Collapse is a process, not an event.  And it’s already underway, all around us. …While the monetary and financial elites strain to crank out one more day/week/month/year of “market stability”, the ecosystems we depend on for life are vanishing. It’s as if the Rapture were happening, but it’s the insects, plants and animals ascending to heaven instead of we humans.” — Chris Martenson

“At the ancient pond / a frog plunges into / the sound of water” — Basho (in The Sound of Water, translated by Sam Hamill)

“Dandelions are yellow / and small / they make me / happy / when I see them. / I like to make bouquets out of them / and blow away their seeds” — Ella (my niece)

RELATIONSHIPS & COMMUNICATION

I am not a real poet.

I am a husband, a father, an organic farmer, a teacher, and an enthusiastic planter of trees.

And I also try to be honest with myself about the range of possible futures for our troubled civilization.  Short version: It doesn’t look good for us. I won’t summarize here all the climatic, ecological, social, and economic tsunamis bearing down on us at the moment, but Chris Martenson’s peakprosperity.com and the Post-Carbon Institute’s resilience.org are probably the best places to start.

That said, the question for each of us becomes this: What do we do about it?  I.e., How do we live our lives, enmeshed as we are in this increasingly-toxic soup of early-stage civilization collapse, to make the most of today and perhaps bestow upon our children a livable tomorrow?

And the answer for me comes down to strengthening relationships.

Because as the fossil-fueled modern trappings of our lives fall away, we will be increasingly left with only each other and the land.  That’s it. Just us and the land. …And it’s a good bet that both will be, at times, in rather foul humor as the strings unravel.

So we will need to cultivate relationships with the people physically around us and the actual land where we dwell.  We will be laughing, crying, loving, fighting, sweating, and relaxing with people and a land that we can physically touch.  Real relationships.

And to cultivate these relationships, we will need to do a better job communicating — both between each other and with the Land.  And this communication must be a deep communication, a skilled dialogue borne of intimate knowledge and sensitive feedback loops.

All forms of virtual reality and quasi-anonymous, shallow communication will become increasingly replaced with direct communication and concrete interactions; e.g., your family walking across the street and shooting the shit with the neighbors before you help them pick the beans; you noticing the quality of the soil, the mood of the birds, and the color of sunlight on the leaves as you carry out your daily work.

But given the increasingly-anaesthetized state of our current relationships and communication, our communication skills with both the Land and our neighbors will need to be re-learned, nurtured, and cultivated.

AMATEUR POETRY AS RELATIONSHIP THERAPY

Enter poetry.  …Or at least a ‘poetic’ state of mind.

I read a lot, but I’m just an occasional reader of poetry.  I like Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, and the very old Chinese and Japanese Buddhist poetry (a lot of it published by Shambhala).  And of course, having children, I love Shel Silverstein. But I’m only passingly familiar with other great poets and their work; I usually only encounter them when they’re quoted in other books I’m reading.

And most people in this country are, I think at most, only passingly familiar with poetry.

But it’s not poetry as ‘studied literature’ that I’m advocating for here, but rather the “poetry of everyday life” — amateur poetry written every day by common people; personal reflections written and shared with family and neighbors, borne from interacting directly (communicating!) with each other and the actual land where we live.

I recall a brief article in the NY Times a few years ago about the writing of poetry by a wide demographic of ‘common people’ in Iceland.  And although I don’t know much more about Icelandic poetry than this article, this seems like the sort of thing I’m getting at here.

It is this kind of amateur poetry, I feel, that can help nurture the kind of communication we’ll need — between our neighbors and with the land — to get through the trying times ahead, and start to refashion a resilient way of living at the appropriate scale.

And I believe in the transformative power of poetry because I can feel the change that comes over me when I regularly write little poems during my day.  It slows down my whirring mind, lets me focus on the place where I am, forces me to acknowledge the beings I am with, and brings me home to the shining present moment, before it inevitably slips away to become the past.

Of course, there are other ways to practice this sort of ‘being present’ mindfulness and communion with the land, but I think there are none that can ‘infect’ and inspire others with this spirit quite like a bunch of little poems offered up as a humble gift to friends and neighbors.

WE’LL ALL NEED TO BE POETS

So, without further adieu, here are some little haiku poems I wrote recently — just to give an example of what I’m talking about.

The haiku below were written over January 2019 at my farm in central New Jersey, and mostly have to do with farm and nature-related goings-on.  In the early morning or after I get home from school in Winter, I like to go out to the pond, walk around the pasture, and/or wander through the little patches of woods around my house.  I scribble the poems on little scraps of paper and then transcribe them into a journal every week or so. In other seasons the focus of the poems changes, as I spend more time in the vegetable garden or planting trees, etc.

The industrial workday, despite its pleasures, has an unfortunate quality of ‘everywhere and nowhere’ fantasy to it; an air of unreality that creeps in and isolates us from the land and our neighbors unless we consciously work to overcome it.  And the only way to overcome the industrial disconnect is by way of mindful, sustained attention to the places where we live and the beings with which we interact. And I believe writing, sharing, and reading poems are one way to do that.

Lastly, I make no claim to be writing ‘good’ poems here.  In poetry, as with any endeavor, there are those at the far-right end of the bell curve who have the spark of genius.  I am not one of those. …But nor are most of the would-be-poets we’ll need to reconnect our wayward nation with the land and each other.  We don’t require genius poems; we require real poems by real people that, by simply seeing and celebrating where we are and who we are with, illuminate the magic in our everyday lives.

…Because our lives are magic.  They absolutely are.  We just don’t acknowledge it nearly enough.

And nurturing this magic through everyday poetry has the very real ability to heal what we desperately must heal — our relationships with each other and with the land.

Because one day soon, that’s all we’ll have.

…And then we’ll all need to be poets.

1/1/19

first day of the year,

standing in the rain,

thinking about ice

 

shrieks of death next door;

for chicken, farmer, and fox:

bad news, good news

1/2/19

forty six geese, now

flying north on the second

day of the new year

 

bare branches of the

black willow nod in the breeze,

and from sparrow hops

1/3/19

usual path blocked

for weeks now by puddles, so

I just hop the fence

1/4/19

glowing horizon,

the city one hour away,

like a dumpster fire

 

standing by the pond

in the cold dark, i disturbed

a small sleeping bird

1/5/19

walking on the soaked

January pasture, like

walking on jello

 

not cold enough to

build a fire; but come on now,

wouldn’t it feel nice?

 

pasture like a bog;

feeling as the whole wet world

is full to the top

1/6/19

pigeons make their weird

guttural sounds under the eaves,

gossiping about sheep

 

now, just two of the

starlings remain, chattering

in the bare walnut

1/7/19

unlike summer rain

for thirsty crops, this winter

rain can be just rain

1/8/19

these old sheep bones here,

half buried in the pasture,

swallowed by the grass

1/9/19

dusk at the pond, I’m

thinking about tomorrow, when

four ducks alight, now

1/10/19

rush-hour grinds away

over on the highway, like

a great broken wheel

1/11/19

carried the yearling

into the barn; a blanket

of straw and a sigh

1/12/19

ground turned to rock,

I carry the frozen lamb

out to the pasture

1/13/19

the old fence now

holding up a wall of vines;

or being held up

 

always meaning to check

if these winter leaves persist,

always forgetting

 

pile of cold, brown feathers;

a magic trick where a duck

turned into a fox

1/14/19

half moon, half light, half

happy, half sad, half hopeful,

half scared, full alive

1/15/19

dead lamb laid open

and picked half clean, in snowy

grass among fox tracks

1/16/19

woodpile grows just a

bit smaller as the days grow

just a bit longer

1/17/19

a dusting of snow

last night, more due tomorrow;

the air like wet slush

1/18/19

dusk; great blue heron

flying over the frozen

pond before the snow

1/19/19

the juncos, starlings,

mockingbirds, and jays all think

it’s a fine morning

1/20/19

clearing grass around

the base of last year’s seedling

pawpaws; there you are!

 

black vultures lined up

like happy mourners to feast

on the newly dead

 

full dark, full moon, and

a ten-degree howling wind

that reminds who’s boss

 

what i want people

to say when I’m long dead is:

“he planted these trees”

1/21/19

you’d think that full moon

would warm it up just a bit,

but it’s a cold, cold light

 

the sheep water, freezing

almost immediately

at the bucket rim

1/22/19

ice six-inches thick,

I visit forbidden spots

on the wild pond bank

 

someday a squirrel might

run across this farm in the

leaves of these food trees

 

after the bitter cold,

still one small rivulet of

water trickling in

1/23/19

chip chip chip chip chip

say the white-throated sparrows

as ice melts at dusk

 

day by day the white

bones of the dead yearling lamb

shed their soft vestments

 

this old red maple

in the fence line I always

shiver when I touch

1/24/19

the soil, from jelly

to rock, and now back to mush

…and then back to rock

 

the pasture grasses,

the sheep, the sides of the barn;

how wet we all are!

1/25/19

chickens, still not thrilled

about the cold, soldier on,

dreaming of crickets

 

the yearling carcass,

now mostly just bones, was pulled

halfway to the woods

 

the crack that shoots through

the ice frightens me like a

primordial howl

 

what are the sparrows

saying here at dusk with their

chip chip chip chipping?

1/26/19

soft hissing leaves of

the young oak tree in the breeze;

suddenly quiet

 

water pipes to the

barn broke twenty years ago;

so I haul buckets

 

no one’s happier

for the pasture snow to melt

than these restless hens

1/27/19

a shadow disturbs

my sunbath, this cold morning;

a crow rowing past

 

the hen, perfectly

still in this morning winter

sun; and so am I

 

a barrage of shots

ring out in the tense war-zone;

the morning pond ice

1/28/19

the dogs, so attuned

to the creak of my daughter’s bed

and her small footsteps

 

the stock market swoons;

an unseen bird in the brush

offers a soft “seeet” at dusk

1/29/19

on my pre-dawn run,

the air electric with cold;

magic on the land

 

patience, patience, sir;

the little oak doesn’t care

about your timelines

1/30/19

crescent moon almost

outshined by venus in the

crystalline dawn cold

1/31/19

each squeak of my boot

on this coldest snowy dawn

promises the spring