This week, I find myself at a one-day conference on Whidbey Island: Calling the Choir to Sing: An Invitational Gathering of Northwest Climate Leaders. I’m here to read a few poems and talk about the role of the arts in witnessing and speaking out.
It’s been a full day of talks, discussion in small groups, punctuated by walks on winding trails under dripping cedars, and at last I’m feeling present, able to contemplate the difficult questions of climate change. This afternoon, we watched a video clip called “Numinous Waters” shot in Alaska by my old friend Dan Kowalski. As we watched a massive chunk of glacier calve into the sea, with the haunting notes of Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim” as a backdrop, I heard a collective inhalation—then together we sat in deep silence.
I was reminded once again of the power of art, of image, to reach our hearts. I recently listened to an interview with the poet Jane Hirshfield in which she said, “when we think in metaphor, we think with the whole world.” Of course, and that’s the power of poetry and image. In Dan’s video,he asks, “Can beauty and presence save us?”
As I stroll under the tall cedars, I believe in my heart that it can—and that as artists, we need to continue speaking up on the issues we care about, that will affect future generations, even these issues that too often feel overwhelming. In an article in Grist called, fittingly, “What the warming world needs now is art, sweet art,” Bill Mckibben makes a plea to artists and writers:
“Therefore, it falls to those of us alive now to watch and record its flora, its fauna, its rains, its snows, its ice, its peoples….We can register what is happening with satellites and scientific instruments, but can we register it in our imaginations, the most sensitive of all our devices.”
Later, as we stand in a closing circle, united in our resolve to take whatever actions we can in our own lives and work, I’m reminded that we can’t address these challenging issues alone—we need to gather as a community.
On April 22, Earth Day, we have an opportunity to do this. Find out if there any Earth Day events happening in your community, and see if you can join them. If not, take a moment to reflect on your place, your natural/human community, and what you can do to ensure its continuing quality of life. It doesn’t need to be climate change, which I know feels daunting—and it’s fine to just choose one small action. We hope you’ll share your commitment or your reflections here.
Yours, believing in the power of art and community,