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Sounds from Alaska: Richard Nelson’s “Wild Sounds”

July 03, 2014, by Hank Lentfer

My recording partner, Richard Nelson, is a raving advocate for the beauty and diversity of the never-ending concert of natural sounds playing throughout the valleys and beaches of Alaska. For the past decade, Richard’s passion has been channeled into the production of a radio program called Encounters: Radio Experiences in the North. Each half-hour segment, whether focused on caribou or caves, moose or mosquitos, porcupines or polar bears, is saturated with the man’s infectious enthusiasm. Whether recorded from a kayak in front of a tide water glacier, a cliff edge surrounded by mountain goats, or alongside a bearded seal’s breathing hole in the Arctic sea ice, each show is created live to tape. Richard’s insightful narration combines with the voices of the place to transport and engage listeners like no other program I’ve ever heard.

Here’s a link to a recent show called, simply, “Wild Sounds.” It’s a tour through the most riveting sounds to pour through his microphone throughout the past ten years. Listen in and hear musk ox bellow, bears fight over fish, ice tinkle in an Arctic river, petrels purr and patter in sub-terrain burrows.

And here’s a link to the entire archive of radio shows. 

I listen to them while doing the dishes. No better way to make a dull chore fun than to listen in as Richard slithers and scrambles through the wildest places he can find.

Hank Lentfer, author of Faith of Cranes, is ear-deep in a new career recording the whistles, clicks, groans, and splashes of his wild neighbors.

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filed under: Sounds from Alaska

Letter from Poland: Awake and Humming

June 26, 2014, by Kateri Kosek

Kateri Kosek, whose poetry and reviews have appeared in Orion, recently left her Massachusetts home for a several-week trip to Poland. Here’s the first in a three-part series of dispatches from her travels.

On a damp, rainy afternoon, we turn into the yard my father grew up in, an inviting square of farm buildings sheltering a mostly dirt yard. Barn swallows, just like those in America, whiz by inches from our heads, cobalt bodies sharp with purpose.

A first cousin I’ve never met has just driven my father and me two hours north of Warsaw to the countryside near Ostrołęka, Poland, a small city whose power plant, paper mill, meat and dairy processing plants, and general lack of attractions have failed to earn it even one mention in the Polish guidebook. On the plane, I have been studying two languages: the Polish in my phrasebook and, somewhat more in my comfort zone, the Birds of Europe, second edition, specially ordered.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

Concrete Progress: No Fruit Left Behind

June 23, 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.

I strode into the strangers’ yard and climbed one of their trees. The branches were strong, with convenient hand and foot holds, and I knew that I’d be able to perch up there for a long time. Reaching cautiously into the foliage, I started plucking ripe lemons and dropping them into a bag below my feet.

Do not worry—your columnist has not turned to thievery. I was there with the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, and everyone—me, the people I’d come with, the public, the strangers themselves—stood to gain from our gleaning. The Fruit Tree Project is devoted to harvesting the sweet juicy bounty that California’s Central Coast is blessed with nearly year-round; this week, it’s citrus fruits. There are fruit trees everywhere here. My house alone has three, and I live in a dense urban neighborhood. It is routine for people to eat a little something as they walk around—California law dictates that branches over the sidewalk are in the public domain.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

Speaking Orangutan

June 18, 2014, by Susanne Antonetta

“I fly to speak with an orangutan named Chantek. He lives in a habitat on the grounds of Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, where he was placed after a stint at Yerkes Primate Center and before that, life in the home of his ‘cross foster-mother,’ as anthropologist Lyn Miles calls herself. She raised him as a signing infant from the age of nine months, rearing him as much as possible as a human child.

When our van pulls up to Chantek’s habitat he swings out onto one of its inside branches and asks for bottled water, which he calls ‘car water,’ since Lyn usually has some in her car. He’s particular about bottled waters, preferring Naya. Chantek appears as harmlessly shaggy as a Sesame Street figure, the color of a November pumpkin, the size of an enormous easy chair. Because of his strength, though, we’re not allowed into his habitat, so he kisses and strokes Lyn through the bars.

I know very little sign, so Lyn asks Chantek to teach me some. Chantek has an active vocabulary of about three hundred words and a passive vocabulary of a thousand or more, which he can comprehend either by speech or by sign. We start with the basics.

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filed under: Encounters

Postcard from Bread Loaf

June 16, 2014, by Orion staff

The weekend concluded the first annual Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference, a week-long gathering of writers located in the green hills of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Campus. And what a week it was—from workshops and lectures by conference faculty and guests, to readings and conversation long into the night, we’re pretty sure something special happened at Bread Loaf.

To celebrate the week, meet a few of the conference participants, who share some of the best advice they received from their classes, workshops, and one-on-one meetings with this year’s faculty, which included Orion contributors Camille Dungy, Rick Bass, Alison Hawthorne Deming, and others.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

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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