49.3657 latitude, -122.6345 longitude. Widgeon Creek, British Columbia, 2019-06-24, 13:00. Raven, sonogram, recorded from a canoe.
A kind of knocking call, like water dripping into a still pool.
Or a tap on hollowed wood, tok tok. Clicks and wing snaps.
Crrruk tuk kluk-kluk kaaa kraaw quoork quork
wonk-wonk croooooook kraa kraa kraaa
I wanted to see ravens, so we climbed the Old Strachan trail
where it branches off the Baaden Powell, past the Hollyburn giant—
thousand-year elder, trail narrowing to a stream bed of roots and
water-smoothed stone, into mist and a thin scree of snow. Some blueberries,
their leaves scarlet. Stripped Sitka mountain ash. A clutch of red berries.
Yellow cedar. Heathers. The tarns were just beginning to ice up.
Y. climbs like a mountain goat so I trailed behind.
The mist tamped sound. No wind, no birds. A trickle of water. Tap
of my hiking poles. My breath. My steps. My breath. My breath.
I saw Y. first, in the clearing, then torn fuselage, unexpected,
even though I knew it was there, the debris field recording
the jet’s impact—shredded mesh, scorched metal,
roots, bolts, moss, teal wires, pink, blue—a strange tube lichen
fruiting from rusted earth. These are the remains
of a Canadian forces T33 trainer which crashed on Nov 23 1963,
killing 2. Do not take anything. It was the height of the cold war
and they were flying blind.
Ravens use tools, possess a theory
of mind, plan for the future, speak, mourn, remember.
In the first stories, Raven brings light, fresh water, and fire
to the world. Discovers man in a clam shell. Woman in a chiton.
Frees the sun and the moon, scatters stars. Is a maker,
a transformer, a trickster, a dreamer, dreams of a fire, is scorched
by the flames. The whole world was burning.
The world is burning.
(svalbard seed va
The last time I flew to Edmonton I spent a day working in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, thinking about poetry, about writing a long poem called Seeds. Y. had gone to the Northern Forestry Centre to work on his baseline report on the boreal. I was feeling raw in the April light, and free, and kind of blue.
There’s an opening, when I write a poem, like in a dream when you find a room in your home you’ve never seen before. I space out a bit, but I’m paying attention on a broadband wavelength, unhooked from myself—untethered. And the opening is in my chest, between my breastbone and spine. I’m resonant. I’m clear. And the opening is in language—little mirrors stitched in flesh. Lenticels. Eyes. On the plane I’d been thinking of blueprints, and the Ecologist’s 1972 Blueprint for Survival. That I’d write a series of blueprints, schemata, of human artefacts and other organisms that expressed resilience, that might survive whatever devastation we’ve unleashed, whatever is coming down. Blueprints became seeds I gathered. Words. Scraps of ideas.
Silene stenophylla, a type of arctic campion that bloomed in the Pleistocene, resurrected by Russian scientists from 32 000 year old seeds discovered in a squirrel’s den near the Kolyma.
One gram of DNA can hold 455 exabytes of data.
The Reed-Solomon code corrects for reading errors.
The original seed banks were jars and baskets and woven pouches women could wear.
The Beauty of Loulan, her desiccated body preserved in the Taklamakan, along the old silk road. A woven pouch to carry seeds found buried at her side.
Red okra seeds harvested by the Cherokee in Tennessee. Slipped into glass tubes and mailed to Svalbard.
A 2000 year old birch basket found at the Ollie site on the Canadian Plateau, that is, ancestral land of the Tsilhqot’in, Dakelh, Secwepemc, and Upper Nlaka’pomux, was found containing seeds of Saskatoon and raspberry, tiny fragments of charcoal, blades of grass, salmonid bones.
Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies collected from Norwegian forests.
Seeds packed in dark magenta crates, delivered from North Korea to deposit in the vault.
Seeds a dozen scientists died defending in the siege of Leningrad.
As much as 75% of global crop diversity exists outside the big institutional seed banks and is held instead by some of the world’s most marginal farmers, most of them women.
Landrace: a cultivated, genetically heterogeneous variety that has evolved in a certain ecogeographical area and is therefore adapted to the edaphic and climatic conditions and to its traditional management and uses. Despite being considered by many to be inalterable, landraces have been and are in a constant state of evolution…
When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan they poured seeds onto the ground in Jalalabad and Ghazni, to steal the plastic bottles that held them.
The Svalbard Seed Bank, carved into the permafrost on Longyearbyen, half year in twilight, half in darkness, is a back up to the back ups.
Also the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, in Aleppo, its seeds smuggled out in jars and bags as the civil war drew near.
Two undergraduate students at the University of Maribor in Slovenia thought one day, Why can’t we put all the data in the history of mankind in one stone, near spruce or oak…and that was the click.
They meant, not stone, but seed—like spruce or meadowrue, that could reproduce itself and grow. I thought, each poem will be a seed. Click.
(The opening is metaphor. Little mirrors stitched into flesh.)
That day in Edmonton, in the cavernous foyer an articulated plesiosaur—cretaceous sea creature—floated in 21st century light. I took notes in a laboratory notebook with turquoise numbered pages, which I’d bought on a previous trip here, in a February snowstorm. I am still using it, taking notes on this dangerous human experiment.
I can’t get through. I think I come close, a glimpse, which closes up. Like the first moment of a deep wound when clear fluid wells, before dark blood pools and obscures. Or the artist’s rough charcoal sketch somehow closer to the thing in itself than the finished work.
Against this: human consciousness may have evolved to be epistemologically incapable of perceiving the world as it is; we see only a mediating interface, the world is a mathematical code. As language is a code. But metaphor is an opening, is the beautiful cell. Ground lens. Charcoal. Raspberry seed. Salmonid bone.
I begin with 1972, year 11,972 of the Holocene era, the year The Ecologist published 'A Blueprint for Survival' to warn that we were running out of time. My mom in a yellow tank top and bell-bottom jeans grips my sister by her left hand, me by the other. We’re dressed in identical play suits, apple green sleeveless tops and sky blue shorts. I’m in bare feet, with a turquoise floral kerchief. I can feel the heat baked into the granular sidewalk, grit under my toes. From the front door of our house on east 56th, an entrance we never use except for guests, there’s a clear view of Mount Baker. We always take the side entrance, through the mudroom where my mom stands for hours by the hinged window, pinning laundry with wooden pegs to the line, reeling it out to flap in the breeze, reeling it back again, sterilized by the sun. The snap of white sheets folded into squares. A fresh scoured smell of earth and wind. This is my earliest memory. The average C02 in the atmosphere that year, measured at the observatory on Mauna Loa, is 327.45 parts per million. In the UK, the editors of The Ecologist are writing,
Radical change is both necessary and inevitable, because the present increase in human numbers and per capita consumption, by disrupting ecosystems and depleting resources, are undermining the very foundations of survival.
We live in a small bungalow in a working class, immigrant neighbourhood in East Vancouver. Rust-coloured shag carpet. Avocado green fridge and stove. Beige bakelite telephone attached to the kitchen wall—the cord is long and coiled, so that later, as a teenager, I can pull it around the corner to crouch at the top of the basement stairs and talk with friends. We wash the dishes by hand. Outside, in the backyard, there’s a large open compost heap where we toss vegetable peelings, leftovers, scraps, grass cuttings. Mom turns it with the pitchfork and when it is cooked, works it back into the garden. Grows geraniums, tomatoes. Two metal tins with lids that clang shut for the garbage are placed out in the lane every week. My sister and I walk to school, find the thick fuzzy black and orange caterpillars I never see anymore, ride our bikes around the neighbourhood all summer, are called home at dusk.
Every summer we load up the Volvo and drive the Hope-Princeton to Penticton for two weeks at the Bowmont Motel. We listen to mixed tapes: 'Itchycoo Park,' 'If I Could Save Time in a Bottle,' 'American Pie.' Can music save your mortal soul, And can you teach me how to dance, real slow? We swim in the pool during lightning storms. Burn, peel. I read Shakespeare — Romeo and Juliet — for the first time, surprised to find that it’s poetry. The motel owner’s teenage son takes us for a ride on his motorcycle. I hold my body against a boy’s hard back for the first time. The blue neon light outside the office crackles and zaps bugs. For years, Dad works as a clerk in a provincial liquor store, member of the BCGEU. Works nights doing stock taking. Goes on strike. Takes exams to become an assistant manager. Mom, a keypuncher before I was born, takes part time jobs while we’re in school: receptionist, typist, garden shop clerk, housecleaner.
I learn to drive stick in a Honda Civic. The year before I graduate high school the Brundtland Report appears, Our Common Future. It’s 1987, year 11,987 of the Holocene Era. The average ppm of C02 in the atmosphere is 344.16. In my human geography class we study the Green Revolution. Its aftermath. The World Bank. Megaprojects like hydrodams. GMOs. We go on a field trip to the Brittania Mines, Shannon Falls, Squamish. All I remember of this trip is the pouring rain, twilight at noon, the heavy comforting weight of the oil skin slicker draped over my shoulders by my teacher, who must have thought I looked cold. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is created a year later and we lurch unsteadily into the future. James Hansen warns the US Congress, The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now. The C02 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm.
I study literature at UBC, but spend every waking minute at the student radio station, CiTR., in the sweet scent of album sleeves, in A-control, in C-control. The Sugar Cubes. Billy Bragg. REM. Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right, you vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched. The engineer takes me up to the top of Gage Tower one Christmas Eve to see the antenna that broadcasts our signal at 101.9 megaHerz over the glittering ocean at the cliff edge. My boyfriend sinks into darkness, runs into the endowment lands that surround the university, into the forest, until he can’t live with himself any longer and runs in front of a car. For a long time the world is thin and stark like a film negative or an X-ray. Even the brightest sunlit day is shadow and void. I don’t believe in words for a long time. I stop paying attention.
After several years working in a biomedical library I move to Montreal to do my PhD, September 1999. I miss the Battle for Seattle, just as I did the War in the Woods. I live in a 5 ½ on Côte des Neiges, with a glimpse from the balcony across the divide to Westmount, down to the mercurial river and the neon Farine Five Roses sign. I walk up the mountain, behind the apartment, to the Lac aux Castors, along Avenue des Pins, past the home of Trudeau père, to my seminars at McGill. Montreal is a surreal cut out. My father dies, without warning. The ice sets in and the cold. My sister flies out for New Year’s Eve, and we mourn. A new century begins.
John Bellamy Foster is scouring Marx for a seminal book on ecology
trying to lay out a consistent naturalism, humanism, and materialism, ‘man is directly a natural being . . . equipped with natural powers . . . on the other hand, as a natural corporeal, sensuous, objective being he is a suffering, conditioned and limited being, like animals and plants[.]
There are protests and teddy bear catapults at the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. I’m pregnant with my daughter. A visiting aunt who is considering becoming a nun brings us on a tour of the motherhouse of Les Soeurs Grises. We walk the cavernous halls, see the chapel, the crypt. My daughter is born a month later, November 2001. 369.76 ppm. Year 12,001 of the Holocene.
We march in the streets of Montreal. Again. Again. Each time larger. 100,000 strong. Girls draped in blood-soaked white sheets line the boulevards. A boat crowded with the dead sails a ribbon of blue silk strung taut by mourners. The US invades Iraq.
I move home to Vancouver, lose track of time. Teach at the University, then the College. Reconnect with N. Meet Y. Read books on the Great Transition. Desert. Dark Mountain. Climate Leviathan. In Stockholm, a 15-year-old girl stands on the steps of the Swedish parliament holding a sign that reads, Skolstrejk för Klimatet. More join her. More. We join her. We gather at City Hall for the climate strike. It’s hard to find each other in the crowd. I find N. I can’t find my sister. My kids have made a sign, a green painted square with a black symbol, . Extinction Rebellion has been around for just over a year. Its original demands:
1 Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2 Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
3 Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.
I’ve taped Animal to the back of our sign with his arms draped over the front banging chopsticks on it like a drum. We surge across the Cambie Street bridge. We’re 120,000 strong. It takes several hours to move downtown. We meet up with A. Outside the VPL we stage a die in. It’s Friday 27th September 2019. Year 12,019 of the Holocene Era. 407.96 ppm and rising. XR’s symbol is a circumscribed hourglass, the extinction symbol. It announces, we’re running out of time. ≈ç
Kim Trainor fills out
THE WILD CULTURE SCRIBBLER'S QUESTIONNAIRE
1 What is your first memory and what does it tell you about your life at that time and your life at this time?
I think this is my first memory: I’m lying on my back on the kitchen floor linoleum, spinning myself around and around with the heels of my bare feet as my mom brings in the laundry: crisp white sheets that have snapped on the line all day. I remember their clean smell, of the outdoors, green leaves, fresh air. I don’t know what this tells me about my life now; it tells me that my life then, when I was – 2 years old? – was sensual and secure.
2 Can you name a handful of artists in your field, or other fields, who have influenced you — who come to mind immediately?
Anne Carson, Gary Snyder, Jennifer Still, Jorie Graham, Yayoi Kusama, Yehuda Amichai.
3 Where did you grow up, and did that place and your experience of it help form your sense about place and the environment in general?
I grew up in east Vancouver, British Columbia, in a working-class, immigrant suburb of bungalows and skinny plum trees on the boulevard that grew rust-coloured leaves and fruit that stained the sidewalks the colour of blood. From our front porch we had a view of Mount Baker on clear mornings. Although I lived an hour’s drive from back country hikes, mountains, snow, old growth forest, along the edge of the Pacific, as a kid I had no knowledge or experience of this. I think this is why I now immerse myself in the forest as often as I can.
4 If you were going away on a very long journey and you could only take four books — one poetry, one fiction, one non-fiction, one literary criticism — what would they be?
Poetry: Dream of the Unified Field, Jorie Graham. Fiction: Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (but I’m tempted by Hopscotch). Non-fiction: The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist. Literary criticism: Summa Lyrica, Allen Grossman.
5 What was your most keen interest between the ages of 10 and 12?
Notebooks, pens and pencils, office supplies generally. Books— the Penguin Classics shelves in the local mall’s bookstore.
6 At what point did you discover your ability with poetry?
Very late. I was 37 and had just had my third child. I started writing poetry one morning and never looked back.
7 Do you have an ‘engine’ that drives your artistic practice, and if so, can you comment on it?
Engine is an interesting word. I think it is a longing for making a space for attention, a clearing.
8 If you were to meet a person who seriously wants to do work in your field — someone who admires and resonates with the type of work you do, and they clearly have real talent — and they asked you for some general advice, what would that be?
Write for yourself. Write for others. Participate in your community. I’m not very good with advice. My grandma would always say, “Never plant anything before Victoria Day.”
9 Do you have a current question or preoccupation that you could share with us?
Currently, I’m writing a book on ecopoetics, and what I am often thinking about, is what is it like to be a tree — a Sitka spruce, a western redcedar, or a humpback whale or a phantom hemlock looper moth . . .
10 What does the term ‘wild culture’ mean to you?
For me, it dissolves the strange western binary between nature and culture. We are all wild.
11 If you would like to ask yourself a final question, what would it be?
How can I spend more time at Fairy Creek?
KIM TRAINOR is a poet and the granddaughter of an Irish banjo player and a Polish faller who worked in logging camps around Port Alberni, British Columbia in the 1930s. Her second book, Ledi, (Book*hug, 2018) was a finalist for the 2019 Raymond Souster Award. 'Seeds 12' comes a long sequence, 'Seeds,' that forms a large portion of her next book, to be published in 2024. She lives in Vancouver, the unceded homelands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.