Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Vocabuteria: speciocide


This is not a word to play with. It means extinction. So it’s relevant right now as the United Nations has reported just last week, in the starkest terms, on the probable extinction of half the world’s species. The passages below — the first three paragraphs of “Dreaming the Invisible” by Joan Sutherland, a Zen teacher in California — evocatively links the Notre Dame fire to the slower fire consuming us all, and gaining ground. Here’s Sutherland’s piece (sent to me by my friend, Bob). And here’s the correct spelling of the word. Like all “cides,” it feels like a knife.

When the foundation stone for Notre-Dame de Paris was laid in 1163 everyone, architects to stonemasons, knew they’d be working on something they wouldn’t live to see completed, nor would their children or grandchildren. They couldn’t be certain that the engineering would hold, or what the light, filtered through rose windows into a stone glade, would be like.

As the walls rose course by course, carpenters prepared the lumber for the roofing. It took half a century to fell the oaks, lay them down with their heads in the north to align with the Earth’s energy, strip their bark, submerge them in swamps to preserve them from rot, cut them into beams, and set them out to dry. The attic framework made from these beams was called ‘the forest’ — not the three-hundred-year-old wild forest from which the trees came, but one made by humans, which would last another seven hundred and fifty years, until the fire this spring.

It took a century to build Notre-Dame, and it looks as though it will take about the same amount of time to end the world as we’ve known it. Deep in a climate emergency, those of us who could do something about it can’t seem to muster the collective will to respond. The agitation of the elements — rising waters and winds, spreading fire and dust — is devastating to some. Others mock the warnings and profit from pushing us closer to specicide. Hopeful things happen, but not enough of them, and not quickly enough. Have we lost the stonemason’s belief in the invisible future, the carpenter’s almost ceremonial preparation for it?


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