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The Woman Who Saved the Hawks: Redeeming an Overlooked Pioneer of Conservation

The story of the countercultural courage and persistence that shaped the modern ecological conscience.

The Woman Who Saved the Hawks: Redeeming an Overlooked Pioneer of Conservation

It is 1928 and you are walking in Central Park, saxophone and wren song in the April air, when you spot her beneath the colossal leafing elm with her binoculars. You mistake her for another pearled Upper East Side lady who has taken to birding in the privileged boredom of her middle age. And who could blame you? In some obvious ways — polished and traveled, born into a wealthy New York family to a British father whose first cousin was Charles Dickens — she bears the markings. In some invisible ways — in the strata of personhood that our unchosen surfaces and accidents of birth are apt to conceal and shortchange — she is anything but.

Within a quarter century — a span in which she would change the course of culture and the vitality of nature for centuries to come — she would be celebrated on the pages of the nation’s most esteemed cultural journal as “the only honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation.” Those whom she held uncomfortably accountable would deride her as “a very hot potato” and a “common scold” — but that accountability would revolutionize policies and mindsets. She would become things the words for which — words all of us now live with, for things many of us are living — did not yet exist in the popular lexicon: dissident, activist, citizen scientist.

Rosalie Edge by textile artist Leotie Richards from her American Folk Heroes quilt portrait series.

Rosalie Edge (November 3, 1877–November 30, 1962) was well into her fifties when she became invested in the plight of birds after reading about the slaughter of 70,000 bald eagles in Alaska. She would later write:

Thousands of people who had within them a yearning toward nature, a deep-seated need to preserve its beauty, had been in very truth asleep. I know, for I was one of them.

Until that point, her fierce wakefulness to justice had been channeled toward the plight of half of her own species, which culminated with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But the multigenerational triumph left Edge — who had spent years composing pamphlets, delivering speeches, and serving as secretary-treasurer of the New York State chapter of the Woman Suffrage Party — with the postpartum hollowing of spirit that follows the completion of any project into which one has poured all of oneself.

But a person of passion and brilliance is never bored for long.

One night while traveling in Europe with her family, Edge found herself reading and rereading a sixteen-page pamphlet — the era’s primary whistleblowing medium — titled “A Crisis in Conservation.” It exposed the ties the nation’s network of Audubon Societies had to gun and ammunition makers and the consequent withholding of protection from species hunters considered pests or targets — including the bird, which this very nation had taken for its symbol and spirit animal: the North American bald eagle.

Edge’s family summoned her for dinner, but she kept pacing the room in fiery disbelief, later recalling:

For what to me were dinner and the boulevards of Paris when my mind was filled with the tragedy of beautiful birds, disappearing through the neglect and indifference of those who had at their disposal wealth beyond avarice with which these creatures might be saved?

As soon as she returned to America, still thinking about the eagles, Edge turned her wakeful intellect and indomitable passion for justice toward the broader fate of feathered beings in the hands of the thumbed.

Eagle-owl from The Royal Natural History, 1893. (Available as a print and as a face mask, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

On the eve of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Rosalie Edge, in her dress and her greying bun, walked across Central Park to the twenty-fifth annual gathering of the National Association of Audubon Societies. There, she calmly rose from the back to hold its leaders accountable for the practices revealed by the pamphlet. After a stunned silence, various men in power took turns with defensive stabs at her credibility, then derided the rhetorical style of the pamphlet without addressing its substance.

To Edge, this was only evidence that something was amiss, that she must persist until it is righted.

And so she did. Over the years that followed, Rosalie Edge “stood up very often,” as she later recalled. After seeing a photograph of hundreds of dead hawks neatly lined up on the Appalachian forest floor, she traveled to Eastern Pennsylvania to witness the barbaric tradition that had occasioned the horror: recreational hunters gathering every autumn to shoot thousands of migrating hawks, having stalked out the perfect summit from which to intercept the migration path and perform the mass slaughter.

Haws killed near Kempton, Pennsylvania. (Photograph: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary)

Realizing that cruelty of such scale and such tradition required a solution just as grand, Edge had no qualms about using her privilege as an instrument of justice: She set out to buy the mountain.

In 1934, she borrowed $500 from Willard Gibbs Van Name (not that Willard Gibbs; the American Museum of Natural History zoologist who had first awakened her passion for conservation and with whom she had founded the Emergency Conservation Committee two years earlier), signed a two-year lease with the option of eventually buying the 1,400-acre wilderness for $3,000, and hired two wardens — an ornithologically ardent couple from New England — to keep hunters away. And so Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was born. Rosalie Edge was fifty-seven.

Rosalie Edge shortly after the founding of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. (Photograph: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.)

Within a single migration cycle, hawk populations improved dramatically. The sanctuary became a pioneering model of conservation, replicated by other conservationists in other habitats to protect other species. Nearly a century later, it is the world’s most active site of raptor conservation and observation.

For the remaining two decades of her life, Rosalie Edge went on to become one of the most vocal, visible, and effective champions of conservation, inspiring the founding of The Nature Conservancy, The Environmental Defense Fund, and The Wilderness Society; inspiring generations of ordinary citizens with her ethos that the protection of nature is not something to be awaited from above but a basic civic duty for each of us, echoing her contemporary and kindred spirit Eleanor Roosevelt’s insistence on the power of personal responsibility in social change.

Rosalie Edge in her late years. (Photograph: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary)

The New York Times never honored the city’s most ecologically impactful daughter with an obituary, not even in their wonderfully redemptive and honorable series of post-posthumous obituaries of brilliant overlooked women. In Rosalie Edge’s lifetime, the paper’s sole headline containing her name — printed the year Olympic National Park was created largely thanks to the nationwide grassroots campaign Edge had spearheaded — hovers over a two-sentence report of a shoulder fracture that Edge, “known for establishing a mountain sanctuary for predatory birds,” had suffered upon slipping at a dance party. But she is redeemed at long last as one of the conservation heroes profiled and celebrated in Michelle Nijhuis’s altogether magnificent book Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction (public library), in which Edge figures as an exquisite specimen of the species of visionaries Nijhuis interleaves into the broader story of conservation:

Each person profiled here stood, or stands, at a turning point in the story of modern species conservation — a story which, for better and sometimes worse, still guides the international movement to protect life on earth… Though they often used pragmatic arguments to convert others to their cause, their personal motivations ran deeper, for many had started keeping company with members of other species to escape their own troubles. Some were painfully shy, or burdened with mental or physical illness. Some were separated from spouses at a time when divorce was a scandal, or drawn to their own gender when homosexuality was taboo. Most of them knew something about suffering, and they found consolation in the sights and sounds of other forms of life.

The Crowned Eagle by George Edwards, 1758. (Available as a print and as a face mask, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

With an eye to Edge and her legacy in particular, Nijhuis writes:

When Edge and Van Name founded the Emergency Conservation Committee, the language of ecology was still unfamiliar, even within the conservation movement. The concept of the food chain, sometimes called the food web, had been proposed only three years earlier by the British ecologist Charles Elton. The word “ecosystem,” commonly used in ecology and conservation to describe an assemblage of interacting species and their physical surroundings, would not be coined until 1935. Many scientists — and most of the general public — continued to think of the living world as an assembly of relatively independent parts, not an interconnected whole.

Edge’s understanding of ecological relationship… set her apart from most conservationists of her time. Her concern for all species and her opposition to most hunting were shared by animal welfare activists, including many of the women who opposed the plume trade. But while Edge hated cruelty to individual animals, she devoted most of her energy to preventing the extinction of species.

American sparrow-hawk by J.L. Ridgways, 1901. (Available as a print, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

She quotes Edge herself, who observed two generations after Ernst Haeckel coined the term ecology:

The birds and animals must be protected not merely because this species or another is interesting to some group of biologists, but because each is a link in a living chain.

Rosalie Edge with her wardens and fellow conservationists at Hawk Mountain. (Photograph: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.)

I first came within the aura of Edge’s influence during my long immersion in Rachel Carson world in the research for Figuring: Edge — who died months after Silent Spring raised its epoch-making voice of ecological conscience, and who never lived to see it inspire the creation of Earth Day and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency — had been an early voice of dissent and admonition against the heedless use of pesticides. She had furnished Carson, who visited Hawk Mountain two decades earlier, with key DDT data about the pesticide’s savaging impact on birds.

While Rosalie Edge did not have Rachel Carson’s poetic gift, her fierce devotion to hawks inspired it: Carson, who would soon popularize the esoteric word ecology, composed one of her most breathtaking essays about the interconnectedness of nature upon returning from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in 1945:

They came by like brown leaves drifting on the wind. Sometimes a lone bird rode the air currents; sometimes several at a time, sweeping upward until they were only specks against the clouds or dropping down again toward the valley floor below us; sometimes a great burst of them milling and tossing, like the flurry of leaves when a sudden gust of wind shakes loose a new batch from the forest trees.

[…]

On the horizon to the north, formed by a series of seven peaks running almost at right angles to the ridge on which we sit, an indistinct blur takes form against the sky. Second by second the outlines sharpen. Soon the unmistakable silhouette of a hawk is etched on the gray.

[…]

Here on the mountain top we are in the sweep of all the winds out of a great emptiness of sky, and the cold seeps through to the very marrow of my bones. But cold, windy weather is hawk weather, and so I am glad, although I shiver and my nose reddens, and I look speculatively at my thermos of hot coffee… Mists are drifting over the valley. A grayness overhangs all the sky and the clouds seem heavy with unshed rain. It is an elemental landscape — a great rockpile atop a mountain, nearby a few trees that have been stripped and twisted by the mountain winds, a vast, pale, arching sky.

Perhaps it is not strange that I, who greatly love the sea, should find much in the mountains to remind me of it. I cannot watch the headlong descent of the hill streams without remembering that, though their journey be long, its end is in the sea. And always in these Appalachian highlands there are reminders of those ancient seas that more than once lay over all this land. Halfway up the steep path to the lookout is a cliff formed of sandstone; long ago it was laid down under shallow marine waters where strange and unfamiliar fishes swam; then the seas receded, the mountains were uplifted, and now wind and rain are crumbling the cliff away to the sandy particles that first composed it. And these whitened limestone rocks on which I am sitting — these, too, were formed under that Paleozoic ocean, of the myriad tiny skeletons of creatures that drifted in its water. Now I lie back with half closed eyes and try to realize that I am at the bottom of another ocean — an ocean of air on which the hawks are sailing.

Art by Jackie Morris from The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane

Complement with Helen Macdonald’s stunning H Is for Hawk, then revisit Carson’s ecological clarion call to the next generations — that is, to us — delivered months before Edge’s death.

BP

The Tree in Me: A Tender Painted Poem About Growing Our Capacity for Joy, Strength, and Love

What trees can teach us about more closely and loving ourselves, each other, and the world more deeply.

The Tree in Me: A Tender Painted Poem About Growing Our Capacity for Joy, Strength, and Love

Walt Whitman, who considered trees the profoundest teachers in how to best be human, remembered the woman he loved and respected above all others as that rare person who was “entirely herself; as simple as nature; true, honest; beautiful as a tree is tall, leafy, rich, full, free — is a tree.”

At the outset of what was to become the most challenging year of my life, and the most challenging for the totality of the world in our shared lifetime, I resolved to face it like a tree — a resolution blind to that unfathomable future, as all resolutions and all futures tend to be, but one that made it infinitely more survivable. I was not the only one. Humans, after all, have a long history of learning resilience from trees and fathoming our own nature through theirs: Hesse saw in them the paragon of self-actualization, Thoreau reverenced them as cathedrals that consecrate our lives, Dylan Thomas entrusted them with humbling us into the essence of our humanity, ancient mythology placed them at its spiritual center, and science used them as an organizing principle for knowledge.

Artist and author Corinna Luyken draws on this intimate connection between the sylvan and the human in The Tree in Me (public library) — a lyrical meditation on the root of creativity, strength, and connection, with a spirit and sensibility kindred to her earlier emotional intelligence primer in the form of a painted poem.

Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s timeless and transformative mindfulness teachings, which she first encountered long ago in the character-kiln of adolescence and which profoundly influenced her worldview as she matured, Luyken considers the book “a seedling off the tree” from the great Zen teacher’s classic tangerine meditation — the fruition of her longtime desire to make something beautiful and tender that invites the young (and not only the young) to look more deeply into the nature of the world, into their own nature and its magnificent interconnectedness to all of nature. After years of incubation, after many trials that landed far from her vision, a spare poem came to her. Paintings grew out of the words. A book blossomed.

The tree in me
is seed and blossom,
bark and stump…
part shade,
and part sun.

The singsong verses follow the protagonist — an everychild of ambiguous age, gender, and ethnicity — along a joyful journey of self-discovery, self-understanding, and self-appreciation through warm identification with various aspects of a tree: its irrepressible lushness, the effortless grace with which it bends without breaking, how it is constantly negotiating darkness and light, how it exists in exquisite interdependence with the rest of the living world.

There is a lovely visual nod to one of the most revelatory and paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries in our lifetime — the astonishing mycelial web by which trees communicate with each other underground, a discovery that may be nature’s loveliest metaphor for the secret of love.

As the child looks up to face a young woman — who could be a mother or a sister or a first love or the school janitor or the Vice President — the book ends with a subtle affirmation of William Blake’s timeless tree-tinted insistence that we see not what we look at but what we are.

Because there is
a tree,
and a sky,
and a sun
in me,
I can see
that there is also
a tree
in you.

Couple The Tree in Me with The Day I Became a Bird — a kindred illustrated meditation on learning to let ourselves be seen — then revisit D.H. Lawrence on trees, solitude, and how we root ourselves when relationships collapse and Mary Oliver’s short, shimmering poem “When I Am Among the Trees.”

Illustrations by Corinna Luyken; book photographs by Maria Popova

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Seeking an Aurora: A Wondrous Illustrated Celebration of Earth’s Most Otherworldly Spectacle of Light and Color

Transcendence and tenderness in the lacuna of awe between the creaturely and the cosmic.

Seeking an Aurora: A Wondrous Illustrated Celebration of Earth’s Most Otherworldly Spectacle of Light and Color

In 1621, already questioning his life in the priesthood — the era’s safest and most reputable career for the educated — the 29-year-old Pierre Gassendi, a mathematical prodigy since childhood, traveled to the Arctic circle as he began diverting his passionate erudition toward Aristotelian philosophy and astronomy. There, under the polar skies, he witnessed an otherworldly spectacle on Earth — our planet’s most intimate and dramatic contact with its home star, a chromatic swirl of the ephemeral and the eternal unloosed as solar winds blow millions of charged particles from the Sun across the orrery of the Solar System and into Earth’s atmosphere, where our magnetic fields carry them toward the poles. As they collide with the particles of different atmospheric gasses, they ionize and discharge energy as photons of different colors — red, blue, green, and violent — painting the nocturne with the waking dream of a pastel-technicolor dawn.

Awestruck with the natural poetry and the mythic feeling-tone of the luminous spectacle, Gassendi named what he saw Aurora borealis — after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and borealis, the Latin word for “northern.” Eventually, as explorers braved the icy oceanic expanses to visit the polar regions of the Southern hemisphere over the following centuries, they adapted Gassendi’s etymology to name the Antarctic version of the luminous display Aurora australis, after the Latin word for “southern.”

From the land of Aurora australis comes Seeking an Aurora (public library) — a work of transcendence and tenderness by New Zealand author-artist duo Elizabeth Pulford and Anne Bannock, whose spare poetic prose and soulful paintings interleave to enlush an inner landscape of wonder, suspended between the creaturely and the cosmic.

Late one night, a father awakens his child — a child of ambiguous gender and ethnicity, a touching effort to approximate the universal in the human — to slip out of the house together, past the soundly sleeping mother and the baby in the crib, and out into the winter nocturne on a quest of wonder.

They walk with brisk excitation across the open field and through the skeletal trees as the warm humanity of their breath puffs into the cold night air, into the silence they share with the other breathing creatures that make this planet a world.

Outside everything was still.
Even the dogs were quiet, and the cows looked like prehistoric creatures, their noses streaming smoke.

The adventure unfolds from the narrative vantage point of the child, who turns around to look back at the house with its “warm, buttery light spilling from the kitchen window,” back at the two sets of “footprints in the silvery frost,” then up at the sky, “a ship of shivering stars.”

As the pair ascend the steep hill toward their lookout, the cows and the dogs recede into the distance, leaving only the stars, the Moon, and the swell of anticipation.

And then, suddenly, the aurora appears, its “wide wings of light” sweeping across the sky to widen the child’s eyes with wonder.

Dancing light, glowing and glimmering,
shimmering and shining.
Colored ribbons swirling and twirling,
lighting up the sky on the still, dark night.

Father and child are silent under the soft technicolor sky — an awed silence that evokes the works of the poet Diane Ackerman, who wrote long ago in her stunning Cosmic Pastoral of feeling “stricken by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of everything else.”

On the walk home, back to the house with the warm buttery light, the father shares everything he knows about the aurora — a secret everythingness revealed on the last page of the book, in a brief science primer of an afterword, sweetly titled “Everything Dad Knew about the Aurora.”

Couple Seeking an Aurora with the inspiring picture-book biography of trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell, then revisit a literary titan’s account of the other great cosmic spectacle visible from Earth — Virginia Woolf’s arresting meditation on the total solar eclipse.

Illustrations courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press; photographs by Maria Popova

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Murmuration: A Stunning Animated Poem About Our Connection to Nature and to Each Other

A collaborative praise song for “indifference banished by love.”

Murmuration: A Stunning Animated Poem About Our Connection to Nature and to Each Other

In one of the essays collected in Vesper Flights (public library) — which was among the finest books of 2020 and includes one of the most magnificent things ever written about the enchantment of the total solar eclipseHelen Macdonald reflects on watching starlings swarm the sky like living constellations on their way to roost for the night, and writes:

We call them murmurations, but the Danish term, sort sol, is better: black sun. It captures their almost celestial strangeness. Standing on the Suffolk coast a few years ago, I saw a far-flung mist of starlings turn in a split second into an ominous sphere like a dark planet hanging over the marshes. Everyone around me gasped audibly before it exploded in a maelstrom of wings.

In a lovely echo of Richard Feynman’s Ode to a Flower — his timeless, poetic insistence that knowing the science behind something beautiful doesn’t rob it of enchantment but “only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe” — Macdonald unfurls the science behind the awe of murmurations:

The changing shape of starling flocks comes from each bird copying the motions of the six or seven others around it with extreme rapidity; their reaction time is less than a tenth of a second. Turns can propagate through a cloud of birds at speeds approaching ninety miles per hour, making murmurations look from a distance like a single pulsing, living organism.

Like all great essays, Macdonald’s begins with an observation of one thing and becomes a meditation on another, taking one fragment of elemental reality and polishing it to shine a sidewise gleam on a larger existential reality — in this case, the murmuration of human refugees trying to find their way to safety and belonging amid a gasping world.

Poet Linda France encountered Macdonald’s essay during a climate writing residency at New Writing North. Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “What You Need to Be Warm” — his humanistic poem for refugees and the homeless, composed from thousands of definitions of warmth from around the world — she invited people to submit verses about our relationship to the natural world beginning with “Because I love…” and “What if…,” then set out to stitch the five hundred submission with the thread of her own poetic imagination into a lyric murmuration, which artist Kate Sweeney turned into a soulful animated short film. Amplifying the poignancy of the project is its timing — it was created for the 2020 Durham Book Festival, while the human world was roosting in confused and frightened isolation, swarmed by the shared terror of a pandemic and the smoke of unprecedented wildfires, suddenly more aware than ever that we are a single pulsing living dying organism.

France reflects on the inspiration she drew from the starlings:

I wanted to borrow their natural capacity for shared purpose, communication and movement to embody what human beings might be capable of if they worked together to address the biggest ever challenge facing the planet and all its species and systems — the perfect storm of the climate emergency, mass extinction and an unprecedented global pandemic… I wanted to catch the noise of it all, let the clash and clamour co-exist and recreate something of the starling murmuration’s fractal patterning both on the page and in the ear.

With an eye to the “interrogation of our relationship with the planet and other species” radiating from the submissions and to how they deepened her own understanding of “the dangers of ‘us’-and-‘them’-ing,” France adds:

Transforming our relationship with the natural world into something more reciprocal has little to do with righteousness or separation. The collective includes all beings and asks for mutual tolerance, transparency and trust.

MURMURATION
by Linda France

1
*
Because we love watching the flock’s precision glide
       upstroke for height, tilt of wing spun mid-flight
just for a moment
              we’re in the frenzied swirling rush

              home for the winged

       owls hoot their love through the dark
                     chiffchaff creeps up stalks
              fennel and flow
dipper and wagtail
              Arctic terns like darts
geese honking              each note weighed
a duck sits on top of the bowling club out king of the world

       if you love the bird, don’t cage it

              we’ll miss the starlings when April comes

*
on any high hilltop, breathing this air,
this precious air, remember those who lost their breath

       if you love the flower, don’t pick it

a sudden sweep of daisies in a green field
like counting stars
       losing count
              starting over again

more shades of green
than words scream Life!

life, damp grass between bare toes
light passing through poppy petals
the slow unfolding of a rose

              home for the prickly, those that slither
                     climb or crawl
                            for us all

       atom by atom
       cell by cell
       what else matters

we cherish these conversations when the vetchling speaks
the lavish eruption of nasturtiums, weaving ropes of white stems
orange flowers
       lush leaves
              hearts burnt open

       if you love wild things, let them be

*
follow the almost invisible path through the heather
summer’s easy grin, the slow smile of autumn
gaze of winter starlight

              isn’t this how we learn not to fear
change
       the seasons
              that mark time
shape our lives

       spangles of sunlight on a river
       otters rippling

the sting of cold sea on tight, red skin

       we feel it all, drink it in and love it

love honey, love bees
the smell of dust, hot rain
a damson tree
       dripping purple fruits

       love the kiss of a dandelion clock

wind-suck and time disappears

the pull of the moon
       waves that crash with forgotten history
              the rubbed edges of the world
                     a spider crab scurrying sideways

       we love the roaring isles
       the taste of a peach

       our neighbours busy in their vegetable patch
       the daylit gate

              tunnel of trees
              those little paths one-person-wide
              between hazel and ash
              warm bark

       in the city that birthed us
       bright tufts that grow in the cracks

*
because we love the way dawn wakes up
and switches night to day

       the twist and fall
              the surging sweeping joy of it all
              the visceral thrill

how dusk strips away the waste of worried days
       as birds yield to their roost
       and leave the night to moth and bat
beyond day, beyond everything

       we know we too are rock and star

but now              on the tip of our tongue

       even love’s not enough

2
*
At the midnight of the year
utter darkness
a million compasses fail
and the starlings don’t come
empty sky
no swallows, no swifts
no summer nests in the eaves
threads looped in the blue
a blackbird that isn’t there
opens his throat
into silence, thin air
no golden note

you wake to a dawn
unheralded
dusk, uninvited, doesn’t know
where to begin
ghost calls echo in the trees
dogs and deer stop barking
rain forgets to fall
its rhythm broken, lost
oak and elm hold their breath
you will never see another flower
the stars’ last vanishing act
no words left

3
*
April high tide
hurls driftwood
       oarweed
              sea-glass
a wreckage of shells

tomorrow comes soon

       how much would you pay to hear the sound
of rain
       or birdsong

what if couldn’t-care-less cared more
and we let the murmur of change
              change our ways

hear the roots of trees
                     whispering
dark soil’s cavernous memories
       tectonic plates shift

sit like a mountain
all weathers
in our hearts

       what if our flutterings become feathers
              the starlings lend us their wings

till we trust enough
              to fly together
       synchronised       one vast voice
all different, all the same
              to mend our wounded earth

ballads of continents crossed
       comrades lost to storm or predator
              the shockwave moving through the flock

see how we flit
       twist swell
                                   dive
co-mingle       co-exist       co-inhere

belong together

*
imagine we’re made of those slivers of sky
       know all the colours of light

hitch a ride on the bees’ flight
go to earth with badgers
       small as Alice       catch the worm
the keys of the ash
       rise like a dandelion
              the promise of a peony bud

where heather meets heaven
              home

this is the patience of the albatross
       a cormorant’s hunger
craning for a flash of silver
       beneath the water

the good omen of a crescent moon
       milky stars
              set in new stories
meadow orchids
       skeins of geese

a chance to constellate honesty
              justice
escape heroic fantasies
       gravity’s boots

so what if’s rubbed out
       and becomes what is

                     the path between

              then we can hear the hiss of rain

*
what is
       is more than the ear can hear
or eye see —

we will never have this time again
              can never rewind this moment

all the maybes, all the small things
       we touch
              gentle, curious
and let pass

like fruit in season
the secret language of earth
                     underland of coal, uranium, oil

              indifference banished by love

power to the parliament of rooks

it’s just this       us
       the people
              our footsteps
walking into all this wonder
       every day through every weather

              solidarity
                     the planet’s rage

making a stand
              for a different future

it’s just this
              our words
       building this home we share
       these bridges

nowhere else to go

       here we are
              turning over
       this tainted page

to start again

       and healing the earth
              the earth heals us

our better place
              not a destination
a method

       common ground

*
ask
       what if words could fly
              and this poem rose into the blueness
                     a whirr of black italic wings

breath by breath
       a prayer
              to give life back to life
                     all of us
       pieces of the world

what if all the time we were searching
       the sky
              the birds
       were watching for us

what, if not cartwheeling
       what, if not care
              what, if not a cadence
       like love
              held lightly

Complement with a stunning animated adaptation of Marie Howe’s “Singularity” — a kindred-spirited poem about our creaturely and cosmic interconnectedness — and a young poet’s staggering response to it, then revisit Hannah Arendt on identity and the meaning of refugee and Toni Morrison on borders, belonging, and the meaning of home.

BP

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