Megan Mayhew Bergman’s column is about naturalism. This week, she discusses the role of modern elegiac writing in an era of extinction.
Michelle Blade, Entrance, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 46″.
It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer practice customs barely acquired,
not to give a meaning of human futurity
to roses, and other expressly promising things
—Rilke, “The First Elegy”
Last week, my daughters and I were talking about the extinction of the northern white rhino, looking at a photograph I took last November through a fence at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
“He’s the last of his kind,” I said, pointing to the hulking animal in sagging, dusty-white skin. “And one day soon, no northern white rhinos will exist.”
“Why?” they wanted to know.
Detailing the horrors of poaching and civil war in the Congo and Sudan seems harsh, and I’m still learning how to talk to my girls about the human hand in death and change. When a neighbor died, the answer was still safely that “death is the natural course of things,” but the answers become more complex when we talk about war, extinction, or place. How do we acknowledge human complicity, the way resource consumption impacts the habitat and survival of other species? Read More