“Poetry and the power of the commons.” Seems an odd juxtaposition at first glance, doesn’t it? But in the way that my life works, Serendipity (like it’s a real force) is almost always busy in some way, so when things crash into one another, it’s not always a wreck. Really, the beauteous thing about being a life-long learner is that I get to always be open to learning in whatever form or forms it takes. Frequently the learning is rich, rich, rich, like a French mother sauce. And this post, like a mother sauce, is complex with many ingredients that come together eventually to make a heady concoction that enhances the overall dish that is my learning (I wish).
I love this poem by Mary Oliver: “Wild Geese.” A dear friend sent it to me at the beginning of this year. I’d not been around geese very much until I moved to Alabama. I live right on the very edge of town, right next to cows in a large pasture, and around me, geese come to stay for the winter and early spring. They often fly past my bedroom window in the mornings, honking. I can even hear their wings flapping occasionally. On sunny mornings their shadows can wave across me as they fly past. They raise their goslings around me–I see them all congregating in the fields and by the lakes–the adults, the little ones, traveling around together. When I drive to the grocery store, I stop sometimes by the side of the road and watch them in the fields. They have a grace about them that is astounding in the air, but on the ground, too, I find them mesmerizing–a sway that is both awkward and majestic. The gaggle is an awesome sight, especially when you can hear the noises they make while on the ground, rooting around, and walking. The first time I hear them back from the north, my heart beats a little faster: “The geese are back!” Like I think they’d forget me and go somewhere else. Might could be that their return signals a change to me, or a beginning, symbolizing a journey. Others see the geese as pests because they have an adverse effect on lawns and golf courses. Really.
Not me. If I had to pick a favorite animal–I might pick a wedge of geese flying through the sky right next to my window on a bright morning in April. I have to say this though: foie gras is amazing. I like the cruelty-free kind, of course, but still, even after I knew how it was achieved historically: yum. I hate that I can say that in the same post as a poem about geese and my defense of them. They are a symbol and dinner.
I just finished a book recently, by David Bollier, Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own (2008). He’s got other books I want to read, too, and his blog is fine, indeed. I especially like this post on the first enclosure movement in Britain (December 2010)–which incidentally, not coincidentally, includes mention of resurrection men (body snatchers). One such man, Jerry Cruncher, is immortalized in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. It was a remarkable connection for me as I have written of this book before in the post, “Well… in Who-ville they say…“; it’s one of those books. I considered not teaching it next spring (2012 Dickens’s bicentenary), but it’s back on the reading list now.
I’ve been reading about enclosure and ideas of property lately, some wonder-filled articles and books about being a commoner, about the open movement, the landed Victorian gentry, and copyleft–connecting my interest in writing, Victorian literature and culture, history, and even principles of management. Hard to believe it all comes together like that–but it’s partly my job, too. I’m supposed to be a reader, thinker, writer, weaver of knowledge tapestries.
Now, to be just a bit silly: isn’t enclosure what some wish to do to the geese? Ban them from the manicured parks and lawns, property held by a few? Wouldn’t want the unwashed masses trodding on and mucking up the enclosed precious parked-up land. Take away their common land? Not a problem. We have to live somewhere–might as well be in the places where the geese have historically migrated for ____ years… how long have geese been around anyhow? About 10 million years?
I said it was silly. And it gets more silly before it gets less silly.
I know that geese are proliferating more than they have in the past because they do adapt to human habitats pretty well, and they can kill those of us humans who dare to fly–a goose in an airplane engine is a bad, bad thing. I also know there are geese eradication teams–death squads–who eliminate unwanted geese by assassinating them in various ways. I get it. They’re animals. And we eat them. I eat them. (The early food references make sense now, right?)
But in my life, they are also metaphors. And I get wrought up over metaphors.
So. Here’s the interesting part linking the poetry and the commons: as I was finishing Bollier’s book, I ended up re-reading the chapter on “Open Education and Learning” because at the very end of that chapter I read this, and it took my breath away:
“It is a measure of the movement’s idealism that Schmidt and Surman, the South African OER commoners, compare open education to ‘a flock of migratory geese, moving back and forth between North and South. The flock combines birds from all places. Each goose takes a turn leading the flock, taking the strain, and then handing over to their peers. The flock is not confined to just the North, or the South. It flourishes as a global movement’ (293).”
How is that NOT a sign that I’m doing the right thing? How is that not a sign that poetry, the commons, OER, and geese are all supposed to mean something to me? How is that not confirmation, yet again, that I’m in the right place, where I’m supposed to be, many places really, one of those being Writing Spaces, an OER?
Critics of Dickens often cite how much he relies on coincidence to move his plots forward. Okay, there’s a LOT of coincidence in a lot of his books. But there is in life as well. I could have never predicted these connections or sought them out. It just happened as I was living and working and thinking this year. My thing for poetry, my thing for geese, my thing for open, the commoners book–and all that, the quote, the movement forward… a migration, a journey. Yep. All about the signs.
I do believe in luck, in signs, in serendipity, and Serendipity (or Fate, or the Fates, if you want to get Greek about it and talk about destiny, too). I think Dickens got it more right than not. And while there seem to be coincidences, there are really no coincidences (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But then, I love reading and teaching Dickens, and I’m open to that sort of thing. That’s no coincidence, is it?