The Path to Return
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
This short essay was written in the early weeks of the pandemic, and published in Pandemic Corona, edited by Pamela Eakins.
April 10, 2020
Heavy rains last night, all night long. It made me happy, gave me comfort, that the natural world continues on unabated. As I fell asleep, I asked for a night of no dreams, or gentle dreams, for I have been assailed in the night recently by catastrophes—planes falling from the sky, buildings toppling. These are not hard to interpret, but they take a toll. Now, a night of deep, dreamless sleep. And the rain! The hard, heavy, cleansing rain. The air is water-drenched and clear. Mist and clouds sit low upon the trees. Breezes are calm but potent. I can hear the pounding ocean a mile away.
Has birdsong been brighter, more loud and alive these past weeks? Some mornings it has sounded almost like the tropics here in Northern California, the air full of chirps, trills and the loud calls of unseen winged creatures. Recently I wondered to a friend if this is because the din of cars has lessened and we can hear what was always underneath. Or whether there are in fact more birds among us, that it is safer to be here in this time when humans have quieted down and the streets are empty. My friend said she too has noticed more birdsong, and had wondered if the change was in her. In this precarious time, she finds she is more grateful and aware of the ordinary gifts of life—the fact of a warm shower, the mysterious glad-note symphony of birdsong. It must be all of these things, we concluded. The change is immediate, and it is everywhere.
I have been seeking to trace a transformation within, as the world transforms around us. Anyone who has ever cried for the forests, the oceans, the plight of wild animals, must quietly exalt in this previously unthinkable worldwide halt to human activity—enacted by the tiniest of entities! All humans are at risk, all have much to lose. All have the capacity to re-order their consciousness to save themselves, each other, and the great glorious natural world. The rapidity with which the Earth is repairing herself—blue skies in China after only a few weeks of economic shutdown, clean waters in Venice, air pollution in Europe cut by 60%—after only three weeks! It gives the sense that the great, deep force of Earth is merely tolerating us and our hyper-activity. And will expel us and recover without sentimentality once a certain threshold of human destruction is reached. Perhaps this terrible moment will pull us back from the brink. Only something of this magnitude has a chance of reaching humanity on a species-wide scale.
For we have created a world in which we live in a fiction that only humans matter, and, in a way, even exist. The rest of the Earth is for our use, our profit, our entertainment, and the occasional viewing awe. A mountain to climb, a river to ford, a desert to cross, a forest to exploit, land to manage, animals to raise and eat. Small birds have been allowed to remain, but any wild creature that threatens our economic activity or causes us any discomfort we have killed or caged. This is our world, and it is a tightly-managed, tightly-controlled fiction. We are part of a living, dying, active, dark, magical force at the essence of the Earth. We are her beings, no matter the story we tell ourselves. We are Earth creatures. We live and die by Her.
This unimaginable moment could be our path to return.
edited by Pamela Eakins.
What do writers do at the End of the World? They write. In PANDEMIC CORONA: POEMS OF SHOCK, FEAR, REALIZATION & METAMORPHOSIS, 36 women writers from around the world explore the emotions and politics of Locking Down, Dancing With Death, The Choices Before Us, and The Emerging Revelations. From inside the lockdown, they write. From inside the mirror of impermanence, they discover the breathtaking wonder of becoming alive inside a meltdown within a chrysalis of permanent transformation. Anyone who is living through, or who has lived through, the Great Pandemic of 2020 will want to read this book.
The photograph at top of the essay is by © Kim Há Quách