We are made for this

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Last month we discussed the divide between science and art, and the particular pleasure of  literary works inhabiting the edgelands between them -- such as nature writing, certain kinds of poetry, and fantasy fiction well-rooted in the magic of the natural world. (You can read that discussion running across three posts beginning here.)

Scott Russell Sanders is another writer, like Eva Saulitis and Alison Deming, who is equally at ease on both sides of the border. He came to his love of science after a church-and-bible childhood in rural Ohio, and both of these things have shaped his mind and his art. No longer Christian, he still finds value in the moral core of his religious upbringing, and plenty of scope for wonder and awe in the workings of the world around him.

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In his fine new collection The Way of the Imagination, Sanders writes:

"The study of science fosters a greatly expanded sense of kinship, one that stretches from the dirt under our feet to distant galaxies. Exploding supernovas produced the calcium in our bones and the iron in our blood, along with all the elements heavier than helium that make up our bodies, our built environment, and our rocky, watery globe. We are kin not merely to a tribe or nation, not merely to humankind, but through our genes and evolutionary history we are linked to all life on Earth, plants and fungi as well as animals. We are made for this planet, creatures among creatures....

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"What humans have learned about our world and ourselves is no doubt dwarfed by what we don't yet know, and may never know. Still, it's amazing that a short-lived creature on a dust-mote planet, circling an ordinary star near the edge of one among billions of galaxies, has managed to decipher so much about the workings of the universe. And the more we decipher, the more we realize that everything is connected to everything else, near and distant, living and nonliving, as mystics have long testified. The connectedness, this grand communion, is what I have come to think of as soul -- not my soul, as if I were a being apart, but the soul of Being itself, the whole of things.

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"I have abandoned the religious creed in which I first encountered words like soul, sacred, holy, reverence, divinity, and awe, but I refuse to abandon the words themselves. For they point to what is of ultimate value, what claims our deepest respect. As a writer, I wish to say that nature is sacred, deserving of reverence for its creativity, antiquity, majesty, and power. I wish to say that Earth is holy, precious, surpassingly beautiful and bountiful, deserving of our utmost care. Although our survival is at stake, an appeal to fear won't inspire such care, because fear is exhausting and selfish. Although we need wise environmental policies, laws alone will not elicit such care, nor will a sense of duty, shame, or guilt. Only love will. Only love will move us to act wisely and caringly, year upon year, our whole lives long."

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Any new book from Sanders is a cause for celebration, but The Way of the Imagination is especially wise (in its quiet, gentle way), and especially timely. I recommend it highly.

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The Way of the Imagination by Scott Russell Sanders

Words: The passage above is quoted from "A the Gates of Deep Darkness" by Scott Russell Sanders, published in The Way of the Imagination (Counterpoint, 2020). The poem in the picture captions is from Tin House (Winter, 2018). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: Down by the River Teign, early autumn.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Freshly picked blackberries

The Devon hedgerows are thick with blackberries and the orchards hang heavy with their fruits, so here are songs of farmers and plough boys, the harvest time, and the land's abundance....

Above: "Harvest Song" performed by Devon folk musician Jim Causley. It's from his early album Fruits of the Earth (2005).

Below: "Reaphook and Sickle" performed by Waterson-Carthy (Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, and Tim van Eyken), from their album Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006)

Above: "Hey John Barleycorn" performed by Jack Rutter, a folk musician from West Yorkshire. This song isn't the better-known Barleycorn ballad popularised by Robert Burns but a broadside ballad from the 17th century, extolling the virtues of a plant will soon be made into ale and beer. The song appeared on Rutter's album Hills (2017).

Below: "The Farmer's Toast" performed by folk musician Kate Rusby, from South Yorkshire. The song appeared on her recent album Philosophers, Poets & Kings (2019).

Above: "The Barley and the Rye" performed by Bill Jones, a folk musician from Sunderland in the north of England. The song appeared on her early album Panchpuran (2001).

Below: "Ploughboy Lads" performed by Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts (of The Furrow Collective). The song appeared on his early solo album The Crook of My Arm (2001).

Above: Ralph McTell's "The Hiring Fair," performed by the long running folk-rock band Fairport Convention. This version of the song appeared on Fairport's album In Real Time (1987).

Below: "Lovely Molly," performed by London-based folk singer and song collector Sam Lee, with London's Roundhouse Choir, at the BBBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2016. The song appeared on his album The Fade in Time (2015). For more of his music, go here and here

Our courtyard, early autumn

Blackberries picked this morning

And one more....

Below: "Soil & Soul," a new song by the English vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, and Rowan Rheingans). It appears on their album Live (2020).

A field of heritage apples

Apples on the courtyard table

Coming up this week...

Tilly and Ellen

Here's one last reminder that Ellen Kushner is giving a talk (on fantasy lit and her own creative practice) to mark the opening of the new Centre for Fantasy & the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow. It's online, it's free, and it's going to be fab, so if you're a fantasy reader (or fantasy-curious), please don't miss it. 

Drawing by Helen StrattonThere will also be information about the Centre (what it is and who it's for). And a panel discussion on the future of fantasy with two brilliant scholars of the field: Rob Maslen and Brian Attebery....and, umm, me.

The Zoom webinar tickets have sold out -- but don't worry, you can also view the whole event live on YouTube, and you don't need a ticket for that. Just follow this link on Wed. night (from 6 pm onward) to The Centre for Fantasy YouTube Channel. For more info, see my previous post about this event. 

I'm sorry to say that Howard and I are down with post-viral syptoms, yet again, from the nasty bug he caught in Spain in February -- which might have been Covid-19, or something else similarly persistent; the antibody tests were inconclusive. I am saving my strength for the Fantasy Centre launch -- which means there will be no new Myth & Moor posts until the launch has passed and I'm back on my feet. I pray that won't be long, and thank you all for your kindness and patience.

Perhaps I'll see some of you at the launch on Wednesday night...?

Bedtime Story by Jeanie Tomanek

Images above: A photograph of Ellen with Tilly by the Fairy Spring here in Chagford, during one of her many visits. A drawing by British book artist Helen Stratton (1867-1961). "Bedtime Story," a gorgeous painting by American artist Jeanie Tomanek. You can see more of her work here.