Monday, May 11, 2009

The 'Leonardo Effect'

Robert L. Fielding speaks to fellow educators, students and parents, as well as those responsible for the decision making in education; creativity is the key to unlocking future problems and ensuring that everyone who lives a life in which a passion to create meets a talent, and finds an opportunity to develop.
If creativity is the ability to create new ideas that are of some value, and comes about, chiefly, by combining different disciplinary ways of looking at the world – looking at a problem from a scientific angle and then an artistic one and so on - the so called ‘Leonardo Effect’ seems an idea worth using in the classroom.

Deirdre Robson, Head of Art at St Mary’s University College Belfast, maintains that, “Children should be free to explore and experiment with colour and light without limiting their imaginations with labels of art or science.”

The key concept here is surely ‘limiting the imagination’ – perhaps that is what teaching does when it compartmentalizes a child’s world into boxes – after all, boxes have sides – in much the same way that faculty buildings have walls. Walls keep some things out and others in – walls limit our free movement and our ways of thinking.

Named after the great inventor and artist, the Leonardo effect, takes its inspiration from the similarity between the arts and the sciences; synchronizing art and science - investigating, exploring, experimenting, imagining, developing ideas, and creating are processes of equal relevance to both disciplines, say art and science St Mary’s' lecturers Ivor Hickey, Mary Flanagan and Deirdre Robson from the initial teacher education college that has pioneered this new approach to teaching art and science at primary schools.

Speaking as someone who had to go to a different classroom for both subjects, the notion that the two are similar doesn’t grab me – why should it? after all, I am a product of education with walls.

However, the effects have been striking; pupils who were not normally engaged in science classes and art classes – they started wanting to do homework – unheard of in my day. Using this combination also helped pupils who had learning difficulties. This seems to tie in with Howard Gardner’s notion that we all have multiple intelligences – not just in literacy and numeracy, but also musically, spatially, kinesthetically, and in intra and inter personal ways too – pupils understand in individual, ways special to them.

This emphasis on the child and her abilities is radically different from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach we have all previously been used to. One size does not fit all.

Pupils working creatively and being encouraged to explore and investigate something in its wider sense is the essence of the Leonardo Effect; in this way, they gain first-hand experience of the thing they are studying, rather than the more traditional way, through the vicariousness of the teacher’s senses.
In Sunderland, UK, the ‘Spark’ Project took 15 volunteers who worked with senior staff from T-mobile and worked through ways of lowering their carbon footprint. The project hopes that increased awareness of social issues – and the confidence and ability of young people to express their opinions – will encourage the participants to become active members of the community.

In both these projects, what becomes clear is that if confidence is shown in pupils’ abilities and skills, and if the reins are loosened on what they can do, children benefit – their creativity increases with their confidence and they ‘think outside of the box’ – which is what children do anyway. More traditional ways of teaching can actually discourage those things.

There are many myths about creativity; here are just a few.
• Creativity is confined to the arts
More and more evidence from projects like the Leonardo Effect and in areas such as Mathematics have shown teachers that bringing in seemingly unrelated skills and ways of seeing things pays dividends.

The formal ways in which mathematics is traditionally – and usually taught, employs abstract symbols that children do not and often cannot relate to.

Using graphics and encouraging pupils to ‘see’ numbers as aspects of their own reality, rather than a facet of an arcane system known initially only by the teacher has paid massive dividends in schools. As one teacher says, “Children need to make sense in their own ways rather than colouring-in ours.”

• Knowledge transfer across domains is unproblematic
What we already know about how the brain works is sufficient to tell us that we all have the ability to draw knowledge from the different ways we experience our world; dividing knowledge up into different, compartmentalized sections goes against our true nature; we use all our senses to inform us what to think – and educating us as if we don’t is counter-productive.

• Creativity is an elite trait, restricted to a few very talented individuals
Every child has amazing amounts of creativity; children are willing to have a go even when they know they are wrong. Being wrong is not being creative, but the willingness to be wrong is vital in the steps to being creative.
4th grade slump
Instead of growing into creativity, there is a lot of evidence to show that we are educated out of it. There is much evidence that by the 4th Grade, children have lost much of their spontaneity and impetus to be creative – pressure of exams and pressure exerted by teachers ensures that making mistakes in school is the worst thing a student can do. We run our educational curriculums this way, and many of our companies too.

Wouldn’t you say that now, more than ever in the Earth’s history, with global issues like climate and financial meltdown taking centre stage, creativity is more in demand than it has ever been.

“It is perhaps ironic that within our culture we insist that we place such value on creativity and then blatantly try to steal it away from children in the contexts of their educational experiences and their upbringing.”
The so called ‘creativity killers’ have been defined as:-
• Surveillance
Risk taking takes a dive when pupils feel they are constantly being watched.
• Evaluation
Making pupils constantly aware of how they are doing rather than what they are doing inhibits creative expression.
• Reward
Systems that continually reward or punish demean pupils interest. If they are constantly given either prizes or detention, any intrinsic value an activity might have had is lost.
• Competition
Exams put pupils in a win-lose situation in which only one person can come out top. This negates a child’s need to work at his or her own rate.
• Over control
Too much instruction can take away a child’s initiative.
• Restricting choice
On the face of it, choice sounds good, but forcing students to choose either science or arts at critical times in their lives can prevent them from finding the thing they might have excelled in.
• Pressure
Linking a teacher’s expectations with that of a children’s can rob them of direction – their own true direction, not the teacher’s.

Summarized from: Goleman, Kaufman and Ray (1992) The creative spirit, 61-62
If, as Sir Ken Robinson says, “In the coming years, creativity will be as important as literacy”, then the Leonardo Effect and other initiatives like it being used and encouraged in schools in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, will go a long way to achieving that – and will bring education into the modern era – equipping young people to cope with the future – an as yet unknown quantity.
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quotes, comments and discussions on creativity in education

Now more than ever, it is vital to
encourage all areas of young people’s
intellectual and personal capabilities
and to recognise that doing this is
not at odds with their academic
development. The greatest
disincentives to achievements are low
self-esteem and lack of motivation.
Creative and cultural programmes are
powerful ways of revitalising the
sense of community in a school and
engaging the whole school with the
wider community.
Professor Ken Robinson

If you think there is only one answer,
then you will only find one.
Scottish Consultative Council on the
Curriculum, Teaching for Effective

I decided I was only going to do
things for the fun of it and only that
afternoon as I was taking lunch some
kid threw up a plate in the cafeteria.
There was a blue medallion on the
plate - the Cornell sign. As the
plate came down it wobbled. It
seemed to me that the blue thing
went round faster than the wobble and
I wondered what the relationship was
between the two - I was just
playing; no importance at all. So I
played around with the equations of
motion of rotating things and I found
out that if the wobble is small the
blue thing goes round twice as fast as
the wobble. I tried to figure out why
that was, just for the fun of it, and
this led me to the similar problems
in the spin of an electron and that led
me back into quantum
electrodynamics which is the problem I’d been working on. I continued to
play with it in this relaxed fashion
and it was like letting a cork out of a
bottle. Everything just poured out
and in very short order I worked the
things out for which I later won the
Nobel Prize.
Richard Feynmann, Nobel Prizewinning

Creative play seeking to see the
world afresh - is at times a fight
against the fascination which familiar
associations and directions of thought
exert on us. Young people need to be
encouraged to understand the
importance of this kind of play.
Professor Lewis Minkin

The creation of something new is not
accomplished by the intellect alone
but by the play instinct. The creative
mind plays with the objects it loves.
C. G. Jung

Imagination is more important than
Albert Einstein

There is no such thing as a single
general intelligence, which we all
possess to a greater or lesser degree.
We all have a unique combination of
different kinds of abilities, which can
and do change throughout our lives.
Scottish Consultative Council on the
Curriculum, Teaching for Effective

Each of us have a different mosaic of
intelligences. Uniform schooling
ignores these differences.
Howard Gardner

Regenerating a Whole Town
Huddersfield is midway through its three-year Urban Pilot Project, which
aims to demonstrate, on behalf of the European Commission, how
creativity might be nurtured, not just in individuals but in a whole town.
It is believed that the creativity and prosperity of a town can grow
unchecked if a system can be developed for releasing human potential.
The Huddersfield Creative Town Initiative (HCTI) is based on the Cycle
of Creativity - generating ideas and then turning them into reality,
circulating and marketing ideas, setting up platforms for delivery, and
promoting and disseminating these ideas. The range of projects which
constitute HCTI broadly follow these five stages of the cycle. One of the
creative initiatives in this project is that of Artimedia’s Enter and Return
training courses. Since April 1998 over 100 people have been trained in
the creative uses of computing, with courses ranging from absolute
beginners, for those who have never touched a computer, to ‘web
weaving’, which looks at cutting-edge technology and new developments
on the world-wide web. By introducing local people to the creative
potential of new technologies, the company is opening up new ways of
thinking about and using computers and encouraging people to
experiment with computers in their own areas of interest.
Information provided by Huddersfield Creative Town Initiative

We must educate the whole child -
creatively, culturally, spiritually,
morally, physically, technologically
as well as intellectually. Good
teachers recognise this and develop
the child to his/her potential. The
greatest gift you can give a child is
self-esteem and confidence in their
ability. If a child has these, no
challenge is too great for him/her.
Carol Traynor, head teacher
Realising Potential
When the guidelines for specialist school status were published, both
Kidbrooke and Thomas Tallis Schools considered applications. This was
not just because examination results in these areas were high, but because
of the contributions the arts make to the ethos of the schools and to
students’ learning. The arts play a vital role in raising the self-esteem and
self-confidence of students. Through performance, young people gain pride
in their achievements. Students learn to reflect on their work, to analyse
strengths and weaknesses; they test out a version of their work and, after
evaluating it, they revise and hone it until they are satisfied. They learn
that it is safe to take risks: that by practising and repeating they are able
to improve and develop an idea. By viewing other people’s work, that of
professionals and other students, they experience situations and visions
through someone else’s eyes. The arts allow young people to explore
emotions and fears in a safe, controlled situation. They are able to look at
difficult and painful situations by externalising them and putting them
into the third person. They can take risks in finding solutions to
problems without it affecting their own relationships so that they can
choose the best way in ‘real’ life. They can explore new ideas and
develop their understanding of the world. They learn to compare
experiences from different cultures and different eras. They begin to find
out about the technologies which surround the arts and the skills which
are vital to the cultural industries. The arts are not a diversion from the
‘real’ curriculum. They are a vital part of the life of a school and can be
central to raising achievement.
Trisha Jaffe & Nick Williams, head teachers, Kidbrooke School &
Thomas Tallis School

A core aim of our education system
must be to enable all children to
develop their creativity and unlock
their creative potential... If the
innovative and creative minds of
tomorrow are to be nurtured and
inspired, teaching has to be developed
in a way which appeals to the creative
and emotional and which encourages
conceptual thinking. The curriculum
review is an opportunity to create a
new dynamic which will allow this to
Moira Fraser Steele, Director of
Education & Research, The Design

Art is not a diversion or a side issue.
It is the most educational of human
activities and a place in which the
nature of morality can be seen.
Dame Iris Murdoch, writer

The arts are other ways of expressing
and communicating experiences,
feelings and ideas. Various materials,
instruments, tools, techniques and
skills are used to express and
communicate those feelings and ideas
in a creative form. In the creative arts
we are training children to look, see
and know. To observe fine detail and
to develop sensitivity, which remains
with them forever, can have a
profound effect on the way they view
the world and in some cases cause a
change in attitude. The creative arts
develop thinking and problem solving
strategies in an enjoyable
way. This can enhance all other areas
of the curriculum.
Carol Traynor, Head, St. Boniface
RC Primary School, Salford

To communicate through the arts is
to convey an experience to others in
such a form that the experience is
actively recreated actively lived through by those to whom it is
Raymond Williams

There are different routes of entry into
each child’s mind. It is amazing how
much can be taught when subject
boundaries are taken away.
Professor Helen Storey

Stories that Sing
Over the 1998 Summer term, Children’s Music Workshop ran a pilot for
a three-year project to explore ways of using creative class music to
enhance Key Stage 2 children’s understanding of the use of language. The
pilot, in three Tower Hamlets primary schools, combined composition,
songwriting, storytelling and performance, and encouraged teachers to
link the work with the literacy programme. Two of the schools have a
99.9 per cent Bengali intake and the third school has an 80 per cent
Bengali intake. The children in each of the schools were alert, attentive,
and highly motivated by the project. All of them participated, often to the
surprise of their teachers, throwing themselves into the work with real
enthusiasm. The pilot began with a workshop for the class teachers, to
give a taste of the work that would be done by the children. This was
followed by eight weekly sessions with each class, culminating in a
performance by each class to the rest of the school. To stimulate the
children’s imaginations, the projects focused on wishes, a drawing, a
‘magic’ hat and mat. The children worked in small groups to create
poems, verses and stories which they developed into whole-class songs
and instrumental pieces. There were considerable differences between the
schools and the teachers in terms of their experience and attitude to
music, although all of them embraced the project with energy and
enthusiasm. The pilot was considered by the teachers, head teachers and
musicians to have been very successful. All the teachers want to continue
to be involved, the children are hugely enthusiastic, and the musicians
found it exciting and stimulating.
Information supplied by Children’s Music Workshop

We are throwing out the baby with
the bathwater in this country if, in an
attempt to have a standardised and
demanding curriculum, we leave no
room for teachers to exercise a little
judgement and imagination in an
excursion of the academic piste. If
they are so focused on a fixed
curriculum, so rigid that there is no
time, literally, for anything as
important as the human mind, then
we are in for a very sorry future
society. It could also be argued that
the teachers themselves would benefit
from a broader view. Surely a teacher
who has become excited, and learnt a
new angle on a subject, will import
renewed enthusiasm and vigour back
to the class.
Independent, 3rd December 1998

The arts are quite simply a magic key
for some children and within the
hands of gifted committed teachers of
the arts they are a key to all children,
not only do they open the mind of
the learner, they then reveal a cast
cornucopia of endless delight,
challenge and opportunity.
Professor Tim Brighouse, Chief
Education Officer, Birmingham City

We cannot afford poverty of vision,
let alone poverty of aspiration. There
are always risks in changing, but the
risk of failing to change is much
Valerie Bayliss, 1998, Redefining
Schooling, RSA

The most important developments in
civilisation have come through the
creative process, but ironically, most
people have not been taught to create.
Robert Frotz, The Path of Least
Resistance, 1994

Each child has a spark in him/her. It
is the responsibility of the people and
institutions around each child to find
what would ignite that spark.
Howard Gardner

Learning involves going beyond
simply acquiring new information
and adding it to our existing
knowledge. It involves us in making
sense of new information by using
our existing knowledge and
modifying, updating and rethinking
our own ideas in the light of this new
Scottish Consultative Council on the
Curriculum, Teaching for Effective

The world of reality has its limits.
The world of imagination is
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

What If?
One of the most powerful prompts to creative thinking is the asking of
open-ended questions. Some answers will be better than others, but none
is likely to be ‘wrong’. Set out an odd number of counters on a table.
Explain that you will need four volunteers, forming two teams of two: the
rest of the group choose to support one or other team. Ask the teams and
their supporters to gather at either side of the table. Stand between the
two teams and explain that you’ll ask a ‘What If?’ question. Immediately
the two teams will begin having answers. The team to your right may
speak at normal volume into your right ear; the team to your left at
normal volume into your left ear, simultaneously. Team supporters must
not speak to you directly, but can relay their answers by whispering them
to their team members. For each reasonable answer you receive, that team
will get a point in the form of a counter. When all the counters have been
distributed, the game has thirty seconds left to run. During that time,
good answers will win points from the opposing team’s store of
counters. After thirty seconds blow a whistle to signal the end of the
round. Take care to explain that although one of the teams has
accumulated more points than the other, they’ve all won because:
You’ve proved that everyone can have lots of ideas if the circumstances
are right (and you need to have lots of ideas in order to have good ideas).
You now have lots of ideas, and therefore some good ones you can look
at in more detail.
From Imagine That by Stephen Bowkett

Drama Provides Equal Opportunities
Equal Voice focuses on new ways of resolving conflicts with special
regard to individual self-esteem. Some of the work was undertaken at
Crusoe House, a school for children with emotional and behavioural
difficulties (EBD). Often pupils remain at EBD schools for many years
and some are never reintegrated into mainstream schools. The work
improves a child’s ability to be emotionally articulate, gives them a
voice and raises their self-esteem so that they can begin to take
responsibility for their own behaviour. This small change in attitude is
often enough for a child to be able to return to mainstream education and
modify the behaviour that has caused, and been reinforced by, the stigma
of exclusion and low achievement. Irene Flynn, head at Crusoe House
said of Equal Voice: ‘Drama’ provides opportunities to explore and
release a variety of emotions in a safe environment. This encourages our
pupils to experiment with different ways of behaving - increasing their
repertoire of acceptable responses. The majority of our pupils have low
self-esteem, often feel under attack and will over-react in a confrontational
and sometimes aggressive manner. The drama programme was of real
benefit to pupils. It encouraged positive interaction and group work. The
environment created by the drama workshops was non-threatening and
dispelled much of the everyday hostility. Staff also benefited from
observing how their pupils responded to the expertise and techniques
used by the Equal Voice leaders.
Information provided by Pop-Up Theatre

Every Subject a Creative Subject
Malbank School and Sixth Form Centre in Cheshire has been identified
as one of a number of vastly improving schools. The head teacher
attributes their success to creative and cultural education: Visitors are
invariably struck by a range of creative, purposeful activity taking place
throughout the school. They see evidence of a lively cultural life, which
values creative and cultural education for its own sake, for what it
contributes to young people’s achievements and to the success of a
school. Virtually everyone gains good GCSE and four good A levels is
the norm at the sixth form of some 400. We regard every subject as a
creative subject, in which youngsters are encouraged to think creatively
and work creatively. They create aesthetically pleasing, useful ‘things’
alongside interesting and stimulating images and ideas; they tackle
problems requiring imaginative solutions; they participate in events and
celebrations which enhance the school’s ‘learning culture’ and they
experience something of the traditions and cultures of people in other
times and in other societies. This ‘sort’ of education, institutionalised
through agreed curriculum principles and entitlements, monitoring,
review and development, develops students’ key skills and motivates
them to participate actively, to take pride in their work, to want to learn
more. Creative and cultural education contributes to their having the
means and the will to achieve success. OFSTED found that Ôteaching,
learning and academic standards are of a very high order; ‘quality
standards’, ‘high achievement’ in a ‘good school which is determined to
become even better’. This is not despite our putting thought, time and
energy into the creative and cultural dimensions of the curriculum. It is a
product of our doing so.
Allan Kettleday, Headteacher, Malbank School

Everybody can be somebody
I have yet to meet a young person who does not want to do well. They
want to be recognised for their achievements. They want to show that
they too have something to offer. They want to feel they are somebody.
We want standards to rise, but sideline that very area of learning where
many students can excel. It is not uncommon for parents to make it clear
that they would prefer their child to drop art, dance, drama and, if need
be, music, to make way for more important subjects. The arts can build
confidence in the student, release talent in their learning, and act as a
lightening conductor for achievement in other subjects. Some schools
greatly value expressive subjects in their own right, and as a vehicle
capable of driving higher standards in other areas of learning. In these
schools, framed art work proudly displayed shouts out, from every wall,
how good individual student work can be. The fact that this framed work
survives undamaged makes a powerful comment about pride and personal
discipline. The same is true of music, dance and drama. These learners
can demonstrate ability greater than that of the teachers. Not many
subjects can boast this. And it is a degree of relative excellence that
motivates. All can succeed. All it takes is a self-belief and the motivation
to make it work. Everybody can be somebody.
Steven Andrews, Greenwich Education Directorate Secretariat

Developing Teachers’ Own Creativity
In 1997, a teachers’ and artists’ collaborative was established, driven by
the conviction that the current intense focus on education, welcome as it
must be, does not adequately consider the creative needs of teachers. The
acute demands made on teachers by the education system, with its
emphasis on grades, performance and league tables, means that there is
little time or opportunity for them to realise their creative capacity.
Tandem seeks ways in which teachers, working with experienced
practitioners, may be afforded space and time for their own self-expressive,
creative work. Actual practice of an art is not only a source of infectious
excitement, discovery and renewal, but really the only source able to
animate and inform with authority and empowering confidence. One
teacher who attended a Tandem course summarised this project as
follows: “I saw the mention in the TES and rang immediately to check it
really was for me, and not for ‘how to do it’ tips [...] if as teachers we
aren’t creatively and imaginatively alive/enlivened, we can’t create,
imagine and inspire, i.e. we can’t teach. We can deliver, inform, police,
but not teach. Tandem is the first initiative that I’ve come across that
recognises the centrality of teachers’ creativity to their role in education,
and then combines that recognition with the understanding that
practitioners are the best people to nourish and develop that creativity.”
Information provided by the Extension Trust, Tandem Project

Nadine Senior, a teacher whose
knowledge, encouragement and
inspiration motivated a whole
generation of young people. Through
the teaching of dance she helped
shape the lives of many, including
my own. Dance provided a medium
for us to use our imaginations,
communicate, express and devise our
own work. We felt we could achieve
and that we had something relevant
to contribute to our peers, school,
community and beyond. Dance gave
us a hook upon which to hang the
rest of our learning; without it many
of her students would not be here to
substantiate this story.
Dawn Holgate, Education Director,
Phoenix Dance Company

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Finding your true self - the element

Picasso once said that all children are born artists, the difficulty is to remain one into adulthood. The British educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson, believes that instead of growing into creativity, we are educated out of it.

In his talk, ‘Do schools kill creativity?’
Robinson says he believes most of us were benignly steered away from things we liked or were good at, because our parents said they would not get us a job: “Don’t do music at school, you’re not going to be a musician. Don’t do art, you’re not going to be an artist!”

That attitude, Robinson says, is “profoundly mistaken!” We all know that the world is going through a revolution – in IT,, culture – almost everything is changing.

Social patters of interaction are changing through chat rooms and facebook, entertainment because of things like Youtube and file sharing , and yet most formal educational systems remain the same.

Our view of intelligence is shaped by these systems, as well as by things like I.Q. Tests, which claim to quantify our intelligence. Howard Gardner, and now many others, say that there are multiple intelligences – ways of thinking and doing, ways of being.

It boils down to this, because we are using educational systems based upon 19th Century models, we are not getting the best out of ourselves. Many very talented people think they aren’t, and many children never find or develop their true selves because what they are good at isn’t valued, or is actually stigmatized.

Robinson has written a book called ‘Epiphany’, which goes into the various ways talented people became aware of their gifts. There should be a book in which gifted people relate how their own gifts were ruthlessly squandered, by misguided parents and teachers.

According to Robinson, our skills and talents, lost under layers of neglect, can still be discovered and developed – you’re never too old, apparently – good news for some!

For those lucky people with children, or expecting children; there is much to be done. Youngsters should be encouraged to move, sing, draw, express themselves, and still be good at subjects like math and languages too.

Parents, you should not commit the follies of your own parents; watch your kids, listen to them, and let them follow their heads and their hearts – in and out of school.

Gillian Lynne told Robinson she was considered slow at school; a psychologist talked to her mother about her problems at school. As they left the room to talk privately about the little girl, he turned on the radio. Watching Gillian move as soon as she heard the music, the doctor said, “Your daughter isn’t sick, she’s a dancer.” Her mother took her to a dancing school, and she never looked back. She became a ballerina, choreographer, met Andrew Lloyd Webber and produced some of the most famous shows in history, and became very rich in the process. Someone else might have prescribed medication and told her to calm down.
Robert L. Fielding

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Council of All Beings

One of the forms of interaction that has evolved within deep ecology to challenge human-centeredness, and to try to reach out to this identification and solidarity with all life that Naess speaks of, is the Council of All Beings. The people gathering in the Council try to be a voice for other life forms, such as plants and animals, and for the wind, rivers, mountains, etc. Each person speaks before the other members of the Council, of how humankind has impacted upon him or her. Drums, flutes or other musical instruments can be used to call the Council together, or used after each Council member speaks.

What the rivers tell us

Aspenquid speaks:

“I am the voice of the rivers that flow over the land. I am the rivers that water the land. I am the rivers that give water to our people, and to all living things. I am the life of the land. I am purity flowing from mountain to shore.

My life is locked in ice in the big snows of the high mountain valleys. Then, my water is moving slowly over rock and stone, scraping both until shapes are made that will last until the next big snow comes. I am moving but like something that is old, only just living.

The land is cold, stone is jarred under my great weight, but still I move – down – down – down. Thaw starts, my frozen bones start to live again. My edges tinkle water in rivulets that will become torrents in only a short time.

Then big snow is melting and my water rushes down canyons cut by my fathers’ waters, I rush and swell until I meet the flat lands where the hand of man has confined my speed, culverted my madness to roar, tamed me.

I flow among sweet meadows where bird and beast stir to drink my water. I leach into the soil, fill it with my body, but now, returning to my main stream, I feel the weight of earth, and taste what man has put onto his fields, that are my resting place. That are full of space for me to dwell away from the harsh sunlight that is rising daily in the sky.

My movements are sluggish, more than last year. I am wasted by a hand I have not the power to stay. I am no longer pure, no longer my own self, bringing life to flowers, to waving corn, to feed the people who live one year at a time, not counting the balance in rows of numbers, but how well I fulfill my task of bringing life to all things. They hang their heads, finding that I am lacking what is needed every day.

I was not yours to culvert, confine before. I was free to do as the big snows bid me, and I brought joy to children’s faces as they stepped into my foam and laughed. Now, mothers prevent their little ones from stepping into that same foam, not the same colour, hurtful to little toes, little ankles, little feet.

My anguish is made of this, that I cannot provide all living things with life-giving water, and that I feel the hostility of mothers protecting their children, where before I felt only joy as they laughed and gurgled gaily in my shallows.

What plants tell us
Omar speaks:

I am the voice of the plants and trees that grow on the land. They tell me, not in words, you understand, but they tell me. They feed us, have fed us since the waters of the Nile inundated the land, since the days Pharaohs walked majestically along the banks of this mighty river. They too were mighty, but the waters rose and they gave thanks for water coming through jungle and desert to irrigate our land. The flowers, the trees, all living things that grow here in this fertile strip speak the same; they speak of the food they give, and they speak of the food given to them – the soils of this valley, rich and full of the Earth’s bounty – not to be compared to lesser boons brought by the hand of man to increase the harvest.

The harvest of goodness, the harvest that soil and the water provide, converted by greenness into food for man and beast, is not to be chained, and nor will it be increased without some lessening of its vitality to grow young bones – and nourish old ones – to spread in the strength of the oxen that pull great ploughshares through the soil.

Increase is not given lightly by these plants, these trees, and these flowers and grasses. Fescues are not built like towers of stone, by merely adding, rather, they flourish in a contract with the earth from which they spring.

This contract is no written thing – it is bound by ties of Nature – stronger than any that are able to keep the Pharaoh in his tomb. It is unwritten, but it is binding and may not be undone – unless you that try be undone totally when the time comes for the next harvest.

What animals tell us

Olaf speaks:

I am the voice of all beasts living in the land – here, we call the ice and rock both with the name of land. If it is able to bear the weight of a bear, it is called land by us who measure our winters, not as you do in months, weeks and days. Here we see our world changing day by day, from the bleakest, frozen days and nights when only beasts set forth to find food – for eat, they must, and not having our larders, the food they eat must be found, caught and killed. Be cheery, they do not kill out of lust for blood, revenge, hatred, but only out of their great need to eat.

This is the lesson they give us, though of course, they are not knowing anything of this as they go out into the great cold to find their next meal. Their lesson is this one – they do not desire or covet that which they do not need. They live for the moment – fearing not tomorrow or next winter.

What they know of climate that is changing is that they have few places to search, few places to hide from the hunter, as they are both hunter and hunted, even by those without the need to take their meat, break their bones or scalp them of their warmth giving coats of fur or feather.

Still it continues. They know nothing of the ways of the hunter, save that when he is seen, they fear him – have feared him since that first shot rang out across this frozen place.

The seal does not fear the polar bear. It knows nothing of fangs that rip flesh until fangs do that. It does not live in trepidation of attack, though it knows when to dive and when to spring up from the icy black water to breathe the freezing air.

What the mountains tell us
Norgay speaks:

I am the voice of the mountains rising to north and east, I am the sound of the Earth thrusting upwards under forces you can barely comprehend, through the eons of time you cannot conceive of. Regeneration and erosion are the forces that shape us. What was once an ocean floor is now the face of Lhotse; what was thousands of meters beneath millions of tons of rock is now the wall of a cirque, holding a tarn that looks like steel under a darkening sky.

The mountain is old, older than oceans – some say as old as the Earth itself, and being old, it has seen many things; many glorious leader in his pomp, go the way of all flesh, they who, being invincible across the steppes of the north, are no more than dust securing the roots of daffodils. Nature remains, mountains shift their heads and bow low to their Maker, man and beast, insect and flower are as the seasons only; they come and walk, they live and grow, and they grow old and die.

These peaks are not as white as I have seen them at this or any time of year. Man has set himself up against Nature – against the snow-white peaks of mountains, and rivers flow swollen, taking into the seas what can never be returned until the Earth folds this way and that and brings again to light what has been buried from sight for millennia.

Man cannot prevail, even as he is utterly fooled into thinking he can. Nothing prevails, not even mountains. They too are brought low by forces beyond our experience to comprehend. It would be well that we learn this before we sink low again – sooner than we imagine.

What the sea tells us
Jachym speaks:

I am the voice of the seas and oceans surrounding us. And though I come from a country that is landlocked, a thousand miles from any sea, I feel the influences of the oceans daily in my life. I arise to a cloud-filled sky, marveling at the distances covered by so much water vapor driven on by so much wind, created by so much barometric difference to a place which is full of indifference to the skies above and what they bring, and where they bring it from.

Are not the waters of oceans the engine that drives our climates – and are not our climates our own masters – those crops below yonder hill only grow because a wind suffers to blow water across the miles, and mountain, tree and leaf conspire to make those clouds shed their load in the very place where water is most needed – at the base of that roots of waving corn.

The corn feeds us and our beasts, and we pray for the cycle to continue, but lately it has been unreliable. Calling it unreliable speaks volumes for our attitude to that cycle. We imagine it is merely rotating for us, that it can continue for as long as we plant corn under the shadow of that mountain.

The seas respond, not to us and our great need, but to elemental forces that we would shape, if we could, but cannot, only detaining cycles by the presence of what we put up into the air we breathe.

Robert L. Fielding