Last night in Brighton we held a funeral for the thylacine, extinct since 1936. The meeting point was at ONCA, where we gave people whiskers and Lost Species Day stickers when they arrived. Glitter, fur, black garb, leopard print, tails, ears: the gallery was full of people curious, open, ready for this, tangibly in need of this kind of space.
I preface the procession with a disclaimer/ celebration:
This is an experiment, there are no rules, we are inventing it all together because we need to –
Then we press pieces of paper with the names of lost species into their hands and pockets, and off we all go, carrying an effigy of Benjamin, the last thylacine. We only made a head and a tail, and they are connected by a great length of white sheet that many people hold and drape over their shoulders. We’re a motley crew: Ellie at the front in her thylacine mask made from an old teddy bear, tolling the Bell for Lost Species as she goes; Gary with his dark glasses and his tambourine like a Krishna devotee; Alex the bewhiskered numb-fingered ukulele player; people with masks with lanterns; my son Felix running around like a paparazzo with a borrowed GoPro. People smile as we pass by, or shake their heads and mutter “bloody humans” when they hear that it’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species.
Wake up, shouts Andreas as the bell tolls. It’s time to wake up!
Is this alright, I am thinking. Is this enough? I want this to be enough. I need it to be enough for the people who have come. Yet what could ever be enough?
Through the Pavilion Gardens – for a moment we nearly end up on the temporary ice rink – then down onto the ink dark beach, crunching over pebbles all the way to the foreshore with this strange snaking hodgepodge creation. It stinks of fish down here but instinctively I want that – to perceive, viscerally, the processes of life and death.
The thylacine-snake is laid out in a circle with head and tail meeting in the middle – a great wonky ouroboros – and we gather shufflingly around it. Matt steps into the centre and tells the story of the thylacine – its uniqueness, its niche, its scapegoating, persecution and extermination.
Then, people speak from the edges of the circle of the things they wish to remember tonight:
I want to remember the wolves and bears of this land shot to extinction
I want to remember the boreal forests of Canada given way to tar sands
I want to remember the great forests of Germany now all but gone
I want to remember the red gazelle, though I never knew of its existence till now
I want to remember Toughie and the lost amphibians
Down, I am sinking down, dropping so far, held by the voice of the sea and this fragile circle of vulnerability
I want to remember the lost forest people of Brazil and Panama
I want to remember Berta Caceres the murdered Honduran indigenous environmental activist
I want to remember the unborn Native American children poisoned by the persistent organic pollutants in the Great Lakes
I want to remember the murdered Thai environmental protector who inspired so many people
Further, let me drop further down – I am ready for the abyss, I feel the sides rushing past me as I fly – but are others frightened? Is this too much? How much can we bear to look at?
I hold in my thoughts the protectors at Standing Rock
I hold in my thoughts the bees and the pollinators
I hold in my thoughts the protesters defending the woods of Leith Hill from oil exploration
I hold in my thoughts the web of life that is sustained by the soil and I commit to restoring the soil
I give thanks for the worms
I give thanks for the return of the beavers
I give thanks for the wasps and their great work
I give thanks to all the people who give their lives in service to the earth that they love
I could stay here forever.
And then Ellie is saying, Come on then, let’s burn it, and I am wondering, Is it too much, are people too cold, is it too difficult? And we are stumbling about, placing offerings into the mouth of the thylacine, while Andreas plays Amazing Grace on his flute. Lu-Lu in the lemur hat is lighting the paper and up goes Benjamin, a sudden exquisite blast of brilliance in the dark. Just like that.
I sit by the fire, almost touching it; my friend Flor and I tend the flames and I watch every moment. I must stay until the very end, just as I had to at my mother’s funeral when the gravediggers came with their little digger and pushed the heavy clay over her coffin. The tears come now. All I can do is cry, and hold onto strangers.
My comrade Andreas takes one of my tears and puts it into the fire. He says the earth’s song is out of tune and the tree of life is withered. We need to howl and weep, for how else can we water the withered tree or bring music back into the voice of the earth? He recites a poem by Antonio Machado, taught to us by our friend the brilliant Martin Shaw:
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odour of jasmine.
‘In return for the odour of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odour of your roses.’
‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’
‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’
the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’