“We’re not going to refashion our institutions quickly but where we can start again is as neighbors, which is also not without its challenges.” Krista Tippett.
Ruperto was an armadillo who crossed our garden from time to time. On some Tuesdays, during our family dinner, we would see him rushing alongside the terrace wall. It took us some time to determine it was an armadillo, and we never really knew where it was coming from or where it was going. But after several encounters we gave him a name and whenever he showed up we just gave his presence a brief acknowledgement: There goes Ruperto!
There was also a small owl that perched on top of our cars some nights. We didn’t name this one, but its visit didn’t cease to amaze us. We would spy on it from the kitchen window, so not to scare it away. Certainly, not all the encounters with other beings at the house were this passive. For years, thousands of ants came out of the shower knob in my bathroom every time I turned on the hot water. In a tyrannical act, I threw water at them until I got rid of them. My parents used to cover with salt any slug that came into the house; and I have never thought it twice to crush a cockroach or a scorpion. Coexistence doesn’t always mean harmony, but even in the act of killing there is a recognition of the other.
Even in cities it is difficult to alienate oneself completely from the presence of other species. However, this separation from everything “wild” has always been the engine and purpose of the cities’ design. We live with our dogs and cats, but we scare off anyone else’s; we tolerate some insects, but most of them we kill; we accept a controlled and ornamental vegetation, but we suffer from a kind of shrubland phobia; we want to eat animals, but we twitch at the thought of seeing them die. Nature (with capital N) is far withdrawn into the mountains and the beaches and the farms; while the cities are a sort of anthropocentric fantasy. The fossil fuels economy swore to us that we could destroy biodiversity and replace its functions with the vertiginous rhythm of ‘progress’. We got used then, to a sort of apartheid between cities and wilderness.(1)
But the truth is that, despite the destruction and the negligence, we still coexist with thousands of beings that challenge the neat utopia of an exclusively human and technological city. Spider webs between plant pots, grass growing out of a concrete wall, rivers, armadillos that cross through gardens, pollinators, dragonflies and mosquitoes; seeds, mushrooms and bacteria. A whole series of universes surviving precariously amidst our attention deficit. And we now understand better than ever that even that distant ‘Nature” is inevitably interconnected to our daily life. Now that the mythical bubble of progress and illimited growth has exploded on us, we have been forced to look, not ahead anymore, but around us, and what we found were ruins.(2)
In less than my 31 years of life, the urban area in the world has doubled and there has been an unprecedented expansion of infrastructure linked to consumption, which has come mostly at the expense of forests, wetlands and grasslands. The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20%, altering the ecosystem with unpredictable consequences. And close to 25% of animal and plant species are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species are on their way to extinction if measures are not taken to stop biodiversity loss.(3) How could we overlook all this? Just as naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams says: “If we don’t know who we live among, then when they vanish, there’s no one to mourn that loss”.
I believe this phrase holds two great truths that we face in this planetary crisis. The first one is the lack of attention and connection with our communities. We know less and less those who live close to us, human and nonhuman. This alienation has deprived us from the relationships that emotionally and physically sustain us.
The second one is grief. If we are afraid to look life into her eyes, it is because we are not well equipped to deal with death. Without the necessary emotional and spiritual tools, we don’t know how to deal with the pain that our current reality inevitably causes, and so we choose to resort stubbornly to modern somas.
“...our difficulty in looking at what we’re doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain. (...) But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.” Joanna Macy
The labor starts then with our attention and our presence. The challenge that we launched this month at Wimblu was precisely to pay attention to our planetary neighborhood and to acknowledge, at least for a minute with a simple photo, all those nonhuman worlds around us. Cultivating a genuine curiosity for other life forms and rhythms (human and nonhuman) and for the tissues that bind us, is the first step to transition from a destructive and violent model to one of care and sustenance for diverse lives. It is the Arts of Noticing, says Ana Tsing, it is staying with the trouble as Donna Haraway suggests, it is cultivating a deep awareness of the web of life in every step of our lives, affirms Vandana Shiva. It is to give the earth its sacred value back, and to turn in reverence towards the biological community that sustains us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
They are small things, as Galeano says, what can heal and reconstruct these biologically diverse communities. It is a group of women protecting their seeds in India or planting trees in Kenya. It is the Guanacaste communities fighting for their water sources. Or the Buddhists in Thailand “ordaining” trees as monks to prevent their deforestation. It’s the women in Vanuatu dancing to the rhythm of the water to sustain their millenary connection to the sea. It’s school children protesting every Friday for the planet’s future, it’s Extinction Rebelion with their nonviolent interventions. But it’s also every one of us, honouring our place and responsibility within the web of life, and getting emotionally involved with a planet which we must, now more than ever, defend as a loved one.
(1) Reference to the words by Vandana Shiva during the podcast For The Wild. “Dr. Vandana Shiva⌠ENCORE⌡ /118. On the Emancipation of Seed, Water and Women”. Available at: http://forthewild.world/listen/vandana-shiva-on-the-emancipation-of-seed-water-and-women-118
(2) Reference to Ana Tsing’s arguments in her book Mushrooms at the End of the World.
(3) IPBES 2019
Blumberg, Antonia (2015). Buddhist Monks Ordain Trees To Protect The Environment. The Huffpost. Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/buddhist-monks-ordain-trees_n_6784568
Emilie-Dorion, Aude (2019). In Vanuatu, women draw strength from the rhythm of the ocean. Earth Journalism Network. Available at: https://earthjournalism.net/stories/in-vanuatu-women-draw-strength-from-rhythm-of-the-ocean?fbclid=IwAR3SEzgWbQYwwO0xf8HfRWyxI0vVOkq9Vg79CHr6AmdSkcZ_7Mdrwq9NSAg
Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble. Duke University Press Books.
Tsing, Anna (2015). Mushrooms at the End of the World. Princeton University Press.
Young, March (Producer) (2019). Podcast For The Wild. “Dr. Vandana Shiva /118. On the Emancipation of Seed, Water and Women”. Available at: http://forthewild.world/listen/vandana-shiva-on-the-emancipation-of-seed-water-and-women-118
Podcast On Being with Krista Tippet (2011). “Terry Tempest Williams. The Vitality of the Struggle”. Available at:
Podcast On Being with Krista Tippet (2010). “Joanna Macy. A Wild Love for the World.” Available at:
Podcast On Being with Krista Tippet (2006). “Wangari Maathai. Marching with Trees”. Available at:
IPBES (2019). Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).