present in her life. Her spiritual practices are focused on her relationship with her primary god and building relationships with the local Powers and place. She keeps houseplants, spends almost too much time on Tumblr, and is inordinately fond of birds. She also writes at Rebalancing Acts and is on the board of Gods&Radicals


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Lost Watercourses and Resacredization

The watercourses of my local landscape were once considered very sacred. The river Ribble was venerated by the Romano-British people as Belisama ‘Most Shining One’ ‘Most Mighty One’. The boundaries of the settlements of Penwortham and Preston were defined by freely flowing streams whose deities would have been regarded as powerful guardian spirits.

Life depended on clean, pure water drawn from wells rising from underground sources. Rows of women queued on Petticoat Alley to collect their morning’s fill. Many wells possessed miraculous and healing properties. Ladywell and St Mary’s Well were important sites of pilgrimage. Mineral springs on New Hall Lane were renowned for curing eye ailments.

The brooks that form the perimeters of Penwortham can still be walked. However not a single glimpse of fresh free flowing water can be seen in Preston anymore. Every water course has been culverted. They can be traced by following signs: Syke Hill, Syke Street, Moor Brook and walking dips and shallows in roads and parks. Put your ear to the drain on Main Sprit Weind after a night of heavy rain and the river Syke can be heard. They’re still there; vegetationless, fishless in gloomy grey tunnels that may never again see the light of day. Their deities forgotten. Unrevered.

All the wells have vanished. Ladywell lies under the car park of the Brunel student halls. I doubt a single student knows of the well for which their flats were named. The springs on New Hall Lane are built over by houses. St Mary’s Well in Penwortham possesses the most tragic story of all. During the creation of Riversway Dockland the Ribble was moved from her natural course to beside Castle Hill. During this process a breach in the sandstone bedrock shattered the hill’s aquifer. St Mary’s Well and the nearby St Anne’s Well both dried up.

This must have been a cataclysmic event for the local people, some of whom walked a mile from Middleforth every day to collect water from St Mary’s Well. Their sacred site was lost forever. If there was outcry and talk of omens not a single record remains. What we do know is piped water arrived soon afterward at a hefty fee. St Mary’s Well was buried when the A59 was widened and its site is only recognised on old maps.

The stories of the disappearance of these rivers, streams and wells form a damning reflection on the way we treat our sacred landscapes. Whilst in the south of England a good number of ‘heritage sites’ have been preserved, in the heavily industrialised north there are few places of sacred or even historic interest undestroyed. A prime example is a Roman industrial site in Walton-le-dale equivalent to a major tourist attraction on the Rhine. Our local developers decided this would make a good location for a bowling alley.

The destruction of sacred places results from capitalism’s commodification of the whole of nature. Nothing is holy. Nothing lies outside its discourse. This puts it at loggerheads with paganism, which is based on the assumption all of nature is sacred. This raises the question: what can be done to win back the sanctity of nature from capitalism’s commodifying grasp?

It is my belief each time we affirm our relationship with the sacred we also defy capitalism. We give value to what cannot be commodified. For me the choice to learn the stories of my local landscape, my gods and ancestors and share them in my communities instead of following a ‘proper’ career path is a political choice.

The stories of what we have lost illustrate the value of what we have. And how much we will lose if fracking is allowed across the UK along with the continuous development of roads and properties.

Are stories enough to bring about material change? To bring down the system? It is my belief each realisation and action it inspires helps. Each recognition of the sacred. Each turn away from consumerism.

It has taken capitalism centuries to develop (the term ‘capitale’ was first used in the 12th C). It may take centuries to bring it down. Yet as the lost watercourses slowly eat their way through concrete, groping their way to a land of sunlight of vegetation we must retain our focus. Ensure that by future generations their emergence is welcomed back with reverence into a world resacredized.


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Proud of Preston

Belisama:

Proud of Preston heed my entry
Hear the voice of ancient memories
Hearts purloined by Roman sentries
Like a river shining bright.

Proud of Preston born free traders
Made by commerce and hard labour
Merchants gilded artists favored
Like the Brigantes warred in tribes.

Mechanics shift the scene of battle
Raise the red brick smog industrial
Cording hearts like twisted material
On the wheels of the cotton lords.

Step the Chartists to the engines
Pull the plugs release the tension
The rioters face the sentries
Dye the river dark with blood.

Grey arise the business faceless
Fake fulfillment for the faithless
Mass the market for the tasteless
Selling life for capital.

High in the stone fortress
The sentries hold their rule
Beyond the mall and office
Do you hear a river call?

Proud of Preston I have carved you
In my sweeping spirit formed you
Through your veins floods dazzling water
My Setantii shining bright.

Will you hearken to my entry
Drown false dreams in ancient memories
Will the proud of Preston
Like a shining river rise?

*Belisama is the goddess of the river Ribble, which forms the southern boundary of the city of Preston, Lancashire in northern England. Her name is Gallo-Brythonic and means ‘Most Shining One’ or ‘Most Mighty One’.

**Chartism was a movement that aimed to bring about social reform by winning the vote for working men. After the House of Commons rejected the People’s Charter for the second time in 1842 protestors stormed across Lancashire pulling plugs from steam engines and turning out workers from the factories. On ‘Black Saturday’ policemen opened fire on rioters in Lune Street. Four men were killed and three badly wounded. ‘The Preston Martyrs’ Memorial’ (1992) commemorates their deaths.

***In 2012 this poem won the first Preston Guild Poetry Competition. Preston Guild is celebrated every twenty years. It was an amazing achievement to have been gifted these words by my local river goddess and to have them recognised for longevity. I would like to hope Belisama’s call to the city’s people will be remembered for many centuries to come.