Saturday, January 28, 2017

#phenology, politics and facts

Today is Chinese New Year. It is, for them, The Year of the Rooster. It is also know as Spring Festival, although it will be awhile before there is Spring weather in much of China.

Closer to home, yesterday was a new moon, the Ojibwe Deep Snow Moon, according to my Minnesota Weatherguide Engagement Calendar, although the Center for Native American Studies tells us that January is Minado Giizis (Min-ah-doh Gee-zehs) Spirit Moon and February is Makwa Giizis  (Mah-kwah) Bear Moon. The Center also notes that "Because the region the Anishinaabe lived was so large, the moons may not be called the same thing for all areas." Anishinaabe living near me would see that these days there is no "deep snow."

soon the red osier dogwood colors will brighten
soon the red osier dogwood colors will brighten
Photo by J. Harrington

The "facts" involved here are that "The Anishinaabe designated the names of the moon to correspond with the seasonal influence within a given location." The "Chinese New Year was set to coincide with the slack time just before a new year of farm work begins, as a time of preparation." There is, and/or was, a considered relationship between the people in each culture and the phenology that affected them and the culture's major activities, but not to the point of exclusion of alternative names.

These days, the Anishinaabe, and the Chinese, and I suspect many other more traditional cultures, seem to be better able to accommodate alternative perspectives and priorities than can, unfortunately, many cultures in western civilization, including especially the United States. It seems to me we have placed too much emphasis on the "me" in America. A culture is not an aggregation of "me" values, not is it a pendulum of imposed values based on a winner take all politics. I was never a particular fan of President Ronald Reagan, although I have long followed his dictum to trust but verify. I heard his speech tell "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and agreed with that part. I also agreed with this section of his farewell speech:
And that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
The behavior and activities this past week from Washington, D.C. don't seem to reflect Reagan's famous Republican American vision. We are failing our adaptation to the cultural, political and physical climate changes going on in our world and our country. How can the practice of phenology teach us to better understand and accommodate each other so that we realize we're using different words for the same facts?

When the World as We Knew It Ended

We were dreaming on an occupied island at the farthest edge
of a trembling nation when it went down.

Two towers rose up from the east island of commerce and touched
the sky. Men walked on the moon. Oil was sucked dry
by two brothers. Then it went down. Swallowed
by a fire dragon, by oil and fear.
Eaten whole.

It was coming.

We had been watching since the eve of the missionaries in their
long and solemn clothes, to see what would happen.

We saw it
from the kitchen window over the sink
as we made coffee, cooked rice and
potatoes, enough for an army.

We saw it all, as we changed diapers and fed
the babies. We saw it,
through the branches
of the knowledgeable tree
through the snags of stars, through
the sun and storms from our knees
as we bathed and washed
the floors.

The conference of the birds warned us, as they flew over
destroyers in the harbor, parked there since the first takeover.
It was by their song and talk we knew when to rise
when to look out the window
to the commotion going on—
the magnetic field thrown off by grief.

We heard it.
The racket in every corner of the world. As
the hunger for war rose up in those who would steal to be president
to be king or emperor, to own the trees, stones, and everything
else that moved about the earth, inside the earth
and above it.

We knew it was coming, tasted the winds who gathered intelligence
from each leaf and flower, from every mountain, sea
and desert, from every prayer and song all over this tiny universe
floating in the skies of infinite

And then it was over, this world we had grown to love
for its sweet grasses, for the many-colored horses
and fishes, for the shimmering possibilities
while dreaming.

But then there were the seeds to plant and the babies
who needed milk and comforting, and someone
picked up a guitar or ukulele from the rubble
and began to sing about the light flutter
the kick beneath the skin of the earth
we felt there, beneath us

a warm animal
a song being born between the legs of her;
a poem.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.