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Postcard from the Nevada Museum of Art #1

October 09, 2014, by Aaron Rothman

Since 2008, the Nevada Museum of Art, in Reno, has convened its Art + Environment Conference, a forum for wide-ranging conversation about how art can help us better understand humans’ place in the natural world. This year’s conference begins today and extends through the weekend. Writer and artist Aaron Rothman is in attendance; he’ll share a series of reports and reflections from the conference, the first of which is below. Top photo: Sunset from the roof of the Nevada Museum of Art, 2011, by Aaron Rothman.

Shortly after writing this, I will fly to Reno, Nevada, to attend the third triennial Art + Environment Conference (A+E). This remarkable event is held at the Nevada Museum of Art, home to the Center for Art + Environment and a surprisingly ambitious institution for a small city like Reno. I attended the conference in 2011 at the recommendation of an acquaintance, not quite knowing what to expect—“art” and “environment” are both big, nebulous categories that mean different things to different people.

But I was happy to find that A+E is open-ended in its approach, bringing speakers and exhibits from an array of disciplines, each with a unique perspective on the question of humanity’s place on the planet. Art proceeds from human experience, and A+E tends not to present the environment as something separate from us; instead, environment is the space that demarcates experience, be it natural, built, virtual, or, as most things are, somewhere on the continuum between all of these.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

Wilderness at 50: The New Stewards

October 07, 2014, by Kasey Rahn

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act. To celebrate, Orion is publishing special articles in print and online, including a multi-part series of personal perspectives on wilderness, the fourth of which is below. Orion is a sponsor of the National Wilderness Conference, to be held from October 15 – 19 in New Mexico; learn more about the conference here.

This year, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary officially recognized the word Yooper, a term used to identify residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Bordered by Wisconsin and several Great Lakes, the U.P. isn’t exactly on the beaten path. It’s even occasionally omitted from national maps.

The U.P. is a place of harsh winters and thick woods, where the maple stands of the south transition into northern boreal forests. It’s a wild place, with moose and wolves and the occasional cougar slinking eastward to explore. And tucked away in the Ottawa National Forest is one of the U.P.’s most primitive places: the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness.

Designated in 1987, the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness covers 16,728 acres of steep hills and deciduous forest. It boasts the Wild and Scenic Sturgeon River, waterfalls, and a 300-foot-deep gorge. It’s a place of sweeping views and open spaces, the perfect place for a college kid to come into her own.

I moved to the U.P. in August 2009 to begin my freshman year at Michigan Tech, a small but mighty science and engineering university. I visited Sturgeon River Gorge for the first time that September. At eighteen, I didn’t have much experience camping and virtually no experience in wilderness areas, but I was certain I’d be a natural. To say that I was unprepared is an understatement: I showed up to that first trip sporting a hot-pink JanSport book bag, thinking that’s what my new camping friends meant when they said I should “bring a backpack.”

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filed under: Wilderness at 50

Concrete Progress: The Night-Heron Solution

October 02, 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. Top photograph courtesy of Ellen Land-Weber.

The herons glared at me, and I suppose that I deserved it. When I arrived at the wastewater treatment plant in Arcata, California, I had guessed that it would be interesting but I was sure it would be gross. When you visit a sewage plant, you expect to smell it, and while I’d been promised that Arcata’s marsh was a clean and nifty place, I was prepared for a little stink. But no: What I found was a dense and verdant wetland—far more plant than sewage.

I was glad that I’d brought binoculars for the occasion (you can find birds at wastewater facilities the world over), because after a couple of standard ducks I spied a black-crowned night heron, still puffed up against the early morning mist. He gazed skeptically down at me over his feather ruff, the way that one of the nastier kings of Middle Earth might regard a hobbit. And he wasn’t alone. As I hiked on, I found another night heron, and then another, and another—one perched in every bush, each as smug and disapproving as the last. No doubt they were blaming me for making assumptions about their marsh.

But how could I have known? Where other cities build sludge digesters, Arcata has a wildlife sanctuary.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

5 Questions for William E. Tydeman

September 30, 2014, by H. Emerson Blake

Bill Tydeman is the author of Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination, recently published by the University of Oklahoma Press. In three long dialogues, each captured in this book, Lopez and Tydeman discuss nature, Lopez’s work, activism, social responsibility, the life of the mind, and all things literary. Lopez’s writing has appeared in Orion since 1984 and includes, most recently, “Landscapes of the Shamans,” published in the July/August 2013 issue.

You’ve known Barry Lopez and his work for a long time. Did you find yourself thinking differently about Lopez or his work as a result of working on this book?

I did not realize how the quest for social justice has shaped his life and thought. For nearly fifty years, this is a constant in his work. Remarkable.

What do you think Conversations with Barry Lopez adds to what we know about Lopez and his ideas?

I hope the book succeeds in eliminating any fixed categories like “nature writer” to explain his work. The central themes of intimacy, ethics, and identity provide a more complex, nuanced platform for appreciating and understanding Lopez’s work.

Barry Lopez is deeply committed to the role of the artist in society. How would you characterize his stance toward the arts and why he sees them as being so critically important?

I think Lopez has long understood that complex and subtle thinking takes place in the search for patterns we call art. Art, and emotion it evokes, carries with it the possibility of the transformation of consciousness.

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filed under: Authors on Books, Five Questions

A Different Kind of Light

September 24, 2014, by Rick Bass

We’re happy to share one more dispatch from the People’s Climate March, which was attended by so many on Sunday and seems to have lifted the movement to halt climate change to new heights. Orion friend and contributor Rick Bass, who made the trip to New York all the way from his home in Montana, sent this letter. Pictured above: Brooke Williams, Rick, a New York City police officer, and one fuzzy representative from up north.

I’m going to write a dangerous sentence here.

The police were wonderful. They gazed with awe. They had seen some things, but not this.

I have had unpleasant encounters with the law: have had my nose bloodied in Mississippi. Call me cynical, but I believe that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. An Orion staff member at the march, Madeline Cantwell, commented on how much she was enjoying watching people’s faces, and how different they looked—how expectant, how open—how unlike the way people usually look when they’re walking down a street, as they were doing this one day, roughly 400,000 of them—of us.

And she was right, it was very cool. It was as if a different kind of light was landing on our faces: the way you sometimes hold your face up to even the mildest of sun after a long winter. And it was a very sweet thing to see, to watch.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

When the Unimaginable Becomes Inevitable

September 23, 2014, by Kathleen Dean Moore

The main event of the People’s Climate March took place on Sunday in New York City, but demonstrations were held around the world. Orion contributor Kathleen Dean Moore sent us this note from a gathering in Eugene, Oregon. Photograph courtesy of Mark Watchman.

This is a bad day for pipelines and export terminals and tankers and coal trains.

This is a bad day for the Koch brothers, and Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil, and anyone else who would trade the life-supporting systems of the Earth for obscene profits.

This is a bad day for universities, holding on to their last investments in fossil fuels, insisting on their right to profit from death and extinction—even as their own scientists warn them, warn them that fossil fuels will carry us, smoking and stinking, to the end of life as we know it on this planet.

This is the last day for despair. It is the last day to say it’s too late, that there is nothing anyone can do. It is a day to awaken to the fact that we are not helpless at all, that we have the knowledge and the courage and the joyous communities it will take to make the great turning away from death and toward a reinvented life.

This is the last day for lies and excuses and delay. It is the last term in office for elected officials who will not or cannot protect the future. It is the last day that anyone can be silent about climate change.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

River Walkers

September 22, 2014, by Terry Tempest Williams

Nearly half a million people filled New York City’s streets yesterday as part of the People’s Climate March, an event some are calling America’s largest political protest in at least a decade. Orion contributing editor Terry Tempest Williams, who was in attendance along with climate activist Tim DeChristopher and fellow Orion contributor Rick Bass (pictured above), sent us this letter from the middle of it all.

They just kept coming in waves, in torrents, a river of people convening on the streets of New York City in the march for climate justice. They just kept coming, hundreds of thousands of individuals, indigenous, black, white, brown, yellow, and red, a rainbow of colors winding through the canyons of Manhattan.

This movement of climate justice is no longer segregated, is no longer privileged, is no longer young or old, or the radical fringe moving toward the center. Instead, this movement resides in the core of a collective concern: Earth has a fever. There is no Planet B. What we witnessed on Sunday, September 21, was 400,000 individuals standing in the center of this crisis with love.

At one o’clock, the River of the People’s March became quiet, silent in a haunting moment of stillness. And then, a rolling cry of care rose from the street with undulating momentum like an animated heat wave blown by the wind that electrified the crowd like thunder and lightening followed by a rain of voices.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

Wilderness at 50: Our Wild and Civil Rights

September 15, 2014, by Rue Mapp

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act. To celebrate, Orion is publishing special articles in print and online, including a multi-part series of personal perspectives on wilderness, the third of which is below. Orion is a sponsor of the National Wilderness Conference, to be held from October 15 – 19 in New Mexico; learn more about the conference here.

Conservationist and civil-rights activist Frank Peterman was in his twenties during the 1960s. He recalls a great and daily sense of urgency about civil-rights issues—an urgency that did not carry over to environmental concerns. For him, the March on Washington alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis was the era’s galvanizing event, one that called for equitable access to jobs and quality of life for blacks in America and an end to institutionally protected physical brutality.

“As a part of the NAACP effort to advance the Civil Rights Act, we did not discuss the Wilderness Act,” Peterman says, “and we were not invited to participate in their caucus.” Even though the momentum of each act was politically symbiotic, he says that those driving the wilderness-protection agenda might have deliberately avoided including African Americans. From his perspective, “the Wilderness Act was about protecting the wild, not people.”

It appears that the Wilderness and Civil Rights Acts did not share a public platform during the 1960s, and some believe an opportunity was missed that could have altered the course of both movements. Dr. Carolyn Finney, assistant professor at the University of California, was a young child during the ‘60s, and while she remembers few events of the era, like most African-American children of her generation she grew up with the movement’s tales and heroes evergreen on the family tongue. “Civil rights? Yes,” she says, “I always knew what that was about!”

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filed under: Wilderness at 50

Charles Bowden, 1945 - 2014

September 05, 2014, by Alan Weisman

In the last week Orion has lost two good friends, Ann Zwinger and Charles Bowden. Both of them influenced our thinking about nature and environment—albeit in very different ways.

Writing is a precarious way to make a living at best, and sometimes it gets just plain dumb. Among the dumbest things I ever heard was what a New York agent once said about author Charles Bowden, who died on August 30 from a yet-unidentified, sudden illness.

At the time of the aforementioned stupidity, I had known Bowden about six months. We’d met over the phone when mine rang in Prescott, Arizona, one morning soon after publication of my 1986 book La Frontera. “Weisman?” growled a basso profundo. “Chuck Bowden here. You know you just wrote the best goddam book about the border ever.” Steamrolling over my attempted thanks, for the next half hour he parsed my book in a stream of vocabulary so rich I felt incoherent by comparison.

At a symposium this summer in Alaska, Luis Alberto Urrea told me practically the identical story. His own call from Bowden awoke him at dawn; Chuck had stayed up all night reading Urrea’s 1993 book Across the Wire. But by then I’d heard it often. A dumbstruck young reporter named Luke Turf once described staggering from bed to see who was pounding on his door at 7:00 a.m. An outsized, rangy, sandy-haired guy in denim, his face craggy as a cliff, was waving Turf’s Tucson Citizen story about brutalized jailed illegal immigrants, yelling that he’d gotten it right. Turf, who’d just moved to town, had no idea how Bowden had found him.

The list goes on. And each of us felt not merely complimented, but anointed: One of the best around had just affirmed our worthiness as writers by acknowledging us as his colleagues. Which was why what Chuck told me that day in 1987 was so completely ridiculous.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Ann Haymond Zwinger, 1925 - 2014

September 04, 2014, by Gary Paul Nabhan

Ann Zwinger, whose writing appeared frequently in Orion, died this past weekend. Ann served on Orion’s board of directors from 1996 to 2003, and was awarded Orion’s John Hay Award in 1996.

I am sorry, but I cannot comment on Ann Haymond Zwinger unless I tell you how I met her and how she sent many of us on altogether new trajectories.

Imagine yourself a scruffy, somewhat lazy and spacy seventeen year old trying to make sense of the world at a time when the country is immersed in regrettable wars, when race riots are erupting on the streets, and when drugs and demons are plaguing your closest friends. That moment is now, but it also describes what was happening in the spring of 1970. I had dropped out of school to work for free at the Washington, DC, headquarters of the first Earth Day, but when I left the Capitol that spring, I felt sure the world was soon to end, due to war, contamination, and overpopulation. All I wanted to do was experience nature before its glory was further tarnished, so I joined seven friends who were driving to the newly established Canyonlands National Park, in Utah.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

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