Today, December 21, is the Winter Solstice — North America at its darkest. Throughout our snow-bound hemisphere, the public, escaping from offices to find the sun already sunk, is bemoaning the early night, longing for summer days. To put it mildly, ours is not a darkness-loving society: we conflate darkness with ignorance, with fear, with wickedness. These associations have led us down pretty some foul rabbit holes over the centuries. Where we see shadows, we dispel them.
The modern-day environmental movement is certainly light-loving. Our planet's self-appointed stewards seek to shed light on quantitative problems: How much carbon does a forest sequester? How many fish are too many? They put absolute stock in abstruse policies, like cap-and-trade and ecosystem services. They advocate for technologies with certitude and piety: drive this car, not that one; use this lightbulb, not that. They are positivistic, and confident, and indubitably changing the world. They may even be changing it for the better.
With the launch of our new environmental media project, Encircle, however, we choose darkness. Or at least we acknowledge it. We don't have any great affinity for ignorance, but we also take perverse pride in admitting that we don't know the answers to our planet's problems. We may not even know the right questions. Are our troubles technological? Cultural? Political? Economic? Existential? We have no idea. We stumble in the dark, bumping into walls, hoping our blind explorations will eventually lead us to the door, hoping there's a door at all.
With our first edition, The Whale, we think we've found the perfect subject on which to test our approach. Whale cognition is plunged in darkness: we suspect that cetaceans think and emote as humans do, but we also can't remotely imagine what's it like to be 100 feet long, to live underwater, or to essentially see by bouncing sound waves off distant objects and interpreting the echoes. And our sordid history of whale-hunting — talk about dark — raises some pretty serious questions, too: for example, is it ever okay to kill and eat an animal that might be smarter and more sensitive than you are?
In this edition of Encircle, you'll find some far-out whale-related darkness. Short fiction in which whales and humans share the consequences of a hubristic, manmade weapon. Epic poetry about how 19th century whaling pertains to contemporary energy crises. A cetacean creation story. A cetacean apocalypse story. Whale as evolutionary conundrum. Whale as hockey rink. A meditation on Moby-Dick and the nautical trinity of man, whale, ship. And some gorgeous humpback art, just for kicks.
We'd love to hear your thoughts and to read your writing. The next issue is "Migration," which should be out by the next big astronomical alignment.
Thanks for stumbling through the dark with us.