Ecology of Story: Place as Symbol

tree trunks cool“In their simplest form, symbols are anything outward that stands in for anything inward or abstract, such as a mood or an idea,” writes Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. As representations, symbols often serve as markers in a story. They may be a talisman, a totem that inspires a shift or awakening. In story, a symbol—particularly as talisman—may come as a gift to a character in need of inspiration. In the Hero’s Journey trope, this is often provided by a mentor archetype.

An example in story is the light saber that Obi Wan Kenobi presents to Luke Skywalker to aid him on his journey as a Jedi master. Symbols often reoccur as motif to incite an emotional trigger or turning point for a character.

Symbolism in literature provides richness, colour and depth of meaning. Use of symbols helps deepen theme beyond conscious appreciation and into emotional and subconscious levels. Symbolism can be portrayed through figure of speech in which an object or situation has another meaning than its literal meaning. It can also express through the actions and observations of a character, language or event that creates deeper meaning through context.

Maass provides the example of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible to depict superb use of symbol in storytelling:

Poisonwood Bible-KingsolverShe is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs play out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away, and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves. 

It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant’s afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it’s been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course. Orleanna  Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.

In this opening to her novel, Kingsolver explores a multi-layered symbol for her main character’s bewilderment at the mystery and beauty of the environment around her, tied into her own essential helplessness, says Maass. “Part of what makes [Kingsolver’s] symbols poetic is that all of them emerge from the natural world around her characters,” he adds. Nature’s symbols are powerful archetypes that reveal compelling story. These symbols abound in Kingsolver’s novel that explores the relationships of five women with their environment and the rigid ignorance of their patriarch, Nathan Price. The garden, Maass tells us, provides many examples of this. Price has planted his seeds in a flat, not accounting for the torrential afternoon downpours, which wash away his garden in a flash. Later, the poisonwood tree in their yard gives Price a horrid rash, suggesting that he is messing with a place he does not understand or respect. How each of the women interacts with her environment over time provides a deeply felt and metaphoric revelation of how she relates to others and to herself—all reflecting her personal journey in the story. As the quote indicates, Orleanna Price experienced a turning point through discovery. In this example the discovery occurred through a sudden encounter with a natural element.

In my near-future speculative novel A Diary in the Age of Water, cynical limnologist Lynna sees everything in her life through limnological metaphors, ironically predicting her own future:

lake reflection mountainAn oligotrophic lake is basically a young lake. Still immature and undeveloped, an oligotrophic lake often displays a rugged untamed beauty. An oligotrophic lakes hungers for the stuff of life. Sediments from incoming rivers slowly feed it with dissolved nutrients and particulate organic matter. Detritus and associated microbes slowly seed the lake. Phytoplankton eventually flourish, food for zooplankton and fish. The shores then gradually slide and fill, as does the very bottom. Deltas form and macrophytes colonize the shallows. Birds bring in more creatures. And so on. Succession is the engine of destiny and trophic status its shibboleth.

As Nature tames the unruly lake over time, one thing replaces another. As a lake undergoes its natural succession from oligotrophic to highly productive eutrophic lake, its beauty mellows and it surrenders to the complexities of destiny. Minimalism yields to a baroque richness that, in turn, heralds extinction. The lake shrinks to a swamp then buries itself under a meadow.

We hold ourselves apart from our profligate nature. But we aren’t unique. We are more part of Nature than we admit. Using the thread of epigenetics and horizontal gene transfer, Nature stitches in us a moving tapestry of terrible irony. The irony lies in our conviction that we were made in the inimitable divine image of God. That we are special. Yet over a third of the human population is secular—atheists and agnostics—who do not believe in God. Or anything, for that matter. 

Water flows endlessly through us, whether we’re devout Catholics or empty vessels with no purpose. Water makes no distinction. It flows through us even after we bury ourselves.

In the following excerpt from Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx uses a mix of senses—but mostly smell—in an evocative description of two shirts to symbolize a love loss:

The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack, but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands. 

In my short story The Way of Water, water’s connection with love flows throughout the story:

The Way of Water-COVERThey met in the lobby of a shabby downtown Toronto hotel. Hilda barely knew what she looked like but when Hanna entered the lobby through the front doors, Hilda knew every bit of her. Hanna swept in like a stray summer rainstorm, beaming with the self- conscious optimism of someone who recognized a twin sister. She reminded Hilda of her first boyfriend, clutching flowers in one hand and chocolate in the other. When their eyes met, Hilda knew. For an instant, she knew all of Hanna. For an instant, she’d glimpsed eternity. What she didn’t know then was that it was love.

Love flowed like water, gliding into backwaters and lagoons with ease, filling every swale and mire. Connecting, looking for home. Easing from crystal to liquid to vapour then back, water recognized its hydrophilic likeness, and its complement. Before the inevitable decoherence, remnants of the entanglement lingered like a quantum vapour, infusing everything. Hilda always knew where and when to find Hanna on Oracle, as though water inhabited the machine and told her. Water even whispered to her when her wandering friend was about to return from the dark abyss and land unannounced on her doorstep.

In a world of severe water scarcity through climate catastrophe and geopolitical oppression, the bond of these two girls—to each other through water and with water—is like the shifting covalent bond of a complex molecule, a bond that fuses a relationship of paradox linked to the paradoxical properties of water. Just as two water drops join, the two women find each other in the wasteland of intrigue. Hilda’s relationship with Hanna—as with water—is both complex and shifting according to the bonds they make and break.

 

MockUpEcology copyThis article is an excerpt from “The Ecology of Story: World as Character” released in June 2019 by Pixl Press.

From Habitats and Trophic Levels to Metaphor and Archetype…

Learn the fundamentals of ecology, insights of world-building, and how to master layering-in of metaphoric connections between setting and character. Ecology of Story: World as Character is the 3rd guidebook in Nina Munteanu’s acclaimed “how to write” series for novice to professional writers.

 

 

 

Microsoft Word - Three Writing Guides.docx

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Morphology 2019–Celebrating A New Marsh in Mississauga with Quotes from “Water Is…”

Water Is Life copy

March 22 was World Water Day. As with last year at this same time and place, a brisk wind followed me into the industrial brick building that used to be the Small Arms Inspection Building—now converted into a community arts and culture centre.

JimTovey-Dowd-Morphology-JStewart

Councillor Jim Tovey and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell (photo by John Stewart)

Lakeview Plan copy

Plan of the conservation site

I was here to celebrate the late Jim Tovey’s dream of creating a 26-hectare park and marsh on Mississauga’s Lake Ontario shore that will connect the Waterfront Trail with Lake Ontario’s shorefront for the public.

Several dozen photographs that documented the annual and seasonal changes of the developing marsh occupied the spacious hall. The glow of evening sunlight streamed through, touching large photographs that hung from the high ceilings or were mounted on walls. Some photographs spanned over 2 by 3 metres.

Quotes from my books “Water Is…” (Pixl Press, 2016) and upcoming “A Diary in the Age of Water” (Inanna Publications, 2020) were displayed among the photographs.

Photo Julie Knox

Photograph by Julie Knox

I was mesmerized by the spectacular photographic display.

Larger than life photographs caught my attention through light, form and unique perspective. Once caught, I was drawn into their complex narrative. A narrative of morphing shapeshifters, flowing humours and tricksters in the night. Panoramas that stretched over giant muddy holes depicting an evolution of landscape from wet

Photo Gabriella Bank2 copy

Photo by Gabriella Bank

to dry to wet again.

Tree bole, rock and rebar formed bizarre companions in murky pools that harbour life finding itself. Piles of giant boulders shouted their presence to a stormy lake. A frontend loader sat peacefully beneath a glowing sunset. Slopes of wild herbs reached into ponds as if looking for hidden treasure.  Mangled rebar contorted in a frozen ice-dance. A man’s boot tracks cut recursive patterns in the silky mud.

The photographs provided a range of perspectives over the seasons on the early phase of the marsh construction that featured aquatic habitat structures built four metres below the level of Lake Ontario. Councillor Tovey had earlier said of the construction project: “It sort of looks like a Salvador Dali surrealistic sculpture garden…and what an interesting way to really celebrate all of this.”

WaterMeanders2

The Morphology 2019 Photography Exhibit marks the third year of celebrating this morphing natural landscape through the photography of eleven creative photo artists. The opening day of Morphology 2019 was celebrated with a blessing by Cathie Jamieson, Councillor Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Lee Tovey spoke as did members of the contributing partners and Mayor Bonnie Crombie of the City of Mississauga.

Water Is Wisdom copy

Construction of the site and marsh began in November 2016 and is ongoing and expected to continue until 2024-2026, when the site will be opened to the public. Starting in 2017, the eleven photographers toured the site to capture the seasonal and annual changes of the developing wetland. I was also invited to tour the site to glimpse a moonscape of dirt and clean rubble as dozers pushed material out to form cells and reclaim marsh habitat from open lake.

Nina-Lee-marsh2Z

the author and Lee Tovey overlooking one of the marsh cells

In November of 2017, I walked the undulating “moonscape” with Lee Tovey and Zoe Danahy. Rolling berms snaked around pooled and dry depressions that disappeared in the fog. The smell of rain and mud pervaded as we set out in ankle-deep mud toward the snaking berms. I scrambled over rip rap chunks larger than me to glimpse Lake Ontario—its new shoreline re-imagined. Beyond, the lake vanished in a veil of fog. I was told that on a clear day you could see the Toronto Waterfront and the CN Tower. All I could make out was a few ghost trees that marked the nearby eastern shoreline.

Lee took me along a dyke embankment of clean fill made of red brick and cement riprap from various construction sites. “Clean fill” refers to anything like brick, top soil, gravel, and cement that has been tested for possible contaminants, as opposed to plastic, glass, or metals.

Nina-Lee-marsh bermZ

The author with Lee Tovey on riprap berm

Lee pointed left and right of us to depressions (containment cells) where Lake Ontario was being reclaimed for marsh-building. The depression on my left was still full of water; but the one on my right was fairly dry and already populated with anchored logs and shrub plantings to consolidate the wetland and provide refuge for marsh life. I could hear the large pump actively removing lake water at the south end of the evolving wetland. Beyond the high berm of human-sized riprap was the lake, its shoreline now redefined.

Water-travel

As I gazed over the brown monochromatic landscape, I imagined a tapestry of greens in Councillor Jim Tovey’s vision: 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach spanning the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, the marsh and wetland park have now been named The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area.

WaterIs magic-photo

Morphology

Morphology was conceived by the late visionary councillor Jim Tovey who envisioned an evolving photography and writing exhibit to follow the progress of the marsh creation project of what is now The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area. Spearheaded and nurtured by Councillor Tovey, the marsh construction was part of 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest, meadow and beach. The Lakeview Waterfront Connection will span the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, it will restore pedestrian and cyclist access to a previously forbidden section of the waterfront to “connect 9.5 kilometers of shoreline for water’s edge experience for the public,” said Councillor Tovey.

P01

To celebrate the residential / park development, eleven professional photographers were invited to photograph the marsh construction during its early phases. These images, along with water-inspired narrative provided by limnologist-author Nina Munteanu, were first displayed in an exhibit during a gala event January 14 2018, hosted at the Lakeview water treatment plant. Following Councillor Tovey’s untimely passing, his wife Lee Tovey and others (e.g., TRCA, CVC, Region of Peel) are continuing the project. Morphology was displayed for the public on World Water Day, March of 2018, at the Great Hall in the Mississauga Civic Centre. Its third appearance was at the In Situ Multi Arts Festival in November 2018.

Morphology-Exhibit hall

Morphology Exhibit at the Great Hall, Mississauga Civic Centre

The artist showcase is expected to become an annual event, highlighting the progress of constructed ecosystem. Morphology features works from: Gabriella Bank, Sandor Bank, PJ Bell, Darren Clarke, Julie Knox, Nina Munteanu, Lachlan McVie, Marcelo Leonardo Pazán, Martin Pinker, Annette Seip, Stephen Uhraney and Bob Warren.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/orsich16lbqgamf/MORPHOLOGY_2019.mp4?dl=0

Nina at Morphology

Nina joyfully standing in front of a Sandor Bank photo of the marsh (photo by Gabriella Bank)

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

 

“Water Is…” Appears in Morphology Exhibit at In Situ Multi Arts Festival 2018

Water meanders-diary

It was a blustery cold evening when I entered the industrial brick building on Lakeshore Drive for Day 3 of the In Situ Art Festival. I wound my way through cinderblock halls painted in pre-war colours and emerged into a large high ceilinged hall. Morphology occupied an entire 40-foot long wall. Two huge screens, showing a bird’s eye view of the marsh site as well as other images, flanked the photo exhibit.

PhotoArt2-Morphology copyThis was Morphology—created by the late Jim Tovey and continued by his wife Lee Tovey—a photo and writing exhibit celebrating the 26-hectare park and marsh creation on Mississauga’s Lake Ontario shore.

Over two dozen photographs by eleven photographers and a dozen quotes from my book “Water Is…” and upcoming novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” were on display. The photographs provided a range of perspectives on the early phase of the marsh construction that featureed aquatic habitat structures built four metres below the level of Lake Ontario. Councillor Tovey had earlier said of the construction project: “It sort of looks like a Salvador Dali surrealistic sculpture garden…and what an interesting way to really celebrate all of this.”

I’d walked the undulating “moonscape” with Lee Tovey earlier. Rolling berms snaked around pooled and dry depressions that disappeared in the fog. The smell of rain and mud pervaded as we set out in ankle-deep mud toward the snaking berms. I scrambled over rip rap chunks larger than me to glimpse Lake Ontario—its new shoreline re-imagined. Beyond, the lake vanished in a veil of fog. I was told that on a clear day you could see the Toronto Waterfront and the CN Tower. All I could make out was a few ghost trees that marked the nearby eastern shoreline.

Nina-Lee-marsh bermZ

Nina Munteanu and Lee Tovey walk the site

Lee took me along a dyke embankment of clean fill made of red brick and cement riprap from various construction sites. “Clean fill” refers to anything like brick, top soil, gravel, and cement that has been tested for possible contaminants, as opposed to plastic, glass, or metals.

photo-pj bellLee pointed left and right of us to depressions (containment cells) where Lake Ontario was being reclaimed for marsh-building. The depression on my left was still full of water; but the one on my right was fairly dry and already populated with anchored logs and shrub plantings to consolidate the wetland and provide refuge for marsh life. I could hear the large pump actively removing lake water at the south end of the evolving wetland. Beyond the high berm of human-sized riprap was the lake, its shoreline now redefined.

As I gazed over the brown monochromatic landscape, I imagined a tapestry of greens in Councillor Jim Tovey’s vision: 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach spanning the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, the marsh and wetland park have now been named The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area.

JimTovey-Dowd-Morphology-JStewart

Jim Tovey and Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor General of Ontario

Small Arms Inspection Building

The 1940 Small Arms Inspection Building is the only surviving building on the original site of a munitions plant that manufactured guns and small arms for the Allied Forces during World War II. The 1910 water tower also stands nearby—a visible landmark. The industrial building was restored and designated an Ontario Heritage site. It currently functions as a multi-purpose site for community activities such as CreativeHub 1352 and the In Situ annual festival.

Morphology

InSitu-rhythmMorphology was conceived by the late visionary councillor Jim Tovey who envisioned an evolving photography and writing exhibit to follow the progress of the marsh creation project of what is now the Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area. Spearheaded and nurtured by Councillor Tovey, the marsh construction was part of 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach. The Lakeview Waterfront Connection will span the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, it will restore pedestrian and cyclist access to a previously forbidden section of the waterfront to “connect 9.5 kilometers of shoreline for water’s edge experience for the public,” said Councillor Tovey.

To celebrate the residential / park development, eleven professional photographers were invited to photograph the marsh construction during its early phases. These images, along with water-inspired narrative provided by limnologist-author Nina Munteanu, were first displayed in an exhibit during a gala event January 14 2018, hosted at the Lakeview water treatment plant. Following Councillor Tovey’s untimely passing, his wife Lee Tovey and others (e.g., TRCA, CVC, Region of Peel) are continuing the project. Morphology was displayed for the public in March of 2018 at the Great Hall in the Mississauga Civic Centre. Its third appearance was at the In Situ Multi Arts Festival in November 2018. The artist showcase is expected to become an annual event, highlighting the progress of constructed ecosystem.

Morphology features works from: Gabriella Bank, Sandor Bank, PJ Bell, Darren Clarke, Julie Knox, Nina Munteanu, Lachlan McVie, Marcelo Leonardo Pazán, Martin Pinker, Annette Seip, Stephen Uhraney and Bob Warren.

InSitu-Morphology2

East wall of Morphology Exhibit at In Situ

InSitu-Morphology4

West wall of Morphology Exhibit at In Situ

Water-destroys creates-Diary

Water travel-photo

WaterIs story-photo

WaterIs magic-photo

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

 

 

Wonder and Reason in The Age of Water

elephant kitten streamWriter and essayist Annis Pratt begins her compelling essay “World of Wonder, World of Reason” in Impakter, with the question: “Do we live in a world of wonder where Nature ultimately calls the shots or a world of reason where Homo Sapiens are in control?”

Invoking the now vogue term “Anthropocene”, she puts it another way: “Is Nature dependent upon our definitions of it, or does it both precede and transcend human consciousness?  Does the term “Anthropocene” signal an apocalyptic shift that places us at the center of the Universe and if so, is the death of Nature upon us, or are we mistaken?”

Pratt examined and synthesized four works of different perspectives on nature and humanity to answer these questions. My book “Water Is…” was among them:

  1. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf (Knoff, 2015)
  2. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate” by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst (Greystone Books, 2016)
  3. Water Is…The Meaning of Water” by Nina Munteanu (Pixl Press, 2016)
  4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari (Harper Collins, 2015)

The first three, says Pratt, are scientists who made close observations of nature that filled them with wonder at the complexity of its processes: “Alexander von Humboldt, an 18th century Prussian scientist, the father of ecology; Peter Wohlleben, an ecologist who worked over twenty years for the forestry commission in Germany and Nina Munteanu, a limnologist, university teacher and award-winning ecologist.” The fourth, an Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari took a dramatically different stance, says Pratt. “He deplores our epoch when human egos have run amuck, putting Nature itself in peril.”

Wonder: Alexander von Humboldt

AlexVonHumboldt

Alexander von Humboldt lived from 1769-1859 (when Darwin published Origin of Species) and considered a genius, polymath, explorer and keen observer of botanical phenomena. In a world and time when Enlightenment thinkers and scientists predicated their observations on a premise of a static unchanging Nature (recall this was prior to Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution), von Humboldt discovered that nature’s one constant was change. As with von Goethe and von Schelling, von Humboldt embraced Naturphilosophie to comprehend nature in its totality and to outline its general theoretical structure. Naturphilosophie espoused an organic and dynamic worldview as an alternative to the atomist and mechanist outlook prevailing at the time.

Von Humboldt succeeded in proving that species change according to their circumstances, such as altitude or climate. According to Wulf, Bildungsreich was a force that shaped the formation of bodies, with every living organism, from humans to mould, having this formative drive. Von Humboldt’s “discovery that natural phenomena are inter-influencing elements of an interdependent whole, connected and interacting along an ‘invisible web of life,’ made Humboldt the first ecologist,” writes Pratt.

Wonder: Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben

“Contemporary German forest ranger Peter Wohlleben belongs to the same school of Naturalphilosophie as Humboldt, bringing a similar sense of curiosity and wonder to his botanical observations,” says Pratt, who suggests that criticism aimed at his work arose in response to the anthropomorphic “voice” he uses—despite validation through the work of Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia.

Simard showed that trees “talk” to each other through electrical impulses as part of an underground network of fungi: “like fiber-optic internet cables.”

Pratt describes the events that led to Wohlleben’s path as an ecologist and his series of “hidden life of” books: he had become uncomfortable chopping down trees and spraying the forest with chemicals and became depressed when his superiors refused to consider his alternative methods. Wohlleben had decided to quit his job and emigrate to Sweden, when the town of Hummel decided to annul its state contract, reconstitute itself as a private preserve, and hire him to implement his innovations.

Wohlleben uses the findings of Simard and other scientists that trees communicate, nourish and heal each other. “It appears that the nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies,” writes Wohlleben.

Wonder: Nina Munteanu

NinaWaterIs-Impakter

“In the same way that Peter Wohlleben approaches the hidden life of trees with a combination of scientific observation and enthusiastic wonder, in Water Is…The Meaning of Water,  Canadian limnologist Nina Munteanu observes the hidden properties of water with a scientist’s eye for detailed processes and a sense of amazement at their intricacies,” writes Pratt. “Echoing Humboldt’s discovery of the interwoven multiplicities of nature, [Munteanu] “transcends ‘Newtonian Physics and Cartesian reductionism aimed at dominating and controlling Nature’”:

“Science is beginning to understand that coherence, which exists on all levels—cellular, molecular, atomic and organic—governs all life processes. Life and all that informs it is a gestalt process. The flow of information is fractal and multidirectional, forming a complex network of paths created by resonance interactions in a self-organizing framework. It’s stable chaos. And water drives the process”—Nina Munteanu, Water Is…

“In addition to providing a gripping analysis of water science,” says Pratt, Nina Munteanu’s Water Is… “provides an encyclopedic trove of quirky observations, like how Galileo understood water flow, the Chinese character for water, Leonardo da Vinci’s water drawings, the Gaia Hypothesis, and David Bohm’s theory of flux.”

“the Gaia Hypothesis proposes that living and non-living parts of our planet interact in a complex network like a super-organism. The hypothesis postulates that all living things exert a regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment that promotes life overall…Much of nature – if not all of it – embraces this hidden order, which I describe as ‘‘stable chaos’”—Nina Munteanu, Water Is…

Reason: Yuval Noah Harari

YuvalNoahHarari

Israeli Historian, Harari sees Homo Sapiens as destructively self-serving. “Even in our earliest history,” Pratt tells us, “he suspects we were responsible for the extirpation of the Neanderthals. Everywhere we settled, mammoths and other megafauna suffered mass extinction. “The historical record,” he concludes, “makes Homo Sapiens look like an ecological serial killer.”

We are like the bully elbowing his way at school. And our casualties—such as the extinction of a dozen species a day—are innocence lost.

According to Harari, while the industrial revolution “liberated humankind from dependence on the surrounding ecosystem,” it provided no lasting benefit to the human race: “Many are convinced that science and technology hold the answers to all our problems…” but, “Like all other parts of our culture, it is shaped by economic, political and religious interests…We constantly wreak havoc on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.”

Human-Centred or Nature-Centred?

To answer Pratt’s first question: “Do we live in a world of wonder where Nature ultimately calls the shots or a world of reason where Homo Sapiens are in control?” she invokes global warming to suggest that we don’t have the last say in the planet’s welfare: “Aren’t these tumultuous catastrophes demonstrative of nature’s ability to rise over and against what we throw at it? Global warming may end civilization and perhaps the human species along with so many others we have destroyed, but are human beings really capable of engineering the destruction of the planet?  I doubt it.”

I concur. While humanity is capable of extensive natural destruction, Gaia will not only accommodate—it will prevail. Very soon—some think now already—Nature may no longer resemble that “friendly” and stable Holocene environment that we’ve come to rely on and exploit so heedlessly. Species will die out. Others will take their place in a shifting world.

As the first swell of the climate change tidal wave laps at our feet, we are beginning to see the planetary results of what humanity has helped create and exacerbate. Humanity has in many ways reached a planetary tipping point; a threshold that will be felt by all aspects of our planet—both animate and inanimate—as the planet’s very identity shifts.

One thing is certain: environments will cease to be hospitable for humanity. Compared with many other life forms, we actually have very narrow tolerances to stay healthy and survive:

  1. We need lots of water (70%)
  2. We freeze or cook beyond the 40-100 degree F range in a galaxy that goes from minus 400 at the moon’s south pole to 25 million degrees inside the sun
  3. We faint from lack of oxygen on our tallest mountains
  4. We need a pH balance of 6.5 to 7.5 to stay alive
  5. Ionizing radiation kills us at low concentrations
  6. Many compounds in the wrong amounts are toxic to us

But something will benefit. For every perturbation imposed there is adaptation and exploitation, stitched into the flowing tapestry of evolution. That is ecology.

Ecology studies relationships and change in our environment: how we interact, impact one another, change one another. Ecology studies individuals, communities and ecosystems and provides insight into the dynamics that cause and result from these interactions.

floodTorontoIsland

In my upcoming novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” (due in 2020) a journaling limnologist in the near-future reflects on the acidified oceans in her current world: flagellates (microscopic plankton with flagella) have outcompeted diatoms (food for many species) and are mainstay of the box jellyfish—the top marine predator from the Proterozoic Era—that has overrun the entire ocean. The box jellyfish is currently overrunning Tokyo Bay. The story proceeds into the future when dead zones—currently found in the Gulf of Mexico, the mouth of the Mississippi River, Chesapeake Bay, Kattegat Strait, and Baltic Sea—occur on virtually every marine and freshwater coast; the AMOC eventually fails and the oceans grow toxic; sea level immerses Florida, the Pudong District, the entire Maldives, and dozens of coastal cities; and global temperature has triggered a heat-related epidemic involving heat shock proteins. This is a world very different from the one we have grown accustomed to; it is a harsh, hostile world that no longer treats us well; but it is a world, none the less.

Living with Natural Succession

One of the first things we learn in Ecology 101 is that change is the one constant in biology; systems endure by striking dynamic equilibria within a shifting tapestry. Succession—the natural procession of one community to another—lies at the core of a dynamic and functional ecosystem, itself evolving to another system through succession.

morraine lakeStill immature and undeveloped, an oligotrophic lake often displays a rugged untamed beauty. An oligotrophic lake hungers for the stuff of life. Sediments from incoming rivers slowly feed it with dissolved nutrients and particulate organic matter. Detritus and associated microbes slowly seed the lake. Phytoplankton eventually flourish, food for zooplankton and fish. The shores then gradually slide and fill, as does the very bottom. Deltas form and macrophytes colonize the shallows. Birds bring in more creatures. And so on. As Nature tames the unruly lake over time, one thing replaces another. As a lake undergoes its natural succession from oligotrophic to highly productive eutrophic lake, its beauty mellows and it surrenders to the complexities of destiny. Minimalism yields to a baroque richness that, in turn, heralds extinction. The lake shrinks to a swamp then buries itself under a meadow.

Ecology and Story

NaturalSelection-front-webIn a talk I give at conferences on “Ecology and Story”, I provide examples of extremophiles that have adapted to and thrive in extreme conditions on Earth.  The brine shrimp of Mono Lake—an endorheic lake that is extremely salty, anaerobic and alkaline—happily hatch in the trillions every year. The bacteria of Rio Tinto—toxic with heavy metals—thrive on the iron through a biofilm that protects them. Radiotrophic fungi feed on gamma radiation at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Life on Earth will endure and prevail—not despite but alongside humanity’s imposed ecological succession.

The question is, will we survive our own succession?

Literature of the Anthropocene

Memory of waterTerms such as eco-fiction, climate fiction and its odd cousin “cli-fi”, have embedded themselves in science fiction and literary fiction terminology; this fiction has attracted a host of impressive authors who write to its calling: Margaret Atwood, Emmi Itäranta, Jeff VanderMeer, Richard Powers, Barbara Kingsolver, Upton Sinclair, Ursula Le Guin, JoeAnn Hart, Frank Herbert, John Yunker, Kim Stanley Robinson, James Bradley, Paolo Bacigalupi, Nathaniel Rich, David Mitchell, Junot Diaz, Claire Vaye Watkins, J.G. Ballard, Marcel Theroux, Thomas Wharton—just to name a few. The list is growing. Of course, I’m on it too. Many of these works explore and illuminate environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse at the hands of humanity.

.

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

When Water Entangles: An Interview with Claudiu Murgan About Water

Adobe Photoshop PDFI recently attended Claudiu Murgan’s signing of his science fiction book Water Entanglement at Indigo in Yorkdale Mall and had a chance to ask him some questions about the book that intrigued me.

There are several reasons why I found Claudiu’s book particularly intriguing. Apart from the obvious fact that it has two of my favourite words in the title—Water and Entanglement—there were other intriguing aspects about Claudiu’s book, which takes place in near-future Toronto and features a limnologist as main protagonist.

My just finished novel—A Diary in the Age of Water—is also set in near-future Toronto and features a limnologist—which is what I am—as main protagonist. As we compared more and more notes, I had to laugh at how our two novels were also entangled!

Nina-Claudiu-Indigo2

Nina and Claudiu at Indigo

The time-period and the issues of both novels were very similar: growing tensions and politics surrounding a crisis of water scarcity in the 2050s and the continued short-sightedness of climate-denying politicians and corporate Earth. Both novels read like seamless slipstream between fiction and reality (mine is written partially as a memoir, which increases this experience); both explore humanity’s potential evolution linked to our relationship with an entity that remains as mysterious as it is common and life-giving. An entity that most indigenous peoples call alive.

Both Claudiu and I embrace concepts of controversial metaphysical characteristics of water. I wrote about much of this in my book Water Is…The Meaning of Water, which Claudiu references in his novel. “Memory”, quantum coherence, the liquid-crystal state, and polarity express through water’s over 70 anomalous properties: phase, density, thermodynamic, material and physical anomalous properties that include adhesion, cohesion, high specific heat, thermal density, viscosity, and surface tension—just to name some.Water Is-COVER-web

“Water is the most extraordinary substance. Practically all its properties are anomalous,” writes Nobel laureate and physiologist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

Water Entanglement’s book jacket blurb provides an intriguing premise:

Adobe Photoshop PDF“…Since the creation of Earth, water and crystals have woven their paths into a billion-year-long tapestry that has captured the cycles of nature’s evolution. They have observed the appearance of humans and their troubled, but fascinating development, and the energies and vibrations of everything that is part of this amazing eco-system . . . In 2055 water activists fight against irresponsible corporations that pillage the Earth. Hayyin, the hidden identity of Cherry Mortinger, a limnologist, leads the movement. Will she be able to prove that water has memory and is alive and that we could awaken to the possibility of facing a fierce battle against the primordial element that gave us life: WATER?”

 

INTERVIEW

Nina:  What inspired you to write Water Entanglement and why did you set it in Toronto in the near-future?

Claudiu: At the end of the TV interview I gave back in September 2017 when I launched my first novel, The Decadence of Our Souls, the host asked me about my next project. I had an impulse to say that I’m going to write about water. At that time I had no idea about the potential plot and how powerful the message would be. I also think that spending time with you, Nina, and reading Water Is… influenced my subconscious. The Matrix is choosing several authors that are allowed to flow the right messages about water and create the critical point of awareness. I personally know a handful of them that write about water from a deeper level of understanding.

Why Toronto? Because I would like to see Toronto make a firmer stand on various issues that are not ‘politically correct’. The city’s multi-cultural background has created the notion of niceness about us, which is good to have; but at the same time, we can’t allow the big corporations to dictate how to use Canadian fresh-water resources. If the book is read by the right people, then they might get an idea of what could be done.

 

Nina:  Who should read Water Entanglement and why?

Claudiu: I like to believe that WE is a manifesto written as a Sci-Fi novel. A teenager will find things about water that are not taught in school; properties of water that science can’t deny anymore, but also can’t explain. A Sci-Fi reader will enjoy the geo-political scenarios I imagined along with the fact that water is becoming an active participant in the story, a character that is elusive, unpredictable and creates so much havoc. For an environmentalist and for a water activist, reading about the length corporations are willing to go for a profit will only compell them to continue their fight against greed and disrespect for nature. I didn’t write the book with a specific age bracket in mind, nevertheless, there is a nugget of knowledge for any type of reader willing to accept that the way we treat water is wrong, and that access to clean, potable water is a human right, not a luxury.

 

Nina: Two of your main POV characters are scientists; one is a limnologist (a freshwater scientist) and another a neurosurgeon. Another character is a Cherokee chief; yet another a UN representative. How did you research your characters to realistically express them in your novel?

Claudiu: The more I write the better I get at doing research. And I have to admit how grateful I am for your advice on my first book, The Decadence of Our Souls, that have elephants as main characters. You said: read more about elephants. So I did. I went to the library and borrowed thirteen books about elephants. For WE I read several books on water, but also interacted with you, Nina, a limnologist, helped me see the world from your point of view. As for my other characters, I had the chance to visit UN HQ and interact with some policy makers. In WE there is less red tape and the UN representative has some liberty when making decisions, ignoring some of the political clutches that currently strangle any decent decision with worldwide implications.

 

Nina: Your protagonist disguises her subversive activist identity beneath a masked being called Hayyin. Hayyin is an Islamic name that means “without obstacles”, “lenient” or “forgiving.” What was your intention in this name and does it play a role in the theme of your book?

Claudiu: I searched for the word water in Aramaic, which is Jesus’s tribe language. There are historic records that mention Aramaic as being the primordial language. Hayyin, the water activist, had to represent a symbol powerful enough to ignite in his followers the desire to fight for water. We all like to identify ourselves with a symbol that is worth fighting or dying for. Without enough water to sustain our growing population, humanity will fade away in a matter of centuries or less, so I thought that a symbol attached to a hidden identity makes the plot more interesting.

 

Nina: You cover several subjects of hard—and controversial—science in this book (e.g., homeopathy, epitaxy, polywater, etc.). How did you balance these to create a plausible reality in your novel? What did you have to consider?

Claudiu: I’m not a scientist. As an author I took the liberty of pushing the limits of what is known about water. I consider my research based on data that doesn’t need peer-review validation. I trust the scientists and the authors listed under the bibliography page at the end of the book. There are so many intangible things that touch us daily and most of us are not willing to accept them. The way water behaves in Water Entanglement is an intangible concept for ‘non-believers’ … until it happens. Along with a friend scientist, I’m planning to challenge students to start experiments involving water. They have to engage with their surroundings, ask questions and get their own results.

 

Nina: A pivotal aspect of your story hinges on the concept of structured water and intention. Can you share a little about it?

Claudiu: When doing my research I learned things about water that I couldn’t believe, but finding the same information from multiple sources convinced me that there is truth to it. I’m a strong believer now that water absorbs our intentions, our thoughts, carries them further until the next ‘shore’. Water that was blessed heals people or sickens them if water transports negative energies and harmful thoughts. Our body cells float in structured water and if the quality / properties of such liquid would be able to be maintained, well … we could live forever.

 

Nina: the tagline for Water Entanglement challenges: “When will we understand that water has memory, water is alive and the time for her to awaken is NOW?” Your book paints a compelling and terrifying awakening: edible seaweeds turning toxic; sacred rivers losing their healing properties; springs diurnally retreating; raging sinkholes, water turning thick. Tell us a little about these choices for water’s reactions.

Claudiu: What characterizes us as human beings is that we don’t take any potential catastrophic event seriously unless it happens. We would rather deal with the repercussions than prevent the cause. See the levies that broke because of the force of Katrina. The government was well aware of what could happen, but invoked lack of funds. In truth it was lack of government will, the political infighting that is common these days.

In WE I had to give water a radical behavior. Water has intuition and she knows human beings so well. She can predict any of our actions and there is no solution other than offering ‘peace’ – a selfless conduct.

 

Nina: Your book showcases some of the major challenges humanity faces in how we treat water—scarcity, contamination, diversion, commodification and misappropriation through disrespect of water and Nature, generally. There is an obvious need to alter how we treat water and this must ultimately arise from attitude and knowledge. How do you see us changing our attitude to water when most of us live in cities and don’t even know—or care—where our water comes from or what watershed we live in?

Claudiu: Changing attitude could be a generational approach. To become part of the education at all stages from kindergarten to university. We hear in the news that in Las Vegas the fountains and watering the lawns have been banned. In Africa children and their mothers walk kilometers daily to gather water for drinking and cooking; most of the time it is polluted water. Again, the leaders lack the determination to impose stricter rules or allow technologies that could replace some of the daily activities that require water. Over the years, politicians have enforced the idea that any decision of significance has to go through a lengthy process. It shouldn’t be that way if the greater good is paramount and not petty, personal interest.

 

Nina:  Your novel touches on global economic and military pressures by corporations and governments in aggressive water acquisition. In your novel this occurs mostly via American interests overseas. Closer to home, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians tells us that water abundance in Canada is a myth and we are too complacent. Her recent book Boiling Point exposes Canada’s long-outdated water regulations, unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial waste dumping, water advisories and effects of deforestation and climate change. As stewards of 20% of the world’s freshwater, our precious water is being coveted by many entities—from corporations to governments—and holding our own will be a tricky balancing act. What do you think is Canada’s main challenge in keeping its water protected?

Claudiu: Yes, in my book I mention that we are down to 13% of world’s freshwater resources. I also mention that only smart policy could keep the sharks away. We are not a third-world, tiny, easy-to-intimidate country. We should stand our ground and push back on any such attempt. The government should protect both private and public freshwater sources and even offer support regardless of ownership.

 

Nina: Your book touches upon corrupt government officials and corporate CEOs in terms of water issues. Various anonymous organizations such as WikiLeaks, Anonymous Group, and individuals—including your main character who uses a mask to maintain her anonymity—play a major role as activists in your book. Do you see this as the most effective way to expose wrongdoing and affect change?

Claudiu: It was already proven that revelations through WikiLeaks have affected the political environment, revealing corruption at high levels of government, secret documents mishandling, transaction from which a handful of people benefited, etc. As far as I know no one has dug deeper into these documents for nuggets of shady deals about commodities such as water (as water is considered a commodity to lessen her important role in our lives). But they are happening in the shadows, overseen by easily bribed politicians that only find happiness in short-term gratification. Hacking corporations that claim they are responsible when it comes to environment and human health, is a civic duty. It reveals the gangrene that affects our world.

 

Nina: In your novel, you created Water For All (WFA) as a global NGO organization devoted to protecting water by exposing heinous wrongdoings and helping to correct them by helping to pass legislature; what do you see as the largest challenges faced by NGOs today?

Claudiu: In my opinion the water movement is fractured in too many pieces. They all want to do good, but there is no scalability to their initiatives. Funding is somehow scarce and not enough to have a significant impact when divided among so many entities. In Water Entanglement I put forward two concepts that might solve this issue. First, WFA is the unique entity that consolidates as many of the water activists and water-related organizations as possible. So funding for selected projects comes from one source. Second, there is a worldwide strategy addressing sensitive areas and the source of pollution is addressed first. Leaders should come together for such a noble goal, give up their egos and create the critical mass that can overpower the influence of the multi-nationals in the water industry.

 

Nina: Your novel invokes Mother Nature and repeats the Indigenous peoples’ tautology “protect your mother.” You reiterate that for most Aboriginal nations, women are considered the “Water Keepers.” Your main characters—mostly activists—are women. Your main character, Cherry, is a limnologist and water activist; Romana is the UNWater chair; Ilanda is an enlightened neurosurgeon experimenting with crystal technology to help raise awareness and cognition (her husband runs Vivus Water Inc. that uses desalinization plants to further secure their water business). You also reiterate that water carries a female gender as Chief Landing Eagle says: “Fear the day when water remembers what we have done to her.” Do you see a significant role for women in changing how we view and treat water in the world?

Claudiu: Women in general are more empathic and it is a known fact that a world dominated by a matriarch society is a peaceful one. Seems that women care more about the life they nurture inside them for nine months. They are less egotistic and more willing to forgive. It’s an attitude water needs to survive the ordeal we are putting her through. We need more women as decision makers when it comes to water usage and water preservation. It might be easier for a woman to find and keep the balance on the right side of the thin line we are walking as a species. Crossing it could mean the end of the world.

 

claudiu murganClaudiu Murgan was born in Romania and has called Canada his home since 1997. He started writing science fiction when he was 11 years old. Since then he met remarkable writers who helped him improve his own trade. His first novel, The Decadence of Our Souls highlights his belief in a potentially better world if the meanings of Love, Gratitude and Empathy could be understood by all of our brothers and sisters. www.ClaudiuMurgan.com.

 

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.