July 1, 2023
I’ve neglected my website for a year. It’s been nearly a year since discovering and surgically (September 1st last year) dealing with my clogged coronary arteries. While my abandoning website and dealing with my heart correlate time-wise, my heart issues may have caused, been responsible for my ignoring my website. I’m back to it now, not because I now have the time and space to deal more responsibly with it, but because I need it for my new work. In short, my new work is ‘re-enchantment’. Here’s a short description of what I mean.
I’ve had this uncanny sense that I’m entering a new phase of my recovery from open heart surgery last September. Like a baby bird in a nest high in a tree, I won’t know if I can fly until I step out into the unknown void. For me, the void is where I’ll find the next answer to the question, “why is he not dead?”, the ‘he’ being me. Immediately after completing my surgery, Dr. Sharma, my heart surgeon went to the area where Terry had been waiting for eight hours. His first words were, “why is he not dead?” This referred to the unexpectedly serious condition (my ‘widow maker’ artery 100% blocked) he’d discovered once he’d seen inside me. The first answer to this question has to do with the physical—collaterals, those tiny thread-like arteries that a heart in an active body makes to guarantee that it has all the blood it needs. While I’ve known that my passion for moving around in wild places has defined and enhanced my life, I didn’t know that it was saving it. You can imagine the level of relief that came with knowing this. Within weeks, this relief turned into the trauma of ‘what if?’ This was not the trauma of death itself, which I’m not very afraid of, but of possibly dying in an inconvenient place at an inconvenient time for those who care about me. What if, for example, my heart had attacked me on one of the many obscure routes along which I regularly wander, never another soul around. Or What if I’d collapsed last spring one that long stairway out of that back alley in Athens, on the shortcut I regularly used to walk back to our hotel? A few months of nightmares, reading, and talking—to those closest to me and to a therapist, and ‘what if?” evolved to “so what, I’m alive!” This was short lived. My answer to the question of ‘why is he not dead?’ evolved to, “Because I still have work to do.” Looking back, I was fine leaving it at that. For a while I didn’t even ask what that work might be. I must have unconsciously assumed that because I was still alive, I must be doing the work I was still alive to do. This makes even less sense having just typed it. Two days ago, I wrote about a dragonfly’s lifecycle, how its decayed-leaf-looking, pond-bottom-dwelling nymph sheds its skin a number of times, each time, exposing a larger version of itself. Until, voila, a gorgeous adult dragonfly emerges. I feel like this. Shedding old skin, each time exposing a new dimension of this question, “why is he not dead?” Losing the latest skin leaves me wondering ‘what actually the fuck is the work I’ve been kept alive to do?’ I think I know. I don’t assume that this is me, the adult dragonfly, but another stage. My work, I believe, is to contribute to re-enchanting the world. There. I’ve said it. I know how this sounds, but let me explain. For most of human history, the world was enchanted. Indigenous people understand this. Our early ancestors believed in gods who controlled time and the weather, performed rituals on which their lives depended. They played bone games to understand the future and buried their dead with what the journey to the next world might require. Stones and trees, springs and mountains were all inspirited. Humans knew they were but one species among many. Everything was alive. This all changed with modernity and the so-called “enlightenment” when (mostly) white (mostly men) people assumed that we were exalted beings. We thrived on power. Power came from wealth and wealth came from having, extracting, accumulating more than we individually needed, and selling the surplus. We turned wild sources into natural re-sources. Wild nature required ‘de-spiriting’ before it could be commodified. We could not de-forest the landscape for the lumber to build houses and temples and forts without first eliminating the tree spirits. Which we did with a simple shift in point of view. Fast forward to a new discovery: coal, then another: oil—carbon, dug and drilled—extracted–from the beneath the earth’s surface, burned to fuel our newly industrialized lives. The commodification and burning of carbon is now known to be responsible for what may be the most serious threat to life on earth in human history. If disenchantment is at the root of biggest problem we’ve ever faced, then could re-enchantment be part of the solution?
Although I’ve been interested in re-enchantment indirectly for most of my creative life, the thought that I was still alive because I had ‘work’ do has changed everything. Generally, I’ve always hoped that my work might contribute to the greater good, even though I invested a great amount of personal ego. Now, since surgery and well along the road to recovering from that surgery, my sense is that this ‘work’ is out of my hands, that it’s totally focused on the greater good, that I’m spreading seeds. That is some corny sense, I’ve discovered how the planet can make the best use of me. There is a growing list of clues to the truth of this. I’ll keep track of them here. I’ll also post evidence of enchantment which I personally experience in my own life as well as discover while trying to make sense of these times. I’m discovering, and you will too, that ‘re-enchantment’ is actually very simple: Re-enchantment is acknowledging once again, that the world is enchanted, has always been enchanted, and will always be enchanted. I’d love to include your stories as I build the case for ‘re-enchantment as the antidote to human extinction.”
The attention involved while watching wildlife is I believe the perfect antidote to the distractions of modern society. Watching wildlife also provokes awe, which according to recent discoveries, contributes to ‘pro-social behavior’.
Attention! Be like the ancient hunter who knows only one thing, that he does not know what will happen next.
July 3, 2022
Louis Gakumba photographed this dragonfly in Richmond, VA. I think it’s a Chaser, but not sure. I submitted it to I-Naturalist. Will report back.