Mist ecology, or, a thought for the new year


This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page. In this story, Erin is the sweet, boundlessly energetic dog who came to the residents of Rolling Ridge out of the woods in October, a little more than a year ago. She has a bed and a place in every one of the community homes. They are her pack.

We have reached the turning of the year, at least according to the Julian calendar. It is the time of beginning again, the time of emergence and wonder. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” Traditionally, it is a hopeful time. But hope is tricky.

“Dark ecology” is a term I have just encountered, coined by Paul Kingsnorth. It is both a defiant affirmation of our living planet and a lament. Kingsnorth observes human techno-culture rolling on relentlessly over the wild Earth and asks, “Is it possible to see the future as dark and darkening further; to reject false hope and desperate pseudo-optimism without collapsing into despair?”

The morning before Christmas Eve, mist appeared on our mountain and settled in. When this happens, in the dawn twilight the forest is suffused with a soft gray magnetism. Erin and I needed to go. I walked, while Erin inscribed wide, fast arcs through the forest. Along the floor, fallen trees and branches lay black and contorted, jumbled and heaped in places, scattered chaotically in others. The leaves, sodden and brown, slushed under my feet. Overhead, the twisted twigs and branches of the maples and oaks crossed and re-crossed against the mist’s filmy veil. Everything was damp. These wild winter woods are fascinating, not lovely.

An icy rain had fallen in the night, and the leaves of the mountain laurel and the delicate branches of the dogwoods held tiny, frozen droplets, like tears. I heard a distant rumbling, louder and louder in the hushed woods, and in a minute two deer burst leaping and alive through the trees, white tails flashing, with Erin speeding behind.

I turned onto Niles Cabin trail, the old stone chimney a large presence yards away in the mist, and walked up toward the ponds. When I came to the crossroads where the unmarked trail to Krishna Brook turns off, I paused. It is my custom when walking with Erin to wait at every crossroads for something to appear. Sometime later, Erin came trotting out of the woods, and again sure of me and our direction, shot off once more.

We followed the power line toward the Retreat House and then took the path back to our cluster of community homes. Just after crossing Deer Spring Creek the air came alive with the whirring of wings and a rustling, crackling sound like dry bones rising. Hundreds of small, dark gray birds wheeled and swarmed overhead, descending like a net over the trees. Then, in response to an unseen command, they rose in a cloud, swirled again, descended, swirled, descended, making their way toward the top of the ridge. The air was filled with thousands of wings, whirling as one, passing overhead with a unified mind, like a single creature. Even Erin stopped and stared.

It seems to me that one can experience this land and its wild creatures as something other than a tragedy-in-waiting. It is a place drenched with story. It is riddled with portals and thresholds which beckon and entice and frighten; and with crossroads where if we wait for a minute things happen and choices are made. It is filled with wild ones who are deeply alive and connected, in ways I will never fathom. On a mist-filled day, or a cold, winter night, it is possible to wander in their vital and mysterious world.

Tonight we walked through the dark forest, under the watch of the almost full moon, a thing of beauty in the sky. All around us, the creatures and beings of this land, of this universe, are shining and breathing, as the stars inscribe their arcs, and our planet wheels again, dancing all the vibrant beings of Earth around the sunfire of life.

A new year.


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