Singing the Creek Alive, Part 2
by Molly Murfee
The July 19 edition of Earth Muffin Memos “Singing the Creek Alive, Part I” pondered the ecological role of humans through the medium of sitting in a wildflower field, and discovered our ancestors did indeed serve such functions as seed dispersers and soil aerators. Considering our current destructive impacts, we left last week asking “How do we get back to the garden, or more importantly, to the wild?”
Contemplating our ecological role in environments around the planet inserts us back into the system, mends the ghastly rip modern society, ancient science and religions touting human dominion over the earth have rendered. It reorients our minds and subsequent actions to consider humans as part of nature, not above it or separated from it. It inherently fosters a decision-making center that relies on balance.
To be certain we must repair what we have broken. But how to get to this place where we even care? Where we are willing to practice restraint for the good of the larger whole?
Back in the field of wildflowers spilling a summer’s bouquet of color, my friend Sarah and I came up with this, at least, for the moment: it is our job to notice. To appreciate and call by name. To counter the speed and manic moods of both society and summer with the simple act of paying attention. It is to honor with songs and stories and art and ritual.
To do this we must slow down. Take the time to observe what’s gone to seed and what’s just beginning to bloom. What sort of pollinator is buzzing around which flower. Where there is abundance, and lack. What is being harmed, or flourishing.
Sarah told me a story of a drought and the subsequent drying of a creek in the more arid regions of Arizona. A group of women gathered under the gauzy blue gaze of the full moon. They sang and prayed. They danced and cooed at the waters. Slowly, it began to rain. Then, it began to pour. By morning, the creek was running once again.
Perhaps part of our job, then, is one of extending spirit. That reaching and realization of something larger than ourselves. Beyond the logical. Beyond need, or want. Into the realm of mystery and miracle.
Journalist Michael Pollan published “The Intelligent Plant” in The New Yorker in 2013 displaying botanists in their own turmoil over whether plants have “consciousness,” with a slew of recent articles arguing this way and that. They do know plants respond to a variety of presences in their environment – they seek nitrogen pockets in the soil, can “hear” the sound of running water – reaching for it in an enclosed pipe even if they can’t access it.
They send out distress chemicals to other plants when attacked, or when exposed to the sounds of a caterpillar munching on a leaf. Plant ecologist Stefano Mancuso reports a plant may have three thousand chemicals in its vocabulary, compared to the average human student with only 700 words.
There are so many things we do not know. There was a time the earth was thought to be flat. Descartes didn’t think animals could feel pain. There are so many ways to perceive we simply haven’t yet gained the capacity to understand.
And so – what if we can sing the creek back to life? What if the flowers bloom brighter and more abundantly with our praise? What if they can respond to the chemicals we emit through our own emotions and moods?
And what if they can’t? What will we have truly hurt? Nothing, that I can tell, and at the very least we will be responding from a higher and happier place than the one of “more” and “faster” in which we are currently operating.
I am not egocentric enough to think that the world really needs us. I am sure the plants and animals would survive just fine without our overwhelming presence, and that something else would move in to burrow and disperse seeds – they already have.
But I do think that orienting towards an attitude of veneration, rather than a position solely of use, would probably do the planet good.
Visual artist Ivy Walker and I created a series of Regenerations workshops, experiences striving to connect humans to nature through writing and art. We play with extracting the layers and layers of gunk our modern world heaps upon us, clouding our senses. We temporarily take away everyone’s cell phones. We all walk in slow silence, together.
“I didn’t realize how many different bird songs there were,” one woman commented in amazement, “Or that they all originated from behind us in the forest, instead in front of us in the meadow.”
In twisting bits of colored yarn through petal and leaf of a sawtooth senecia, they discovered the elusive green bog orchid blooming nonchalantly and previously unseen in plain sight below its brighter yellow neighbor.
To notice means to perhaps put down our bikes and pull out the binoculars, to lug around a guide book of plants, to observe and read and get to know the creatures that unobtrusively surround us.
It is to put down our entrapments – including the pace at which we move – and connect through the simple act of listening.
Indeed, if we never stop to really honor and pay attention, we will never notice what has fallen out of balance. We will not, like the Aleut, notice diminishment, and therefore adjust our own actions. We are not currently maximizing our “super generalist” status, shifting what we harvest to something abundant, rather than the consistent pursuit of something in peril of depletion.
The act of noticing has long been important. Scientist and writer Rachel Carson used the absence of birdsong to call attention to our destructive use of DDT, and to stop the course of its poisonous distribution.
The simple act of veneration gives us a more positive role, rather than the caustic one we play at the moment, fostering an environment of respect and reciprocity.
I do not know what everyone will personally hear when they stop to listen in nature. I sense universal themes, often magically learn exactly what I need to in any given moment in my own individual life through the simple act of observation. I have witnessed in others and felt in myself - that this is the primordial tonic we desperately need.
So why not notice how sweet the air smells, walk slow enough to catch glints of the rainbow filaments of a spiderweb between aspens? Send a silent or reverberant thank you to the sunflowers? In Crested Butte the natural world around us is practically screaming for us to notice it right now with its riot of humming color, but we’re so busy getting somewhere else we just don’t. We’re a whirling bundle of moving and forgetting.
Who knows what we could hear if we just settled down?
Who knows what needs to be heard.