Editor’s Note: This past August I hosted a gathering in rural Quebec for contributors to Dark Matter and like-minded artist friends. I had been collecting responses to Deena’s essay all summer, and so thought to bring the question to the group: “How to respond to the phenomenon of extinction illness?” We decided it was important to involve all the beings around us in this question. So one afternoon we all spread out, claimed a spot, hunkered down and began to listen……As you’ll see, some of us received long, complex responses; all of us arrived at deeper understandings. What’s striking to me in reading through these offerings is how common themes thread through both human and nonhuman voices.
Like a magnet, I was drawn to an area behind the cabin I was staying in, where a path led down to a pond or small section of the lake. With my journal and a cushion, I walked slowly down the path, lined on one side with large stones, past an abandoned, rotting tree fort. A mature pine tree, its needles brown, lay right across the path. I later learned it had probably been felled by an ambitious beaver.
I sat down on the path, and began to tune in and listen.
My attention drawn to the fallen tree, I began listening and taking notes…
The way forward is blocked. Accept that. Do not push through with an old agenda. Accept the message of ‘obstacles’ and use the time to pause and reassess: Is this the route I should pursue? Is this an issue of timing — not now, maybe later? What is this blockage protecting?
I kept listening…
Study the nature of the blockage: Is it organic, a natural phenomenon? Is it my responsibility to clear? What other creatures or elements are still able to move in, under, over or around the blockage, such as air, water, plants, small animals?
At this point, I felt a pause in the ‘conversation’ and asked if the information was complete. Yes. I focused now on the rotting tree-house as a metaphor.
A manmade structure has been abandoned and is no longer safe. It is collapsing and dangerous to inhabit. Dismantle what no longer functions and return the elements to nature. Once it has served its usefulness, do not pour excess energy into maintaining it.
While I understood this, I sensed there was more to learn…
Create with a clearer sense of the life-span of each structure, product, and service rather than proliferating endlessly without a sense of its organic cycle of completion. For example, Raven Essences, (my flower essence business), is not meant to carry on as a product/business indefinitely. The fear of endings and deaths creates an imbalanced expectation of growth and progress with no rest cycles or organic decay and return to earth. Ask yourself, ‘How long is this meant to live; when is it time to let go?’
Turning my attention to the stones along the pathway, I heard: Stones are the bones of the earth. They hold the stories of the planet. Learn to read the stone-bones as one entry into the realm of the ancestors. Every stone has a story, taking you into no-time, or beyond linear time.
The next piece of wisdom was inspired by an optical ‘illusion’ as I was finding a place to sit. For a few seconds, the ground began to morph and ‘swim’ near my feet. Twigs were snake-like, dried leaves were alive in their composting. It was a very unsettling, disorienting sensation that stayed with me, as though a veil into another world had momentarily opened.
Remember the way of Wyrd. Things are never just what they appear to be. In times of
crisis, the web of Wyrd is more operational than the static status quo. Learn to
ride and swim in these currents where anything has at least several levels
of meaning, several frequencies, several possible ways
of manifesting. Become familiar with the unfamiliar. Open into it with
wonder, curiosity, humility and wise instincts.
Taking a moment to integrate that, I became aware of the breeze in the trees, shifting from almost complete stillness to a light, playful dance, then resting again. Weather was to be my final point of entry for the question, ‘What are the ways to be with the phenomenon of extinction illness?’
The changing weather patterns are some of the most articulate indicators of the
changing times. Where our observation of weather has been primarily focused
around how it affects our human activities, it needs and deserves to be
respected and worked with as a highly intelligent and also
volatile indicator of the planet’s ‘voiced’ needs and will. There are many ways of
restoring a respectful relationship with weather. Here are a few examples
to prime the pump:
- Stop talking about weather in terms of good or bad.
- Find ways to physically be in all kinds of weather as though you are breathing in teachings through your body’s responses to heat and cold, wet and dry, still and stormy, etc. With each different weather pattern there is an enormous wealth of information. People used to appeal to weather gods; these ways of relating are not meant to alter the weather but simply to be with it. That makes a difference!
- Breathing with a breeze, being present to the subtle shifts of wind, feeling and syncing with the changing movements of leaves with a summer breeze is immensely restorative and balancing for brain and body.
- Remember how to sing to the earth, with a very focused attention on specific elements. The rapidity with which they respond will astonish you. Sound can serve as ‘fertilizer,’ ‘pesticide’ (I thought of the scale on my magnolia tree), cleanser, chemical balancer, etc. This art is one of the most essential elements of restorative earth-work.
This last piece of information felt particularly potent and personal to me. Many years ago, I used to host sound circles where we practiced the art of listening to a tree and discerning what ‘sound’ it needed, if any, to boost its vitality. Having dropped the thread of this work, I felt Nature’s invitation to return to this earth-restoration work with sound once more. As this mandate settled in my heart, a final, summing-up message emerged.
Extinction illness is only fatal if there is no creative response to the perceived condition. Remember how the word ‘cancer’ used to be equated to a death sentence. Extinction illness is a call to the forgotten, abandoned parts of our psyche that are being squeezed into remembrance and action now. How a person responds, from a rootedness in love or with a fearful reaction, will shape the nature of the experience. Notice, the ‘nature of the experience’ not the ‘outcome!’ That notion is part of what needs to be set aside. A new, more conscious relationship with death is part of this process.
Finding a place where I could sit quietly, I tried to attune to the nature around me. Rather than address a specific plant, I opened to the woods community. Before asking, I thought I would make an offering – of my own heart energy—attempting to convey my deep appreciation for the Green World. At first, my mind was busy, coming up with a list of what humans might do in this time. Breathing, letting go of the mental, I let myself slip more deeply into a space of quiet, opening to the soft flow of the energy. The embrace of the Green World came immediately and held me–a beautiful vibrant green energy–joyous, peaceful, restorative.
I think this communication from the forest at Lac Café was about love—a joyous response to a human reaching out with heart frequency. And an answer, too, to the question we were sitting with—how are we to be in this time …of loss, of peril… of extinction. Maybe the word ‘joyous’ is not quite right. What was this embrace of Green? It was like being gathered in by a vast, benevolent intelligence, received with…joy. I can’t find another word for that sense of glad welcome…and the invitation, ‘Be with us.’
meeting extinction illness:
I. the call
i open my pores
to grasshopper, water strider,
woodpecker frog sparrow
dragonfly beaver sunshine
cloud leaf wind
a warm rock holds me where I lie
water wraps my toes in silk
sky washes me in blue.
i hear my own body calling:
i am bleeding
harpooned, shot, burned
the pummeling of centuries
nature, i know that i am wounded
nature, I know that i am you
II. the response
emanates through insect shells
frog skin, beaver pelt, bone
wing, wavelet, cloud, twig –
nature incanting her reply:
i will recreate, reproduce and revive
this is my nature
the nature of nature
if you will see me
with no veil, no projection
no wishing I or the situation or the world
is different than it is
if you will witness me
and then rise in response
to what you see
with your words
with your body
with your dreams
and if you will feel
all the others
surging with you
all of you
holding to account
those who bleed us
impose on us
then I will know
that you know you are me
in witnessing, otherness dissolves
in dissolving otherness, we dispel illness
III. the call
a pause spreads into silence
until a woodpecker knocks insects
from peeling tree skin
while greenskin frog blows
smooth water into bubbles
and sparrows siphon water striders
from the lake’s surface
they call, too
these bodies who are you
i hear you sing through them
in one voice
i grow green skin
i peck away at insects
as my tiny talons clutch tree bark
i soften when i am plucked
from surface water
and slide down
a sparrow’s slender throat
and so i sing
back into you
IV. the response
extinction is a threat
because you have separated from me
because you have forgotten
that you knew how to listen
that you knew you and i were the same
it is time to midwife your ancient selves
time to walk into the fire that is burning
time to let it engulf your destructive ways
and then stir the ashes for carbon
it is time to know yourselves
as permeable membranes,
to feel me breathe into you
as you exhale into me
it is time to take me
into the deepest parts
and move with me
over and over
en route home from lac café, on isle la motte, i walked barefoot on 360-million-year-old ammonites, in a quarry that was once part of a coral reef where Africa now lies…thinking of the tumult that shifted that reef from there to this Vermont island…thinking of all that has been lost and born since…i discovered a foundation to my somatic lake experience in the heat of old, old stones, in feeling the ridges of skeletal imprints belonging to creatures no longer alive.
the earth persists, regardless of stupidity and violence.
i choose her.
when I was a kid, i walked with my grandmother on isle la motte’s shores and picked up rocks
imbedded with 360–million–year–old fossils, like this was normal, like this was nothing
extraordinary. i held in my small hands the story of the earth. i know i learned
about persistence then, i know in the remains of tiny crustaceans i understood how it would be for
me and all of us here.
Wandering, watching, staring out into the distance: diamonds on the water, waving blades of grass, buzzing of insects….
Drawn to water, this small round lake, cup in the land of thick green woods.
Walking out slowly, feeling water, cool, silky, sinking at last into soft wetness. Gliding slowly, lazily toward White Rock, as if pulled. Like an iceberg, most of White Rock is under water tapering out to the deep, rooted into lake. Sliding along, up her slippery underwater slope my hand latches onto a protrusion. Finding footing in rock-cleft, hoisting my body up her side, dripping. Mmmmmm… flanking out tummy-down on gently curved sun-hot rock. Smooth, rough, black specks in white hard granite, receiving my body. Smelling earthscent of Rock.
Out of crevices grow tree, small bush – marsh grasses in wetlands beyond. Helicopter dragonflies and dazzling blue airbeings thrum, flitting here there…being, living.
Eating resting moving buzzing. Being eaten.
Being with dying, with the ill, affirming life in the beauty of dying and death. Returning to Earth the squashed and flattened frog body found along the road. Recomposing of all bodies… feeding, sprouting new life.
Life affirming, tending, praying, loving. Our (human) responsibility is to Earth. We can only be in love and loving. Love and let love. “It’s simple, not easy.”*
First, I realize that I can’t assume that there is such a thing as “Extinction Illness.” Rather, I feel the question is: how do we respond to death…extinction…the possibility of extinction of other species and our own…which is in essence, a question of how we respond to death, whether individual or collective.
I feel an ongoing commitment to life from almost every being I encounter…even those who are struggling, suffering, dying.
I took this question to the land and beings at Lac Café, and connected with others at a distance.
Hummingbird: Her response came in feeling, images, and rapid communication of understanding. I asked her, “Are you aware of “extinction,” of the vast changes on our planet?
Of course! Food, navigation, the energetic channels–all are changing and shifting.
Shift dimensions! Shift realities! Find new ways of being!
Mushrooms, including the mushroom spores: We are always regenerating, rebirthing. We are always creating new life, from the moist, the dark, the decomposing. There is not a line between life and death. There is a continuum of life/death, death/life. Always, there is regeneration from decay, from death. It is the way of the universe.
Then, I brought the question to Lise’s cats:
Buh: I send my energy deep into the earth. I delight in its lusciousness–we are the same being. My belly–the air–the ecstasy in my bones–the pleasure in my cells–I love. Love, Love, Love. It’s like a great water bowl of Love.
BoBo: I weave the web of protection, of life. I am the energetic guardian of this land, and beyond.
When I ask her about extinction, the answer comes clear, loudly, and fast, Not for cats!!
She says The lines of energy will always be there. They will always create life. I understand that Bobo understands energy fields as a generative force.
Bee: This was a particular bee who was feeding near some flowers close to where I was sitting. S/he communicated:
We sing the new earth into being. As our bodies die, we sing our song. Generative rebirth, vibrancy. Calling new life, new energy in.
The Earth is not dying. Individuals die. Individual expressions/species die. The Earth herself is not dying. She was clear and emphatic about this.
Pond Damselflies: From the many pond damselflies at Lac Café I felt an awareness of being spirit touching briefly into form…along with an exuberant joy in life, in water, in the plants, leaves, twigs that become their resting place, in their mating, in their laying of eggs and then dying. I felt in my body the lightness of spirit, of no-time, of touching in again and again to a form that to my human eyes seems so small, light…but from their perspective is so perfect, so right. I could feel their sensitivity, the amazing quality of perception through their eyes, and their collective as well as individual awareness.
Right Whale: In the week before coming to Lac Café, I had the privilege of spending time at a whale research station in northern Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While there, we had an encounter with a north Atlantic right whale, a species that is currently in sharp decline as a result of climate disruption, which has changed their feeding and migration routes, and is increasing the instances of deaths by ship strike and fishing gear entanglement. The population is now estimated to be at just 400 individuals. This whale was an 11-year old male who is well-known to researchers.
When I communicated with the individual right whale, I asked what, if anything, I or the women gathering at Lac Café could offer him and his species. The response was clear: Offer your love. See us. Be with us. Pray with us. Love us. Witness our grief. Honor us. Do ceremony with us, connect with us, allow us to connect with you. Share your energy with us and we will share our energy with you. Let it be simple. Share your prayers, your intentions for our well-being. See our species vibrant, whole, healthy. Your gratitude for us, your intention to care for us, gives us strength and energy.
When, at Lac Café, I returned to the right whale, and asked specifically about a response to “extinction” and/or “extinction illness,” his awareness and communication was clear:
It’s all energy. We, the planet, you, all of us…everything…it’s all energy. We know this. We understand this in our bodies, our lives, our communities, our families.
Yes, we are stressed. We are adjusting and adapting to find food. Many of us are dying. Yet, we are still here. We are still living our lives…expressing ourselves through our bodies. We may not survive…as individuals, or as a species, but now, we are here, and we are aware of the efforts to help us, and we are not gone yet. Nor are you.
Bodies die. We grieve the losses of our kin. We hold a particular frequency of energy, and when that expression in physical form “dies,” there is a loss, and grief.
Yet. And. All is energy. All is spirit. The generative energy of the cosmos…of life…of spirit…of sentience…is infinite.
I see the figure 8, the infinity symbol…
The sacred geometry in all its forms shows us this.
There is a great “unburdening” at this time. Your human perspective is limited: in time, energy, scope. There are multiple dimensions, multiple layers of reality.
Then came a communication that was not from any particular individual, but rather, a general, gestalt knowing held in the energy field of Lac Café and beyond:
The manifestation of “illness’ with regard to the question of extinction comes when there are not the tools–physical or spiritual–to process disruption and trauma.
As I considered the communications and transmissions I received, I realized that there was an essential/essence message from all:
There is a creative, vibrant, rich energy of aliveness that is transformative, regenerative, nutrient-rich: It is the energy of love.
The energy in a dying form will find a new form.
The only “illness’ is in resistance…holding onto what is/was…a refusal to shift.
Chaos now…yes. There have been many times of chaos. There is an alchemy…the alchemy of love…we all hold this in our cells. Life comes from death, birth comes from pain and chaos.
On moss-covered rock among trees above lake. ENERGY is what I see and hear, so much ENERGY so much happening NOW, if there’s any message it’s this: WE LIVE IN THE NOW.
And then this: WE RESTORE WE FLOURISH.
I have planted myself in the path of an ant highway. Ants are crawling over my legs. Extinction Illness? I don’t think ants are afflicted… not these ants anyway.
Oh lake I throw my tired body into you every morning.
And what is it you think restores you? It’s all those dead tree bodies becoming lake. That’s how we work. Death begetting life.
The exercise asked us to open our hearts and minds to the spirit(s) of Nature, to listen for guidance beyond our concepts and beliefs. Such a subjective and directly engaged process alters us. Each time I listen to the spirit of a tree or an ancient stone, I become consciously porous. I am less ‘human’ in the narrow sense of the word, and more fully ‘human-being-with-life.’
In my years of deep listening to the spirit of the earth, I am aware that she doesn’t just want our mental solutions. She calls for our very souls. In our arrogance, intimate connection with our souls is what we have stolen from her; now it is costing us our very lives. Major changes do need to be made in how we have constructed our lives in destructive ways, but the earth’s invitation to open our hearts and minds to her wisdom remains constant, whether we are confronted by hurricanes or the quiet call of a dragonfly. Learning to listen to the woods, the waters, the stones, the creatures that are drawn to teach and be with us may be the most gentle yet radically effective way of meeting this crisis. Our time at Lac Café was a step in this direction.
ABOUT THE HUMAN AUTHORS
Andrea Mathieson is a writer and creative intuitive who honed her deep listening skills while listening to the spirit of plants. Developed over 25 years, the Raven Essence project is a living system that continues to evolve in sync with her personal growth. Based in Port Hope, an hour east of Toronto, Andrea hosts webinars, women’s councils and private one-on-one retreats.
Cynthia Ross is an artist and writer, recently retired from teaching. She has lived in Vermont for most of her adult life, enjoying the challenge of the seasons and the robust green world. Currently, her creative work, sculpture and writing, draws upon her earlier studies of Medieval art and culture. She also enjoys singing in a chorus (mainly medieval and Renaissance music).
Anne Bergeron lives in a forest on a handmade homestead in West Corinth, Vermont. She walks daily in the company of coyote, cloud, bear, storm, deer, conifer, sunlight, and crow. She is preoccupied with learning how to listen to non-human beings, and with expressing her somatic understanding through writing, photography, and teaching.
Debby Black is an artist, reader, ponderer, wanderer and gatherer who is learning to listen to the call of Earth/Spirit. For nineteen she volunteered in a “hospice without walls” being with people in their dying time who wanted to die at home. A fledgling writer, she lives in downtown Toronto with her partner of thirty-two years, and a tiny front garden, now a mini forest and a slightly larger back garden, with vines, trees and herbs.
Nancy Windheart is an internationally respected animal communicator and interspecies communication teacher. Her work has been featured in television, radio, magazine, and online media, and she has written for many digital and print publications. Nancy’s life’s work is to develop deep harmony and understanding between species and on our planet through interspecies communion, connection, and communication, and to facilitate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and growth for beings of all species through her services, classes, training programs, and retreats. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her animal family of dogs, cats, and chickens. To learn more visit www.nancywindheart.com.
Lise Weil, editor of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, spends her summers at Lac Café. She is eternally grateful to all the beings who live there year ‘round.
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