Friday, November 12, 2010

Mary Oliver Helps Us Mourn



From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink


But when I came back I found

That the body of the river was dying.


“Did it speak?”


Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.


“What will you do?


I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.


“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”


For the river.  For myself, my lost

Joyfulness. For the children who will not

Know what a river can be – a friend, a

Companion, a hint of heaven.


“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”


I said: it can be a friend.  Companion.  A hint of heaven.

 Mary Oliver



Here I am back in Guatemala after a 6 month absence. When last here I posted my blogs in the form of tweets. Somehow this seemed appropriate to use a medium of communication that relates to the diminishing bird song.  The calls of Scarlet Macaws are long gone from nearly all of Guatemala, and the Yellow-naped Amazon calls are fainter each time I come.  I mourn.


There was a time when I was unsure of my mourning. It was if I was the only one who knew how abundant the harmony of multiple species of parrot calls here was in the south coast of Guatemala.  People who would see my tears and read my words wondered if I was overplaying the loss. They hadn’t looked into the regretful eyes of older campesinos who tell stories of macaws, amazons, and parakeets all nesting in one giant tree.  Now it’s hard to find even the trees, let alone the birds.


In this poem Mary repeats to the skeptic about her friendship with the river. Perhaps she too has felt isolated with the rivers going with no one on the shores to grieve with her, as if the river song was nothing of importance.  But it is.  Mary, you, and I have company now as the rivers leave us high and dry.

In the book, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, I read yesterday how psychologists, counselors, therapists, and scientists are increasingly aware of the illness and woundedness of humans who witness ecological devastation and extinction.  Writes Mary Watkins in the chapter, Creating Restorative Ecotherapuetic Practices, “I grasped and acknowledged that the plant and animal worlds were a source of primary attachment, a significant contributor to their (her patients) resilience in the face of great difficulties and disappointments in human life, and a wellspring of faith in beauty and goodness.”  Rivers, trees, birds, mountains, oceans, and flowers all befriend our kind.  So I am glad that it is more mainstream to grieve together as a community of mixed species.  That’s step one and it is hardly nothing.  We must hear and sing death songs, as Mary describes in my blog of two days go.  But what next?




On my part,  I will go in two days to the place we called "Parrot Paradise" where once there were hundreds of parrots and see if any songs remain.  In scientific terms, |will be doing a quarterly count of a parrot roost site so we can document the falling numbers of parrots in this area.  In heart terms mixed with the science, I shall grieve and tell the world about it in journal, conference, presentation, and wail.


What will you do?





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