November 2014, Issue #1
Seeing in the Dark

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 Editorial

I. Living By Dream

Miriam Greenspan

Dreamkeeper
Seeing in the Dark

Deena Metzger

Living By Dream

Susan Bradley

Dream Dogs 1 and 2

Patricia Reis

Over the Edge

Cynthia Travis

Accounts

Maia

Naming

Sara Wright

Angels: After the Maine Bear Referendum

Marilyn DuHamel

Call and Response with An Irish Brogue

Susan Cerulean

Holding Sacred Posture

Kristin Flyntz

Grieving with the Elephants

II. Towards a Resurrected
    Knowing

Sonja Swift

Good Morning, (End of the) World: Notes toward a Resurrected Knowing

Jan Clausen

Veiled Spill #11, #12, #13

Cynthia Travis

The Original World

Maia

Letter from Demeter

Susan Bradley

Honeycombed
Hexagons with Packets

Kate Miller

Bearing the News: Wolf Hunt Revived in Minnesota

Sharon Rodgers Simone

A Parliament of Ravens

Marilyn DuHamel

Broken Open

Margo Berdeshevsky

Door
In the Falling of Late Fire Days
And Our Hands
L’Amour n’est pas mort

Sara Wright

My Yellow Spotted Lady

Regina O’Melveny

Corydalidae cornutus

Dyana Basist

What the Aspen Revealed

Harriet Ellenberger

Desire Spoken under a Night Sky

Moe Clark

nitâhkôtan

Patricia Reis

Over the Edge

I know we have to remember. … I remember when we had dreamers and
they knew the water and its first songs, and I remember that the dreamers
found water and medicine for the people. Nan okcha. All alive. Remember.
Linda Hogan1

Caribou Migration IV - Susan Amons

Caribou Migration IV - Susan Amons

The James Bay Project, Canada’s massive effort to generate electricity for energy- hungry Canada and the United States was one of the biggest environmental re-arrangements of land and water undertaken on the planet. Hydro-Québec dammed powerful rivers and flooded over 7,000 miles of land in the northern Quebec wilderness, altering the landscape and its inhabitants – the Innu and Cree natives and the wildlife – forever. The consequences of this massive dislocation – of water, land, people, and all other sentient beings – for the sake of powering an energy habit has yet to be truly calculated. There are, however, events and stories that give testimony.

In Electric Rivers2, Sean McCutcheon writes about how stymied Hydro-Québec was in the fall of 1984 when the electricity, collected in the form of water, had not yet sold. Stored in a large, already corroding reservoir, the water had to be spilled before rains caused a disaster so they began to release the water into the Caniapiscau River. Meanwhile, the torrential autumn rains began and the combination of spillage and rainfall created a monstrously swollen river. The Innu protested that their hunting camps on the shores of the river had been washed away and demanded the Energy Corporation reduce the spilling, which they did on September 28. The effect of the reduction, however, was not yet felt 400 kilometers down stream at Limestone Falls, the last of a series of narrow, steep drops over which the Caniapiscau river plummets on its way to the sea.

On September 30, two days after the Energy Corporations reduction, more than 10,000 George River caribou, traveling on a traditional migratory trail toward their winter range, approach the Falls. One of the biggest herds of large migratory mammals anywhere in the world, they are at their peak, their fittest and fattest. The young, born in mid-June, are still travelling with their mothers and the big males are fitted out with new antlers and their best pelage for the mating season soon to come.

The caribou migrate as a herd for reasons of security, their numbers a protection against known predators, the wolf pack. This herd has undoubtedly encountered weather hazards before – an early snow storm, a torrential rain – and because they are natural swimmers equally at home on land and water, swimming across a body of water rather than walking around it is not uncommon. But rivers require calculations. A river can change its nature quickly. Early snow melts and heavy rains create different river conditions, a rushing mix of slush and ice, a wider, deeper, swifter moving body of water; a body enlarged and swollen, eager to discharge itself into the arms of a larger body. Assessing a river’s temperament is a caribou’s necessity.

The map in the mind of the caribou has been laid down for millennia. They understand they will reach their migratory destination sooner or later. The decision to leap into moving water and risk being swept away by the force of a raging, roiling river is never undertaken lightly. Sometimes the herd chooses to parallel the river until it comes to a more inviting place to cross. But there is no inviting place on this river, nor is there memory for the treachery of that two-legged predator with his infernal tinkering. Approaching their timeworn crossing spot, they encounter a river, grotesque and distorted from carrying a burden of natural and unnatural waters. This is something new. Limestone Falls has been interfered with to such an extent that the caribous’ great collective intelligence cannot decipher the mortal danger.

Do the powerful lead caribou telegraph their immediate terror to those pushing on them from behind? They are used to communicating in this way, sending messages of stop and go, rest and resume, bunch up and spread out; those in the lead count on the ancient pathways laid down by generations of caribou. But this time it is all too confounding, the river’s voice, lost to itself, is untranslatable. There is no time to assess; their messages are drowned out. Pushed from behind, the lead caribou have no choice but to enter the raging torrent. The rest follow. What terrible frisson shudders through the great body of this herd of noble animals as they plunge in? What heart-pounding, soul-piercing cries emanate, mother to child, mate to mate, sister to sister as they push over the edge? Within four hours almost all are swept over the falls, smashed on the rocks, their corpses strewn over the banks and beaches downriver.

What are we to make of this great community of magnificent animals tumbling on top of each other to a collective death, their instinct so betrayed? And did every last one go over the edge? Are there survivors who now have this terrible tragedy embedded as a haunting memory? And the river, does she remember the day her waters were so forced that she grew cruel and unknowable, the day she unwillingly wiped out a whole herd of caribou? Certainly the Cree and Innu do not forget. In her poem, Ballad of a River, the Cree poet, Margaret Sam-Cromarty who lives in the Saint James Bay region, writes:

The River Chisasibi
In grey and blue
A happy river
Once, long ago.
Times changed,
Struggles came.
The courts agreed
Dam the river
For kilo watt power.
The happy river was lost.
It weeps now.
It seeks
golden sands.
The Chisasibi River
Its soul calling
Hears the old people
no more. Voices
The wind has tongues
A lady speaks
meekly
A cry of terror
It's only the wind's voice
Frightening
my beating heart
Silent weeping
A wind warming
Voices
Of my elders3

The story of the St. George Caribou unwittingly jumping to their collective death is a morality tale from which we must learn. We want cheap electricity. It is better than fossil fuels. But what about the cost? For the sake of a light switch far distant from their territory, the caribou herd has been decimated. For the Cree and Innu who have lost their homeland and a way of life, losing 10,000 members of the St. George River is equivalent to losing almost their entire population. Have we, too, not lost something incalculable? Has our own house not suddenly darkened?

Like the magnificent herd of St. George caribou, we humans are in a tenuous moment, on the verge of going over the edge, pushed from behind, numbed by grief at what we’ve already lost, deaf to the voices of wisdom that warn what’s ahead. How to listen when there is so much mad and maddening noise? Whose voices are reliable? How to remember who we really are when so much has been forgotten?

Memory is the living filament with which we humans stitch together what has happened in time, giving our individual biographies and our collective history a coherent and continuous integrity. But whose memory can we draw upon? Where is our earth-based memory deposited? In our genes? In our dreams and visions? In morphogenetic fields? Like the caribou, we might rightly wonder, can memory be a trustworthy guide for the future?

Do the land and the animals hold memory? If so, how can we translate what is spoken in a language we have forgotten? Does a river remember its bed long after it has been dammed into a reservoir? Do the caribou survivors remember the genocide? Do beaver in my local pond remember that the Great Beaver Nation of the Northeast and Canada was driven almost to extinction by human fur-trappers? Do the trees in the woods I walk remember that once the whole Northeast was ninety-five percent forested? Are some memories lost forever?

How we humans have become so amnesiac about our primary kinship with the earth is an urgent question in need of answers. Western culture is rapidly and insistently moving us away from the sensate world of nature, plants, and animals, and ever more into a disembodied thrall to virtual transcendence. Memories of our deep and necessary inter-dependence and connection are lost in the hubris of present day human-centeredness, greed, and ignorance. We are being pushed from behind into an unknowable future that demands a moral response, informed ethical action, and a spiritual stance.

In Hold Fast: At Home in the Natural World4, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore reminds us that there is an essential connection between personal identity and place. First, it’s literally true that people are made of places. “Minerals from eroding mountains strengthen your bones and mine… . We are calcified by gravity, wrinkled by wind, softened by shopping malls. Gradually, eventually, particle by particle, our bodies are constructed from places.” And it’s not just our bodies that are influenced by place, she says, but our ideas, our emotions, our characters, our identities – all are shaped, in part, by places. “Alienation from the land is an alienation from the self, which causes sadness.” She goes on to say, “It’s our memories that make us who we are… Every time I notice something, every time something strikes me as important enough to store away in my memory, I add another piece to who I am. These memories and sense impressions of the landscape are the very substance of my self. In this way, I am - at the core of my being - made of the earth.”

Moore asks, “If people are defined by their landscapes, then what happens to our selves – our integrity, our wholeness – when those landscapes are destroyed?” She answers, “If we go around systematically destroying the places that hold meaning for us, that hold our memories, then we become fragmented and don’t have a sense of who we are.” Spinning off of Thoreau’s famous remark that people live lives of “quiet desperation, “ she observes that today we are living lives of “relentless separation.” Limestone Falls not only marks a tragedy for the caribou nation, it marks a place of human self-destruction we ignore at our peril.

It is the work of the artist to help us re-story and re-member our place on the earth. Chickasaw poet, essayist and novelist Linda Hogan’s novel Solar Storms5 does exactly this. Hogan interleaves personal, tribal, and earth-based memory against a backdrop of massive environmental disruption in the story of five generations of Native American women seen through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Angel Jensen.

Fostered away to Oklahoma as a child, Angel makes her way back to her tribal people who live in the Boundary Waters area between Minnesota and Canada. She is looking for her mother, but more than that; she is seeking herself, her tribal identity, and the original motherland that her body remembers. Agnes Iron, her paternal grandmother, Dora Rouge her great-grandmother, and Bush, Angel’s surrogate mother, are the memory keepers. It is they who provide, each in her own way, what Angel is seeking. They hold important memories of Angel’s personal story, which is inextricable from the story of her tribe and the landscape into which she was born.

Although it is never named, these women have lost their ancestral homeland to the hydroelectric dams of The James Bay Project, the same forced damming of rivers and lakes that drove the St. George caribou herd of 10,000 to their death at Limestone Falls. For Angel, the massive environmental rearrangement has separated their people from each other, from their ancient homelands, and from the animals and plants with whom they coexist and on which they depend on for life.

Angel dreams one night of a woman in a white-walled cave sewing together pieces of humans, an arm to a trunk, and a foot to a leg. Later, when she tells Bush the dream, Bush thinks the dream is about starting all over, this time doing it right. “This time, humans would be love-filled, the way we were meant to be all along.” The women in Angel’s lineage labor to stitch unnaturally separated things back together with the thread of memory. Angel is also engaged in the work of mending; she thinks she has found her way back to this landscape “to put together all the pieces of history, of my life, and my mother’s, to make something whole.”

In Hogan’s novel, it is the force of the women’s love that works, despite agonizing losses, toward a kind of restoration. Their love is not only personal; it is generational, and includes the land and animals. As Angel comes into her identity as a tribal woman, Bush tells her in small bits about caring for Angel’s mother, Hannah Wing, as a young girl. Everyone knew Hannah was damaged, but Bush thought maybe she could be healed with enough love. One day she insisted that young Hannah take off her layers of clothing and take a bath. Hannah complied. “Beneath all the layers of clothes, her skin was a garment of scars. There were burns and incisions. Like someone had written on her. The signatures of torturers, I call them now.” Bush tells Angel:

Everyone had a name for what was wrong. Dora-Rouge said it was memory and I think she was the closest. After a time, I thought, yes, it was what could not be forgotten, the shadows of men who’d hurt Loretta, the shadows of the killers of children. What lived in her wears the skin of children… It walks with us, inside those we know … As I looked at her from scar to scar that day, I could feel the edges of her. I touched the scars on her back and I could feel the hands of the others.

Bush takes the girl, Hannah, to one of the tribe’s elders, called Old Man, who tells Bush, “She is the house… She is the meeting place.” And Bush says to Angel, “I didn’t know what he meant at first. But I saw it in time, her life going backward to where time and history and genocide gather and move like a cloud above the spilled oceans of blood. That little girl’s body was the place where all this met…”

Great-grandmother Dora-Rouge joins Agnes, Bush and Angel on a canoe journey back to her ancestral homeland, the home of the Fat Eaters, the Innu, where the damming of lakes and rivers for hydroelectric power has radically altered and destroyed the landscape. Dora-Rouge is going back home to die. Along the way she imparts all her knowledge, her life-giving memory, to Angel.

Dora-Rouge gives Angel a talisman, a piece of amber with a little perfectly formed frog captured inside its golden light. It came from those native people who navigated the waters from South America to the far north centuries ago. Dora-Rouge tells Angel, “Those people from the south told our ancestors, ‘Remember us when we are gone,’ and they placed this into the hands of an old woman named Luri, one of my ancestors, one of yours.” The frog serves as instruction for Angel as the growing intimacy with the landscape opens her to this “tree-shaded place where unaccountable things occurred, where frogs knew to wait beneath dark ground until conditions were right for them to emerge, where water’s voice said things only the oldest of people understood.”

One night Angel dreams a plant. She draws a picture of it and shows it to Dora-Rouge, who recognizes it. Angel starts to understand that, “maybe dreams are earth’s visions … earth’s expressions that pass through us.” Dora Rouge tells her there were always plant dreamers in their family and Angel is becoming one. Angel realizes that there was a place inside the human that spoke with the land, that entered dreaming, in the way that people in the north found direction in their dreams. They dreamed charts of land and currents of water. They dreamed where food animals lived. These dreams they called hunger maps, and when they followed those maps, they found their prey. It was the language animals and humans had in common. People found their cures in the same way.

The work of restoration, as Linda Hogan tells us, is an ongoing act of faith and determination, of dreaming, love, and remembering. Angel says, “If you listen at the walls of one human being, even if that one is yourself, you will hear the drumming. Older creatures are remembered in the blood. Inside ourselves we are not yet upright walkers. We are tree. We are frog in amber. Maybe earth itself is just now starting to form.”

Some say we have entered the period of a sixth extinction, this one not made completely by nature, but by human design. Restoration is always a belated occurrence –belated in the sense that what has been lost can only be restored in the present. Hopefully, we still have the time; the dislocations are tremendous, some things are irrecoverable. Like the caribou facing an unrecognizable river, our disorientation is great. Slowly, slowly, with great longing and thirst, writers, dreamers, philosophers and poets lead us toward that deepest well of memory – our profound affiliation with all things. May we put our ears close to the beating heart of the earth and become a clan of deep listeners, dreamers, and memory-keepers.6

Patricia Reis Patricia Reis is the co-editor of “Women’s Voices” in Spring Journal’s Fall 2014 issue (www.springjournalandbooks.com) where she conducts an in–depth interview with Terry Tempest Williams. She is the author of The Dreaming Way: Dreams and Art for Remembering and Recovery, Daughters of Saturn: from Father’s Daughter to Creative Woman, Through the Goddess: A Woman’s Way of Healing, and the creator/producer of the DVD, Arctic Refuge Sutra. She appeared in the film Signs Out of Time, produced by Starhawk and Canadian film maker Donna Read, a documentary on the life of Neolithic archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. She has held positions as faculty, lecturer, and dissertation advisor and has mentored and facilitated many artists and writers in bringing their work to fruition. She divides her time between Portland, Maine and Nova Scotia, and is currently writing a memoir. Her website is www.patriciareis.net where she blogs about the writing life.

Susan Amons is a nationally recognized artist residing in Maine. A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, she has received Artist’s Fellowships from the Women’s Studio Center in New York, the Vermont Studio Center in Vermont, and the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, in Maine. She is a member of the prestigious Peregrine Press in Portland, Maine and the venerable National Association of Women Artists, in New York. Her art is represented by numerous galleries on the east coast and is included in many museum collections. For more information see: www.susanamons.com


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