a photo essay - otonabee watershed, kawarthas, ontario
I have always known that the currency of nature, and of all creation, is LOVE – each being in nature endlessly giving and nurturing the other. And the greatest sacrifice of all, is to give one’s life so that another may live. There is a harmonic balance in this collaboration, a vibration of joy and sweet synergy - but this intricate network is NOT the way of our humancentric society. Eco-agony is grief upon grief, from witnessing the dominance and cruelty perpetuated by human beings. It is not a simple sadness or regret. It is the memory of each beloved and how they disappeared. It is holding their ghostly forms in my psyche. It is a desolate loneliness, and a feeling that an attack on the beloved is also an attack on me. It is compounded by not “owning” the land, and by being powerless in the face of ecocide. Eco-agony is being unable to make the decision that could save the life of the beloved. Eco-agony is carried over time, as a terrible witness to gratuitous and deliberate carnage. Acute PTSD happens in the killing field, and then morphs into the interwoven and ongoing conditions of eco-agony and eco-anxiety.
Branches from beloved trees lost forever, Silver Maple leaves, bones, feathers, porcupine quills, stones, herbs, sweetgrass, sage, tobacco, bird's nest, snakeskin, fur, driftwood, barnboard, seaweed, shells and baskets.
Here on the hill, the wildlife have made their way. Over the years there have been visitations from deer, fawns, foxes, raccoons, wild turkeys, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, snakes, bats, butterflies and countless tribes of birds and insects. Down in the back fields there are deer trails and burrows in the long grass. The peepers call in the early spring from the wetlands, summer fireflies light up the meadows, and a cacophony of crickets fill the warm days and nights. There is evidence of coyotes everywhere, and their calls, howls and quarrels in the night have become a comfort, a marker of the constancy of nature and the wild spirit thriving still.
Many birds come and go on the hill, and birdsong is usually the backdrop of my days. Eco-agony is shifting baseline syndrome, as the flocks of cowbirds, geese, seagulls, ravens, vultures and swallows have diminished. Extreme weather events on migration routes caused by climate change, are taking a toll. There are so many heartbreaks I have witnessed, in one short decade that a “list” is the only way to express the pain. They did not deserve to die, for “sport," on a “whim” or for financial gain – that is evil perpetuated by human beings. Eco-agony is a catalogue, still ongoing, of my kin now gone - when they passed, and if known, a description of their killers. Not only was I the only witness, but the only human that seemed to care.
Bountiful season, Stone Circle Farm, 2023
As a new gate is carelessly installed in the neighbour’s pasture, a section of tall Lilac shrubs are destroyed. My shock turns to horror turns to anger turns to grief, and then to praise. Every year like clockwork, the astounding Lilac marks the joy of spring with fresh colour and juicy flowers, and the Lilac fragrance blesses us with new hope and new life.
Contemporary farmers have exchanged chainsaws and labour for mega machines with a claw, that pluck forests out of the ground like so many blades of grass. Next door to Stone Circle Farm, a hedgerow beside a track is pulled out, the magic of the spirits and lifeforms lost forever. The mega-machine tosses the trees, shrubs and plants into a pile, and the wider roadway allows the neighbours to bring in and install a giant solar array. Watching from a distance, I feel the agony of living things taken before their prime. The irony of destroying nature to provide “green power” does not escape me. It is even worse when the ecocide happens in spring – what kind of willful ignorance destroys first growth? My shock turns to horror turns to anger turns to grief, and then to praise. As with every farm, the ancient shapes of the undulating hills, the wisdom in rocks and deep soils, and the sacred underground waterways remain - the eternal watchers, still in place, resilient (for now) to damage perpetuated by humans. The green fuse is eternal, and the green world will continue to rewild and renew itself, long after we are gone.
Another solar array is installed - this one much closer - on the site of beloved nature walks, right across the road. Major construction is involved, the road is widened, sacred Hawthorn trees are uprooted, and rocks are moved from where they sat for hundreds of years. But worse of all are the Hydro men, who in the course of connecting the array to the grid destroy two of a rare Red Pine community, the crowning glory on the ridge. The largest one is at least 150 years old. Many other trees, large and small, are destroyed in the hedgerow under the wires. How dare anything grow, in the path of this archaic technology! The carnage brings me to fits of sobbing. I am suffering, and the sound of a chainsaw anywhere in the region begins to make me disturbed and distraught. Over time, my shock turns to horror turns to anger turns to grief, and then to praise. Mighty pines, you always stand firm, and provide a sacred network for all the species in the forest. Thank you for the magnificent sound the wind makes when rushing through your branches, bringing messages from afar. Thank you for your scent and beauty throughout the cycle of the seasons, and for your carpet of needles that nourish the forest floor.
During the years on the hill, so many plentiful and noisy flocks of Canada Geese soar overhead that I run out of the house to greet them, heart open at their majesty, and once in a while they circle around, at my call and response. Then it is hunting season. I see two men with rifles prowling in the field down below. I cannot believe what I am witnessing. There are geese flying overhead, following the unerring compass of their route, and I try to warn them. Of course my urgent calls don’t make any sense and they fly right into danger. Shots ring out, a couple of geese fall, the men run over, grab their trophies, and swing them around by the neck. I am sickened by this display of toxic masculinity, and a dark rage overcomes me. Over time, my shock turns to horror turns to anger turns to grief, and then to praise. Beloved Canadian Geese, you teach us trust, and organic patterns of community and cooperation that have lasted for millennia. Thank you for showing us how to take turns as leaders, and for lending your wings as we soar on currents of love and protection. As beings who are grounded on this sacred Earth, you will always inspire us to fly higher, and make our own pilgrimages and migrations.
It is Samhain, and a wicked wind takes the roof off the century barn here at Stone Circle Farm. From the kitchen inside the house, I can hear it crashing to the ground, like a freight train twisting through a screaming tunnel. It is terrifying. Of course the farmer-landlord takes it personally. A blow to his barn is a blow to his ego. Over the winter a lone man picks through the rubble, hired to clean up and take the precious barnboard away. The old stone walls of the barn are intact, but there is no aesthetic interest in preserving them. The site of the barn, in a lovely grove of trees, would make a tableau for events in the summer, but there is no vision in the farmer's mentality for this kind of trendy or rustic amenity. So on the summer solstice to be exact, a mega-machine is dropped off, outfitted with a giant claw. The next morning I watch nervously as it bulldozes across the land, and starts to alter the landscape. Despite my best heroic efforts and a number of frantic calls, at the end of the day most of my beloved tree friends near the barn are gone, young and old, violently uprooted and tossed aside by the horrific claw. The beautiful green space is gone. The materials that used to be a colonial barn - stone, wood, metal and living vines - have been deposited in a huge tangle. The dumping ground itself, at the very edge of the acreage, was created by destroying the place I used to call "the sacred grove." To the workmen, the farmer, and the farmer's family, my eco-anxiety is a huge joke. Over many weeks, my shock turns to horror turns to anger turns to grief, and then to praise. It is a delight to fall in love with an individual tree, or other being in Earth Community, each a unique personality the world will never see again.
The next day I assume the mega-machine will leave after changing the landscape forever, but the assault is not over. Mid-morning, from my upstairs office, I hear a mighty crack like a tree trunk breaking. I run outside, around the house and down to the woodland separating the fields. The mega-machine is destroying a mature tree border that has been in place for at least 100 years. There are no words. I halt the ecocide and just stand there in shock, preventing them from working, until the farmer-landlord brings threats, screams and insults. It only takes a couple of hours and the forest border is gone. I have gone numb, and shaking in sorrow and rage, hide myself away from this evil. And yet, in the cool of the evening when the workmen are gone, I slowly go back down to see the damage. I can feel the trauma and fear emanating from the land, and giant tree trunks, branches, and living leaves have been unceremoniously shoved into a massive pile. It is a horrendous sight. This is eco-agony, and all that it implies. The farmer has decided to take the opportunity with the hiring of the mega-machine to clear the hedgerows between his fields. The beautiful woodland, plus another green tunnel, an essential corridor for local wildlife with antique apple trees and split rail fences - are all gone. The land is barren. And ecocide is a criminal act.
For those reading these words, and have valid suggestions for healing eco-agony, I thank you for your kindness in advance. My immersive love for Mother Earth is the healing process for my own trauma. But it is difficult, when the land is hurting. To carry the scars of deep wounding and tremors of ecocide, may be the mark of a being that cares deeply for the land. Time and rejuvenation, and the power of the green fuse heals all wounds, and my positive outlook on life is just fine. But as I consider the dynamite-blasted fissures in the rocks, the fields that undergo serial rape, the clear-cut old growth forests, and the oceans full of plastic, obtaining human perfection is hardly the point. Being a witness is also part of the divine plan, and to work toward shifting the worldview of our society to an overwhelming love and respect for the land. On this beleaguered planet, there is nothing more important.
Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is
the natural way love honors what it misses.
With appreciation and gratitude to Robert "Greenman" Hood
for installation assistance and photography.
Act, Donate, Spread the Word!
Stop Ecocide International, the initiative founded by Barrister and author
Polly Higgins. www.stopecocide.earth
Ecocide Law, comprehensive resource hub providing a regularly updated collection of material relating to ecocide law, including definitions, history, publications, research, existing laws and media coverage.
The Ecocide Project at The Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study, University of London. http://surl.li/nkobu
Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, with Maude Barlow, Cormac Cullinan, Natalia Greene, Bill Twist, Vandana Shiva, Michelle Maloney and
Liz Rivers. A worldwide movement creating human communities that
respect and defend the rights of nature. www.garn.org
Available from Stone Circle Press or Amazon