Dark Ecology: Race, Gender & the Environment

English 252 @ Hunter College


Ramona Contreras

Nature As Mirror


Joy Harjo, 1951

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

As part of National Poetry Month, I have been trying read or post a poem a day. When I encountered this poem, I couldn’t help but think of the works we have read in class this semester: Mother Nature by Emily Dickinson; The Last Man by Mary Shelly; and, Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez. As Joy Harjo has done, Dickinson, Shelly, and Nunez all personify nature in order to raise awareness about or strengthen our connection to the natural world. Nature, in these works, is seen as having both positive as well as less than noble characteristics similar to traits and flaws possessed by humans.

All of these authors have understood that humanity is not only one aspect of nature, but humanity is also dependent on the natural world for survival. Mankind is but one component of the ecosystem—it is not separate from this planet’s ecology. As Mary Shelley expressed, without man, nature will continue; however, without nature, mankind will disappear. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to protect the very world that has given us a great deal of what may be extremely dear to us: clean air, water, sunshine, nourishment, shelter material, and familial bonds.

In their own way, these women want to remind us how all life that exists emerges from what is in existence and has already existed. Woven through these works, the awe-inspiring aspects of nature are described. Through the characters, the authors show how, first, nature seems to have an innate appeal—serves a primitive need in humans; and, secondly, temperamentally, man and nature mirror each other. All life appears to operate on both a balance and a spectrum. Dickinson introduces us to the unconditionally benign “gentlest mother” Nature. Shelley, on the other hand, begins with an authoritative veil by calling Nature “herself was only his first minister”; however, as the story progresses, Shelley depicts an unleashed, angry, and revengeful Nature who answers to no one. Finally, Nunez depicts a Nature oppressive to some but not to all—where some reject it while others embrace and welcome it as is. In all three works, we glimpse moments where Nature demonstrates its duality as well as our human powerlessness against its ferocity. And, in not so many words, this is what Joy Harjo is expressing in her poem, Remember. For Harjo, hubris has no place in this world as we are all one with nature. Man has the ability to provoke nature, but man cannot control it. Ultimately, man is but a small player in the universe.


“Remember” By Joy Harjo YouTube Video

“Remember” by Joy Harjo

Mother Nature by Emily Dickinson

Beauty of Nature (YouTube)

Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters (AMNH)


The Shelley Prophecy


As a result of evolving international conflicts, the migrant crisis has been currently at the forefront of political discourse. Mary Shelley, in The Last Man, eerily predicted such a time in Western Europe. In The Last Man, readers are introduced to a migrant crisis caused by a plague. Although the plague manifests itself as a human disease, which decimates mankind, Shelley may also be implying that irresponsible stewardship on behalf of governments can become a plague which infects and erodes the political structure, which, in turn, creates instability within the nations. This instability becomes an impetus for many to leave their country of origin and relocate to another country. According to Mary Shelley, the burden rests on the government to protect those they govern. Failure to do so will cause chaos.

In The Last Man, upon the arrival of refugees in England, their presence causes a variety of issues. As the plague emerges we read, “Crowds of emigrants inundated the west of Europe; and our island had become the refuge of thousands…Many of the foreigners were utterly destitute; and their increasing numbers at length forbade a recourse to the usual modes of relief.” The desperateness of these refugees was evident, as “The crossing of the sea could not arrest their progress.” Nor did a vessel at sea suffering a shipwreck dissuade them. Furthermore, the migrants are vilified and we read that “their lawless spirit instigated them to violence;…” The migrants arrive and violently sweep throughout the country, burning and murdering, with plans to capture London. How did Mary Shelley foresee this migrant crisis? We can only surmise that Shelley, as an avid reader, learned to think critically about history, psychology, and scientific concepts. As the author of Frankenstein, we see that Shelley was a forward thinker and visionary. She was able to take all of the information available to her and predict what was possible for humanity given man’s nature. True to Shelley’s prediction of forced migration and refugees traveling to safer shores to escape danger, today the world is experiencing a migrant crisis of unprecedented proportions. Since 2013, millions of migrants and refugees, due to political unrest, war, and poverty, have been forced to flee their homelands. Forced to leave their homes in Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa, Libya, and Syria, many face a treacherous journey and must confront the dangers associated with the crossing of borders or traveling by sea. Issues plaguing their journey include human trafficking, rape, shipwreck, or refusal of entrance at the border. Once they have entered the host country, many refugees face other challenges. The refugees need services, homes, and employment. Refugees may be victims of violence and racism as well. Many host countries were not prepared for the deluge of immigrants they have received. Citizens of the host countries are concerned with lack of resources, violence, and the continual flood of immigrants. As a result, there has been an upheaval in many of these countries caused by racial tensions and fearful citizens calling for immigration reform. Citizens are mobilizing in order to prevent the usurpation of their culture and land by the foreigners entering their borders. Many of these citizens are now blaming their governments for the flood of immigrants into their communities; for poor decision-making and implementation; and, for the lack of foresight on behalf of their politicians. How this migrant crisis will resolve itself remains to be seen.

Mary Shelley’s Malthusian Objections In The Last Man

The EU And The Refugee Crisis

The Real Reason For The Mediterranean Migrant Crisis

Europe’s Refugee and Migrant Crisis In Numbers 2016

The Economic Impact of Forced Migration

Europe’s Migrant Crisis Explained–WSJ

10 EU Migrant Crisis Facts (Video)

Europe’s Migration Tragedy (Trigger Warner-Images May Be Graphic)



Carrying Our Words



Carrying Our Words
By Ofelia Zepeda

We travel carrying our words.
We arrive at the ocean.
With our words we are able to speak
of the sounds of thunderous waves.
We speak of how majestic it is,
of the ocean power that gifts us songs.
We sing of our respect
and call it our relative.

Translated into English from O’odham by the poet.

’U’a g T-ñi’okı˘

T-ñi’okı˘ ’att ’an o ’u’akc o hihi
Am ka:ck wui dada.
S-ap ‘am o ’a: mo has ma:s g kiod.
mat ’am ’ed.a betank ’i-gei.
’Am o ’a: mo he’es ’i-ge’ej,
mo hascu wud. i:da gewkdagaj
mac ’ab amjed. behě g ñe’i.
Hemhoa s-ap ‘am o ’a: mac si has elid, mo d. ’i:mig.


Ofelia Zepeda shares nature’s beauty in her own words hoping to awaken us to man’s need for a natural world, its delicate nature, and our stewardship.  Above, we read her poem, Carrying Our Words, where we are reminded that we are connected, we are relatives, says Zepeda, to nature.  According to Zepeda, as relatives to the ocean we must respect it.  As seen in The Last Man or The Tempest, the ocean cannot be controlled–it possesses its own rhythm, passion, and power. Although man cannot control the ocean, man can help take care of it by implementing measures that will reduce the damage inflicted by environmental improprieties .

Ofelia Zepeda, Renowned Poet & Linguist Expert

Ofelia Zepeda Native American Poetry Reading

Ofelia Zepeda @ Universe of Poetry

Ofelia Zepeda @ Poetry Foundation

Ofelia Zepeda @ Poetry.Org

Carrying Our Words

Sibylline Waters

Water Situation Ocean Troubled Churning Critical

The ecological world, in its many aspects and facets, can be found in literature, art, and even music. Elements of nature have appeared in artistic works past and present. One such formidable force of nature many works feature is the ocean. The sea, with all of its characteristics, is rich in symbolism and meaning. In The Last Man by Mary Shelley as well as The Tempest by Shakespeare, the authors use the power of the ocean to demonstrate the limitations of human agency when pitted against the larger forces of life (or nature); and, or, use the sea to indicate internal struggles. On the one hand, the ocean in these works can signify life or death; fairness or injustice; chaos or stability; and, alteration or stagnation. However, the ocean may also symbolize an internal state of mind. For instance, stormy seas may indicate revenge, tumult, uncertainty, or perhaps a need for change. In The Last Man, references to the sea and the ocean abound throughout the book. The spectrum of this aqueous element is expressed in phrases such as “the seas of life” to “a sea of evil” to “the ocean of death.” Furthermore, In The Last Man, readers experience Nature taking revenge against man as it pelts land with towering tidal waves for three days and three nights. Similarly, in The Tempest, Shakespeare uses the ocean not only as a backdrop but also as a preface to alert the readers of an impending change from the outset. In this play, the references to the sea are also plentiful throughout. In The Tempest, we read references such as “…th’ sea that roared to us..” to “Though the seas threaten us sometimes, they are merciful” to “sea-sorrow.” In both works, the ocean is used as an interactive symbol in the storylines. Lastly, the sea continues to make appearances in literature and the visual arts. Music videos appear to favor the ocean either in the background or as part of the storyline. A famous example, Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” music video, shows a boundless ocean, three young women who have ended up on an island, and their spiritual and physical journey. Once they complete their trials, they are prepared to leave the island. Therefore, in all three works above, those who survive the (ocean) storms of life, emerge transformed and, most likely, stronger individuals. As Ariel, in The Tempest, sings, “But doth suffer a sea change/Into something rich and strange.”

Toward A Blue Cultural Studies: The Sea, Maritime Culture, And Early Modern English Literature

Human Culture, Science of the Ocean, Art of the Sea

Full Fathom Five (Ariel’s Song)

Destiny’s Child–Survivor (Official Video) ft. Da Brat

Angry Sea Video (Imagine this in the 16th Century!)

Inspiration by Mary Shelley


After viewing the archives online, I definitely would prefer to see them in person. I decided to look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein notebooks. I found them fascinating. Seeing her handwriting and her edits make me appreciate having access to a word processor! It made me think about how those who did not live during the handwriting era are not familiar with that experience; and, therefore, do not view the notebooks with the same appreciation as those who have written a great deal by hand. Mary Shelley’s word choices and sentence deletions give me a sense of her skills as a writer. Even in 1816, there was a great deal of revision, revision, and more revision! Examining the writing, I wonder what type of pen Shelley used to write in her notebook. I found myself trying to figure out if she wrote in a hurry as to catch all of her ideas; or, did she take her time? Having seen the notebook, the handwriting, and the revision makes Shelley seem much more present. Seeing the work allows us to see the process as well as reinforces the image of a committed author as she writes a timeless classic. I’ve never taken the time to read Frankenstein, but after viewing the archives I’ve decided to add it to my reading list!

I imagine that advantages of archival data include having the information located all in one place (i.e. Building or website); the information is accessible—permission is not needed to view; and, archival information can be used to track changes in field of study as the archives are historical in nature. The struggles of archival research may include having found out the information you are looking for is not available; or, it may be available, but difficult to decipher. Also, perhaps the archival research is not online making it take longer to find the documents you need—travel may be required. Lastly, there may be archival information written by the author you are researching but the information available is not of any use to you.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Ch. 2 Archive

Mary Shelley: A Biography

Sea Before Me


As a kid, my trips to the beach were about sand castles and the surf. As a tween, getting dunked and outrunning waves were the worst of my problems. During adolescence, the beach was about pineapple-coconut sun tanning oil and flirting at the shore as I tested the temperature of the water with my manicured toes. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I would learn to truly appreciate the ocean for its curative powers. I was able to experience its therapeutic effects while on a much-needed vacation a few years ago. My boyfriend surprised me with a vacation to Nassau, Bahamas hoping it would help lift my spirits. One afternoon, we ended up on a couple of empty beach chairs and settled in. The sun wasn’t too hot and there was a delightful breeze. The sky was a bright blue. There were a few random cloudy patches in the sight. The water was a calm aqua greenish-blue. The air was festive as there were beach goers dancing to the sounds of the calypso band. The fragrance of fruity sun block permeated the air. We sipped our iced drinks while soaking in the sights and sounds. Eventually, the band and revelers made their way off the beach onto the hotel grounds. My boyfriend began talking to the couple next to us as I drifted off into the distance lulled by the sound of the waves. As the afternoon wore on, as the beach became less populated, the sound of the waves became more pronounced. We decided to drag the chairs closer to the shore. I settled in to watch the waves roll in. By now, the sun was a warm, peachy pink orb streaking the periwinkle sky and the breeze was noticeably saltier and crisper. The sea gulls were circling about. Slowly, I found myself taking deeper breaths as I felt each oxygen-rich breath nourish my body. With each breath, my mind and body felt more at ease. The ocean air deepened my state of relaxation. After a few minutes, I felt incredibly relaxed and calm. I have never felt such peace as I felt that afternoon simply watching the water and breathing in the sea breeze. In that instant, I can honestly say, I felt as one with nature. There was only my awareness, the wind, the water, the sky, and the salt. For the first time in a long time, I felt happy and content. The powerful healing effects of the ocean could not be more evident to me that afternoon. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Click Here For A Relaxing Seascape

What Are The Benefits Of Interacting With Nature

Does The Sea Air Have Curative Powers

Mental Benefits Of Water

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