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Make Way for Monarchs

March 21, 2014, by Gary Paul Nabhan

For much of the last two centuries, America’s farmers passionately pursued and diligently documented the variety of butterflies in their agricultural landscapes. They were also excellent stewards of monarchs and other butterfly species, some of which are now suffering dramatic declines. According to author and historian William Leach, many farmers even made room for them in their orchards, fields, pastures, and hedges:

Family farms…did perhaps more than any other landscape to convert Americans into butterfly lovers. Farms were distributed throughout the country, and while they sacrificed virgin forests and ecosystems in the short term, they contributed over the longer term to nature’s vitality. Their distinguishing features were not just plowed fields or barns or silos but also ponds, woodlots, hedgerows, stone walls, open fields along roadsides, and meadows by streams or riverbeds for grazing cattle, all created for human purposes but also serving as likely habitats and hideouts for animals.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

A Match Made in the Garden

March 19, 2014, by Emily Glaser

If you enjoyed “Letters from Two Gardens,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s and Ross Gay’s poetry collaboration in Orion’s January/February issue, we’ve got a great opportunity for you.

To celebrate National Poetry Month in April (just a few days away!), we’re announcing the inaugural Orion Poetry Exchange, open to all readers and friends of Orion. The theme for 2014 is “The Growing Season.”

How does it work?

If you can commit to writing three poetry exchanges between now and April 30, send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with:

Your name
Your location
Whether you prefer to collaborate via snail mail or digitally

Orion will pair you up and introduce you and your Poetry Exchange partner via e-mail. Please note that by signing up to participate, you give Orion permission to share your e-mail address with another reader (we promise not to give it to anyone else).

If you’d like your work to be featured on Orion’s blog and Facebook page, please send us a physical or digital copy of the poems by April 30, and we’ll post them online. After that, you’re free to continue collaborating.

To get matched up with a fellow poet, or if you have questions, please e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) by Friday, March 28. To get inspired, hear Aimee and Ross discuss their project and read the poems in “Letters from Two Gardens.”

Image via Weddle.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Concrete Progress: Invasive Infrastructure

March 17, 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 two-year Reimagining Infrastructure project.

The Pacific Ocean was violent this morning. Out across the bluffs from my house, the wind whipped in off Monterey Bay, and I saw a guy surfing waves taller than himself, in places I’ve never even seen waves big enough to ride. Down on the beach, even the gulls were cowed into silence. But the bluffs held firm, knitted together by mats of shiny green succulents. Iceplant, or Carpobrotus edulis, blankets beaches and roadsides up and down the entire California coast, from San Diego to Del Norte County. Now a standard part of life on the West Coast, not many know that these plants are, in fact, part of a long-ago plan for the state’s infrastructure, brought from overseas to protect against the wind and the weather, but now thoroughly out of control.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country

March 14, 2014, by Scott Temple

“Almost Heaven,” a photo by Carl Galie, which inspired “Limbo,” a poem by Joseph Bathanti.

Any Appalachian hiker who has risen early is a witness to the beauty of mountaintops that appear like islands in a world of fog. Photographer Carl Galie and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti have teamed up to celebrate those Appalachian mountaintops, the future of which is at risk from mountaintop-removal coal mining, a process used by the coal industry to uncover seams of coal that are not accessible by traditional mining techniques.

Galie comes from a coal mining background, but when he first witnessed the mountaintop-removal process, he was astounded. “I thought I knew what a strip mine looked like,” he says. “But these are strip mines on steroids.”

For the past three years, Galie has photographed and researched the mountaintop-removal process. His goal is to help educate the public about the need to preserve these threatened Appalachian peaks, and through his photography, he tells a story of land that has been pushed, carved, and redistributed.

Bathanti has written a series of fourteen poems inspired by Galie’s photographs, four of which are heard in the video below and read for the first time. He says his writings are “poetry of witness,” just as Galie’s works are “photography of witness.” The poems focus on the world’s details, such as flowers, black birds, and white picket fences, which become charged symbols in the face of floods and coal dust.

In the video below, Galie and Bathanti talk about mountaintop removal and their collaborative project. Please enjoy.
                                                        —Scott Temple, writer and videographer

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filed under: Letters from the Field

Dog-ear: Heat, Technobiophilia, All the Land to Hold Us

March 12, 2014, by Orion staff

Editors Hannah Fries and Andrew Blechman discuss 2013’s best books on nature, culture, and place.

Of the thousands of books published each year, a few hundred bring some element of the natural world into focus—and a handful of those manage to stir us into a deeper, more complex relationship with the animals, plants, and landscapes that make our lives both possible and rich.

Since 2007, Orion has given an annual award to a book that does this most profoundly, with four additional books named as finalists. Sifting through the hundreds of worthy contenders is a thrill, and this year, we’ll share the process with you in a new series called Dog-ear. What follows are short reports from Orion staff on some of their favorite Orion Book Award contenders—click through to read the first three, and stay tuned for more. In April, five books published in 2013 will be chosen as finalists for the 2014 Orion Book Award; one will win.

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filed under: Dog-ear

Introducing the March/April 2014 Issue

March 06, 2014, by Scott Gast

Here in rural New England, what remains of our forests tends to reside in the hard-to-reach places—the hillsides, the upland creek beds, the mountain hollows. These hidden places are also home to hemlock, the tree species that, perhaps more than any other, gives eastern forests their subtle magic. In the new issue of Orion, author Robert Sullivan gives the trees—which are currently under grave threat by an invasive insect—a fond farewell. Listen close, and you might hear them speak.

Also in the new issue is journalist Meera Subramanian’s report from the shores of New York City, where, two years after Hurricane Sandy battered its coasts, residents are looking to a surprising muse—nature—for clues to climate resilience.

From the Big Apple head to Alaska, where writer and biologist Eva Saulitis offers a meditation on death, life, and their larger continuity. Just don’t forget to read a few poems for the road.

Also on the web from this issue is the story of an inter-species roadside rescue effort, ten remedies for cabin fever, and a report from a theatrical event that’s making sure environmentalism includes everybody.

Finally—and we’d be remiss not to say it—we hope you’ll pick up a copy of Orion in print. That’s where you’ll find the lush images, beautiful design, and slow reading experience you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll also have the chance to read stories not available online, including Paul Kingsnorth’s meeting with mystery in the heart of a mountain, and the illustrative return of Walt Whitman.

Thanks, as always, for reading and supporting Orion. We hope you enjoy the March/April 2014 issue, and if you’d like to share a thought, 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

Concrete Progress: Working Together

March 04, 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 two-year Reimagining Infrastructure project.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should have become a technology billionaire, but then I think about the logistics. The commute to Silicon Valley from my home in Santa Cruz, California, would run like this: drive out through five traffic lights and up Highway 17 into the mountains. Slalom trucks as they slam through the vicious unbanked curves of the roller-coaster road. Accelerate hard, brake hard, sit in traffic, repeat. Park, shaking with fear and rage, and go to work. Do it again eight hours later, this time in the dark.

Each leg of the trip would burn a gallon of gas. When traffic is clear, it would take forty minutes—when traffic is bad, it could take two hours plus. Along with being horrid and expensive, my commute (16,000 miles a year!) would be carbon intensive. I took a little carbon footprint test to see how sustainable my programmer alter ego would be, and this commute is half—half!—of my climate impact. Bad for the soul, the wallet, and the environment.

After a couple years of that, I’d decide to work from home. (I am aware of the Google buses. But they share most of these problems and even offer some of their very own. Besides, most people don’t work for Google.)

At home, I’d wake up and be at work three steps later, alone, except for the new scanner I had to buy. It’s chilly and foggy in the morning—better keep the heat on. The fridge is right there. Mmmm…leftovers. I’d look at the clock. 10:24 a.m. I’d be heating the whole house, and I’d be the only one there. I could go to a coffee shop, but I don’t want to buy two lattes a day. I’d have to work at NextSpace.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

Sharpen Your Pencils! Orion Welcomes Submissions, March 1 - 15

March 01, 2014, by Scott Gast

Have writing that fits the pages of Orion? We’d be honored to take a look.

Beginning March 1, the magazine welcomes submissions of essays, short stories, and nonfiction that address the nexus of ecology and the human experience. The submission window opens at 9 a.m. Eastern on the first day of March, and closes at 5 p.m Eastern on March 15.

Click here to learn how to submit. And before shipping that dazzling piece of prose, be sure to take a look at our writer’s guidelines. They’re painless—we promise.

We look forward to reading!

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Orion’s New Mission

February 24, 2014, by Kathleen Dean Moore

We are bearing witness to unprecedented global environmental change. We are called to generate our most creative, thoughtful, and effective response. How will we manifest our hopes and aspirations? Where will we throw the weight of our dreams?

Like each of us, Orion is called to do its very best work for the sake of the future. But what exactly is that work, and how can it be done? Those are the questions the Orion board of directors set out to answer as we wrote the magazine’s new statement of mission.

Orion board member and Potawatomi elder, Robin Kimmerer, has written that if we want to know what our work is, we should ask, what is our gift? The salmon has the gift of rich red flesh, so its work is to feed the people, she says. The robin, with its gift of song, awakens the world.

What are Orion’s gifts? The community of Orion readers and writers, people of hope and conscience: that is the first great gift. A second gift is the gift of astonishing beauty—of the Earth and of its art and literature. The third gift is the challenge of dangerous times; although they seem to be more a curse than a gift, these times present the chance to think again about who we are and how we ought to live, we human beings, and thus the opportunity to participate in what will be the greatest exercise of the human imagination the world has ever seen. And there is this fourth and precious gift: through the magazine, a voice strong enough to be heard over rising winds.

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

The Pursuit of Shadows

February 20, 2014, by Dylan Walsh

For thirty years Yozo Itoh photographed the sky above Japan. In 1967, he published the results. “Mr. Itoh is not a professional meteorologist,” explains his book’s foreword, “but an earnest observer of clouds.” A write-up in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society affirmed this distinction, pointing out the scientific error in many captions. “We are uneasy about some unusual combinations of the Latin terminology,” notes the reviewer, indicating with some disappointment “cases of incorrect coding of the clouds.”

If clouds are coded, then British chemist Luke Howard originated the cipher. His 1803 “Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” begins: “Since the increased attention which has been given to Meteorology, the study of the various appearances of water suspended in the Atmosphere is become an interesting and even necessary branch of that pursuit.” In the essay, Howard proposes four general categories of cloud—cirrus, cumulus, stratus, nimbus—that remain foundational today.

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filed under: Letters from the Field

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