This poem is called Fishing
What are we looking for
Standing on sand or stone
Fishing into the waves
Getting our feet wet
What are we looking for
When we turn our eye
To the orange moon
The ironbound cliff
Fire in the place
Where fire burns
When we look at our hands
Lined with life
Telling stories that nobody writes
Our hands are truth
Look at your hands
And shadows on the deck
Don’t point North or South
And a dead reckon
Is all we have
When I was so afraid of the water
What the burning sun
Says to the corn
When it decides to grow
When grandma opens
The canned corn
And you take the kernels
To go fishing in the river
When the river fishes back
And pulls you in
What is it in the river
To the soul
About moving on
About the ocean
About no end beginning
About loving the dirt
About what moves Earth
We begin when the Ganges River descended from Heaven.
When King Sagar wished more power, he decided to sacrifice a great horse. Jealous, Indra, the King of Gods, stole King Sagar’s chosen horse. To find the horse, Sagar sent his 60,000 sons who interrupted the great Sage Kapila in meditation, mistaking Kapila for the horse thief. Infuriated, Kapila incinerated the 60,000 sons. When Sagar found out, he broke down weeping, and Sage Kapila told him that to purify the incident, he must bring River Ganga to earth for salvation. Bhagiratha, the great-grandson of Sagar, convinced Brahma that Ganga must descend to Earth. Insulted to be expelled from heaven, Ganga wreaked havoc, flooding the world. Bhagiratha prayed urgently to Shiva, please entwine Ganga in your hair to hold her back, to save us. Hearing the call, Shiva agreed, and braided the great river as seven streams into his matted locks. Pleased at the union with Shiva, Ganga washed away the ashes of Sagar’s sons and filled the oceans and continues to bring salvation to India to this day.
Here is where she begins.
In June two years ago, I went looking for a book by environmentalist, Edward Abbey. Instead, I found Abbey’s friend Jack Loeffler – his big white beard and blue eyes. Jack Loeffler is a river man who spent his life recording geomythic mapping songs of people all over the world. He urged me as he urges everyone to think like a watershed.
A watershed is a community of life and land unified by water. A watershed is the whole body of a river system, and surely in that there is some soul.
This year, I wanted to find terra incognita and anima incognita, the margins of my map and the margins of humanity only charted with wild creatures and ideas, with water at the center. I wanted to map the unmappable, a sort of anthrocartoraphy to find out what anchors us in place. Of course, mostly I failed, hindered by so many human things. But, like Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, I had the opportunity to listen to the great river when I felt lost.
To think like a river. Like a mountain. Like the wind. First, one must listen.
The youth of India. Do they see Ganga as a goddess? Do they feel salvation in her waters?
In India, it was at times difficult to hear the river, for the fugue of humanity there is a lot to attend to. I do not have images of the garbage and sewage and bodies that Ganga carries, but one can imagine.
A river, a goddess.
There is Ganga and there is Torne.
Mikael rowing on Torne.
And Mikael skiing on Torne.
Mikael is on the river everyday. He rows, swims, iceskates, and skis. Mikael has surely listened a lot to the river; he picks berries and mushrooms to feed his family and knows the forest as a neighbor; he can name the things all about and he knows where the ice will be thin and how to survive in the winter woods. He is a philosopher, a naturalist.
We drank Torne’s water in confidence, without purification, a rare privilege. I think Torne is divine like Ganga, though she has less humanity to carry and no dams to clog her up. I also think that Hinduism is wise to anchor the gods in natural phenomena, for what miracle is more available to all of us than the gangetic river dolphin, mycelium, a blueberry, a pine tree, or a man on skis.
Another miracle, in Atacama one can find towns where no rain fell for 40 years. It’s as surprising to see green and water in Atacama as seeing a sadhu acetic on a cellphone.
Rio Loa, river in the great expanse of Pacific-bound desert serves the needs of a very large hole in the ground.
Chuquicamata, one of the largest open pit mines on earth is Loa’s neighbor, producing copper to electrify the world. Calmly, Loa quenches Chuqui’s thirst, and carries away Chuqui’s toxic detritus.
In Werner Herzog’s film Lo and Behold, about internet and connectivity, Ted Nelson explains the internet as dragging one’s hand through water. The most interesting thing about Chuquicamata is how it physically links water with the web.
These days, as we here testify, humans are globalizing. To think like a watershed leads to the realization that all water is cycling, interconnectivity is. And so seems the path of global civilization.
Ralph Waldo Emerson considers ethics as a system of human duties like religion but without the personality of God.I feel that the imaginings of Gods are but human personalities divined to voice human ethics in the face of Nature which does not observe morality with human eyes but rather offers us eyes and intelligence to observe the universe. Yuval Noah Harari suggests that Silicon Valley is a new sort of Vatican. And I agree, but what will be our book of Proverbs?
Our ethics about technology and our ethics about rivers are part of the same phenomenon; reformation. We are a species overwhelmed by our inventions and we need a philosophy of nature that includes the internet and smartphones and plastic garbage.
My grandmother Irene says this is Planet Life; we are in the terrarium of divinity, and in that, if in anything, we are unified. If the true cost of a thing is the amount of life expended to make it, what is the true cost of life? This is a question we must ask ourselves as rivers are declared dead and black, as the vocabulary of nature is disappearing from mouths and minds into libraries or worse.
My quest to create a linguistic cartography of humans and rivers was futile, alone. It is asking a painter to paint her soul. Such work is a worthy endeavor, but to be a force of nature it must be done together. We are all charting a cartography of place all the time, we are all painting our souls. We are poets of existence. Along with the rest of the universe, we create nature along this rapid of time we happen to be paddling. As messy as it will be, as dissonant as jazz, I want a poetry, a manifesto, to synergize nature and technology.
Let’s be the manifesto, let’s be the poetry to merge nature and technology, lets call on Shiva and Ganga to help braid this flood into a river of salvation.
Galen, your reflections and sentiments bring to mind two books for me both by desert druids of the similar sort and in the same vein as Edward Abbey. These are ‘The Other Way to Listen’ by Byrd Baylor and ‘The Anthropology of Turquoise’ by Ellen Meloy. I think you would find both particularly interesting.