The Sound of The Rain

Night is quiet in quarantine. I didn’t realise how loud it used to be. Now just the gentle sound of autumn rain and the drip drop of overflowing roofs and gutters full of brown, decaying leaves.

It’s a mild night, almost warm – actually, come to think of it, isn’t it too warm for this time of year? I time travel to ten years ago when I first moved to this country and try to remember autumn then. Wasn’t it colder? And in the winter I remember frost in the morning. Do we still get frost in the morning? Are we getting enough rain for this time of year? Will we get enough next year? Ten years from now? Twenty?

Yesterday, I was on my knees in the garden when I became awestruck by the diversity of life in our backyard.  Looking down at the lawn, it was like an aerial view of a jungle, tangled plants that we might call weeds if we chose to and snails, butterflies, praying mantis, spiders and flies. I hate that being renters means that we have to regularly mow this eco system to the ground and my stomach sickens when I think about monoculture lawns where people eradicate dandelions and everything except one sort of grass, the sort that looks like plastic and sometimes is. I hate that astro turf is more socially acceptable than an overgrown lawn where bees might forage. Why aren’t we letting our lawns go wild? Our tidying and taming of nature is genocide and suicide. Why?

I wonder how long the trees in the yard will last before future water shortages cause them to dehydrate and die? Introduced species, they are, oak trees and the likes, the stuff brought over by homesick colonisers who took their desire for the comfortable and familiar and named it “civilization”. What will this place look like in ten years? Will this precious little pocket of life have been sold, bulldozed and replaced by another Mc Mansion made of plaster and painted beige? Where will I be? Where will my loved ones be? Was that article I read right? Will the ocean’s eco-systems have collapsed? Will the water continue to heat and rise and slow to sludge? Will any child anywhere know the planet as I did? Abundant and green?

I time travel back to almost 30 years ago and I’m on our little hobby farm in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I’m 5 or 6 years old and the world is immense, endless wilderness. Our backyard here is tangled vines, flowers, bugs, berries, old tyres full of water and mosquito larvae. I ramble about carrying pet chickens, followed by a dog or cat and with snails on my face because I like the feeling of their trails of slime and I like my parent’s reaction to my living accessories. By myself I explore 5 acres of land with dreams and swamp full of koura, pukeko and once, a rainbow trout that had swum upstream all the way from Lake Rotorua. Every spring I catch tadpoles which I keep in an old outdoor bathtub or indoor aquarium so that I might watch them grow legs, their tails vanish, their transformation over time from fat tadpole to tiny frog. I remember the feeling of a small, silky skinned amphibian in my hand, like a strange green jewel.

One day, I’m about 7 years old, with two little black dogs and my toddler brother, we are at the stream normally abundant with tadpoles and frogs but this year we only catch one. One. I’m upset and frustrated… where are they? And then my little brother stumbles and knocks over the glass jar so the water and solitary tadpole tumbles out and is lost somewhere down the grassy bank. I search in vain for the tiny creature but after some time I have to accept that it is probably doomed to a fate of slowly dying out of the water. I scream at my brother and hit him so that he starts to cry and the guilt is still with me now, my responsibility for the tadpole’s death and my brother’s tears.

My father suggests that the old lady next door, the one who has two giant St Bernard dogs, has been feeding the pukeko too much and so their population has increased and they’ve eaten all the frogs. In any case, I never see another frog on our farm and years later, I will read about how sensitive frogs are to pollution and I wonder about agricultural runoff in the stream.

The St Bernards died, my little black dogs died, the old lady must be gone by now and my parents sold the property 10 years ago now and only recently did I really allow myself to feel the heartache of that. Late one night while I was suicidal in New York, I experienced my first real feelings of homesickness and the understanding of just how much was now completely in the past. And now, while we are all in lockdown waiting for the plague to pass, that homesickness is acute again. I’m homesick but actually also timesick. I’m longing for a time when tadpoles were everywhere, nature seemed to be thriving and life was endless. Timesick for back when a sunny day was only a wonderful thing, not poisoned with premonitions of drought, famine, plagues and pestilence.

I’m here. Now. Lying in bed in this rental property in a rich Melbourne suburb where I feel completely out of place. I try to tune out from my spiralling thoughts and fears for a moment and into the simplicity of the sound of rain. Can I listen to the rain, just for a moment, without thinking about death?

I imagine the water as it falls from the sky and soaks into the earth and suddenly I want to feel my feet on the cold, wet dirt. I get out of bed and walk out the front door in only my underwear and as I step outside, the security light comes on and abruptly I am exposed to the neighbourhood.  But it is late and dark and only one car passes swiftly by. I stand still and watch water sparkle in the streetlight, wet leaves and mud are cold on my feet and the rain is cleansing. After a time, the security light goes off and, slowly so as not to activate the light again, I raise my arms to my sides and this is how I stay until my hair is soaked and my body is chilled all the way through.

Climate Crisis Tips

I’ve not had much time for writing lately but I’ve been putting a lot of art on my website jngaio.com and making videos such as the one above exploring some of my anxieties surrounding the climate crisis through clowning.

Fear is a Rational Response

(Cross posted from a post specifically made for my Facebook)

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I feel uncomfortable posting as many scary climate crisis stories as I do but recently I went to a talk by a climate psychologist who said that one of the problems with climate activism has been this idea that we shouldn’t scare people. This idea, she said, isn’t a useful one because in times of emergency, we SHOULD be scared. We should be scared and then we should act on that fear. Fear can be a motivating emotion if we are provided with actions to take.

I agree with what she said. We are currently in humanity’s darkest hour, we are currently in the midst of an emergency. The Amazon and Great Barrier Reef are being destroyed for profit by narcissistic billionaires who seem to have a death wish, the Arctic is on Fire, India is running out of water, The Maldives are going underwater, in some parts of the world, fruit is burning in the sun before it can grow while in other places, floods are turning land into toxic swamps. Does this scare you? Good. That means that you are sane. Fear is a rational response to danger and we are in great danger.

I do feel uncomfortable spreading terrifying news when I know so many people are struggling just to get by, I don’t want to make people feel more depressed and anxious when their lives are already so hard… but we are in a climate emergency and we need to be facing it and acting on it. We are all in this together and if things are going to get better, we all need to do our bit.

Talking about the climate emergency is an important start. The more we discuss it, the more we can find ways to take action together. This topic has become a taboo one, it’s a faux-pax to discuss the climate crisis. It doesn’t make me popular to discuss this, I know it doesn’t because my “likes” dwindle, people unfollow me, I feel like a party pooper and I worry that people will get sick of me. (And as someone whose psychologist described as a “binge eater of emotional validation”, the idea of people disliking me is really hard to cope with!) After all, nobody likes to be bombarded with horrible news and I do try to balance the fear out with action and hope. Join Extinction Rebellion! Plant trees! Become an activist! Because fear without action is paralysis. Fear without hope is despair. I have so much hope because I see so much momentum all around. But I also see what grave danger we are in and I can’t just sit down and be quiet about it.

So I’m sorry to bombard you with scary news but, frankly, I’m scared. Some days I wake up from dreams of rising oceans and burning forests and my heart is racing. I’m sorry to bombard you with horrible news but soon I’m going to have a niece and I want to fight for her future. I want to face what terrifies me so that she can live on a planet that is full of life, love and beauty.

I know it’s popular to hate on humanity, to fall into apathy, cynicism and bleak nihilism. But I love humans – I’m surrounded by incredible, good, beautiful, kind people in my life and I know that if I know good people, there must be millions more! And I love the diverse, incredible, awe inspiring natural world that surround us! I don’t want us to drive ourselves off a cliff into misery and possible extinction, I want us to fight for the beauty that surrounds us! I love humanity and I want us to thrive.

So yeah, I feel uncomfortable sharing the articles that I do and I hope you will not resent me for it. But I want us all to face the truth and I want us all to fight for something better.

Childless Women

We are just childless women but you like to call us selfish women.

While you preach your gospel of family values and hide away in your homogenous houses.

Hey, now that the Arctic is melting and now that our planet is dying… where are you?

There. We see you.

Expelling your energy policing our wombs. Hoarding and wasting resources while you attempt to resuscitate industries that gurgle death rattles. Desperately clinging to a futile and failing feeling of power and control.

There. We see you.

Standing by while the world burns.  Ignoring the cries of your children who are facing a nightmarish future. Do you tell your babies you love them? Do you protect the planet they live on?

You like to call us selfish women. But lately…

Lately I wonder if we care more about your children than you do.

Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Dark Times

The moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass. There is a lot of evidence for the defense… Progressive, populist, and grassroots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. And the changes we’ve undergone, both wonderful and terrible, are astonishing.

[…]

This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.

~ From this fantastic article.

If the land is sick, you are sick.

I just read this article: ‘If the land is sick, you are sick’: An Aboriginal approach to mental health in times of drought.

It made me think…

We were camping in outback NSW recently and the signs of drought were everywhere. The last time I’d been there, the land was abundant with strange and fascinating wildlife, lizards, butterflies, birds and plants I’d never seen before. Now it was just dust and underneath the worryingly dried out trees, I found the picked over corpses of baby kangaroos and baby emus.

I felt the reality of the climate crisis, I saw that we are truly losing these incredible treasures to the devastating affects of global warming. I thought about how Aboriginal Australians have been on this land for over 50,000 years, I thought of the book “Dark Emu” which demonstrates overwhelming evidence of how they had sophisticated agricultural practices that once made this land a fertile and abundant place and how in such a devastatingly short place of time, colonialism and Western agriculture devastated the land.

Not only were their people raped and murdered, not only was their culture silenced but the carefully tilled soil on their land was stomped down into compacted clay by the hooves of imported livestock, the grasses they made bread with were devoured… in a horrifically short space of time, colonialism and cultural imperialism transformed their verdant, fertile lands into something that was so much less.

And it keeps happening. They keep losing their lands because of our ancestors and because of us. Because of our mismanagement of the land our ancestors stole.

There has been a national crisis of Aboriginal suicides, over this summer, eight Aboriginal children took their own lives. Eight. Eight children killed themselves. Doesn’t this just make your heart break? Doesn’t this make your want to break down in full body sobbing? What drives children to such hopeless despair that they take an action that ends their own lives?

As I walked around the outback, there was dust, bones and silence. Too much silence. The climate crisis is not only taking it’s toll on the beautiful natural world around us but also the people least responsible for it happening. Taking action, demanding better from our politicians, our business leaders and ourselves… it’s our responsibility not just for the sake our our natural world and ourselves, but something we must admit that is a dark debt we owe as part of our colonial inheritance.

I love this country. I’ve lived here my entire adult life and I feel it in my bloodstream as much as my home of Aotearoa New Zealand, I also acutely feel my privilege and the understanding that for Indigenous and underprivileged people around the world, the affects of climate change are already here and they are utterly devastating.

The Climate Crisis and Colonialism

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There once was a time when we thought that nature’s gifts were endless, boundless, for us. The taking and taming of land was our birthright and animals were just things for us to use, consume, abuse. Much of those attitudes remain with us today.

When I say “we” and “us” I refer to the white colonialist history of which I am connected to by blood and by privilege. Lately I’ve been challenging myself to engage in concepts of white supremacy and to understand the intersections between this and the current climate crisis. Though it would be offensive and patronising to idealise indigenous cultures, there certainly is evidence of other people historically having a much more harmonious, sustainable and integrated connection to the land on which they lived off.

In a book I am currently reading, “Dark Emu, Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture” Bruce Pascoe makes a very compelling and well substantiated argument for the fact that indigenous Australians had elaborate and highly successful agricultural practices in precolonial times which used the land much more successfully and effectively than the imported European practices. In fact, when Australia was colonised, the cattle which was brought over quickly wrought havoc on the land and in a very short amount of time, turned fertile soil into the arid, hash stuff that we tend to more associate with much of outback Australia.

Clearly our current agricultural practices are not sustainable, it is well documented and reported that huge changes to farming and to our diets are vital if we are to effectively combat the climate crisis. Books like Dark Emu point to the fact that agriculture doesn’t necessarily have to devastate an environment and in fact should be better customised to fit varying environments. How different the Australia diet would be if we ate murnong, witchetty grubs and kangaroo as primary food sources. How different our suburbia would look if instead of willow trees and roses, we had stuck to the native flora that provide habitat and food for local fauna.

In the book “Active Hope – How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” the authors speak of “The Great Turning”;

“In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.

Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.”

I find this concept to be heartening, empowering and hopeful. I believe that it is vital to our survival on the planet and evolution as a species that we are currently questioning dominant structures of patriarchy, capitalism, consumerism, cultural imperialism, white supremacy and so forth. I believe that a shift towards compassion, intersectionality, interconnectedness, environmentalism and an emphasis on listening to previously silenced voices is crucial for us to engage with our planet and each other in ways that are kinder, wiser, better. All these things are vital components towards a much-needed paradigm shift. A Great Turning.

I am relatively new to grappling with these concepts and so am conscious that I may come across as naive, yet something already seems clear to me; As we combat the climate crisis, we must not only acknowledge that the people most affected by it will be those most vulnerable and impoverished but the reasons for the crisis are also deeply entwined with the profoundly unhealthy, inhumane and unsustainable value systems within dominating cultures. To imagine a better world, we must listen to previously silenced voices and rediscover ways in which people previously lived for thousands of years in a significantly more harmonious relationship with the natural world which they inhabited.

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as long as we breathe

While the ice is melting
and our lands are burning
and our forests are dying
and our oceans are choking

the fight for hope
is daily
the fight for life
is dire

When we were young my love
our old age was assumed
now I look at your face my love
and my heart fills with fear

hold on to my hand my love
the only truth is change
hold on to this life my love
as long as we breathe… we try

Apocalypse Soon

I’m busy trying to get rich and famous before the world ends.

I’m frantically trying to figure out how to make a living while countries freeze, flood or burn and species die in the hundreds of thousands.

I’m wondering what the hell is the point of art if we’re all going to die.

I’m wondering what the hell is the point of anything other than art if we’re all going to die.

I wonder what the world will look like if I manage to survive until I’m a little old lady.

I wonder where I’ll be.

I wonder who I’ll be with.

I wonder if my friend’s children will be ok.

I wonder if they’ll hate us for all that we did. Or didn’t do.

I wonder if I’ll try telling stories to disinterested youths about fish and coral and how I remember a time when the ocean wasn’t barren.

I’m hoping to get a bit more sex before the world ends.

I want adventures and connection, equanimity and joy.

I’m pleading with loved ones not to give up on hope.

I’m clinging to love and battling with despair.

I imagine the universe will still contain incredible beauty, no matter what.

I’m looking forward to there being better options for vegan cheese.

It’ll be exciting to take my first ride in a self-driving car.