environmental movement

Praying through a Fierce Wisdom

    What role might the Arts play in addressing an “environmental” movement? For an anthropologist, a culture’s art is not just a collection of facts about how, practically and concretely, these people went about their lives. It animates the spirit of those lives. To someone who is sensitive to such things, art paints a picture of what specific human cultures understood and valued. Their behavior and choices make sense to us, not because we would have made the same choices but because we see that they had a rationale and one that must have been deeply compelling to them. I think it is clear that, even though the word “rational” is part of the word “rationale,” it seems far more accurate to understand human behavior as being fundamentally motivated by feelings and values, rather than by a rational mind.  We are not computers, though reductionist science is not averse to thinking our brains are simply this and no more. Nor are we robots of rigorously rational consumption, though modern economics seems to want to define mankind in this way, and to further define the beautiful, wild and dynamic earth as a “free market.” M198073

     An environmental movement that tries to argue for change using only rational and utilitarian arguments will not bring us closer to a wise relationship with the place in which we live. Good science and clear thinking has a great role to play. But if our rationale does not include affection for the places where we live, our cleverness and accumulated knowledge won’t matter. We need good stories, told compellingly by people who care about the land they stand on, the water they drink, and the creatures with whom they share living space.

     The name of this blog is taken from the title of a poem by one of America’s greatest poets, James Dickey. It is a fierce poem, deeply felt, beautiful in its rage and near despair.







They will soon be down


To one, but he still will be

For a little while    still will be stopping


The flakes in the air with a look,

Surrounding himself with the silence

Of whitening snarls. Let him eat

The last red meal of the condemned


To extinction, tearing the guts


From an elk. Yet that is not enough

For me. I would have him eat


The heart, and from it, have an idea

Stream into his gnarling head

That he no longer has a thing

To lose, and so can walk


Out into the open, in the full


Pale of the sub-Arctic sun

Where a single spruce tree is dying


Higher and higher. Let him climb it

With all his meanness and strength.

Lord, we have come to the end

Of this kind of vision of heaven,


As the sky breaks open


Its fans around him and shimmers

And into its northern gates he rises


Snarling    complete    in the joy of a weasel

With an elk’s horned heart in his stomach

Looking straight into the eternal

Blue, where he hauls his kind. I would have it all


My way: at the top of that tree I place


The New World’s last eagle

Hunched in mangy feathers    giving


Up on the theory of flight.

Dear God of the wildness of poetry, let them mate

To the death in the rotten branches,

Let the tree sway and burst into flame


And mingle them, crackling with feathers,


In crownfire. Let something come

Of it    something gigantic    legendary


Rise beyond reason over hills

Of ice    screaming    that it cannot die,

That it has come back, this time

On wings, and will spare no earthly thing:


That it will hover, made purely of northern


Lights, at dusk    and fall

On men building roads: will perch


On the moose’s horn like a falcon

Riding into battle    into holy war against

Screaming railroad crews: will pull

Whole traplines like fibres from the snow


In the long-jawed night of fur trappers.


But, small, filthy, unwinged,

You will soon be crouching


Alone, with maybe some dim racial notion

Of being the last, but none of how much

Your unnoticed going will mean:


How much the timid poem needs


The mindless explosion of your rage,


The glutton’s internal fire    the elk’s

Heart in the belly, sprouting wings,


The pact of the “blind swallowing

Thing,” with himself, to eat

The world, and not to be driven off it

Until it is gone, even if it takes


Forever. I take you as you are


And make of you what I will,

Skunk-bear, carcajoy, bloodthirsty



                        Lord, let me die    but not die



–  James Dickey, “For the Last Wolverine” from Poems 1957-1967. Copyright © 1967 by James Dickey.