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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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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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Concrete Progress: Golden Lawns, Golden State

September 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 Kevin Cortopassi.

Michael Korte and Laura Whitney, of Glendora, California, became locally notorious environmentalists without even trying this July. California’s been bone-dry all year—no snow in the winter, no rain in the spring—and the couple decided to respect the drought and cut back to watering their lawn just twice a week. But the brownness of that lawn offended a neighbor, so the city of Glendora, thirty miles east of LA, sent them a letter reminding them that appearances are important and that they might be subject to fines of up to $500.

Now, California is pretty arid most of the time—that’s why people move here—but this has been absurd. California’s water system depends on the Sierra Nevada, a 400-mile-long, 8,000-foot-high wall that catches Pacific storms in the form of winter snow and provides the state with something to drink when that snow melts. But in 2014, the storms didn’t come. The Sierra’s final snowpack was 18 percent of the usual, and the coastal cities did no better: northern California’s rivers failed to reach the ocean for most of the winter, while southern California got summer-style fires in winter. Last year was the driest year in recorded history in many parts of the state; I expect this year to beat it.

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filed under: Concrete Progress

Orion Welcomes Submissions, September 1 - 15

August 28, 2014, by Orion staff

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

Beginning September 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 on the first day of September, and closes at 5 p.m Eastern on September 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.

We look forward to reading!

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filed under: Orion Noteworthy

Wilderness at 50: Love in the Great Gulf

August 26, 2014, by Rebecca Oreskes

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act. To celebrate, Orion will publish special articles in print and online, including a multi-part series of personal perspectives on wilderness, the second 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.

I took a walk in New Hampshire’s Great Gulf wilderness this spring. At just over 5,000 acres, it’s small by some standards, a glacial cirque surrounded by the Presidential Range. Unlike many wildernesses in the eastern United States, it was designated back in 1964, under the original Wilderness Act. There’s a heavily used trail through the middle of it, along the banks of the West Branch of the Peabody River, which roars with spring rain. The trail rises slowly at first, and then seems to go straight up the Great Gulf Headwall to the flank of Mt. Washington. But I stayed low, watching the emerging flowers. The hobblebush was in bloom; the painted and red trilliums had come up. The yellow violets and the Canada mayflowers were all there after a long winter. The softwoods dripped from days of rain, the moss practically oozed. I wondered how many people had relished this beauty in the last fifty years.

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Sounds from Alaska: Seaside Wolf

August 19, 2014, by Hank Lentfer

Photo courtesy of Richard Nelson.

Breakfast on the beach at 3:30 a.m. High gray clouds, calm silver sea. My recording partner, Richard Nelson, and I stashed the electronics in the kayaks and were on the water by 4 a.m. We wished each other good luck and paddled in separate directions to chase the morning’s sounds. I drifted through a group of harbor seals, recording a few gruff growls, marbled murrelets whistling in the background.

On shore, I set up the mics along a little stream, the songs from a grey-cheeked thrush and a yellow warbler mixing with the bubbling pop of the creek. On the paddle back to camp, a porpoise rolled past my bow, the sharp quick puff of breath loud in the headphones. 

It was a great morning of recording by any measure—but nothing like the sounds that had filled Nels’s ears. Over second breakfast, a mid-morning breeze tickling the sea, Nels tells the story of a wolf right there in the beach grass, unconcerned with his nearby kayak. The wolf glanced casually at the boat, turned around once, lay down, lifted its snout to the sky and cut loose.  That close to a howling wolf, it takes great concentration to keep your excitement from rattling the hand-held microphone. But Nels pulled it off. Here’s a piece of that magical morning. 

Thanks to the wolf (and Nels) for sharing. Check out more of Nels’s recordings here.

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

Wilderness at 50: The Mountains Are Empty

August 14, 2014, by Mary Emerick

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act. To celebrate, Orion will publish special articles in print and online, including a multi-part series of personal perspectives on wilderness, the first 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.

I was born in 1964, the year the Wilderness Act was signed. As a result, maybe, I’ve always felt a sense of ownership, or at least association. I grew up near wilderness, balancing in canoe seats at five years old, carrying a backpack the immense distance of one mile. As a ranger, twenty-five-years old and under-fueled by a diet of Pop-Tarts and Snickers, I charged up trails looking hard for outlaws. I cleared the downfall of thick-waisted trees, chopping for hours with a double-bit axe. If there was another tent at the lake I came to at day’s end, I moved on to the next lake. I didn’t want to share.

I wanted wilderness all to myself, and I had earned it, I thought, by virtue of the trash I carried out, my backpack sometimes swelling to ninety pounds on the last day of a hitch. I hoped that people, with their propensity for littering and pooping indiscriminately, would stay away and quit messing things up. Wilderness was a twin sister I had to protect with a ranger’s shovel and ticket book, and I went to sleep enraged by the sight of trenches dug near tents and branches hacked off at eye-level, a sort of human browse line.

But that was years ago. Where I live now, the mountains are empty. The trails, unused, are covered over by tall grasses. Everyone stays home, enraptured by their gadgets, people my age declaring they’re too old to sleep on the ground.

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Concrete Progress: Old York City

August 11, 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. Photograph by Nicolas Vollmer.

In the beginning, New York City was a wilderness. The Hudson River flowed in from the forested Adirondacks to the little archipelago where Long Island meets the east coast, the spruce-cloaked hills rose on Manhattan Island, and beaver worked their way through the swampy bottoms. According to landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson (from an excellent article in National Geographic a few years ago), this confluence of ecosystems was incredibly bio-diverse. It was the kind of place that, had history unfolded differently, might be a national park today.

But of course, history didn’t go that way—the Dutch bought Manhattan, the city boomed, the immigrant ships poured in, and, eventually, despite the landscape’s natural productivity, New York outgrew its food supply and had to ship in its sustenance by train. The trains were hazardous to pedestrians, though, and in the early 1930s, the city decided to build an elevated track, thirty feet above the streets of Chelsea, in Manhattan. It was called the High Line.

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In the Magazine: Douglas Haynes on the Mercado Oriental

July 31, 2014, by Scott Gast

The special section of the May/June-July/August double issue of Orion begins with “Mango, Mango!,” a report from the Mercado Oriental, Central America’s largest marketplace. We put a few questions to the author, Douglas Haynes, who spent a day with Dayani Baldelomar, an eleven-year veteran of the market. She’s featured in the video below.

The Oriental is located in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital and a city that’s experienced a series of physical devastations over the last century. Can you tell us more about its history?

I think Managua prefigures a number of global trends that will define the increasingly urban human future. The first is rural-to-urban migration. Managua’s population has sextupled over the last fifty years to more than 1.2 million people. Managua is also one of only ten cities in the world that face high risk of more than three kinds of disasters, according to the United Nations. Earthquakes, storms, and floods have vanished entire neighborhoods and hollowed out the city’s historic center. On top of these physical transformations, the city’s people have suffered a series of economic crises: a U.S. embargo in the 1980s, government austerity forced by the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank in the 1990s, and, more recently, skyrocketing food prices.

So as jobs disappeared, the cost of living rose, and migrants flooded into Managua from the impoverished countryside, many families turned to selling whatever they could where the most customers were: in the Mercado Oriental. The crowds in turn drew wholesale retailers from all over the region. The result is not just one of the biggest markets in all of Latin America; it’s a city within a city, a microcosm of what’s both vital and dysfunctional about Managua.

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filed under: In the Magazine

Concrete Progress: Pedal People

July 28, 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 photo by Samuel Belmonte.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP RUMBLErumblerumblerumble thud CRASH!

That’s the sound of my Thursday mornings. It’s trash day in the Lowbright neighborhood, and the garbage trucks roar through the street at the perky hour of 5:45 a.m. I am grateful for this service, of course, but it does seem like a bit of a noisy, annoying, resource-intensive way to move our waste. After six years in Santa Cruz, I had resigned myself to this as part of life—like the barking of the sea lions—until I heard about Pedal People.

Pedal People is a worker-owned co-op that bike-hauls trash, groceries, CSA farm shares, compost, domestic cats, solar panels, Christmas trees, and anything else that needs moving in and around Northampton, Massachusetts. The bikes let them do this with minimal pollution, noise, or carbon emissions, and at a cost reasonable enough that the city contracts with them instead of with a traditional diesel-run trash company. It’s the lowest-impact hauling service to hit New England since the Ox-Cart Man.

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