Where otters once swam
"This is the place"
a reflective pause and a challenge
As this northern winter works it way towards spring, alternating between rain and snow and wind, I’ve been collecting a new set of prayers for the 1000 Prayers page (new contributions very welcome!). Our aim with the 1,000 Prayers is to find short pieces, thoughts, actions, meditations that people use to fine their sense of connection to the natural world. This piece by Nicholas Mann is a bit long for that and offers a different experience….Please take your time to read it. Read it aloud. Share it.
This is the Place
This is the place. I recognise it.
Although there should be a river nearby,
Where otters swam and at the estuary,
Where we disembarked, birds once fed on oysters.
But all have gone. The lobster in the pools
Seem also to have departed. No matter,
The sand and shingle beaches I played on as a boy,
The white cliffs, hills cloaked in hazel,
Oak and pine, still shield this ancient land.
Over there were sea kale, bugloss, beside a cabin
Where a kind old man, I recall him well,
Repaired our nets. But enough of this,
We’re not here to turn back history.
Men must live with the consequence of acts
They thought good at the time. No, we are here
To reset hearts and awaken minds
To eternal truths men have forgotten.
We, who came to this fair land long ago,
Received it as a loan from heaven.
Agreed, in this very place I believe, swore,
By oaths of blood beside this stone,
This tree and age-old mound, never to set
Self-regard above the common whole.
My mother sat here, garlands in her hair,
Upon the green sward, cradled my sister.
My father observed the good small birds,
Imitated their calls. And so it seemed
We would be forever blessed by this fresh air,
These clear streams. But like those creatures
Of wood and beach, we find no refuge here.
The bond that once upheld us has been broken.
We razed our groves and forgot our souls.
Here is a black pit where once was
A well. A gouge upon this stone
Makes me shudder. A limb broken from
This tree that rots my heart. Shafts driven
Into this mound have released foul air
Over the harbour, closed schools and markets.
The towns no longer throng with folk
At peace with life and the sound of children’s laughter,
But have become cities, concreted in sorrow and despair.
So, let me see if I can tell the story right:
Some sought out wealth and power to enslave
Others, pursuing veins of coal and ore
That should have remained below ground.
Claiming to uphold the common good, many
Made their houses, clothes and carriages
In the style of kings. The price
Was poisoned rivers and lakes, dying seas,
Unwholesome air, and heat to kill us all.
What do you think, my family, friends,
I use sparse words, but do I tell it right?
Is it too late to remember, reimagine,
The future we once dreamt for our dear tribe?
Come now, declare upon this ancient mound,
How you will face the warnings that foretell
Disaster, for it comes near you now.
Can you attempt to set right those trials
That rise from nowhere but ourselves?
If I am not much mistaken, this good earth,
Despite her current rage, will respond kindly
To every effort made to protect
Her creatures, forests, air and oceans.
She will not hold your children to account
For what you knew, but did not act upon,
Until they clamoured for a change.
All who have gathered at this hallowed place.
Take your stand here and find a new resolve.
While still imperfect, with spirit’s grace,
Repentant hearts and peaceful minds, we
Can yet restore some part of Nature’s bond.
Let all bear witness to the task, then,
After grieving on this beloved ground,
Turn to join hands with Nature once again.
Nicholas R. Mann 2021
To Nicholas for his thoughtful contribution
To The Peace Mantra Foundation for the initial introduction
Photos: all image c/o G MacLellan