Preamble

Often, in the editorial of a magazine’s anniversary issue, the editors feel compelled to make breezy statements about how the magazine has changed since it was founded, or how it has stayed the same, or how the world has changed, or stayed the same. They strive to tie a tidy bow on the past and point the way clearly toward the future.

But for a magazine about the relationship between people and the natural world, there are no tidy bows, and the path forward isn’t at all certain. One thing that can be said with certainty is that at the time Orion was founded, thirty-five years ago, the environmental predicament that humanity faced was simpler, or at least seemed simpler. In those days, many people believed that damaged natural systems would be repaired, wildlands reclaimed, biological diversity retrieved, and that an equilibrium that had once existed between humans and nature would be restored. I did, and many people like me did.

Thirty-five years later, it’s hard to believe that a harmony between people and nature—whether that harmony was history, possibility, or fantasy—is going to be easily established (or reestablished). In fact, it’s much easier to believe that a peaceful equilibrium between people and nature is not part of the foreseeable future. That sounds terribly gloomy; not everything has gotten worse. More diverse communities are included in the conversation about the environment than was the case thirty-five years ago, which is likely the most hopeful change within the environmental movement, although there is still a long way to go before the movement can lay claim to true inclusivity. But under the present circumstances—whether it be the hardened scientific evidence of climate change or the fact that America is living under the most anti-environmental presidency in history—too much optimism would be not just foolish, but dangerously misleading.

How many times has it been declared that humanity and nature are at a crossroads, or something along those lines? Given what has transpired (or perhaps what has not transpired) in the last thirty-five years, the Anthropocene is going to be defined by the occurrence of one crossroads after another after another. It’s a permanent condition now. In spite of all the progressall the science and policy advancements, all the activism and the advent of sustainability, the greater diversity of voices and ideas, and all the words that have been written about the environment (including many hundreds of thousands in this magazine)—it has not been enough. What that means is that we will have to turn toward a future we can’t predict and may not understand over and over and over again, in light of new information, new circumstances, and new demands.

This special thirty-fifth anniversary issue of Orion seeks to illustrate the paths along which some people were traveling when they reached an internal turning pointa turning point at which they discovered they could no longer approach the world with the same understanding they had relied on, or could no longer lead the same lives they had been living. In the Anthropocene, we are all on paths that will include that moment, and many recurrences of that moment.

So now the question becomes, how do we get good at turning toward the future, no matter how uncertain it may be, and find the courage and resilience we will need to make good decisions at those moments? And it’s not just that. A safe, just, and abundant future will depend on billions of us reaching turning points at which we reconsider what we want the world to become. So how do we support one another’s turning points? How do we sustain ourselves, and each other? How do we love each other, even—or especially—those with whom we don’t agree, through the revolutions ahead

Chip has been Orion’s Editor-in-Chief since 2005, and also serves as the Executive Director of The Orion Society. Previously he was Editor-in-Chief of Milkweed Editions, and before that he served as Orion’s Managing Editor. Work he has edited has been acknowledged by the Pushcart Prize, the PEN Literary Award, the John Oakes Award, the Minnesota Book Award, the Oregon Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Bestseller List, Best American Essays, and the New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2016 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Environmental Sciences and Forestry Program of the State University of New York. A native of Philadelphia, he lives in Housatonic, Massachusetts.

Comments

  1. Turning points, Chip. Thank you for staying in the bow.

  2. Thank you for turning away from the doom-and-gloom (and judgmental) articles of 3-4 years ago, and reorienting the magazine to a more hopeful and optimistic format. We desperately need stories and ideas that show us how to move forward into the future in a way that exists in harmony with nature, something the environmental movement has been very poor at. When the larger structures in our lives are all dependent on fossil fuels, it is difficult as individuals to remain hopeful that we can right the ship, or that we will even be able to stay afloat once it goes under. You can help with that.
    Thanks for providing a light or two as we travel this dark path.

  3. Seems it now becomes a matter of how viable our species (and many others) may be in the future of our planet. Whether our species is a fascinating, seemingly failed experiment. No species could have gobbled up such an oversized portion of the planet’s resources – leaving too little for regeneration – without fouling its own nest. That a significant fraction of us – alas, that fraction with the highest impact – should choose to push ahead as before, arrogantly assuming we might outwit nature, shows how little we understand our place here. Nothing is forever, and we should understand that no matter how well we conserve and replenish what is required for our ongoing life here, we are visitors, tenants. But at least for our morale in the meantime (maybe millions more years) we might become evangelists for bending our will toward loving and honoring the planet that so graciously invited us here.

  4. Have experienced two turning points. One when resting with my 2 week old granddaughter on my chest and an earthquake of insight rolled over me. Some day she would similarly hold her grandchild, and some day her grandchild would hold her grandchild with the same overwhelming love. I was at that moment out 7 generations or more praying intensely for a decent world for them. Second I was planting Grand fir in my wood lot in full recognition that I would be long dead by the time of their maturity, by the time they contributed to ecological function. And I felt great about that, not at all sad. From those moments forward my life has centered on modest, local actions to protect and restore riparian habit. Perhaps determining that rather tight focus from among the broadest of possibility sets was the third turning point. doing what I can locally and doing it well despite the relative smallness of the actions.

  5. I for one am making a lot of wine and inviting others to join me. Each of us has to find ways to consume less and produce more, especially nutritious food. Anyone who has a big yard should covert most of it to native plants, and/or organic gardens. We can make a difference.

  6. I am glad to see the word LOVE — the catalyst for change that may bring about the change that is needed. Our notions of power need to change- we cannot supplant one form with another, equally onerous, even in the name of good, or better. We need a vision of oneness that also celebrates diversity, uniqueness – that which we depend upon in nature and that needs cultivation in humans. Thus an educational system that encourages difference not homogeneity, specialness and strengths not sameness and deficits. And, finally, can we come back to our own true selves, recognizing our own beauty and loving ourselves, because without that we cannot love or sustain “other”?When we are taught to know our own beauty then we can see it outside ourselves and maybe love and care for all of life in this beautiful planet . When we can see and be our own authentic expression of life right from the start with the first gaze from a loving being who welcomes us, we become the change we need. Yes, systems need to be changed. We are those systems and we are the change – the stories are terrible and deflating and cause despair. Let’s find whats right and build a picture of the world from that.

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