hail artemis, queen of winter!
hail to her, golden and silver,
hail to the chill of late-morning snow,
hail to the coming of the rosy dawn.
I tied together
a few slender reeds, cut
notches to breathe across and made
such music you stood
shock still and then
followed as I wandered growing
moment by moment
slant-eyes and shaggy, my feet
slamming over the rocks, growing
hard as horn, and there
you were behind me, drowning
in the music, letting
the silver clasps out of your hair,
hurrying, taking off
I can’t remember
where this happened but I think
it was late summer when everything
is full of fire and rounding to fruition
and whatever doesn’t,
must lie like a field of dark water under
the pulling moon,
tossing and tossing.
In the brutal elegance of cities
I have walked down
the halls of hotels
and heard this music behind
Do you think the heart
is accountable? Do you think the body
any more than a branch
of the honey locust tree,
hunching toward the sun,
shivering, when it feels
that good, into
Or do you think there is a kind
of music, a certain strand
that lights up the otherwise
blunt wilderness of the body –
and unaccountable selectivity?
Ah well, anyway, whether or not
it was late summer, or even
in our part of the world, it is all
only a dream, I did not
turn into the lithe goat god. Nor did you come running
Recently I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was recommended by a teacher in ethnobotany and edible and medicinal plants who I’ve taken a few classes from. Within a few chapters I understood why she praised the book so highly.
On some level many of us know that something is wrong. We know that the way we live isn’t sustainable–unfortunately “sustainable” has become a buzzword, ironically robbing it of meaning–and that we damage the Earth in ways that will take a long, long time to recover from…while meanwhile, the damage continues.
This is something that either bothers you or it doesn’t. If it does, Braiding Sweetgrass comes as close as anything I’ve read to laying out another path. Because everyone who agrees that there’s a problem is largely in agreement about what the problem is. It’s solving it that’s challenging: because, first, finding and articulating a vision of what that solution is, of what that other way looks like, is hard.
In general we have some notions about getting back to the land, about eating local and consuming less. These are generally good things to do because they help develop awareness of the bigger problem, the one that individual choices cannot solve because it is systemic.
Braiding Sweetgrass makes its case via the sciences of botany and ecology, the interdependencies of spirituality and religion, and the grief and passion of people who have seen their land ravaged and their way of life all but destroyed. It’s facile to observe that much of the argument for saving the planet is really about saving ourselves: the planet will continue to exist, probably even with life on it, long after our species has worn itself out.
Kimmerer, though, points out that in devouring our world, we are also devouring ourselves. I see it not only in industrial agriculture that produces more than we could ever use, then wastes it due to market forces; the determined glutting of markets for everything from oil to timber in pursuit of profit; but also in the grinding poverty from which people living in the richest country in the world cannot escape; the stress, anxiety, and rage within even those who by any standard are doing well; the rampant paranoia of a nation as unable to come to terms with its past as with its future.
Wild Gods is dedicated to living in partnership with the world that birthed us. This isn’t just a nice idea, but essential. Kimmerer herself asks the question: who will arrive at Hekate’s Crossroads first? Those who will save the world? Or those who will destroy it?
“All that effort, and it just takes one dog running through the shrubbery, or one group of people chatting as they push through a trail-free area, to disrupt the delicate nesting process that’s the culmination of weeks of effort, the future of that little family.”
We need to understand how delicately balanced an ecosystem is, the webs of relationships and balances that formed over thousands of years of fine-tuning and evolution. We need to know how much our actions can screw the entire system up, whether through introducing an invasive species or destroying habitat for one more golf course. We need to have our hands in the soil, watching the creek for the flash of a salamander’s belly, our eyes to the trees for the first sign of autumn’s flush of color. We need a personal relationship with non-human nature that doesn’t end with a perfectly manicured, chemical-treated lawn.
In Wild Gods we do not engage with our deities through worship only, but also through engagement with and understanding of the natural world. Even that “but also” suggests that these things are distinct, separable one from the other. But we do not exist at a time on this earth when we can afford to consider them so. Lupa explains why.