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The Place Where I Write: Ross Gay

June 13, 2014, by Ross Gay

I spent about three years thinking about my perfect writing studio, designing it in my head, sketching little mock-ups from time to time. I pored over books like Shelter and Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, trying to get ideas for the simple yet elegant shed I’d build. I found myself talking about the importance of thresholds and window height and variety of chairs. I even enlisted my dear pal Cootie, a beautiful architect (he’s beautiful and he designs beautiful things), to help me think about my perfect writing studio, and even to consider a commission.

My perfect writing studio was going to be tiny, something I could bang up in a couple weeks at most with a few friends. It’d have a little comfortable chair near the door and a simple desk and chair tucked into the corner. Of course (of course!) everything that could be reclaimed would be. Maybe some nearby school would re-do their basketball court and I could scavenge the hunks of wood. Maybe I could dribble a basketball in my perfect writing studio! If we got ambitious there might even be a sleeping loft, so that the shed could double as a sleeping space for visitors.

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filed under: The Place Where I Write

The Future of Wilderness, June 19

June 09, 2014, by Scott Gast

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act, one of the environmental movement’s key victories. But is the Act and the idea it represents still relevant in 2014? In an era of climate change, rapid technological change, and increasing urbanization, the concept seems to face existential questions.

On June 19, at 7 pm Eastern/4 pm Pacific, join a panel of writers, thinkers, and advocates—including Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro; David Sobel, author of Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors; and forest advocates Jimmy Gaudry and Doug Scott—for a live discussion of wilderness and its future. Another topic of discussion will be a national conference in Albuquerque this October, celebrating the Wilderness Act’s fiftieth anniversary. Visit to learn more.

“The Future of Wilderness” is free to join, will be moderated by Orion staff, and is open to all readers and friends. Register here.

Orion hosts live web events every month. Sign up to be alerted by e-mail when a new one is announced.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Concrete Progress: Slow Money

June 05, 2014, by Peter Brewitt

All the infrastructure you read about here at Concrete Progress—solar panels, permeable pavement, food trucks—depends on another infrastructure: the flow of money through the nation’s financial system. The big banks and multinational corporations that make up so much of our economy are not the kind of subject I talk about here, but money doesn’t need to be controlled by giants. In Southern California, a part of the country renowned for flash and materialism, an organization called Slow Money is reimagining the economy in an effort to focus resources on local businesses, foods, and communities. This spring I got a chance to talk with Brent Collins, executive director of Slow Money SoCal. —Peter Brewitt

The concept of slow money can mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

Here in California, Slow Money is a network of local chapters that hold gatherings intended to catalyze funding for an array of food-related businesses. Chapters also promote awareness of the importance of local, sustainable food systems, and act as a forum for connecting entrepreneurs, farmers, investors, philanthropists, and other stakeholders with each other.

More and more people are concerned with the problems caused by corporate agriculture and Wall Street, many of which are related to food, the economy, and the environment. Slow Money chapters provide a countervailing alternative; they serve as a hub for constructing homegrown solutions that make sense locally.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

To Eat with Grace, a New Book from Orion

June 02, 2014, by Scott Gast

What does it mean to “eat with grace”? The writers whose essays and poems are collected in this new volume from Orion have many answers, but they all come back to something essential: connection—with each other, with our inner selves, with the earth that sustains us. Whether foraging, baking, or gardening, the rituals of food can nourish us in ways both sensual and spiritual.

Here’s Darra Goldstein, editor of the food magazine Gastronomica, who provides the book’s foreword:

As we contemplate and observe food, it accrues meaning, particularly food we have labored over. No packaged product can yield the sense of revelation that occurs when acorns, painstakingly shucked, leached, dried, and ground, release their nutty flour; or when kneaded dough balloons into airiness under the heat of fire. When we eat good food, we smell and taste the earth, and thereby reconnect with it: this is what it means to eat with grace.

To Eat with Grace features work from Tamar Adler, Jane Hirshfield, Barbara Kingsolver, Maxine Kumin, Gary Paul Nabhan, and many others—pick up a copy today.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Five Questions for Paul Kingsnorth

May 27, 2014, by Scott Gast

Orion friend and contributor Paul Kingsnorth has been quite busy in recent months—his Dark Mountain Project just released its fifth print journal, and his first novel, The Wake, was published in April. Paul’s essay “In the Black Chamber” appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Orion.

You’ve published three terrific and provocative essays in Orion in recent years. How has your thinking about the future—and humans’ role in influencing the future—evolved as you’ve written those pieces?

My recent essays have really been explorations of my place in the world, and my powers in the world, and the way that world is changing, and particularly the human relationship with the nonhuman world in an increasingly technological age. I suppose I’ve quite publicly moved in the last five or six years from a position of being a campaigner, who uses his writing to push particular positions, into being someone who is less and less convinced that positions are helpful. I came to see that advocacy writing required you to be more dishonest than I was comfortable being, and so I’ve ended up doing something that is a lot more exploratory and open-ended. These days, I’m more interested in questions than answers.

It’s interesting that you use the word provocative. I often hear that my writing is provocative or controversial, and I suppose when I look at it from the outside it can seem so. But I’m always a bit surprised when I hear this. I’m not particularly trying to provoke anything or anyone, I’m just seeing where my explorations take me. The writers I admire most are genuine freethinkers. I look at people like Edward Abbey or Wendell Berry or Ran Prieur, and I see writers who are trying to figure things out for themselves without falling into camps or advocating for “isms.” That’s what I aspire to.

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Introducing the May/June & July/August Double Issue

May 22, 2014, by Scott Gast

From its perch along a riverbank, the Orion office has a view of a world on the move. Look out any of the back windows, and you’ll see water coursing from north to south, birds returning from their winter homes, and many, many green things, each with leaves and buds reaching for the sky. All of which is proof that embarking upon a journey is more than just a human custom—it’s what we all do, animals and plants alike, in some way, during the warm months.

In honor of the season of movement, the new issue of Orion brings you Journeys, a special section of the magazine devoted to exploring the meaning of travel, and how it shapes us over the course of a day or a lifetime. From the heights of a hot air balloon to a day in Central America’s busiest outdoor market, you’ll find in this issue stories of six summer journeys—no suitcases required.

Between trips, find Orion’s usual mix of fiction, nonfiction, poems, and visual art, including “The Mongerji Letters,” a short story by Geetha Iyer that takes the shape of a salvaged correspondence between the Mongerjis, a family whose collection of flora and fauna reflect the world’s bygone richness. And don’t miss a conversation with Gar Alperovitz, who brings news of a new economic model that is already beginning to supplant an increasingly dysfunctional capitalism.

Also in this issue, Anthony Doerr celebrates Miracle Day, Peter Brewitt shows us how to paint the pavement, and Jourdan Imani Keith points out why shrinking one’s carbon footprint is about more than just carbon.

But it’s travel season! So get out from behind that computer and grab a copy of Orion in print—it’s sleek, it’s colorful, and it fits perfectly in a backpack. You’ll find all of the above, plus an essay on the legacy of passenger pigeons, photographs of the people behind the small-farm movement, and much more.

Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)—we’d love to hear from you.

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filed under: In the Magazine

Sounds from Alaska: Concert of Feathers

May 20, 2014, by Hank Lentfer

With the return of spring to Alaska, Orion contributor Hank Lentfer continues his Sounds from Alaska series, which debuted last year on the Orion blog. Listen to sounds from last spring, summer, and fall here.

I spent last week camped on a river delta along Alaska’s southern coast to take in the spectacle of spring migration. With each passing hour the mudflats and alder thickets around the tent filled with the fluttering, whistling, passing purr of feathers. Thousands upon thousands of shorebirds—western sandpipers, dunlin, and dowitchers—probed the mud alongside a mix of widgeon and teal, scaup and mallards. Snipe winnowed over the sedge flats. Pipits pipped amongst fresh shoots of grass. Warblers warbled. Hummingbirds hummed. Loons looned. Falcons and hawks zipped through the feathered masses, eating their fill.

I tried, over coffee one morning, to imagine the combined power of each tiny puff of wind created by each down stroke of every single wing carrying each feathered bundle of life north. If each tiny puff were gathered into a single roaring gust, how big would it be? Strong enough to knock over a federal building? An entire city?

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filed under: Sounds from Alaska

A Galaxy at Our Feet

May 15, 2014, by Barbara Hurd

“The sky is pink this morning and on the shore a whole host of sea stars has been stranded.

I know from the charts the moon was full last night, the midnight tide higher than usual. Were the skies clear? Were the stars out? I’d like to have seen these creatures then: stars in the dark overhead and here a spiny constellation draped over the rocks.

One of the largest, a northern sea star, now lies upside down in the palm of my hand. Almost a foot across, its orangy body glistens wet in the dawn light. Hundreds of slender tubes wriggle like antennae, only these aren’t sense organs; they’re feet, and what they’re searching for isn’t food or enemy or mate, but something to cling to, any firm surface that can anchor them and end this futile flailing at the air.” —From “Sea Stars,” by Barbara Hurd, published in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion.

Tell us about your encounters with the natural world in the comments section, below.

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filed under: Encounters

Farley Mowat, 1921 - 2014

May 13, 2014, by J. B. MacKinnon

I am far from my home in Canada, and so I first heard that Farley Mowat had died via… Twitter. It felt wrong, given that there is allegedly a sign at Mowat’s front door that says NO COMPUTERS BEYOND THIS POINT. Signal fires should have brought me the news, or a carrier pigeon. Or a Canada goose.

Farley Mowat died May 6, 2014, aged ninety-two years.

Like many of his readers, I first encountered Mowat’s books as a child. He was, in fact, the first person of any public stature I ever wrote to, at age ten. A Whale for the Killing had entranced me, and I sent Mowat a letter asking how to save the whales, how to save the world, how to live my life. He wrote back promptly, saying, “I can’t tell you what to do.”

It was uncommonly good advice for an adult to give a child, but then, Mowat was uncommonly forward-thinking. Many obits describe him as “an environmentalist,” a throwaway term in an age when the same is said of anyone who drives a hybrid SUV. Consider instead that A Whale for the Killing was published the year Greenpeace was founded, and several years before that group turned its attention to whales. Never Cry Wolf asked people to embrace wolves rather than fear them—in 1963. His first book, People of the Deer, exposed crimes of colonialism in the Arctic and Subarctic more than a decade before Native American issues became a flashpoint in mainstream America. Even Mowat’s beard was ahead of its time.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Concrete Progress: Oahu Sees the Light

May 09, 2014, by Peter Brewitt

Concrete Progress is an ongoing series of columns by Peter Brewitt devoted to exploring America’s infrastructure. It is part of Orion’s Reimagining Infrastructure project. Above: a solar radiation map of Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island, which receives nearly eleven hours of light on the shortest day of the year.

I’m going to try to get my editors to send me to Hawaii. Don’t worry, editors! I don’t plan to go surfing or lounge on the beaches or hike the Na Pali Coast or anything like that. I’d go for the solar panels.

I’ve always assumed that, in the end, the answer to our energy problems will be solar power. The sun is, of course, the ultimate renewable resource—it shines everywhere and if it ever stops, we’ll have more to worry about than our carbon footprints. But the world is not set up for solar power: we make most of our electricity by burning fossil fuels at big power plants. You cannot pipe sunshine from place to place (yet), so how would a world where people make their own electricity from the sun work? The overwhelming leader in solar power, especially rooftop solar power, is Oahu, the most populated island in Hawaii. About eleven percent of the homes in Oahu sport rooftop photovoltaic solar arrays. This is far more than any other place in the United States. 

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filed under: Concrete Progress

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