This beautiful and rare little fern that lives in the forest above the ranch has an equally beautiful name: wahinenohomauna, which means woman (wahine) seated on or living on (noho) the mountain (mauna). She is no bigger than the palm of your hand and sits among the even smaller ferns and mosses that make up a kind of green fur on the trunk of a giant tree fern. In Hawaiian culture the high forest is wao akua or the realm of the gods. Here is one little god living in beauty – ferns upon ferns upon ferns.
Pele, they say in the legends, was a traveler from the ancestral homelands of Kahiki who came to this island with her clan of brothers and sisters and settled in the area named Keauhou. There was a war between the early settlers and Pele and her clan took refuge in a great cave. The volcano erupted and the cave collapsed, sealing the clan inside. This is how she became identified with the volcano Kilauea.
In the old days those who came as visitors to the hostile, numinous lands of Pele had themselves tattoo-ed using a blue dye made from a kind of iris that grows only near the volcano. Others brought the umbilical cords of their children, or of themselves, to place at the doorstep of the volcano.
Piko is the word for the belly button where the umbilical cord was attached. It is also the word for a spiritual place of origin and power – a center of the universe. That earth is fire, that we are connected from birth to the molten core of our earth, and live always under peril but centered in the knowledge of that connection – this is what might be expressed in the tradition of presenting the umbilical cord to Pele.
It is treacherous to cross over the volcano these days, when Pele is awake and the road cracks and buckles. It is not treacherous in the way it was for Chief Keoua’s army, that perished in a sudden rain of volcanic debris and molten glass two centuries ago, leaving their footprints behind in the hardened ash deposits.
How many times have I passed over the volcano? As a child, bumping along on the narrow old road through the lava fields in the back seat of the family car, dreamily seeing fairy realms in the forested slopes above; as a teen venturing through with my cousins, telling ourselves ghost stories as the darkness closed around the beams of the headlights; as a young mother hurrying home through the lava desert with my baby, singing to keep her quiet.
The more likely danger even now is falling asleep at the wheel on the curving road over the volcano and running into the unforgiving basalt fields on either side. That is how people lose their lives now. It is a long drive in the dark; do they begin to dream of ghostly shapes – of a white dog, of an old woman, of a young woman with fiery eyes? These are the forms that Pele is said to take when she appears to travelers.
For we cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them. – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics
As far back as I am able to think, to remember, which is a kind of thinking, there are memories of places, of plants and animals, of a kind of light and air, the smell of water on leaves, root and dirt, the strange sight of lava flows reaching the sea, the band of white coral touching blue ocean, of roads leading through orchards, of flowers against the sky, of moss-covered rocks and river pebbles.
I have these myths. These are my myths. Continue reading “Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones”
What is true and real and what makes it so? Why is it that the only kind of science we know depends on math for its truth-claims and our math is (as far as I know) strictly quantitative? Continue reading “Qualitative”
Images of Madam Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, resemble the flames seen in flowing lava. When she erupts she is passion incarnate, bringing destruction and creation at the same time.
The funny thing about Hawaiʻi is that we donʻt have “woods.” We have forests: dry forests, wet forests, extra-wet forests, perpetually raining forests. (We do have the wettest spot on earth here, high on the mountain top of Waiʻaleʻale on the island of Kauaʻi.) This is what a wet forest nearby looks like. Mostly giant ferns and small shrubberies, with a canopy of ohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros collina). It looks just like that pretty much all year long.
Iʻm not sure why we donʻt have woods in Hawaiʻi. For one thing, itʻs just not a word that people use. No one says: “Iʻm going for a walk in the woods.” So it may be simply a linguistic peculiarity. But it feels deeper than that. Maybe you need a temperate climate with its annual cycles and its interplay of animals and plants throughout the year for that feeling of a woods to develop. Maybe itʻs because the kind of landscape that would make a woods – a relatively open sort of forest through which one could walk at will – is both rare and non-native here. You have to make such a landscape with either labor or pastured animals. Maybe itʻs simply because these islands are too young geologically (only a few million years) to have developed such a storied kind of being as a wildwood.
George Monbiot, the acclaimed British writer, recently wrote a review of the book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change in which he points out the many disturbing social, political, and economic trends that seem to be making us less able to deal with climate change than more so. But there is a way out, he says: “Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of findings in different sciences: psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Research in all these fields points to the same conclusion: that human beings are, in the words of an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”. This refers to our astonishing degree of altruism. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess
Now George Monbiot is a good, trying kind of person, very urbane and a fine writer, but it amazes me how he (and we in general) constantly have to pat ourselves on the back about how amazing we are. We have being doing this obsessively since the Renaissance. Can we not give it a rest already? Are are so insecure that we constantly have to pump ourselves up?
I don’t know what kind of experiments led to these findings of our extreme specialness but I can just about guarantee that they were all designed with human capacities in mind. We don’t know enough about the emotional life of other animals to begin to measure their altruism. In my experience most cows are kinder to each other than most humans. But we can barely see them as emotional beings. And this is a problem, because if we can only see ourselves we can’t see the inherent value of non-human beings.
Monbiot goes on to talk about how the way out of our downward spiral is to rebuild community and connection, and I am not arguing with that at all. Rebuilding local communities and social connections among humans is critical, but in order for it to really work we need to see beyond the purely human realm into the life of the places where we live, and all of the non-human lives that are an inherent and necessary part of those places.
It’s a work in progress.
I’m still figuring out how WordPress and this particular web theme works.
But what I’d like is for this to be a place to talk and think together about how we can see ourselves and the world differently. More accurately, better. How we can break down some really out-dated barriers between the human and the not-human, nature and not-nature, the spiritual and the worldly, between you and me. How we can find and nurture commonality (same-ness amid difference) not just among humans, but among human and non-human. How we might assemble the bits and pieces of a way of life with staying power – the shards of pottery, the foot-prints in the dust…
What would you like to see here? What would you like to talk about?
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