One of the forms of interaction that has evolved within deep ecology to challenge human-centeredness, and to try to reach out to this identification and solidarity with all life that Naess speaks of, is the Council of All Beings. The people gathering in the Council try to be a voice for other life forms, such as plants and animals, and for the wind, rivers, mountains, etc. Each person speaks before the other members of the Council, of how humankind has impacted upon him or her. Drums, flutes or other musical instruments can be used to call the Council together, or used after each Council member speaks.
What the rivers tell us
“I am the voice of the rivers that flow over the land. I am the rivers that water the land. I am the rivers that give water to our people, and to all living things. I am the life of the land. I am purity flowing from mountain to shore.
My life is locked in ice in the big snows of the high mountain valleys. Then, my water is moving slowly over rock and stone, scraping both until shapes are made that will last until the next big snow comes. I am moving but like something that is old, only just living.
The land is cold, stone is jarred under my great weight, but still I move – down – down – down. Thaw starts, my frozen bones start to live again. My edges tinkle water in rivulets that will become torrents in only a short time.
Then big snow is melting and my water rushes down canyons cut by my fathers’ waters, I rush and swell until I meet the flat lands where the hand of man has confined my speed, culverted my madness to roar, tamed me.
I flow among sweet meadows where bird and beast stir to drink my water. I leach into the soil, fill it with my body, but now, returning to my main stream, I feel the weight of earth, and taste what man has put onto his fields, that are my resting place. That are full of space for me to dwell away from the harsh sunlight that is rising daily in the sky.
My movements are sluggish, more than last year. I am wasted by a hand I have not the power to stay. I am no longer pure, no longer my own self, bringing life to flowers, to waving corn, to feed the people who live one year at a time, not counting the balance in rows of numbers, but how well I fulfill my task of bringing life to all things. They hang their heads, finding that I am lacking what is needed every day.
I was not yours to culvert, confine before. I was free to do as the big snows bid me, and I brought joy to children’s faces as they stepped into my foam and laughed. Now, mothers prevent their little ones from stepping into that same foam, not the same colour, hurtful to little toes, little ankles, little feet.
My anguish is made of this, that I cannot provide all living things with life-giving water, and that I feel the hostility of mothers protecting their children, where before I felt only joy as they laughed and gurgled gaily in my shallows.
What plants tell us
I am the voice of the plants and trees that grow on the land. They tell me, not in words, you understand, but they tell me. They feed us, have fed us since the waters of the Nile inundated the land, since the days Pharaohs walked majestically along the banks of this mighty river. They too were mighty, but the waters rose and they gave thanks for water coming through jungle and desert to irrigate our land. The flowers, the trees, all living things that grow here in this fertile strip speak the same; they speak of the food they give, and they speak of the food given to them – the soils of this valley, rich and full of the Earth’s bounty – not to be compared to lesser boons brought by the hand of man to increase the harvest.
The harvest of goodness, the harvest that soil and the water provide, converted by greenness into food for man and beast, is not to be chained, and nor will it be increased without some lessening of its vitality to grow young bones – and nourish old ones – to spread in the strength of the oxen that pull great ploughshares through the soil.
Increase is not given lightly by these plants, these trees, and these flowers and grasses. Fescues are not built like towers of stone, by merely adding, rather, they flourish in a contract with the earth from which they spring.
This contract is no written thing – it is bound by ties of Nature – stronger than any that are able to keep the Pharaoh in his tomb. It is unwritten, but it is binding and may not be undone – unless you that try be undone totally when the time comes for the next harvest.
What animals tell us
I am the voice of all beasts living in the land – here, we call the ice and rock both with the name of land. If it is able to bear the weight of a bear, it is called land by us who measure our winters, not as you do in months, weeks and days. Here we see our world changing day by day, from the bleakest, frozen days and nights when only beasts set forth to find food – for eat, they must, and not having our larders, the food they eat must be found, caught and killed. Be cheery, they do not kill out of lust for blood, revenge, hatred, but only out of their great need to eat.
This is the lesson they give us, though of course, they are not knowing anything of this as they go out into the great cold to find their next meal. Their lesson is this one – they do not desire or covet that which they do not need. They live for the moment – fearing not tomorrow or next winter.
What they know of climate that is changing is that they have few places to search, few places to hide from the hunter, as they are both hunter and hunted, even by those without the need to take their meat, break their bones or scalp them of their warmth giving coats of fur or feather.
Still it continues. They know nothing of the ways of the hunter, save that when he is seen, they fear him – have feared him since that first shot rang out across this frozen place.
The seal does not fear the polar bear. It knows nothing of fangs that rip flesh until fangs do that. It does not live in trepidation of attack, though it knows when to dive and when to spring up from the icy black water to breathe the freezing air.
What the mountains tell us
I am the voice of the mountains rising to north and east, I am the sound of the Earth thrusting upwards under forces you can barely comprehend, through the eons of time you cannot conceive of. Regeneration and erosion are the forces that shape us. What was once an ocean floor is now the face of Lhotse; what was thousands of meters beneath millions of tons of rock is now the wall of a cirque, holding a tarn that looks like steel under a darkening sky.
The mountain is old, older than oceans – some say as old as the Earth itself, and being old, it has seen many things; many glorious leader in his pomp, go the way of all flesh, they who, being invincible across the steppes of the north, are no more than dust securing the roots of daffodils. Nature remains, mountains shift their heads and bow low to their Maker, man and beast, insect and flower are as the seasons only; they come and walk, they live and grow, and they grow old and die.
These peaks are not as white as I have seen them at this or any time of year. Man has set himself up against Nature – against the snow-white peaks of mountains, and rivers flow swollen, taking into the seas what can never be returned until the Earth folds this way and that and brings again to light what has been buried from sight for millennia.
Man cannot prevail, even as he is utterly fooled into thinking he can. Nothing prevails, not even mountains. They too are brought low by forces beyond our experience to comprehend. It would be well that we learn this before we sink low again – sooner than we imagine.
What the sea tells us
I am the voice of the seas and oceans surrounding us. And though I come from a country that is landlocked, a thousand miles from any sea, I feel the influences of the oceans daily in my life. I arise to a cloud-filled sky, marveling at the distances covered by so much water vapor driven on by so much wind, created by so much barometric difference to a place which is full of indifference to the skies above and what they bring, and where they bring it from.
Are not the waters of oceans the engine that drives our climates – and are not our climates our own masters – those crops below yonder hill only grow because a wind suffers to blow water across the miles, and mountain, tree and leaf conspire to make those clouds shed their load in the very place where water is most needed – at the base of that roots of waving corn.
The corn feeds us and our beasts, and we pray for the cycle to continue, but lately it has been unreliable. Calling it unreliable speaks volumes for our attitude to that cycle. We imagine it is merely rotating for us, that it can continue for as long as we plant corn under the shadow of that mountain.
The seas respond, not to us and our great need, but to elemental forces that we would shape, if we could, but cannot, only detaining cycles by the presence of what we put up into the air we breathe.
Robert L. Fielding