The Wild Library: ecological learning

Fire and feathers

Fire glowing inside a shelter made from tree branches
Photo by Thomas Despeyroux on Unsplash

Unsurprisingly, on my dubious side-quest to explore the origins of the phrase “going to hell in a handbasket” I’ve been struggling to find out which translation or derivative of Dante’s Inferno (video game, film etc) specifically refers to being lowered in a basket. That’s a thread to let go of for now because I was becoming far too intrigued. One of my tragic flaws is that I love scrounging around in literature.

I suspect I’ll come back to Dante because aspects of my research will wander into how we express the complex human relationship with fire, particularly bushfire/wildfire when we are considering sustainable futures. Our fear of the hellish inferno and references to Dante’s inferno do turn up in media headlines related to wildfire:

Deadly wildfire razes entire town in Chile: ‘Literally like Dante’s Inferno’ (2017)

Rhodes wildfires: British tourist escapes ‘scene from Dante’s Inferno’ as helicopter water-bombs area (2023)

Wildfires across Europe and likened to Dante’s Inferno (2022)

On vacation in Dante’s Inferno(2023)

This is a little bit at odds with ice being at the very core of hell, in Dante’s idea of hell in the epic poem, but I’m getting distracted. Again.

On the other hand, Grimms’ The Fitcher’s Bird is a fascinating story, which is absolutely about the possibilities of being carried in basket, on one level. I had never read this story before. A symbolic interpretation of Grimm’s story is beautifully explained in this article by Colleen Szabo as story of transformation, linked to the ideas of abundance and scarcity.

There is so much in The Fitcher’s Bird for traversing the idea of sustainability, which is in itself a shape-shifting, almost ungraspable concept.

So, Grimm’s The Fitcher’s Bird is the first story that I carry with me going forward with my transformation — being a research student.

“You may not be a story-teller as such, it’s not your vocation to speak the stories particularly, but there is no-one living that isn’t a story-carrier. A story-carrier is to be connected to the walk of your own life – it’s quite simple, all its dark, marshy complexities, all its brightly lit celebrations and every bit between them, and in some way you have found a way of communicating it. It could be the way you paint your boat, it could be the first time you defend your children, but in some way it’s embodied, in some way it is walked, in some way it is felt, in some way it is danced.”

Dr Martin Shaw, 2011.