Animism in the Anthropocene

Post #9: Somatic Wanderings

When I started this project, I intended to go to various far flung, ‘wild’ places throughout the quarter and do long, dedicated somatic explorations.  Instead, it felt more appropriate to stay close to home.  As the lessons that came from this project started to sink in I found myself experiencing the world ‘somatically’ much of the time, and writing from that.  This shift seems vital to the center question of the project: can we be animists, now, after or within the Anthropocene?  My updated question: can we live animistically from within modernity?  What happens if we dive in instead of trying to get out?  

How would things be different if we tried for transmutation, rather than replacement?

Donna Haraway calls it “staying with the trouble” (1).  Tim Morton says one needs to delve “further in” (2).  A dear friend of mine says, “We can’t ignore Wendy’s.”  Everyone has their own version of the work.  Mine seems to be looking very closely at the world directly in front of my eyes.


May 3

Sitting in the grass at Capitol Lake.  Eating nectarines and peaches from California, like borrowed bits of sunshine shipped north as a promise of summer.  The air smells like low tide- salt and mud, plants rotting into the bottom of the food chain.  The wind is shifting direction, blowing North across my sun-warmed face from the lake to the inlet, and back across my bare shoulders from the inlet to the lake, as if they are sisters calling to each other across the border wall of the dam.  For a moment it seemed the inlet and the lake felt me here with them and reached out, into me so that I was all the way in me for a moment also.  The shift of perception from out of my internal monologue and into my body so sudden and startling, it gives me vertigo.  

There is an old man with a Russian accent sitting on the balustrade next to the water.  Three ducks are sitting nearby and I hear him say to his companion- I like ducks!  He sits and watches them with a smile of childish delight.  I don’t think there is any part of him that is not there, with the ducks.  The ducks squawk at each other, complaining of their wet feathers.


May 4

And what if the lightning takes you?  Feet tracing an arc from earth to sky, the connection you’ve always been made manifest in an explosion of fire and light.  As the wind blows petals from the song-blossom trees, the electric air cracks jagged rivers through your stone-set borders.

There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in. (3)

Isn’t it amazing how the thunder shakes the ground?


May 5

This morning I sat on the porch for meditation and listened to the rustle and call of birds.  There is one that I recognize now.  She calls a melodic, repetitive rhythm- whoo whoo whoo whooooo?  I call back in the same pattern.  We sing to each other through the trees.  A tiny bird climbs up the trunk of the Western Red Cedar I call Jocasta.  Jocasta’s son Oedipus leans against her, kept lean and spindly under her sheltering canopy.  Her mass leans out from the roots in a luscious, maternal curve towards my front door.   I wonder why the bird is climbing up the trunk instead of flying?  The answer is bird business and none of mine.


May 6

Yesterday walking home I found a snail in the driveway.  I didn’t want him to get crushed by our cars so I picked him up and held him to my face.  I held my finger near his tentacles, and he touched it gently.  It is so strange that we think the world isn’t capable of the same curiosity about us that we feel about it.

Snail in Spanish is caracol.  The Zapatistas, an indigenous revolutionary force in Chiapas, Mexico, call their communities caracoles, after the spiral shape of a snail shell.  

“That is why the word of the one who does not sleep, of he who is alert to evil and its wicked deeds, does not travel directly from one side to the other, instead he walks towards himself, following the lines of reason, and the knowledgeable ones from before say that the hearts of men and women have the shape of a caracol, and those of good heart and thoughts walk from one side to the other, awakening the gods and men so that they will be alert to whether the world is just right.. That is why the one who stays awake when the others are sleeping uses his caracol, and he uses it for many things, but most especially in order to not forget” (4).



May 7

Last night on the phone with my cousin we spoke about astrology.  She asked me how astrology started and I told her over time people started to notice that when a child was born with Mars in a certain part of the sky, they acted a certain way- Venus in a certain place, another.  But as we were speaking, I realized how much credit is given to the rational mind in that explanation.  There is a world, mechanistic and regulated, and (if you give credence to astrology), we were smart enough to figure it out.  But what if in some way the stars offered this information to us, this tool for self-understanding?  What if the plants of an ecosystem in some way called out to the humans that began to eat them or use them as medicine?   What kinds of language are being spoken that we cannot interpret, even between ourselves and other beings?  We are exchanging information with sight and sound, scent and touch that we barely recognize as it is, but what about on some other level entirely, something energetic or vibrational?  

I’m starting to think of my rational mind as some kind of puffed-up dictator perched at the top of my skull, shouting commands while the rest of my embodied self and the wilder world that I’m inextricably bound with carries on, ignoring it’s cries and demands.  

The birds are calling in the forest outside my window.  Their sound uplifts  me.  What kind of joy does my presence and attention bring them?


May 7

Sitting with the water at the park near the co-op.  It is low tide- I think still ebbing- and the air smells of salt like sweat and dank, hidden things.  I’m crouched on the edge of the water and all around me clams are spitting silty hallelujahs into the air. The water is spangled with ringlets as fish jump for an evening meal.  Just offshore a seal is swimming.  I saw him and walked towards the water for a closer look.  His head turned and he swam for a moment towards the shore, as if coming to meet me.  I can hear the water trickling down the hill through the rocks.  The world is always in movement.  Nothing is ever still.  



May 8

Walking near the Evergreen campus in bright sunshine, my dog and I pass the family of deer that wander our ravine. Two of them leap across the drive in front of us, their hooves shaking the ground in a delicate echo of last week’s thunder.  They stop to look at us, earthen fur blending into the shadows of the trees.  The doe’s belly curves towards the ground and I feel my belly curve against my shirt, happy for once with the fullness of my body.  In this place it is as it should be.    

I think the earth likes the shaking force of the thunder and our feet.  A lover’s rough touch can feel like communion.  When the slap of wind off the ocean takes your breath away, the next breath is confirmation you’re alive, and not alone.  


May 9

Woke up lying in the same position as the tree root I step past every day walking to school.   



May 10

Sitting in the quiet of my house, evening forest hush outside, no birds singing this late, too early for the barn owl that calls out every night from the tree just outside the open skylight.  I am reading and have just come across a factoid; 35,000 generations of humans lived in the time before agriculture, agrilogistics.  35,000 generations of humans living as animals on this world that we come from.  I look up, imagination dazzled, and see my reflection in the dark glass- sleepy, tousle-haired, smudged glasses- and feel a visceral tug of grief in my gut that I am here now; late stage capitalism, neoliberalism, mass extinctions, climate change, industrialization and almost universal human detachment from the embodied world.  But that is more linear thinking- A to B except in this case we’re going backwards.  B, the now.  A, the place we want to get back to.

I am here now, as I was there, then, in a different form.  I will be here, after.  The mystery is only that there is no mystery.  Only everything, laid out before us in the timeless moment, offering itself up to our knowing- and it is us, and we are it.  


  1. Haraway (August 19, 2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene.
  2. Morton (April 26, 2016). Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence.

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