Dawn of the Symbiocene: photo by Cathy Fitzgerald, Jan, 2019
A call to Earth’s Creative Community–
to Envision Earth As Forest!
Your invitation to contribute to a digital commemoration of forests
that will be held in perpetuity at holdourbreath2040.com
Expressing fundamental values like love and care for others are part of any healthy culture. However, I like to think of a broader love for Earth too. Because if we wish to advance a restorative, compassionate and enduring culture, we must expand our values urgently–to encompass the wellbeing of more than the human species.* For example, valuing thriving permanent forests, the most complex communities Earth has fostered, is crucial–as forests emit the oxygen for us and other species to breathe. The late American writer Ursula K. Le Guin emphasised this when she entitled her book: The Word for World is Forest.
Embracing expanded, integrated ecosocial values, like those agreed by global citizens for the Earth Charter (2000), however, represent a momentous mindshift for today’s dominant culture. Added to that, radically changing the dominant culture’s priorities seems near impossible in the short decade-timeframe scientists have given us, it is hard to envision Earth-encompassing ecocentric values overcoming the pervasive values that propel human-centric consumer culture.
But anthropologists and others who have studied how some Indigenous peoples have lived well with place over thousands of years, remind us that other cultures have, and continue to foster ecocentric values successfully. Ethnobotanist Kat Anderson’s important book Tending the Wild (2005, 2013) that inspired the 2016 documentary of the same name shares how Californian native tribes’ history of resilience is linked directly to their cultural customs that intimately value all their local flora. She concludes their ceremonies, festivals, their daily practices of gratitude and thanksgiving to the wider community of life, in song, stories, image and dance, instill in their communities a cultivated reverence–a sensibility of sacred awe for life and nonhuman kin. Cultural practices were essential to foster community-wide responsibility–that tending the wild well was the utmost priority in their daily lives, and key for their communities enduring wellbeing.
The big news is the future will require this ancient heart from all of us.1 For our very survival, our language, art, beliefs, practices, policies and law, must cultivate an expanded mindset of integrated ecosocial values quickly, if we wish to retain Earth citizenship. We can gain insight from the fact that many Indigenous peoples personify trees reverently as the ‘standing people’, intimately knowing their wellbeing enable ours. There is also much intergenerational-interspecies fluency to learn. As I share in recent posts, farmer, philosopher writer-poet Wendell Berry reveals how Indigenous Menominee people he spoke with decades ago, skillfully and sensitively promote culturally-rich practices and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to tend permanent forests for the 7th generation-to-come.
Currently though living in the dominant culture, if one is working to raise awareness of the utter necessity of integrated ecosocial values, one finds oneself pitted like David against the Goliath of cultural norms. But I’d like to share that sometimes, the most heartening thing about working in this area is to see your work becoming part of something larger than you could have ever imagined. I encountered that when Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht posted a comment on this blog a few years back to say The Hollywood Forest Story ‘radiated the Symbiocene,’ the life-sustaining era he writes about that must supersede the ecocidal atrocities of the human-centric Anthropocene era. As I discussed previously, he comprehensively advances the many cultural aspects of the emergent Symbiocene in his overview of Indigenous and new ecological scientific understanding in Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (Cornell, 2019). I really resonate, biased as I am working in the arts, when Glenn has written that he sees cultural activity acting as powerful social ‘memes for the Symbiocene’–an era when all Earth species’ thriving becomes the cultural norm.
In recent weeks, I had this experience again! I was unexpectedly contacted by ecopoetry educator, Dr. Heidi Staples, of the University of Alabama’s English department. Heidi had somehow connected to my Hollywood Forest Story as she is now residing in Ireland. She wrote and ask for my thoughts about developing a several decades-long online project, to invite the world’s creatives (working in and across all art forms) to commemorate the World As Forest. She had chosen the moving lines to inspire creatives to respond to, from the Irish poet Jean O’Brien’s poem “Still Here,” in which the poet writes, “We must not forget the forests hold our breath.” OH MY!!
When all this is over and we have
obeyed the freshness of water,
the susurrations of air, we will
still know death’s piercing scent. It is
the sweet-grass smell of tarragon,
mixed with the pungency of lemon thyme.
We must not forget that the forests
hold our breath, every leaf –
a green promise,
every bud – a gift.
We will circle the wagons,
treasure the warmth of our fire,
lambent flames reflecting their glow
in our eyes. We must hold on,
with the stalking fox, the howling
wolf, the swimming fish, the birds
wheeling in the air and us, holding on,
all here. All still here.
Jean O’Brien, ‘Still Here’, Irish Times, 9 Jan., 2021
“Would I like to collaborate?” Heidi asked.
Following a warm-hearted conversation about forests, forestry, art, poetry, history, politics, and the social power that art has over science to translate and transmit engaging new stories to diverse communities, of how to live well with place in perpetuity, I’m delighted to share that I’m collaborating with Heidi to host this online invitation to Earth’s creative community. The project draws inspiration from What’s Your 2040? Join the Regeneration and the crucial UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.
Heidi then mocked up a website for me to look at, based on a model she and others had used to previously celebrate Earth’s rivers, oceans and waters. And some of the images and words she had used on the new forest website were from The Hollywood Forest Story!!! There already was my photograph on the website banner of wee ‘Cheep’–the robin who had lived in and around Hollywood forest and our house over a year (he features on the last page of my PhD thesis too). Excitingly, Heidi had put another of my photographs, where I was imagining ‘the dawn of the Symbiocene’ (the photo that I have posted again above) at the top of the proposed forest commemorative site.
I have found myself asking why this project is arising in Ireland? Maybe it’s wishful thinking–but renowned for creativity and conversation, perhaps the great Irish global diaspora is especially well-placed to foster art–for forests–to advance an enduring world of connections and possibility across Earth.
It is no small thing to set out to change a culture. However, as my philosopher friend Nikos Patedakis (2021)2 reminds me, cultural activity–if aligned with Earth’s values–can affirm a deeper magic ‘to help us remember what we are and what the world is’. Bringing forests close to us again through cultural activity, including all manner of creative practice, can help us observe and share the deeper magic of sacred forests. Because ultimately, living well with forests3 means we can live well with the wider community of life, far into the future.
Please find your invitation to contribute in any artistic format here
Help Hold Our Breath for 2040
Please send us your work to be featured in our digital commemoration, which we will display online at this domain in perpetuity. Copyright remains with the creatives. Help initiate us all into our emergent world of connections and possibility across Earth. Read more at holdourbreath.com
A big, big thank you from all beings living here Hollywood forest, and Earth’s forests
– to Heidi, Sophie and John for initiating this project.
Hollywood Forest Story readers and forest lovers,
please feel welcome to share this post on your social media and to any art institution or network.
Enquiries: Contact Dr Heidi Staples: firstname.lastname@example.org
* I am grateful for a 2020 Art Council of Ireland Professional Development Award to undertake the 6 month Education for Sustainable Development accredited course, hosted and connected with Earth Charter International, the global initiative for the Earth Charter, within the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica. This opportunity is deepening my knowledge of the 20 year global citizens’ ecosocial values document, the Earth Charter, signed by people of all cultures and faiths, including many Indigenous peoples.
- I have long admired the philosophy of The Pari Center for New Learning which was ‘conceived as a haven of peace and gentle action in a world increasingly gripped by turmoil’. They adopted Italian writer and activist Carlo Levi’s maxim that ‘the future has an ancient heart’–we look to the future while bearing in mind the wisdom of the past’.
- Quote from philosopher Nikos Patedakis’ Wisdom, Love and Beauty Podcast: Principles of Magic, Part 3 (2021)
- The title of my Creative Practice-led PhD was The Ecological Turn: Living Well with Forests…. (Fitzgerald, 2018)
Update 2021: I now teach a unique ONLINE course – the Haumea Essential Ecoliteracy 7-week course – to help creatives and art professionals across the world understand the ecology emergency and what it means for the creative sector- see more here: please note, course places fill quickly, but I do maintain a waitlist. Thank you!
One thought on “Help Hold Our Breath for 2040: Call to Global Creative Community to Envision Earth as Forest”
Thank you for this wonderful monologue Cathy. It is prose in itself, even without the poem. You have such a way with words – must be from a mix of mercury and Irish genes!