I believe in the forest floor: Fauna Obscura at 7pm TONIGHT

My friends Janaya Kizzie, Rachel Hughes, Mike Duffy and I are making a night forest with you, at 7pm TONIGHT (8/3), at 40 Sonoma Court.

We crave home, safety, sanctuary, but at times one finds the way home is obscured. For the wanderers and the weary, a sacred space awaits on the forest floor. Through light, projections, wood, and textiles, a forest shrine emerges.

Enter the forest. You may wander, or seek a guide, who will be holding a lantern. They’ll show you the seeds of stories in the leaf litter. You can choose one to take with you. If the firelit tent is empty, you can go inside and speak the story seed aloud. If there is someone in the firelit tent already, or if you don’t want to speak aloud, stand outside the tent and listen.

When you hear the crows or owls calling, a story is about to begin.

Everyone is part of this play. Make room for the people around you in the forest. Pay attention to how they are moving. If you want, you can move too.

Why is this on the Climate Anxiety Counseling blog, you ask?

It’s part of this effort to co-germinate fables for the time we find ourselves in.

It’s part of the small practices of improvising, collaborating and taking risks that I’m trying to embrace in order to be more responsive to the world as it is and as it’s coming to be.

It’s a reminder that the forest floor has lessons for us about how to live and die together, to meet fear, to be small in darkness together. That life and death are going on around us all the time. That lives that don’t do damage, and deaths that aren’t unjust, are possible, even though they may seem far from us. That we can walk in the forest together.

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Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/23

6/13/15

I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.

*

6/23/15

The next day, JL stood at his kitchen counter holding a framed picture of Louise in the same hand as one of her armbands, which he had kept, and asked for her help in thinking about the Amazon rainforest. He had never felt so foolish except in retrospect. Pointlessness, the fear of it, settled on him like a damp blanket. Thinking about it, his mind jeered at him, what good is thinking about it going to do? He felt the edges of the picture frame, the canvas seam of the armband. He turned his mind heavily toward the picture in his mind: a burnt brown stubble, ankle-high, bordering a tall green haze.

JL realized that he didn’t know what the Amazon was made of. Words like “canopy” and “understory” seeped into his thoughts: where did they come from? He did know enough to know that once he separated it into its parts, he would need to reassemble those parts again in order to know it, that a forest lives in relationships, in root-nodes, in flights and deaths. What good will knowing it do? sneered his mind. He blotted it out with green.

A week later, his head stuffed full of dams and farms and villages and cities, watersheds and weather patterns, symbionts and food webs and the sense that what almost overloaded his mind with green and brown and flashes of bright color was the tiniest, most inadequate scrap, JL quit his job. He signed his house over to the Narragansett tribe and cashed in his small 401K for his travels. He folded scratch paper together to make a book with fifteen pages.

In the first year, he stayed with a friend’s cousin and wept daily outside the Nike offices in the Flatiron building, picturing Mato Grosso forest cleared for cattle grazing. A small crowd gathered. The Humans of New York guy took pictures. But JL didn’t know about any of this. He was a statue with tears streaming down.

He used the second and third years to make his way toward the Vale Mining and BNDES offices in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes people walked with him, and wept with him outside a Whole Foods or a lumberyard, a maquila or a superfarm. He worked on learning Portuguese on trains and buses, when he didn’t fall fast asleep with a skyline of brown stumps etching his inner eyelids. He lost his fifteen-page book back in northern Texas.

In the fourth year, he reached Rio. Someone said (in Portuguese), You’re the crying guy. Have you seen this? and handed him a phone with a cracked screen. As he slowly thumbed downward, puzzling out the sentences about weepers slowly seeping into corporate headquarters in San Francisco, in Houston, in Orlando, standing there eerily, like the walking dead, with ashes on their faces into which their tears carved rivulets, making it nearly impossible for the people who worked there to get anything done.

In the fifth year, while police and national guard forces were occupied with the weepers, Aweti, Kayapo and Wauja people sugared the gas tanks of building equipment, sent disabling lines of code to project computers, accepted donations of all the company food supplies from Belo Monte dam construction workers who were on their side. We turned around and it was gone, the men said, shrugging. No, we really couldn’t say what happened. We didn’t see it, but you know, we can’t work without anything to eat.

In the sixth year, JL was too sick to travel any more. Three families in Belem took turns taking care of him. A line of weepers moved southeastward to Bolivia, carefully picking up their trash as they went and occasionally, burying someone who died of hunger or snakebite or a bullet fired by a cop from a passing armored car. They learned from each other how to move well in the forest. They made lines and rings of human protection around the trees.

In the seventh year, JL died, worn out by hard travel and stress and grief. In China, people who couldn’t themselves go out to the shale gas fields in Sichuan Province to be weepers themselves tended old people and children, kept up farms and gardens, substitute-taught for third-grade classes, even stepped into factory shifts hoping devoutly that the shift bosses wouldn’t notice. Some didn’t; some did, but let it go.

In the eight year, microbes and beetles ate and digested and excreted JL’s coffin and body, and tree seedlings began to sprout undisturbed. Some died off, infected by blights and rusts, or eaten by tapirs and cows running loose after the people raising them had pulled up stakes and either joined the weepers or left the country in disgust. The cows and the tapirs were wary of one another but came to be companionable.

In the ninth year, the BNDES, unable to recoup its investments in Belo Monte and without the help of outside loans, collapsed in on itself. The weepers of Rio wiped their faces clean of ashes and took in many of the bank’s former employees, giving them a chance to let their old lives go. Some made the transition; one or two took their own lives; a few became violent and the young people of Rio drove them out of the city, where most died.

In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth years, small and very patient coalitions of forest families and their city cousins established indigenous settlements and mixed teaching settlements in and around Altamira, Fortaleza and Mujui dos Campos. Some of these thrived, others dissolved; cholera gutted one, one had to move because a spring dried up, one was washed away because it didn’t account for extreme flooding when a drought broke in three successive superstorms; a leading Matipu family lost patience and returned to their home. Babies were born, fevers cured, parasites adjusted to.

In the thirteenth year, weepers in Kuala Lumpur successfully shut down a logging company there, but this news didn’t reach Brazil and Bolivia until the fourteenth year, and spread only slowly, because many phone companies went under after BNDES and its affiliates collapsed, and people relied more and more on highly localized cell networks and runners.

In the fifteenth year, pacu and their food and their predators were thriving in the river, terra preta was forming again in some of the clearings, and in others, seedlings were bristling like hair.

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 6/5

5/7/15

I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest.

6/5/15

When his treatment was complete, P went back to Oregon and offered his cabin as headquarters to the relatives of the receptionist at the clinic where he used to go.

A few months later, a group of Klamath and Modoc families showed up at the offices of the Associated Oregon Loggers’ office in Salem. They said, We’ll manage the forest for you–we’ll do the burns, we’ll handle reforestation–if you support the legislation to un-dam the Klamath River and cede the forest land back to us over the next ten years.

This could be a barbecue pit over the next ten years, the forest policy manager said.

Then it’ll be our barbecue pit, said one of the spokeswomen. But it won’t be.

It’s national forest, he said feebly.

We won’t tell if you won’t, she said.

Trees grow slowly, and the rains and snowmelt have been changing along with the temperatures. The conditions that nurtured trees now mature don’t exist for today’s seedlings and their commensal species; the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin foresters consulted people in northern and central California and made decisions about what to heavily protect, what to let go and what, even, to introduce. There was more western juniper and ponderosa pine than there used to be, and hairy woodpeckers tapped disconsolately in the stumps of mountain hemlocks. Students from Rogue, Southwestern Oregon and Klamath Community Colleges helped keep down invasive plants–“They’re just like you,” the grandmas and aunties half-joked–and spot tree blights. On burn days in the fall, some Umatilla volunteers and even some Portland residents came down, and they fanned out grimly through the understory, ready to leap on a spark that might betray them.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/7/15

Weather: Hot, sunny, occasional breezes turning into sharp gusts later.

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 5 walkbys, plus one person who thought I was selling hot dogs–we took an unusual amount of time to figure out what each other wanted.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 1, written collaboratively

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 2

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, but I sort of started it

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.46, plus one peppermint candy

Observations:

I tried facing east instead of west this time. Pros: sun on my back instead of in my eyes. Cons: the wind comes from the west and tries to blow the booth out from under me; people in cars, who can only drive east on Washington St., can’t see the sign; if there are cops in the park I can’t see them. It didn’t seem to make a difference in the number of stoppers.

It’s happened more than once that people have held up World War II resource-recovery practices as an alternative to how people throw things away now. I can tell that’s an oversimplification, but does anyone know how it became such a widespread and apparently appealing one?

It’s pigeon mating season again.

Some conversations:

My children. Four of them. They were taken from me for being homeless. I don’t think people know enough about homelessness. They’re with foster families.

Is there anything underway to get them back with you?

I’m doing everything I can.

*

I’m worried about my SSI check. I applied, I’m waiting to hear. Waiting is hard. It’s not the money, I mean, money’s tough, but my girlfriend got money, I can get $200 from her if something comes up, it’s the waiting, not knowing.

*

I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, but it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What do you think might help people change what they’re doing, to try to stop doing the things that make this worse?

I think if people were to look at our planet from space, and see how tiny and precious it is, they might start to realize there isn’t any other place we can live … What’s causing droughts is deforestation, because Reagan deregulated the timber industry. They liquidated the timber stands in five years that were supposed to last for centuries, and that’s what caused this whole cycle. We know if you deforest–that’s where the rain comes from.

What about reforesting, are people doing that?

No, they’re not reforesting–they’re logging, because after there’s a fire they try to salvage the timber. It does cause anxiety. I’ve lived in these conditions for 25 years. This year is gonna be the worst fire season in history. In 2002, the Biscuit Fire  took out half a million acres. I talked to the crew chief on that fire, and he told me their commander told them, when the lightning strike started it, to let it burn, because Bush had the Healthy Forest Act. He was sick about it. Mature trees are fire-resistant–leave those, take the small ones! Burn off the undergrowth every couple years–that’s what the Native Americans [sic]* did. That’s why the virgin forest was so beautiful. But they would do it in the fall when it was cool and damp–that’s the only thing that puts them out.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest. That’s what the Reagan deregulation did, it stopped everything that was preventing a conflict of interest.

*Doctor’s note: a little preliminary research suggests that he’s talking about the Takelma and Klamath people, but I welcome correction!

*

[These two were a couple.]

Girlfriend 1: Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming. I’m concerned about my sister’s pregnancy–she’s had three miscarriages. I’m concerned about my girlfriend’s health, she’s sick right now. My girlfriend smokes and I want her to quit. I call her a dirty smoker–she’s dirty smokin’.

Does that make you want to quit?

Girlfriend 2: Yes.

It sounds like you guys are taking care of each other.

Girlfriend 1: Yep. We’re getting married, she’s not going anywhere.

*

I lost my dad and I can’t get over it.

*

Life. My boyfriend. He’s stressing me out about my past. He tells me what he thinks it is, and then he listens to other people about what they think it is. It’s really getting aggressive.

One thing you could think about is–

Walk away?

Do you have anywhere to walk to?

The streets.

I’d concentrate on getting a place set up to go to, while they’re running their mouths.

I did it before.

*

Success. I’m trying to do good at carpentry. I got certificates from JobCorps, I graduated high school. I found $2700 on the floor–at the casino–and I got my license, my truck, I just gotta register it. I got my business plan, my references, my resume, in a book like this one [taps notes binder]. But I’m homeless, and that makes it harder. I got no mailing address.

Could you maybe ask someone you trust if you could use their mailing address?

I thought of that, but I don’t like owing people things. I don’t like asking people to do things for me.

Do you do things for other people if they need it though?

If anybody down here, if they ask for change, anything in my pocket, it’s theirs. But I don’t like it when it’s like … collateral, like, Oh, I did something for you, now you owe me.

*

I’m not feeling any anxiety right now because I just had a wonderful experience. I guess–difficulty believing in yourself. I try breathing, try to keep it at bay, I’ve learned all these techniques, but it never ceases to come back. Hanging on to solid fact is very helpful. I have a solid body of work, that’s a fact, but it won’t be a fact in three months because it needs to be better in three months. Right now it’s perfect. Nobody else is saying that, so I have to say it. People don’t really know how to read it. … I didn’t know I was gonna talk about myself, I thought this was about climate change, the end of the world.

It could be about that too.

What are some of the most common anxieties?

People worry about safe places to stay, about survival, about being able to make money, about taking care of the people in their life. For climate anxieties, a lot of people talk about their kids, worrying about how the world will be for their kids, and about the destruction of places they love–beaches, forests.

I worry about that too.

*

[When I said he didn’t need to give me a quarter:] I used to work for the circus. I set up for the g*psies, I know how it works. I put bikes together at the scrapyard, I fixed ski boats–I used to rent ’em out. I worked for everybody. I worked on that ship, Project Hope, went around picking up sick people, disabled people. I scraped it right down for everybody. We painted it different colors first, then we did whatever they wanted to do with it. I dropped out of school, I did everything, I was in the Peace Corps, Save the Whales … I’m 59 years old, I started when I was 13. I used to be a runner, like for a bakery company. Drunks would give you money to go buy ’em booze. I had so much money in my pocket …. I’d go into the bakery, get the broken cookies. I lived here all my life. I traveled to California, Mexico, Alaska–it’s beautiful. You get six months that’s darkness, then it’s always light.

Today’s poem:

What could I crumble

to bring you to me

to get your attention

the ground beneath you

could it be bad enough

unheld together

swearing by all that’s friable

insisting on all that drifts

out or slips over

in pity and horror

the first beats of summer

we share the secret

of being alive at

the moment when

the hot tide turns

the moment given

a gift of poise

stability, more money

a tilt that can’t be bought

a pitch that sickens

the pigeons’ pickings

the bread and its water

the clapping sound their

wings make going over

the same air turning

like a phrase churned

up and muddied by practice

through culverts of speaking

the same difference

the unsafe house

where you hear something that’s

not familiar and shrink

back toward the walls even if

they’re the source

of the sound

the wind blows me around

or more the built things

that are part of me

while I’m here

Alternate Histories: 5/16, 4/4

5/16/14

[These two were a couple.]

HER: I feel like I grew up in the age of environmental anxiety. Food security is a huge thing. These bugs don’t die as much over winter–there are so many bugs on potatoes and cucumbers. It only takes like 5 degrees.

 

Are you a farmer, or a gardener?

 

I grow things in small little pots. We had a farm in Philadelphia, but we moved up here because we figured in 20 years it’s going to be colder up here. We don’t own a car–I feel like we lose a lot socially but that’s the one big thing we do. No matter what you do, the weather’s gonna pick anybody. It’s not going to spare the communities that do the most. Everybody’s worried but nobody’s pissed off. I think because we’re not desperate enough, we’re still comfortable. And we’re the largest source of the reason it’s happening. It’s still a question up in the air in the media–they say one out of four Americans don’t believe in climate change instead of saying three out of four do … I don’t think we have the infrastructure for what new world might happen. So much relies on fossil fuels and electricity. Clean water, sewage — if people have a plan, they’re not making it transparent to the layperson. It’s a big spiral.

HIM: The state of RI and the city are super into subsidizing cars, parking garages; they have these half-baked plans for a bike lane combined with a bus lane, I call it the leper lane for people who aren’t in a car. These half-baked people–they drive to work every day and they’re making policy. And the oceans are gonna acidify and kill everything.

You laugh when you say that, like it’s a joke, but do you believe it? Or what?

 

I believe it. I go between it’s so bad I don’t even know if I can do anything about this, and trying to put enough blinders on to do what I can. Insects and parasites moving but trees can’t move fast enough, so whole forests are just dying. We’re just done, can’t breathe. When I’m optimistic I hope people will be forced to change their ways, but when I’m pessimistic I think people with money will just keep going and people without money will be the ones who have the problems, maybe die. It isn’t like all humanity dies or nobody dies. It’ll be the end of the world for people who can’t get food. I sort of think the world will move on, but I don’t know if people will.

*

4/4/15

The world is a world of difference.

Later that year, L and L, in love, read about Cyzenis albicans, a fly brought in by humans to eat the larvae of the winter moth–also brought in by humans–that turned the leaves of trees in Blackstone Park and Swan Point Cemetery to skeletons. Hope is like a worm in the heart. How can it possibly learn to live without destroying the heart?

L got a vasectomy. L thought, where else can we undo ourselves, or where can we do more? How far down do you go: the root hair, the microbe, the genome? Do you pull your hand away or do you keep it there, putting pressure on the wound you made? Together they made out the deed that transferred ownership of their house to the Narragansett Tribe.

L and L, getting older now, stole signs from the highway department, and some tarps with bright green grass blades printed on them from a construction site. The lanes they blocked off, one on each side of the highway, looked very official.

L and L died. The saplings began to open up the pavement. The wiry grasses rooted, and the tough lichens clung on.

The great-grandchildren of the people who lived in that house don’t sleep much at night. That’s when they bring the larva to the surface of the trees and pack them up for the bug-protein maker. When you kill someone, even by accident, you have to take on some of their responsibilities. Their piss fuels generators and bacteria transform their shit to fertilizer. They grow pennyroyal in small little pots, to keep the fleas off, and their eyes open widely in the dark. Through the hot days, slung in the shade of the trees, they sleep in hammocks of mosquito net, except in storms.