Stepping away from the wilder outdoors, here’s a strange but domesticated book recommendation, providing a helpful excuse to avoid that frigid winter wind. Barn 8 is Deb Olin Unferth’s most recent–and most brilliant–writing so far. She takes us on a crazy romp through the industrial layer-hen world, for an unbelievably compulsive fiction read. Along with a story that follows fairly conventional rules for keeping readers flipping pages, she manages to pull our attention well beyond our navel-gazing selves.
For writers, Olin Unferth tosses in a gamut of unconventional experiments that provide grist for study. In one unrepeated ‘creative non-fiction interval’, she offers this:
“The Gallus, the wild jungle fowl of the early Eocene, or “pre-chicken,” tore along the ground through the trees. The ice swelled and receded, and the Gallus split into species and subspecies, constellations of them spreading and splintering, until a mere nine thousand years ago, when a band of her descendants, Gallus gallus domesticus, began to travel the world with the great explorers looking for more than their world had to offer.
At last, around 1600 CE, T. Rex’s pretty little niece stepped off the boat onto the wet sand shores of North America.”
Not only does Olin Unferth take us back in deep time, she pushes her narrative well forward, and her vision of that future is worth your attention. An activist manifesto without a single ‘should’–this treatise is truly a treat.
If your annual cycle offers summer space for slowing down in the heat, you might be looking for a ‘good book’ to take into the hammock you’ve strung between two shady streamside cottonwoods. If you follow the kinds of happenings on this blog, you may appreciate this recommendation.
Joining the growing list of great stories showing polyphonic glimpses into worlds unfamiliar to mainstream audiences, Sharks in the Time of Saviors illuminates a contemporary Hawaii through the 5 voices of one family. Rather than a single Hero’s Journey, or a single savior, Kawai Strong Washburn brings to life the tangled relationships of these individuals not just to each other but also to their times, their mythologies, and their landscapes, whether that be the Hawaiian homeland or the ambitions rising in California or Spokane.
So here’s to all of us, and to learning what the land has already planted inside our souls. Let this story unfurl those leaves, and may summer’s sun bring your fruits to ripeness.
For Women’s History (Herstory) Month, let’s hear it for the baby showers being held in Assam, India for the endangered greater adjutant stork, as organized and inspired by the genius and openness of Purnima Devi Barman, a woman rewriting the story of how conservation work succeeds. She delayed her PhD to first listen to the people in those few communities where these storks still nested. She heard the women’s joy in their motherhood, and helped them translate that to a pride in the increasing numbers of thriving stork babies, whether they nested in trees that might otherwise have been cut down, or foraged at the overflowing landfill.
THIS–this rare bird–is YOURS, and your gift to the important biodiversity of the world. In giving, these communities have received a renewed sense of themselves. In protecting and re-framing this former bad omen bird, they learn to re-frame their own agency in a changing world, and to understand the value of their resilience.
Here’s another link: to a short film from The Liturgists, which speaks potent truth to power. And while my heart breaks when i take this in, i also am grateful for the values and lifeways of people who’ve stewarded lands like these for the future–not for themselves, but for all of us who so need to embrace major changes in what we thought, what we’ve been hypnotized to believe, is important. Do you look at Arctic Village and wonder how those poor people survive? Or do you look at people like this and wonder how technological society has trapped us into blinding addictions? i admire the humility that roots us in cooperative and reciprocal relationships, and the wisdom and strength it takes to honor these relationships above the ones that are leading to destruction.
The Canadian Government has taken steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous Nations for its history of assimilationist and exclusionary policies towards Indigenous people. Though the precise meaning of reconciliation can be hard to pin down, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada broadly defines it as “an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in Canada see conservation as one realm where reconciliation, often criticized for being a buzzword with little tangible impact, might be made real.
“The conservation sector, which is land-based, is a good place to articulate what [reconciliation] means,” said Steven Nitah, an Indigenous thought leader and former Chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. “It allows all parties… to take the best of both knowledge systems that we have and use that knowledge system to manage these spaces in the spirit of reconciliation.”
One precedent-setting example is Thaidene Nëné, a 14,000-square-kilometer national reserve park in the Northwest Territories created in August of 2019 that is co-managed by the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and the Canadian government. The initial proposal to create a National Park there in the 1970s failed to gain the consent of the Lutsel K’e Dene due to concerns over how the park would effect the community’s harvesting lifestyle. Within the new framework, the Dine community of Lutsel K’e remains within the reserve and shares responsibilities with the federal and provincial government for managing and protecting their homeland.
“The boldest and most ambitious conservation proposals in Canada are coming from Indigenous nations,” said Nitah, who led negotiations for the creation of Thaidene Nëné.
Other examples where Indigenous-led governance is in progress include the 64,000-square-kilometer Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, the 29,040-square-kilometer Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario, and the proposed 109,000-square-kilometer Tallurutiup Imanga in Nunavut, which is slated to become the largest protected area in Canada.
The Djibouti ants never doubted. They live onward in their organized way, their society focused on a communal thriving, perhaps in the same way the necessary microbial communities in your own intestines are. Cell boundaries, exoskeletal boundaries, colony groups, all real enough, but never enough to define the outer limits of a life. Nested into larger and larger systems, the ants belong. Would we deny them the consciousness of knowing the species that evolved alongside them across 45 million years or more?
An ant is sick, or old, or maybe born into a drought year without enough grass seed. The colony must find balance, and surely they recognize the one who balances. Is their word for ELEPHANTULUS REVOILII a sound? Unlikely–but a chemical exuded, then detected as scent or sensation can certainly count as identification. Or maybe, like bees sharing the route to fresh nectar, they dance the name of the beast with the hose-nose designed to vacuum up ants.
“Science” lost track of this particular elephant shrew, who not only shares a sensitive proboscis but also a genetic history with elephants and aardvarks. Djibouti ecologist Houssein Rayaleh, like the local ants, had no idea that wali sandheer was missing, though the last scientific record of this charismatic microfauna was from 1968. He helped organize an expedition and live-trapping research, and even he was surprised when genetic testing resulted in a new genus for the Somali sengi.
“Humans have cut themselves off from nature, even though nature has nourished them and continues to nourish them,” says Rayaleh. Science knows now that these sengis communicate with foot-drumming, sharing insights about their relationships with food, shelter, each other. In our increasingly technological world, remembering and reconnecting within the repeating holarchies of a single planetary life may be the only way for our species to find ourselves.
Of course the world turns on diversity: part of earth’s life forms breathe in oxygen, send extra carbon dioxide back into air, and the other part breathes in that carbon dioxide, splits it up to make calories out of sunlight and to send oxygen into the air. Every in-breath, every out-breath, we are in intricate interconnection with rooted beings.
What do i have to offer this incredible planet in reciprocity for what is shared with me? Sometimes, i think, nothing. And yet: i have ears. Like the burro’s, my ears can amplify what they hear, partly through empathy, and partly through a voice that echoes thru my one permeable body. It may reach a limited area, but what voice i have will rise above those who use their silence as a tool to amplify ignorance. Consider using your voice as a gift, as a way to amplify others’. We are only safe when we risk standing together.
The fruit bushes we planted here have begun to bring so many birds. A Wilson’s warbler was new to me this spring. We feel so much excitement to learn about a new winged neighbor. More discomfiting, a new perspective we may prefer not to hear. In these days of deep despair for many in the U.S., i wanted to share this video–bird watchers who may have different perspectives, but whose love for birds, indeed for our shared LIFE, can lift and broaden us all.