The Ecologist


More articles about
Related Articles

Birds Sing, Stars Fall: Therefore I Write

Chellis Glendinning

The world needs our words so that we may all speak and write as if we comprehend our esteemed place on this planet..........

Isn´t it miraculous that, when we use language, we so often embark like ill-equipped explorers carrying no map -- yet somehow we mange to reach verbal landfall, along the way maybe even coming upon a metaphoric island or a conceptual trailhead?

Challenging the early 20th-century projection that speech began with the need to count and trade, in other words, via banking and business, U.S. philosopher Lewis Mumford posited rather that we humans formulated words through ritual, song, and art.

Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, had similar thoughts. He pointed to the communal histories, nature connections, and archetypal meanings that poetry echoes. And as we awaken to who we are on this sadly assaulted planet, miraculously, the bond between chanting, painting, dance, language, mathematics, science, and spirituality unfolds with clarity.

For myself, I launch: words spout from my lips or spill onto paper. Perhaps I appear confident – but, truly, I might as well shout: “I have something to say, but I have no idea what it is!” Indeed, my thoughts can be like pieces of furniture covered by sheets in an unlit room. As I allow them, though, as I attempt to uncover them, surprise: they become illuminated.

To use words, to craft them into images, metaphors and stories, is as natural as a blossom sprouting from a branch. I lived nearly half my life in the Chicano pueblo of Chimayó, New Mexico. Surrounded by Pueblo People and the Navajo Nation, I came to be an admirer of the spoken language of Native peoples.

I will never forget one afternoon riding horseback through the desert badlands, and I asked my compañero for his take on the state of the world. He thought for some time. The saddles creaked, a dried tumbleweed bush bounced by in the wind -- and finally he said: “The down-to-earth people are finishing.”

Too, there is the wisdom offered by Native literature. As Acoma poet Simon Ortiz wrote in “Song/Poetry and Language”:

My father carves, dancers usually… He holds the Buffalo Dancer in the piece of cottonwood poised on the edge of his knee, and he traces – almost caresses – the motion of the Dancer´s crook of the right elbow, the way it is held just below the mid-chest, and flicks a cut with a razor-edged carving knife… He clears his throat a bit and sings, and the song comes from that motion of his carving, his sitting, the sinews in his hands and face and the song itself…

Stahwahmiayahih, Muukei-Ira Shahyaika,


Wayyuuhuunahwahyuuhuuhuunai ah.

When my father has said a word – in speech or in song – I ask him:

“What does that word break down to? I mean, breaking it down to the syllables of sound or phrases of sound, what do each of these parts mean?” And he has looked at me with an exasperated – slightly pained – expression on his face, wondering what I mean. And he tells me, “It doesn´t break down into anything.”

But what might those of us who craft our sentences in a world of subject-acting-on-object do to express the wholeness of the world? Take heart, I say. As the anthropologist Calvin Martin reminds us, “We never left – never left our true context… (Our disconnection) began as an act of imagination, an illusory image -- most fundamentally an image of fear -- and so the corrective process must likewise begin with an image.”

An image I harbor is of a gathering I once facilitated: my expectation was that, through the exercises we would share over three days, we might arrive at an ability to forge language in the connective, healing way that Native people do.

But I was astonished when on the first evening, after forming clan-groups knit together by our experiences of land, the participants were speaking like my compañero in the desert.

We never left. And the world needs our words so that we may all speak and write as if we comprehend our esteemed place on this planet.

Chellis Glendinning lives in Bolivia. She is a psychotherapist specializing in recovery from traumatic stress and the author of five books. Glendinning´s workshop Writing from the Core of the Earth will take place at Schumacher College, Devon, UK between 3-7th of June 2013.

Image of bird in night sky courtesy of




Previous Articles...


Using this website means you agree to us using simple cookies.

More information here...




Help us keep the Ecologist platform going

Since 2012, the Ecologist has been owned and published by a small UK-based charity called the Resurgence Trust. We work hard to support the kind of independent journalism and comment that we know Ecologist readers enjoy but we need your help to keep going. We do all this on a very small budget with a very small editorial team and so joining the Trust or making a donation will show us you value our work and support the platform which is currently offered as a free service.

Join The Resurgence TrustDonate to support the Resurgence Trust