“We know it’s the humans who are really the problem. Nothing we do here is going to make a lick of difference until they quit mucking everything up. But Owl, we must still come together and mark the time like we always do.”
Freetown State Forest in Bristol County, MA: apparently it is full of weirdness. It’s in the middle of the Bridgewater Triangle, the Hockamock Swamp abuts it, the Dighton Rock museum is just across I95 on the Taunton River estuary. I’m not especially one for touring the apocryphal weirdness; there’s just so much actual, true weirdness to be had. But with exactly one afternoon available to me amid Thanksgiving to drag a few semi-unwilling members of my family out to some wilderness within range of SW Boston suburbs to celebrate not supporting the capitalist establishment on Black Friday, the Fortean forest was it.
Profile Rock, Assonet, MA. I’m pretty sure that 1902 postcard on the Wikipedia page is completely wrong.
Delightful incidental art on Joshua’s Mountain.
Both of these appear on the same forked beech.
From Profile Rock, looking towards Dighton.
Not pictured: flooded, 350 year old foundations along Payne Rd; ugly, locked concrete building in the shape of a pair of octogonal spectacles which now encloses Dighton Rock; vast fields of solar farms; marina; deer; donkey; Wampanoag ghosts, bigfoot, pterodactyls.
It started with me bugging out again, assembling supplies as I made my careful escape from civilization in the process of collapse.
Having escaped, I was sitting in the woods taking a breather and I saw a fox. It saw me. It was curious, it came over and turned out to be a Mayan kid in a leopard mask (not a jaguar mask) and then his whole family was with him and they all wanted to be friends and I was stumbling to remember my Spanish as they spoke to me in English.
I’ve had them up on my roof putting out clean energy for almost a year now. Eleven months ago today, I generated my first watt, and I’ve been meaning to post about it ever since. The trouble is, for the entirety of those eleven months, until this very morning, I was locked in bureaucratic battle with the electric company to get them inspected, signed off on and correctly wired into the billing system so I could actually benefit by them. That was frustrating. It was Kafkaesque. And it didn’t seem worth posting about until I actually had something to celebrate.
Now, finally, I do. Here, then, is a bit of a roundup. This is the laughably short version. More to come, maybe, if you’re interested in the nitty gritty.
D. K. McCutchen is a Senior Lecturer for the UMass College of Natural Sciences. Lack of poetic DNA led to tale of low adventure & high science titled The Whale Road (Random House, NZ; Blake, UK), which earned a Pushcart nomination & a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book award. In a literary attempt to save the world, she’s now writing mostly scientifically accurate, sometimes erotic, gender-bender-post-apocalyptic speculative-fiction. The series begins with Jellyfish Dreaming—finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship. She lives on the Deerfield River with two brilliant daughters and a Kiwi, who isn’t green, but is fuzzy.
“Jellyfish Dreaming”, an excerpt from the above-mentioned novel of the same name, vies with Giselle Leeb’s “Ape Songs” for the weirdest dystopian future depicted in LCRW 33— a world of deserts and acidic oceans where humans and jellyfish are among the only things left alive, humans live off the jellyfish and are starting to become jellyfish themselves–it is also, disturbingly, the most plausible. For that reason I think this makes an excellent capstone in my series of contributor interviews (read them all here)
Settle in, friends. This one’s good.
Alena McNamara lives in Boston and works in a library near a river. Her stories have appeared in Kaleidoscope and Crossed Genres Magazine. She is a graduate of the 2008 Odyssey Workshop and Viable Paradise XV, and can be found online via alenamcnamara.com.
“Starling Road” is a story about imperialism, resistance and an inevitable, unintended consequence of both: people falling in love across cultures.
What inspired you to write this piece?
“Starling Road” rushed out of me after a six-month post-college gap of not writing fiction. Looking back I can see the roots of it in two classes I took my last semesters in undergrad: one on human geography and the other on post-colonial theory. Each only scratched the surface of its subject, but there’s a lot of thoughts from those classes tangled up underneath the surface of “Starling Road”—thoughts about the nation-state, the concept of sovereignty over a piece of land, and how that’s harming the humans who live on this planet. Chiefly the harm rolls down onto those who aren’t “citizens” or who get caught between borders, but we are all limited by these boundaries. Thoughts, too, about the center – periphery model so many of us have of society and the earth. I don’t have any answers but I have a lot of questions, and I thought someone should ask them of epic secondary-world fantasy.
And then Starling and Nisima turned up, and suddenly I was writing the most solely romantic story I’ve composed in my life.
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com. Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into a dozen languages.
In the guest post below, she discusses the inspiration for her story “Medea” and poem “Child Without Summer”, both of which appear in LCRW 33.
Humanity’s a frog being slowly boiled in a saucepan. Most of us in the developed world are too busy to feel the water heating up, to notice that we’re being gradually boiled alive. ‘Medea’ and ‘Child Without Summer’ (written by my alter ego, Kelda Crich) explore this near-sighted tendency, this blindness to events that don’t impact immediately on our stressful day-to-day lives.
M. E. Garber grew up reading about hobbits, space-travel, and dragons, so it’s no wonder that she now enjoys writing speculative fiction and dreams of traveling the world(s). She used to live near the home of Duck Tape, then near the home of Nylabone. Now she lives near the home of Gatorade. You can find her blog at: megarber.wordpress.com
“Putting Down Roots” is a story-in-emails about a woman turning into a tree. It’s both sad and beautiful, and taken as an Alzheimer’s parable I find it pretty profound. It was also only the tip of the iceberg in terms of stories about women turning into trees that came into the submission pile. I spent quite awhile puzzling over this trend, trying to figure out what it meant, if anything, about our collective unconscious. I didn’t get very far. So I’m really looking forward to finding out from the author how this story came to be.
What inspired you to write this piece?
MEG: As is usual for me, there were a number of things that came together in the creation of this story. First came a flash-fiction challenge to write a type of story that I’d never before written. I’d been wanting to try an epistolary form, and the 1,000 words or less requirement suggested that I’d get only one side of the conversation.
Next was some reading about current research on how trees communicate with one another. It was really fascinating to read about the chemical messages they send via roots and rootlets, communicating their stresses and stressors, so that other trees could prepare and survive the coming onslaught, as well as the ways the researchers conducted these studies. While reading, I got the little shivers of delight that told me I’d have to use this in a story sometime, somehow.
Of course, personal experience played a part in this, as well. I’ve moved more than the average person in my adult life, and wherever I go, I like to learn about my new home–the birds, the weather, the soil and trees and all that makes it unique. And yet, I’m always made keenly aware that I’m unusual in this. Even people who’ve lived their whole lives in one place seem unaware of where they actually live, of their natural world in any but the most vague sense. Those rare people who have lived long in one place and know it deeply–I’m envious of them, and I try to absorb all I can of their knowledge while I’m near. I sense the futility of it, of course–I’ll be gone from this amazing place before I amass any amount of knowledge, and there is little chance of it proving necessary to my survival–but I need the grounding that such understanding provides. I feel lost and aimless without it, and yet I know I’m barely scratching the surface.
Finally, sickness. The randomness of who gets sick, with what, and how we and modern medicine cope with that. Who hasn’t known someone who’s spent too many hours waiting in doctors’ offices, only to hear “We don’t know” over and over again?
And so, Anne came to be, writing to her best friend about this terrible thing–losing her mobility and her raging against the wait, her loss–as she gradually comes to accept it, and even enjoy her change. I suppose that makes me an optimist, in the end. Or perhaps, just someone who would like to put down some roots, deeply.
What’s your own relationship to the earth like?
MEG: Like I said, I’ve moved a lot. I’ve seen much of the northern hemisphere’s temperate zone, and I love cities, and how humans can live well there (especially European cities!). But I seem to need a close relationship to nature, as well. Parks–large, wandering, ungroomed and somewhat wild spaces where my mind can stretch out and my eye can see wildlife’s traces–heron prints along the river bank, fishes in the river waters, hawks calling high overhead, and rabbits darting off into tall grasses. Places where I can harvest wild blueberries, or pop open touch-me-not seed pods, startle frogs and deer. Some of my happiest hours are those sitting on a fallen log, watching golden leaves twirl earthward through a dappled lacework of branches against a brilliant blue sky. Or walking through a light misting rain listening to frogs creak and call.
I love walking through a physical space and knowing what birds are singing, what those blooming plants are called, if I can eat those berries or not. I like to know what the dangers are, what I should be wary of and how to avoid injury from those things, as well. So I suppose the earth and I have a pretty good relationship. I garden and gather and love the feelings of plenty those things bring me, while Mother Nature responds with copious growth and abundant wildlife.
And yet, I still hate mosquitos and no-see-ums, and their itching, forever-annoying bites. And I’m currently learning to dislike red ants just as much. Ouch! Not all the “abundance” is good.
What do you think is fiction’s (or poetry’s) role in changing minds, making people think and feel differently? Do writers have a responsibility to engage creatively with humanity’s problems or encourage their readers to do so?
MEG: I think this is one of the main reasons I love reading speculative fiction. It allows me to explore new ideas, to understand things differently without feeling lectured to. It shows consequences, actions and reactions. It asks “What if,” and those what if’s aren’t always answered happily. What if corporations colonize space instead of countries? What if we somehow derail climate change, but instead of reversal, we have to live with some part-way resolution? What if we were forced to slow down and examine our world in minute detail, the way a long-lived tree does?
Good speculative fiction can make me rethink history as well as the future. It allows me to envision other futures, even find good ones in a radically different environment. It allows for hope in situations I might otherwise think would be “hopeless.” Protagonists often find a way through, even if they have to compromise. Such scenarios can also be a warning: “Stop! Go Back! No Exit. Do Not Come This Way.”
Does it have to do these things? No, I suppose not. But if as a writer I can educate as I entertain my reader (even subconsciously), well, why wouldn’t I? Most people like learning things. It’s human nature to learn and grow throughout our lives. If I can make learning something fun, of course I’m going to do it. After all, I am my very first first-reader. If I’m not pleasing myself with my writing, I’m probably pleasing anyone.
Is humanity doomed?
MEG: “Doomed” is such a bleak term. Are we “doomed” if we have to live differently than we have in the past? If we have to adapt to radically changing situations? If many of us on the planet die, while others struggle onwards? I think not, and yet others would argue yes. Then again, as I said earlier, I’m a bit of a closet optimist. Much of human history has been filled with hate and war, anger and strife. And yet we have also amazing works of art that lift our minds and souls from despair, in every place and age. As long as humanity yearns towards beauty and knowledge, I think hope exists for a better future.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 33, a theme issue about humanity’s relationship with the earth guest edited by me, is available in 30% recycled dead tree form from Small Beer Press and indie bookstores near you. The ebook version is at Weightless Books.
Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. There they own and operate Blind Eye Books, an LGBT press specializing in genre fiction. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mystery Series.
Nikki has been contributing crazy-like-a-fox cooking columns to LCRW since issue #27, on such topics as making the most of your CSA, the seductive fennel bulb, and how to seduce a vegetarian. They are delightful. I advise you to collect them all. Because even if you don’t necessarily need to know how to cook for stray children, there’s always the off chance that, if you’re really nice to her, she’ll send you brownies in the mail.
What’s your own relationship to the earth like?
NK: I have really severe hay fever so for the first 30 years of my life my relationship with the Earth was somewhat frosty. She would use her tree, weed and grass minions to flood my sinus cavities with pollen and I would retaliate by sneezing all over as much of her as I could. But then the new antihistamines were invented and I started to go for walks in the woods and notice things like mushrooms and lichen and owls. After that I gradually came to the conclusion that just because something is tiny or silent or tries to swoop you occasionally doesn’t make it a less-valid organism. Plus I forgave the trees for their indiscriminate air-based sperm-cell distribution. After all, they can’t help it. They’re grown that way. So now the Earth and I have a nodding acquaintance that I’m looking forward into developing into a genuine friendship some day.
After eleven years hunting mushrooms, eight of those since I built up the confidence to actually eat some of what I found, yesterday I had my first bite of poison mushroom. It put me in the emergency room.
I was shown no revelations about how all life on earth is intimately connected in a profound but delicate web (though of course I knew this already). I did not see David Bowie. For four and a half hours I felt completely normal. Then, over three hours, my body voided the entire contents of my digestive system between brief stints of shivering on the bathroom floor. Then I sat in a hospital bed for three hours with a saline drip in my arm while a series of medical professionals asked me, “WHY?”