Recently I read an essay by Barry Lopez in The Sun that impacted me deeply. Barry Lopez is a writer perhaps best known for Arctic Dreams, which won the National Book award in 1986; his most recent work is Horizon, relating his epic travels from the Pacific Northwest to Antarctica, his thoughts on what we have done to our beautiful Earth, and what we can do now.
He floats the concept of contemporary mankind having lost the eternal Bride: the Earth and all parts of it, not just the pretty bits. Lopez has traveled the world, more than 70 countries, and has listened deeply to communities that respect their elders. He counsels the importance of taking the time and focus to listen.
Epics and political campaigns lead us to look for a single powerful hero who can solve everything—if only we find the right one. But Lopez finds more hope in the concept “Leave no one behind.” He uses the example of how starlings accomplish the feats of flight involved in a murmuration. If you’ve never seen one, search on YouTube for murmuration and prepare to be amazed. No single bird is the leader; each one watches the four or five who are closest, and they in turn are watching a different four or five. The whole flock becomes a living organism capable of instant response, and they leave no one behind.
Are we about to leave our natural world behind? Lopez: “However it might be viewed, the throttled Earth—the scalped, the mined, the industrially farmed, the drilled, polluted, and suctioned land, endlessly manipulated for further development and profit—is now our home.” Must it be a broken home, the aftermath of divorce? “Why accept a separation from all the rest of creation? Everybody I spoke with in villages across the Arctic in the seventies and eighties, when I asked them to offer me adjectives for people in my culture, the one word I heard repeatedly was lonely.”
Listening to the land can make a difference, even if it’s wounded. But most of all, leaving no one behind, evolving a culture where no one has to be either among the elect or among the leftovers, where we’re all part of the murmuration. We’re all in the flight together, but only if we watch and listen.
If only we would listen to the elders, perhaps we’d survive.