Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.
spoke to me
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
Flat outstretched upon a mound
Of earth I lie; I press my ear
Against its surface and I hear
Far off and deep, the measured sound
Of heart that beats within the ground.
And with it pounds in harmony
The swift, familiar heart in me.
They pulse as one, together swell,
Together fall; I cannot tell
My sound from earth’s, for I am part
Of rhythmic, universal heart.
He sighed profoundly, and flung himself–there was a passion in his movements which deserves the word–on the earth at the foot of the oak tree. He loved, beneath all this summer transiency, to feel the earth’s spine beneath him; for such he took the hard root of the oak tree to be; or, for image followed image, it was the back of a great horse that he was riding; or the deck of a tumbling ship – it was anything indeed, so long as it was hard, for he felt the need of something which he could attach his floating heart to; the heart that tugged at his side; the heart that seemed filled with spiced and amorous gales every evening about this time when he walked out. To the oak tree he tied it and as he lay there, gradually the flutter in and about him stilled itself; the little leaves hung, the deer stopped; the pale summer clouds stayed; his limbs grew heavy on the ground; and he lay so still that by degrees the deer stopped nearer and the rooks wheeled round him and the swallows dipped and circled and the dragonflies shot past, as if all the fertility and amorous activity of a summer’s evening were woven web-like about his body.
― Virginia Woolf, Orlando
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod
For no matter whether the fairies are seen metaphorically or as real beings inhabiting their own real world, a study of them shows us that those who came before us (and many of that mindset still survive) realized that we are — no matter what we may think to the contrary — very little creatures, here for a short time only (‘passing through,’ as the old people say) and that we have no right to destroy what the next generation will most assuredly need to also see itself through.
If only we could learn that lesson, maybe someday we might be worthy of the wisdom of those who knew that to respect the Good People is basically to respect yourself.
A thousand grandmothers ago
Pyrrha and Deucalion repopulated
the world with rocks, bones of mother Earth,
a generation of my ancestors strained
from the mud of a drowned planet.
But I’m more interested in my earliest
grandmothers, their gills and wetness,
before they crawled from that blue expanse
and learned to carry the sea within them,
in their cells, between their cells, in their eyes.
The buoyancy of ocean has never left us.
It hides in skin’s complex reservoir
where we’re selectively permeable
and our bodies exchange the smallest life.
If we had no need to distinguish ourselves
from others we’d be missing the skin
that defines lovers and enemies
and opens itself to both.