Wit(h)nessing Interdependent Loss in the Pandemic Year of 2020

Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures, life ways, and ecological communities.

Whilst emphasizing that these losses are rooted in violent and discriminatory governing practices, the day provides an opportunity for participants to make or renew commitments to all who remain, and to develop creative and practical solutions. Remembrance Day for Lost Species honors diverse experiences and practices associated with enduring and witnessing the loss of cultural and biological diversity. Participate in any way you choose.
-Founded in the U.K. 2011

“Lamentations for My Planet-2020” work in progress, Artist’s Book; Opening Page

In response to Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS) I founded THE GRIEVING PLANET PROJECT in 2019. It is the directive for my work as an artist, guiding the creation of works and exhibits that offer welcoming, safe space(s) to acknowledge the feelings of grief, anger and helplessness experienced with the past, present and anticipated extinction and endangerment of species and ecosystems. Grief work is a passageway to empowerment, spiritual awareness, and creativity. It is a powerful key to open doors of responsibility for, and commitment to, all sentient beings of our ‘island home’ – earth. It aids in navigating despair and the tragic consequences of revenge.

A year ago I started a group of art pieces for Earth Day 2020. This project of paintings, prints, installation objects and artist’s book is for my exhibit, Standing With the Grieving Planet. The exhibit, postponed because of the pandemic, continues to evolve. One of the pieces in the exhibit is “Lamentations for My Planet”, a Japanese Style Orihon book in concertina format that opens to 6 feet in length. The first page dated January 7, 2020 ( see photo) is the transposed photographic image of an adult kangaroo escaping one of the thousands of engulfing infernos raging in Australia. This book, a current work in progress, holds written and visual work of ecological grief, lamentations for the loss of biodiversity on the planet. Now, at the end of November, I reflect daily on the over 200,000 human deaths in the United States, multiplied around the world because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I can only imagine the depths of individual grief creating a tsunami of despair in the lives of individual survivors around the planet. There is a direct connection between the loss of planetary ecosystem and the spread of pandemics. Recent studies repeatedly show that a healthy biodiversity is essential to human health. The loss of biodiversity is directly linked to the rise of deadly diseases1. Biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission across a wide range of infectious disease systems. These pathogens can include viruses, bacteria and fungi. Humans are not the only ones at risk: all manner of other animal and plant species could be affected.2

I take the questions and pain of how to hold all of this with open heart and vast mind with me on my early morning mountain forest walks. How do I as an artist, a woman committed to the well-being and happiness of all sentient beings wit(h)ness to this? In the silence of approaching winter a visualization of a world wide pulsating mobius strip appears. No beginning, no ending. Pulsating with the rhythm of a heart beat in continuous movement: In/out, around and through. I will be exploring this more in further posts.

1 3 March 2020, “The loss of biodiversity, the rise of deadly disease” in BEYONDKONA
2 16 June 2020, “Vertebrates on the brink as indications of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction.” In PNAS 117 (24) 1 June 2020

The GRIEVING PLANET PROJECT is rooted in my understanding of Hospice Care, Deep Ecology, the power of grief awareness, and communal mourning.

The fires in California continue to rage, now erupting in Washington and Oregon. The planet’s state of “terminal agitation”1 resounds within my body, soul and psyche. Our planet is writhing in furor, screaming in pain, the sensitive balance of ecosystems shattered. What have we done? What have we done? What are we doing?

Fires rage in a frenzy consuming every living being in its path. Humans flee for their lives, animals wander in a delirium of displacement. All grieve in disorientation and collapse. Tears and fear mingle in smoldering ash. San Francisco Bay is smothered in brown-orange haze, a firmament of angst and sorrow. The morning fog can not quiet or calm, it is wrapped in its own sorrow. The inferno rages on. It mirrors what is raging within me. There is no relief in the salinity of the ocean, overwhelmed as it struggles with its own acidity. On the other side of the Continental Divide, in my mountain home at 9,000’, I wipe ash from my window sills and deck. Five fires are raging in Colorado. Devouring flames race across mountain passes as the roar of slurry bombers reverberate through early darkness. They are flying into the night, as the blood orange sun drops behind the mountains. The forest around my home is filled with brown smoke. I breath in gasps as I walk up my driveway. There is no blue sky, no billowing clouds, no green canopy of Fir and Aspen trees only the apocalyptic brown smoke of the planet’s agonized expirations. A death rattle we refuse to hear, we can’t bear to hear, so we leave the room, we deny and deny again and again. We continue living in a posture of apathy and overwhelm. I walk in the forest. My eyes streaming tears, my throat constricted from smoke and rage, an agitation that will not cease. The local moose lay low in the Aspen groves preserving their energy. A female and this year’s calf gaze deeply at me as I stand in the solitude of the forest, ‘my’ forest that echos only silence. The silence of the impending.

My heart breaks into shattering shards. I feel them flying everywhere like flames. I experience cavernous sorrow. It is so gaping that it pierces through my sleep.

I am an artist in wit(h)ness. A wit(h)ness so stark, I fear I may not survive the bottomless descent that seeds the clear focus of response. I fear I may spend the remainder of my days in terminal agitation. The only relief for terminal agitation is the release of death. What death am I being called to in these times? In this place? Where is the grounding of my Buddhist practice? Are my precepts of vast mind snd open heart lost in the smoke of this bardo, the watery state between death and re-birth? Will the shards of my broken heart ever be gathered into a space of understanding and clear, compassionate action or will I roam in the delirium of displacement and agitation forever?

1 A syndrome that may occur near the end of life with manifestations of physical, emotional and/or spiritual restlessness, as well as anxiety, agitation and cognitive decline in the days leading to death Organ failure results in metabolic alterations affecting brain function and decreased oxygen levels. These systemic effects exacerbate terminal agitation. It is often believed that this is the dying person’s existential response to death’s approach, a visceral way the body reacts to THE SHATTERING OF INERTIA.

Calling the Rain 30″ x 24″ O/Mulberry Paper courtesy of the artist.

From the poet Tishani Doshi –EVERYTHING BELONGS ELSEWHERE (2013)

Ode to the Walking Woman

              Sit —

you must be tired

of losing yourself

this way:

a bronzed rib 

of exhaustion

thinned out

against the night.

          Sit —

there are still things

to believe in

like civilizations

and birthing

and love.

And ancestors

who move 

like silent tributaries

from red-earthed villages

with history cradled

in their mythical arms.

        But listen,

what if they swell

through the gates

of your glistening city?

Will you walk down

to the water’s edge,

immerse your feet

till you can feel them

dancing underneath?

Mohenjo Daro’s brassy girls

with bangled wrists

and cinnabar lips;

turbaned Harappan mothers

standing wide

on terra-cotta legs;

egg-breasted Artemis —

Inanna, Ishtar, Cybele,

clutching their bounteous hearts

in the unrepentant dark, crying:  Daughter,

why have the granaries

and great baths disappeared?

Won’t you resurrect yourself,

make love to the sky,

reclaim the world?