“Even the most knowledgeable imaginer is a fallible vessel,” Amy Leach writes. To champion place-based writing, as Ecotone has done since its founding in 2005, is to champion the fact that each of its makers comes from a place—subjective, fallible, real. This subjectivity is the same thing that makes the writers of such work essential: Their feet on a particular patch of ground or pavement, they let us in on secrets about it that may help us know our own ground better.
The Ecotone essays we’ve chosen for this series are among my favorites the magazine has published. Together they suggest some of the depth and range of a field that has, unfortunately, often been cast as the province of only a few voices—one that is, in fact, ever expanding and utterly inclusive.
It feels right to begin with Amy Leach, a longtime contributor to Ecotone , and with the first essay of hers that appeared in the magazine. The pleasure of her sentences brings us back to our bodies, back to where we are. And once we’re firmly there, she tempers our despair at where we might be headed with humor. Now as much as when it first appeared, “Memorandum to the Animals” is a needed tonic.
—Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Editor, Ecotone
And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee.
Unfortunately, Animals, we are not going to be able to bring all of you with us this time. Last time there were eight humans on board and at least two of each of you; but that was a sentimental era and God was a sentimental fellow, like the old pack rat up the road who won’t give up any of his whim-whams. Bringing two of every sort of creature onto the ark meant bringing all two thousand species of scorpions, and all the blotchy toads and testy wasps and malevolent snakes and countless other creatures as unnecessary as insanity. This time around we are in charge: producing our own cataclysm, designing our own boat, making our own guest list, which does not include Every Living Thing.
That first, ancient boat we have retrospectively christened the Fantasy ; today we sail in a boat called Reality . Realistically, logistically, it would be too complex to try to save every single kind of you multitudinous miscellaneous creatures. Dormitory assignments would be a nightmare, because we don’t know who might eat whom or who might die of social stress. We’d have to go nectar-collecting beforehand for sustenance for the sugarbirds and gather angelica blossoms for the hoverflies, and if little blue poison frogs were going to maintain their poison, we’d have to bring along extra oribatid mites for them to ingest, and special leaf litter for the oribatid mites to ingest.
Anyway, we need the space for our works and wonders. Many of you are being superannuated because we must give priority to our machinery, our televisions and computers and refrigerators and cars, trucks, airplanes, combination microwave/convection ovens with auto-time zone adjusters. We will still bring a few of you with us, especially those of you with rumps and ribs (please refer to the Keep-Alive List). But we are not going to waste time holloing for the bush babies, waiting for the mayflies to drift in and the kiwis to materialize. We are certainly not going to stand around until the tortoises figure out what’s going on.
If you are concerned about the devastation of your genetic type and you do not see your name on the Keep-Alive List, you might think about clumping some vegetation together into rafts on which to rescue yourselves. You animals (slugs, bats) who cannot assemble your own rafts, or whose spindly legs (dromedaries, moose) are liable to poke through a grassy vessel, or who are graminivorous and oblivious (sheep) and would nibble through the rescue raft: know that the extinction of your type is not necessarily the extinction of your glory. You can live on in the imagination, like the angels—although like the angels, you are likely to be simplified.
To properly live on in the imagination you should have someone who really knows you, who knows the pitch of your buzz, the rufous hue of your throat, your fondness for comfrey—who has watched two of you golden frogs, separated by a loudly gushing stream, waving your hands in semaphore fashion. As the Holocene is winding down, don’t be foolish like the okapis, who use their acute hearing to detect and avoid human beings; they have sabotaged their chance to survive in anyone’s mind.
But even the most knowledgeable imaginer is a fallible vessel—like an iceberg, liable to get carried away, to melt, to be at bottom very very blue. Don’t you know, Animals, nothing lasts forever. The Holocene was the Age of Miscellany, the Age of Pandemonium, the Age of which Noah’s Ark was a microcosm: Of thirty million passengers, only eight were human. It was a noisy, dirty, dangerous, eccentric, anarchic, inefficient, rowdy ride. The copassengers knocked us over a lot and sometimes we fell over laughing. But now we are proceeding into the Age of Efficiency, the Age of Sanity, the Age of Refinement. We salute you, Animals, as we salute the unruly Holocene; but the future belongs to us.
“Memorandum to the Animals” was first published in Ecotone 10, fall 2010.