Reading Derrick Jensen, Painting Salmon
My friend Angela Ford gave me a copy of Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words, just in time for me to be reading it during the days I was painting Salmon Sonnet (acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20"). This was a profound confluence.
Jensen's book is possibly the definitive analysis of our culture's incompatibility with life. His legions of facts are so accurately grim that at several points I thought, the hell with helping the earth heal, let's get on with palliative care. It isn't the first time I've wondered if, with greatest integrity, our task might be simply to witness & mourn.
At the same time, Jensen's candid interactions with coyotes, trees, bees, & other relatives point our only way to health: communication with all those beings we've been wrongly told are unconscious. His Native friend Jeanette Armstrong assures him that the critical difference between Native & non-Native cultures is simply that for Natives, talking with land is not metaphorical, but fundamental, everyday reality.
Affirming non-human consciousness & celebrating inter-species communication is where I've come through my 38 year commitment to creating art for ecological healing. This painting is one little piece.
On the back of the canvas is written, "'the salmon have always been very spiritual to us. Now we don't know if they'll survive, & if they do, if they'll be edible." These are the words of a Northwest Coast elder, whose name I've lost. Around the back stretcher bars is written, "the salmon prays for us, that we be fed with their generosity, so that we are generous, so that we recognize that the great conifers along their rivers are our parents & grandparents. O."
The 2 stones at the bottom left are a dedication of the painting for the good of all our relations. The day I finished this painting, an ex-boyfriend of my daughter caught a salmon & gave half of it to me. This is so unusual, I can't count it a coincidence, particularly as her flesh fills me with radiance. The poem that grids the water reads:
she welcomes any danger as delight—
a mystery, a pleasure in her strength
that carries through exhilarating length—
a secret journey cold & fierce & bright.
the salmon hatches in a limpid stream,
remembers every smell en route to sea.
she plumbs the starry ocean deep & free.
the archetype of following a dream,
she overcomes all obstacles. she swims
her river's bends & rapids to the place
where she began. she brings the ocean night
to teach the inland day. the needled limbs
of conifers grow strong in her embrace.
she feeds the people her abundant light.