Our first asparagus harvest: worth the wait

Our first asparagus harvest: worth the wait

Two years ago, at the end of what we were told had been the coldest March for fifty years, I cleared a layer of frozen snow on our allotment and planted fifteen asparagus crowns that we had ordered from the Royal Horticultural Society, but which arrived just as a blizzard moved in. After a week, with the crowns in danger of drying out, I took a gamble and, in bitterly cold weather, planted them out. Continue reading “Our first asparagus harvest: worth the wait”

The fence: between a world of need and a world of excess

The fence: between  a  world  of  need  and  a  world of excess

José Palazón Melilla

Sometimes there is a photograph that captures in one image an essential truth.

Jose Palazon is a resident of the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla, a nick in the Mediterranean coastline of Morocco. The enclave is surrounded by a tall fence, built and guarded with the help of European Union money to try to prevent African migrants from reaching Spanish territory. Palazon runs an organization called Prodein, which attempts to help immigrants who enter the enclave illegally.  On Wednesday this week he took the photo above as more than 200 migrants attempted to cross the massive border fence.

In the photo, the migrants are attempting to escape into the Club Campo de Golf de Melilla, a public golf course where games can cost up to £20. The per capita income of Melilla is 15 times more than that of the surrounding areas of Morocco and astronomically higher than many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of African immigrants living illegally in Morocco try to enter Spain’s enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta each year, hoping to reach Europe.

Jonathan Jones writing in today’s Guardian made this analysis of Palazon’s photograph:

The obscenity of this photograph lies in the willed indifference of the golfers. They play as if they could not see the desperate danglers so close to their pampered game. They are clad in expensive, well-laundered white clothes and equipped with caddies of top-notch gear. The creases and cleanness of their apparel are obvious even at a distance and contrast glaringly with the shabby garb of the migrants. The players shine in the African sun, their unwilling audience wears clothes that grimly repel it.[…]

The enclosed garden they inhabit is an artificial paradise that luridly triumphs over nature. Out there, in that other world, nature itself looks poor and unforgiving. Wild grasses and raw earth on a sparse hillside. In here, in the paradise of the wealthy and the lucky, the grass is so synthetically fed, so monstrously cosseted that it glows with an unreal almost fluorescent lime beauty. It is like a Beverly Hills lawn transplanted to the moon. […]

It is a metaphor not just of Spain’s enclave in north Africa as an uneasy meeting place of two worlds, but of the rich and poor parts of humanity. The golf course is Europe itself, shutting out a common humanity clamouring for better lives. Your poor, your tired, your huddled masses? Wrong continent.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said 2,000 migrants have made it across Melilla’s border fence in roughly 60 attempts so far this year. Those that make it head for the city’s temporary migrant accommodation centre. They are eventually repatriated or let go. There are more dramatic photos of the Melilla fence on the International Business Times website (!?) here.

Seumus Milne commented in the Guardian earlier this month:

Given the escalating scale of global inequality, the only surprise is that migration pressures are not greater still. In the late 19th century average income in the richest countries was around five times that of the poorest. By the early years of this century, it was more than 18 times higher – in the US it is now around 25 times that of the poorest.

The champions of capitalist globalisation insisted that the power of global markets would change all that. But, if you strip out China – which has delivered the fastest growth and poverty reduction in history, albeit at high environmental and social cost, by ignoring the neoliberal Washington consensus – poverty and inequality has continued to grow between as well as within countries.

As the catechism of ‘free market’ deregulation has been imposed across the world under “free trade” and “partnership” agreements and the destructive discipline of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, capital and resources have been sucked out of the developing world and tens of millions of people have been driven into urban poverty by corporate land grabs.

That is why the number living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled since 1981 under the sway of rich world globalisation. Africa’s boom has been in resource exploitation, not in most people’s living standards. So it is hardly surprising that migration from the global south to high and middle-income countries has more or less tripled over the past half century.

Add the impact of multiple wars over the past two decades, sponsored or fuelled by rich world countries – from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali and Libya – and the pressures on Europe’s borders and off its coasts are not hard to understand.

Melilla fence

The Melilla fence

The Immigrants by Margaret Atwood

They are allowed to inherit
the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks
exhausted and soft, the deep
lawnsmells, orchards whorled
to the land’s contours, the inflected weather

only to be told they are too poor
to keep it up, or someone
has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns
pass laws which declare them obsolete.

I see them coming
up from the hold smelling of vomit,
infested, emaciated, their skins grey
with travel; as they step on shore

the old countries recede, become
perfect, thumbnail castles preserved
like gallstones in a glass bottle, the
towns dwindle upon the hillsides
in a light, paperweight-clear.

They carry their carpetbags and trunks
with clothes, dishes, the family pictures;
they think they will make an order
like the old one, sow miniature orchards,
carve children and flocks out of wood

but always they are too poor, the sky
its flat, the green fruit shrivels
in the prairies sun, wood is for burning;
and if they go back, they towns

in time have crumpled, their tongues
stumble among awkward teeth, their ears
are filled the sound of breaking glass.
I wish I could forget them
and so forget myself:

my mind is a wide pink map
across which move year after year
arrows and dotted lines, further and further,
people in railway cars

their heads stuck out of the windows
at the stations. drinking milk of singing,
their features hidden with beards or shawls
day and night riding across an ocean of unknown
Land to an unknown land.

Melilla fence sea

A Melilla fence ends in the Mediterranean at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave

See also

Capitalism: an infantile disorder

Capitalism: an infantile disorder

The other night I watched Surviving Progress, a documentary shown on BBC4 that questions the standard view of progress, suggesting that civilizations are repeatedly destroyed by ‘progress traps’ – technologies that serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. In the past, civilizations could use up a region’s resources and move on. But if today the global economic system collapses from over-consumption and laying waste the planet’s resources, that’s it. There is nowhere else to go.

The message of the film seemed to reinforce a growing feeling I’ve had in recent weeks that the global capitalist system we live under (‘civilization’ seems to noble a term), far from being, as presented by the practitioners of that dubious discipline economics, one of rationally operating markets that deliver sensible and sustainable outcomes, is no more than an infantile disorder: stupid, irrational, and self-destructive.

Surviving Progress argues that the world has financed an unsustainable growth rate by essentially encouraging whole nations to take out unpayable mortgages on their own futures. In the film, Brazil is taken as an example: huge loans are advanced to the nation, which is unable to keep up the repayments, and is then encouraged to liquefy its own natural assets – the rainforests. When the assets are gone and the wealth extracted, the corporations leave behind a drained nation and the bankers move on to another loan customer.

Dumb? Absolutely.  The same sense of stupidity emerged from a piece in The Guardian recently, written by Ha-Joon Chang of Cambridge University and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Commenting on the eurozone crisis and the unwillingness of the eurozone leaders to alter their austerity policies, even as Greece and Spain fall apart, he noted that it is increasingly accepted that these policies are not working in the current environment. But what’s worse is that there is abundant historical evidence showing that austerity has never worked. What kind of person fails to learn the lessons of previous experience?  Ha-Joon Chang has the answer:

Perhaps they are insane – if we follow Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. But the more likely explanation is that, by pushing these policies against all evidence, our leaders are really telling us that they want to preserve – or even intensify, in areas like welfare policy – the economic system that has served them so well in the past three decades.

He concludes that the time has come for us to decide:

Do we want a society where 50% of young people are kept out of work in order to bring the deficit down from 9% of GDP to 3% in three years? A society in which the rich have to be made richer to work harder (at their supposed jobs of investing and creating wealth) while the poor have to be made poorer in order to work harder? Where a tiny minority (often called the 1% but more like the 0.1% or even 0.01%) control a disproportionate, and increasing, share of everything – not just income and wealth but also political power and influence (through control of the media, thinktanks, and even academia)?

If you want a tiny example of how a rich elite are increasing their share of wealth and running the country in their selfish interests, meanwhile threatening the environment, read George Monbiot’s brilliant piece of investigative journalism, published this week in the Guardian.  He writes that ‘the pheasant, rather than the Gini coefficient should now be the unit for measuring inequality.

As Britain heads towards Edwardian levels of inequality, the countryside reverts to a playground for the rich, in which anything that cannot be shot and eaten is shot and hung from a gibbet. The aristocracy is back in charge. … In the countryside, as in the towns, policy is becoming the preserve of the 1%. The rest of us pay the landowners to expand their estates and destroy the wildlife. That’s what they mean when they say we’re all in this together.

Worth reading, too, is Larry Elliott’s chilling despatch from Greece last week.  Elliott, along with Paul Mason of Newsnight, is always a reliable guide to the world of financial capitalism.  Just days after IMF Chief Christine Lagarde provoked fury with her outrageous comments about ‘tax-dodging’ Greeks, Elliott wrote:

Greece is broke and close to being broken. It is a country where children are fainting in school because they are hungry, where 20,000 Athenians are scavenging through waste tips for food, and where the lifeblood of a modern economy – credit – is fast drying up.  It is a country where the fascists and the anarchists battle for control of the streets, where immigrants fear to go out at night and where a woman whispers “it’s like the Weimar republic” as a motorcycle cavalcade from the Golden Dawn party, devotees of Adolf Hitler, cruises past the parliament building. Graffiti says: “Foreigners get out of Greece. Greece is for the Greeks. I will vote for Golden Dawn to remove the filth from the country.”

It has been interesting, too, to read the reviews of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy.  It’s a study of ‘the moral limits of markets’ in the context of the increasing ubiquity of market ideas.

Michael Sandel

‘Over the past three decades,’ Sandel writes, ‘markets – and market values – have come to govern out lives as never before.’ Sandel is not arguing from a socialist position, and argues that markets can work in the right situation. He asserts: ‘No other mechanism for organising the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful for generating affluence and prosperity’. But Sandel is interested in what he sees as a critical loss of our collective moral compass in recent times as market thinking has swept the board in economics, and then spread to almost every area of public policy:

The most fateful change that unfolded in the last three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.

His central thesis is that markets have a moral impact on the goods that are traded in them. When something which is supposed to be a common good is marketised it invariably leads not only to unfairness, but, just as importantly, it corrupts and degrades the thing being marketised.

He quotes a vivid example that sums up the entire argument of What Money Can’t Buy; an Israeli daycare centre, which had a problem of parents turning up late to collect their children, introduced fines. The result? Late pick-ups increased. Parents turned up late, paid the fine, and thought no more of it; the fine had turned into a fee.  Morality had been marketised.  The fear of disapproval and of doing the wrong thing (turning up late) was based on non-monetary values, on morality. Even though the daycare centre went back to the old system, parents kept turning up late, because the introduction of market values had killed the old ideas of collective responsibility. Sandel concludes:

The question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?

The economic and social progress that has resulted in climate change raises questions of morality in an intractable form.  In a recent article in the London Review of Books, Malcolm Bull wrote:

Adam Smith once noted that we are less troubled by the prospect of a hundred million people dying as a result of an earthquake in some distant location than of losing our little finger, but would nevertheless be horrified by the idea we might allow them to die in order to save it. Climate change effectively transforms the former scenario into the latter, and so places unprecedented demands on our moral imagination. Almost every little thing we do contributes to our carbon footprint, which increases greenhouse gases, which could in turn ultimately threaten hundreds of millions of lives in some remote time and place – the uncertainty only adding to the sublime awfulness of our responsibilities.

Bull’s conclusion was hopeful, though:

Climate change does not tempt us to be less moral than we might otherwise be; it invites us to be more moral than we could ever have imagined. … Climate ethics is … a new chapter in the moral education of mankind. It may tell us things we do not wish to know … but the future development of humanity may depend on what, if anything, it can teach us.

Returning to Surviving Progress.  The film illustrates the argument of the book, A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. He was previously known to me as an authority on the pre-Colombian civilizations of the Americas.  Some time ago I read a couple of his books on this subject, Stolen Continents: The ‘New World’ through Indian Eyes and Cut Stones and Crossroads: Journey in the Two Worlds of Peru.  This film continues and develops Wright’s interest in how civilizations rise – and are destroyed. He coins the term ‘progress trap’ to define human behaviours that seem to amount to progress and to provide benefits in the short-term, but which ultimately lead to disaster because they’re unsustainable.

The film argues his case that the exponential growth in human numbers, the development of technologies, and the rapacious exploitation of the world’s natural resources threaten the planet, and the very existence of humanity.  ‘Progress’ – defined in terms of never-ending economic growth – could destroy us.  On population growth, he states controversially:

Between the fall of the Roman Empire and Columbus sailing, it took 13 centuries to add 200 million people to the world’s population. Now it takes only three years. A simple thing like pasteurization, the warming of milk so that the bacteria are killed and the control of smallpox. Things like that have led to a great boom in human numbers.  So, overpopulation, which nobody really wants to talk about because it cuts at things like religious beliefs and the freedom of the individual and the autonomy of the family and so forth, is something that we’re going to have to deal with. We probably have to work towards a much smaller worldwide population than 6 or 7 billion. We probably need to go down to a half that or possibly even a third of that, if everybody is going to live comfortably and decently.

But the film also tackles the more significant aspect of this problem: the footprint of the individuals at the top of the social pyramid who are consuming the most. Somebody in the United States or Europe is consuming about 50 times more resources than a poor person in a place like Bangladesh.  And to sustain the lifestyles of the planet’s rich, the banks and big corporations plunder the natural capital of our home, planet earth.  In the film Wright sums up the problem as he sees it:

Some people have written about natural capital, the capital that nature provides, which is the clean air, the clean water, the, the uncut forests, the, the rich farmland, and the minerals, the oil, the metals. All of these things are the capital that nature has provided. And until about 1980, human civilization was able to live on, what we might term, the interest of that capital, the surplus that nature is able to produce, the food that farmland can grow without actually degrading the farmland or the number of fish you can pull out of the sea without causing the fish stocks to crash. But since 1980, we’ve been using more than the interest, and so we are in effect like somebody who thinks he’s rich because he’s spending the money that has been left in his inheritance, not spending the interest but eating into the capital.

Margaret Atwood appears in the film, and underlines its message with these words:

Instead of thinking that nature is this huge bank that we can just, this endless credit card that we can just keep drawing on, we have to think about the finite nature of that planet and how to keep it alive so that we too may remain alive. Unless we conserve the planet, there isn’t going to be any ‘the economy’.

Surviving Progress argues that faith in progress has become a kind of religious faith, a sort of fundamentalism, rather like the market fundamentalism that has just recently crashed and burned. Wright says:

The idea that you can let markets rip is a delusion, just as the idea that you can let technology rip, and it will solve the problems created by itself in a slightly earlier phase. That, that has become a belief very similar to the religious delusions that caused some societies to crash and burn in the past.

The anthropologist Jane Goodall puts it this way:

Unlimited economic progress in a world of finite natural resources doesn’t make sense. It’s a pattern that is bound to collapse. And we keep seeing it collapsing, but then we build it up because there are these strong vested interests, we must have business as usual. And you know, you get the arms manufacturers, you get the petroleum industry, the pharmaceutical industry and all of this feeding into helping to create corrupt governments who are putting the future of their own people at risk.

Towards the end of the film, Ronald Wright sums up his case in these words:

All the civilizations of the past, and I think our own, only seem to be doing well when they’re expanding, when the population is growing, when the industrial output is growing, and when the cities are spreading outwards. Eventually you reach the point at which the population has overrun everything, the cities have expanded over the farmland, the people at the bottom begin to starve, and the people at the top lose their legitimacy. And so, you get, you get hunger, you get revolution.Now, one kind of scary thing about the moment we’re in is that for the first time there’s kind of only one system. So, if the whole thing goes down, you won’t have what you’ve had in previous eras of epic collapse, which is that even a one civilization goes down, and it may take a while to recover, there are other robust civilizations that are kind of the guardians of progress.

As I listened to Margaret Atwood say, ‘all we’ve got is planet Earth, and we are destroying, we are polluting, we are damaging the future of our own species’, I thought of Banga, the new album from Patti Smith that I’ve been listening to this week.  In part, her theme is  environmental crisis and the destruction of the beauty and mystery of the natural world.  The album concludes with her own haunting take on Neil Young’s visionary account of planetary collapse from the 1970s, ‘After the Gold Rush’, which has ‘Mother nature’s silver seed’ setting off in spaceships to a new home.  Only – there is nowhere else to go.

On the previous track Patti Smith explores ideas that touch on the discussion here. ‘Constantine’s Dream’ is a ten minute improvised, half-sung, half-spoken meditation that weaves together Columbus’s voyage to the New World, the life and work of Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, the pastoral ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, and environmental cataclysm.

In Arezzo, Patti has a dream in which Saint Francis weeps at the current state of the environment,then, in the dawn, she leaves her room, ‘stepping down the ancient stones, washed with dawn’ and enters the Basilica of San Francesco:

I saw before me the world of his world
The bright fields, the birds in abundance
All of nature of which he sang
Singing to him
All the beauty of nature surrounded him as he walked

But Patti is senses ‘the call of art, the call of man’ and is drawn to the beauty of Piero della Francesca‘s ‘Legend of the True Cross’, a series of tableaux that includes ‘The Dream of Constantine’, Francesca’s representation of the moment when the crusading Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity after seeing the vision of the True Cross: ‘with this sign shall thou conquer’. In her poem, Patti has Francesca cry out on finishing his painting:

Oh lord let me die on the back of adventure
With a brush and an eye full of light.

The Dream of Constantine by Piero della Francesca in the Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo

Francesca dies in October 1492, just as ‘a world away, on three great ships, adventure itself’ Columbus arrives on the shore of the ‘New World’. Patti imagines the ecstatic vision of Columbus as he sees the New World for the first time:

And as far as his eyes could see
No longer blind
All of nature unspoiled, beautiful

Columbus set foot on the New World
And witnessed beauty unspoiled
All the delights given by God
As if Eden had opened up her heart to him
And opened her dress
And all of her fruit gave to him

Columbus falls into a swoon and a vision of his own:

The 21st century advancing like the angel
That had come to Constantine
Constantine in his dream

Oh this is your cross to bear …

All shall crumble into dust
Oh thou navigator
The terrible end of man
This is your gift to mankind
This is your cross to bear
Then Columbus saw all of nature aflame

The apocalyptic night
And the dream of the troubled king
Dissolved into light.

The album closes with Patti, accompanied by small children, singing:

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 21st century…

Everything about it is a love song

Everything about it is a love song

The Guardian Review today contains responses to climate change by artists, authors and poets in advance of  December’s Copenhagen summit in which world leaders will try to reach a global deal to tackle global warming. The contributions also mark the launch of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue contained the finest work I have read by Andrew Motion: The Sorcerer’s Mirror

1
Midnight and midsummer in London.
I step out through the French windows
and stand in my quarter-acre of garden
so I can feel the earth more clearly turn
and breathe in what passes for its sleep.
Dark green wind through the flighty cherry.
Fruit glistening on the woven branches
where an apple tangles with a bristly vine.
And at my back the spacious mulberry tree,
my favourite, which is always last to leaf
then stays longest, spreading its big hands
above my head now the sky gulps abruptly
and the smell of crushed grass and dry brick
wakes as the dark earth wakes and I look on.

2
I see what I hear: a sleepless song thrus
still claiming its territory in the darkness,
and the sour music of traffic cruising close
by the edge of the garden, swept on a breeze
which was also pure and simple once, although
tonight, in the same long breath that shakes
the mulberry leaves, it carries and scatters me
over the polar cap and snapped-off sea-ice –
every luminous, upside-down meadow stitched
with gorgeous frost-flowers and icicle grass
three thousand years have worked through
and sculpted in silence – all now withering
into warmer seas, slipping loose their cargo
of millions of silvery krill and plankton
in deeper currents and quick, chaotic flow.

3
After that breath a pause. Rain settling
over Camden and Kentish Town, but here
a cloud-break and the cherry still at her station.
I take my place in the open, intending to lift
clear of myself, beyond the miserable sky-litter
of planes circling in their stack, until I arrive
in the star fields and find the gods still playing
their long-drawn-out games. Except when I reach
Orion unbuckling his belt, and Venus drawing
a velvet curtain round her candle to brood alone,
I travel through to the tattered ceiling where day
after day sunlight seizes the smoke of burnt offerings
we have made to ourselves, and breaks them down
into stark chlorine and bromide as proof of sacrifice.

4
Here comes the rain, driving me in to hide
under the mulberry: the first drops splashy,
then in a flash tighter and smaller, then thinning
to dust, then smoke where it strikes the hard level
of the neighbour’s wall. Already my patch of lawn
is awash, and when I look from my shelter down
to the stippled surface, it opens like the miraculous
O of a sorcerer’s mirror. Here are the rising tides
overflowing their slack estuaries and river basins,
the Arctic shore, Shanghai, Florida and Alaska.
Here are the baffled species taking to high ground,
the already famously lonely polar bear and caribou.
Here are the miniature crustaceans and even glaciers
cowering in their valleys like defeated creatures.

5
Then the storm passes, unravelling downhill
towards King’s Cross with a final thunder-roll,
and the sky-dome steadies. My patch of grass
returns to grass again; the close apple and vine
harden inside their silhouettes; and the cherry
re-balances a weight of darkness in its leaves.
This is the moment I should feel the earth at peace.
Instead, I step from the shadow of the mulberry
and lamplight pouring through my French window
freezes me mid-stride. There I am in the long glass
reflected back at myself, crouched like a guilty thing,
and although I move on quickly over the threshold
one look is enough to show the bare horizon behind me
and beyond it the other cold planets in their broken chain.

Written for Peter Maxwell Davies to set to music. It was commissioned by Cambridge University

Another piece is Time capsule found on the dead planet by Margaret Atwood:

1. In the first age, we created gods. We carved them out of wood; there was still such a thing as wood, then. We forged them from shining metals and painted them on temple walls. They were gods of many kinds, and goddesses as well. Sometimes they were cruel and drank our blood, but also they gave us rain and sunshine, favourable winds, good harvests, fertile animals, many children. A million birds flew over us then, a million fish swam in our seas.

Our gods had horns on their heads, or moons, or sealy fins, or the beaks of eagles. We called them All-Knowing, we called them Shining One. We knew we were not orphans. We smelled the earth and rolled in it; its juices ran down our chins.

2. In the second age we created money. This money was also made of shining metals. It had two faces: on one side was a severed head, that of a king or some other noteworthy person, on the other face was something else, something that would give us comfort: a bird, a fish, a fur-bearing animal. This was all that remained of our former gods. The money was small in size, and each of us would carry some of it with him every day, as close to the skin as possible. We could not eat this money, wear it or burn it for warmth; but as if by magic it could be changed into such things. The money was mysterious, and we were in awe of it. If you had enough of it, it was said, you would be able to fly.

3. In the third age, money became a god. It was all-powerful, and out of control. It began to talk. It began to create on its own. It created feasts and famines, songs of joy, lamentations. It created greed and hunger, which were its two faces. Towers of glass rose at its name, were destroyed and rose again. It began to eat things. It ate whole forests, croplands and the lives of children. It ate armies, ships and cities. No one could stop it. To have it was a sign of grace.

4. In the fourth age we created deserts. Our deserts were of several kinds, but they had one thing in common: nothing grew there. Some were made of cement, some were made of various poisons, some of baked earth. We made these deserts from the desire for more money and from despair at the lack of it. Wars, plagues and famines visited us, but we did not stop in our industrious creation of deserts. At last all wells were poisoned, all rivers ran with filth, all seas were dead; there was no land left to grow food.

Some of our wise men turned to the contemplation of deserts. A stone in the sand in the setting sun could be very beautiful, they said. Deserts were tidy, because there were no weeds in them, nothing that crawled. Stay in the desert long enough, and you could apprehend the absolute. The number zero was holy.

5. You who have come here from some distant world, to this dry lakeshore and this cairn, and to this cylinder of brass, in which on the last day of all our recorded days I place our final words:

Pray for us, who once, too, thought we could fly.

There’s a poem by Alice Oswald: Written some time between the Month of May and the Month of May Not

Is it possible
The sun could turn over a grey cloud
And find a may tree underneath?
It is possible.

Is it possible
There could be lines of blossom
Like bird-linen drying on the branches
It is possible.

Is it possible
A stream could turn over a stone
And find a mayfly underneath?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Maybe a mayfly might
Have a passionate two second love affair in mid-air?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Millions of windblown refugees
Each with a leather seedcase could stand up
And let their green clothes fall on them
The way a child at midnight
Sits up stalk-straight asking for water in a trance of heat
And drinks it straight down without waking?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Several billion birdsung springs
Could prove this hypothesis:
That the green grows back every May?

Or is it possible
May itself
May not?
It is possible.

The issue also features a chilling short story, I am your inner polar bear. Find me before it’s too late by Jeanette Winterson which concludes:

Once upon a time there was a polar bear. He had nowhere to live so he came to live in your head. You started to think polar bear thoughts about icyness and wilderness. You went shopping and looked at fish. At night you dreamed your skin was fur. When you got in the bath you dropped through nameless waters deeper than regret. You left the cold tap running. You flooded the house. You dived into winter with no clothes on. You sought loneliness. You wanted to see the sun rise after a night that lasted as long as all the things you have done wrong. You wanted to see the sun come up and no one to be near you. You wanted to look out over the rim of the world. But you live in the city and the rest is gone.

And all the longings and all the loss can’t bring back the dead. The most beautiful place on earth was everywhere – a raft in the wilderness of space, precarious, unlikely, our polar bear home.

Bill McKibben’s article, Why 350 is the most important number on the planet, is very interesting: he’s helped launch the first real grassroots global political protest about global warming – called 350.org. The number comes from new science that followed the shocking melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007. Researchers became convinced that climate change was happening faster than they had previously expected, and that they had enough data to put a real number on it.

That number was 350, as in parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. Above that level, in the powerful (and peer-reviewed) words of Nasa scientist James Hansen, we can’t have a planet “similar to the one on which civilisation developed or to which life on earth is adapted”. Yet we’re already past 350, at 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, and rising by 2% annually: ‘that’s why the Arctic is melting, why Australia is burning, why the world is changing in front of our eyes’. The aim is to get politicians to agree on the 350 target at Copenhagen.

This week The Essay on BBC Radio 3 has been by Richard Mabey, and on Tuesday he quoted Lewis Thomas:

“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.

If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.

The full text from which this quotation comes – ‘The World’s Biggest Membrane’- is from The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and can be read here.

If I ever come back as a tree, or a crow,
Or even the wind-blown dust;
Find me on the ancient road
In the song when the wires are hushed.
Hurry on and remember me,
As I’ll remember you.
Far above the golden clouds,
The darkness vibrates.
The earth is blue.
And everything about it is a love song.
Everything about it.
Everything about it is a love song.

– Paul Simon