Orion Blog

Views on a Pandemic

This essay is a follow-up to the author’s “Views of the Apocalypse,” a feature in the Winter 2019 issue.

 

CRISES LIKE STORMS, OR HEARTBREAK, OR ILLNESS, have a way of invoking every previous episode suffered. A hurricane is not a divorce, and being broke is not a lethal pandemic, but I do notice that I seem to marshal the same handful of survival strategies no matter the crisis I am faced with. Some of these strategies are useful: stock up, make a plan, contact allies. Some, decidedly not so: sleep all day, crack a few foamers, binge watch television. Other strategies—those that drew on a reservoir of formative torment, useful to the child, but pathological over the lifespan and so mitigated as symptoms—all of a sudden they’re relevant again. I’m talking here about hyper-vigilance, avoidance of others, bouts of excessive hand washing. It is an odd byproduct of this pandemic, that for many of us, the compulsions we’ve worked so diligently to resist are now not only recommended by the CDC—they may, in fact, save one’s life from a painful and precipitous demise. The little banished voice inside, the one who always knew it would be so, is justified, set free from her confinement and given free reign. They say you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I guess we’ll find out.

When I was a kid, the household bills would accumulate on the kitchen table; the envelopes arriving white at first, then stamped in red with words like Urgent, and Final Notice, and finally: FINAL FINAL NOTICE. I knew it was only a matter of time before I came home from school to find the electricity was cut, but we’d been given so much advanced warning that the dawning of the long promised event came almost as a relief. Once the electricity was off, there was nothing to anticipate. You dug out the candles, put on a sweater, and went on about your life. Provided you were able to screen the stress and fear of your caregiver, it could even be a little bit fun. Like camping.

For me, the anticipation of future hardship was always more fraught than the getting through.

As a teenager I became obsessed with the collapse of civilization, dropped out of high school, and ran away to wilderness survival school. For several years, all I could think or talk about was the end of the world, and I was in good company. The adrenalized expectation of apocalypse imparted its own nerve-fraying pleasure, a bit like the half-life of an amphetamine. Then, one day, it was suggested to me that the collapse was not imminent, but may have already happened, or else was well underway—and the spell was broken. A question took its place, something akin to everyone’s favorite Mary Oliver. So the world ended, or is ending, or will end: what will you do with your one precious life? Writing gave the most joy so I leaned toward it, away from my fear, and my one precious life became more livable.

In “Views of the Apocalypse” I describe the ambivalence my husband and I felt about having a baby, the ethical quandaries: weighing in one hand our desire for a child, and in the other, our fear of the future the child would inherit. Actually, “Views of the Apocalypse” was the editor’s title. Mine was “Notes on a Precipice.” The word views evokes multiple options, a fork in the yellow wood, whereas a precipice denotes a steep descent, a headlong irrevocable fall. You can view a precipice however you like, but once you step off of it, the path is singular. Falling ill, falling pregnant, initiating certain runaway climactic feedback loops—these are trajectories that cannot be rewound, only negotiated as they unfold.

My husband and I wondered, and feared, and debated. Then I was pregnant, and as is the case with many intellectual exercises coming into contact with corporeal reality: our ambivalence vanished. There was only the animal fact of the child growing inside of me. A fact less composed of fear than of joy.

 

 

Photo: Camille Seaman
 

I WRITE TO YOU NOW from my home in Seattle, former ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic, on the fifty-fifth day of our isolation. I write to you nine months pregnant, from the attic bedroom where I fatten on dates meant to hasten the child’s arrival, perhaps upon this very bed. It is a rather Victorian confinement, subplot of the quarantine that is pregnancy itself. Friends and acquaintances reach out to say they are sorry, that it must be difficult to be expecting during this time. And it’s true that contracting the illness is somewhat more complicated for me. Mainly I fear getting sick enough to need a ventilator and an emergency cesarean. Mainly my fear is not being able to hold and kiss my baby when he’s born. Otherwise, my days don’t look all that different from my life before. I’m a writer who mostly works from home, accustomed to long stretches of shut-in solitude, (though, judging by recent layoffs and emergency GoFundMe campaigns among the venues I depend on for payment: this will not be my job for long). I still manage to waddle out for my daily stroll. Pandemic may be, I dare say, the single real-world situation for which I am uniquely well equipped.

We entered isolation on the twenty-ninth of February. That day, the first U.S. death from Covid-19 was reported in our county. The first confirmed New York case would be reported the following day. It was early, but we’d been reading the news from abroad, and it seemed King County was tracking a week behind Italy, where videos of hospital hallways crammed with the unconscious and prone, hooked to ventilators, could scare the bejeezus out of even the most dismissive of viewers. We wondered if we were overreacting, but within a few days those around us began to do the same. Schools closures started the following week.

We were twenty-five days into isolation before we breached the bubble of our house to keep an appointment with the midwives—the same day our state’s stay at home order went into effect. At the appointment, I made an offhand comment about the baby seeming quieter in recent days. This triggered use of a monitor, which indicated that the baby was not responding as actively as he should and, more alarming, detected decelerations in his heart rate. We were sent directly to the University of Washington Medical Center for advanced monitoring, ground zero of our ground zero, the belly of the beast as far as we were concerned. This was the first time since the pandemic began that I felt truly scared. But once we arrived at the hospital, I could see it was nothing like I’d feared. The halls were not crowded. Most people were masked and distanced. Our temperatures were taken at the front entrance, and we were checked again for symptoms before being buzzed into Labor and Delivery.

Unsurprisingly, some were impatient with these screenings, thinking them overkill. Just as, today, a few thousand people impatient with plague-mitigation swap the spray of their unmuzzled rebel yells in the town square. I think of an interview I read in the early days of the pandemic, with a father-daughter team of epidemiologists who noted that, if we responded correctly, it would one day look like we’d overreacted. This called to mind many other contexts in which scientists are slandered as “alarmist” and dismissed to protect the political and material fortunes of the few.

In the end, it turned out our baby was fine. The moment they slapped on the monitors he commenced a two-hour gymnastics routine. But I was grateful for the experience, to dive headlong into my fear and find it not so fearful afterall. I felt we’d been afforded a view of a best possible outcome, how chaos becomes manageable when people heed the warnings of experts and prioritize the common good. Among our many fortunes: we live in a state governed by Jay Inslee, a person who could look out beyond the bluff of his political fortunes and see the abyss we were speeding toward. That such prudence was exercised by the “climate change” candidate should come as no surprise.

 

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JUST AS OUR AMBIVALENCE was vanquished by the animal fact of the child, and in spite of all abstract apocalyptic prophesy, having a baby in a global pandemic doesn’t scare me all that much. Perhaps it should. In a way it’s more in-keeping with the realities of my progenitors than the relative calm and abundance of recent years. My paternal grandmother survived the Great Depression grunting on a tenant farm, then proceeded to have seven babies in quick succession without two nickels to rub together. Babies are born in famines and wars, in the backs of taxis, in the bathrooms of high school gymnasiums during prom, in fields between rows of corn. The stark and comforting fact of it all is that life keeps coming. And this pestilence, like it or not, is a part of life, no less or more an expression of that fundamental will to propagate and survive.

Pandemic, like any storm, reunites us with the limits of our control. I can put a sign on the door announcing our isolation, order groceries online, wear a mask when I venture out for a walk, but I have no control over the actions of others, or global supply chains. The embrace of the virus is far more ardent than my attempts to rebuke it. It could attach to the packages of groceries, I’m told, or to the wake of the heavy breathing jogger on the path ahead. Similarly, I can skip the booze and soft cheese, take prenatal vitamins and avoid deadlifting the couch, but I can no more control my baby’s final outcome than I can will the atomic assemblage of his earlobe or fingernail.

The line between birth and death has always been a razor’s edge. When the child finally arrives (God willing), I don’t know that any of our family or friends will be able to meet him. I don’t know if we will have teaching jobs in the fall. But I’ve planted food in a raised bed and charged a backcountry water filter to the credit card, and notice my baseline anxiety ebb with each intervention. In a way, actual crisis is easier to negotiate than those phantom-crises I daily concoct in my mind. I suppose some would say this too is a part of my pathology, to experience daily life as a low-grade threat, while my nervous system calms in a disaster. But I don’t think I’m alone. Crises help us to lay down petty grievances and reorient once more to what matters. Crises impart a sense of purpose, what many of us starve for day-to-day. There will always be a few self-serving predators in our midst, but contrary to the grim and somewhat priapic fantasies of screenwriters, it’s my experience that most people do not automatically turn into murderous gas-siphoning cannibals at the first sign of trouble. More often, I witness the opposite: the drawing together of fellows in mutual aid.

The requirement of social distance, though necessary, strikes me as the greatest perversity. Our inability to draw physically close is the shadow epidemic, and has already claimed many lives. Domestic abuse is on the rise worldwide, and relapses among the recovering who depend on AA and other social programs to stay sober. Others who’ve survived by a spider’s thread of community support find themselves more alone than they’ve ever been. Some are dying by suicide. And for their survivors, no human arms wait to catch them as they fall. I know of no other way to view this than as a tragedy.

Though one might also note, in a more general sense, we weren’t so close lately anyway. All the distractions of recent years—the political shit-show, our rigid dogmas, the 24/7 workaday grind, our hypnotic dependence on screens—were taking us away from one another, long before this virus arrived. My hope is that our forced distance brings us closer together in the end. In fact, I suspect, this is already happening. One friend confesses guilty pleasure in having so much time with his twelve-month-old daughter, who’d by necessity been spending most of her hours in daycare. Never before have so many people checked in to see how I’m doing, if I need anything dropped off from the store. My friends’ foremost fantasies for when “all of this is over” do not revolve around international travel or mall-shopping, but hugging and high-fives, (and okay, getting a decent haircut).

I’ve not yet lost someone close to Covid. I’ve not been made to wear the same suffocating N-95 all day whilst tending the critically ill, or labored in a mask alone in the maternity ward (knock wood). It’s easy to speak of silver linings when you’ve been spared the greatest suffering. But the fact remains that my particular view of the world at the moment includes three bald eagles, intermittent visitors who’ve become locals in recent weeks. I’m meeting, at a distance, neighbors I didn’t know I had. Where have they been all this time? I wonder. Then I remember: they’ve been at a job, inside one of a thousand anonymous office buildings, enduring another kind of devastation.

Right now, undoubtedly, someone is terrified about making the rent. Or watching their nearly achieved lifelong dream of opening a restaurant evaporate. Or dying alone; drowning alive inside their own lungs. Meanwhile, my neighbors put up community gardens in their front lawns, and in the evenings, come out of their isolation to play fiddle, or guitar, or to bang pots and pans in honor of essential workers. A friend who’s lived in Berkeley all her life reports seeing, for the first time, the ocean beyond the bay.

There will always be those who’d like us to pledge allegiance to one view of events over another: ruinous nerve-flaying calamity, or Pollyannaish bright-siding. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and am suspicious of either/or propositions besides. I’ve decided the best I can do by this moment, or in any future storm, is to witness the situation in its complication, inasmuch as I’m able. To allow my fears of imagined catastrophe collide with corporeal reality and to feel, simultaneously, delight when it arrives. None can predict the final outcome. None of us knows where this will lead. As always, the world is ripe with threat and possibility. O


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Young Readers Ask: Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race
Lara Prior-Palmer
Catapult, 2019. $25, 288 pages. Now available in paperback, $16.95

 

Young Readers Ask is an Orion web series where young readers interview authors about books. This is our third installment.

From the publisher: “At the age of nineteen, Lara Prior-Palmer discovered a website devoted to the ‘world’s longest, toughest horse race’ — an annual competition of endurance and skill that involves dozens of riders racing a series of twenty-five wild ponies across 1,000 kilometers of Mongolian grassland. On a whim, she decided to enter the race.” As she boarded a plane to East Asia, she was utterly unprepared for what awaited her. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race (Catapult) is Prior-Palmer’s tale not just about the race, but about her journey there and back.

 

  The Author: Lara Prior-Palmer

Lara Prior-Palmer was born in London in 1994. She studied conceptual history and Persian at Stanford University. In 2013, she competed in the 1,000-kilometer Mongol Derby in Mongolia and became the first woman to win the race, and the youngest person ever to finish. Rough Magic is her first book.
  The Interviewer: Isabel Guerrero (age 11.5. “I will be 12 in October”) 

Isabel lives in New York City with her parents and younger sister. She’s in the sixth grade and plays competitive soccer. She is a defensive midfielder. Isa’s mother is the author Amy Brill, whose first novel, The Movement of Stars, was published by Riverhead Books in 2013. 


Isa Guerrero: Okay, what did your parents say when you told them that you were entering the world’s toughest horse race, on the other side of the world, on a whim?

Lara Prior-Palmer: My mother seemed quietly joyful and my father shouted at her for encouraging me. Neither of them was able to influence me, though. I followed my heart.

What did you wear during the Derby?

The really stretchy blue Lyrca jodhpurs, plus padded shorts, knickers, long socks, two pairs of chaps, a helmet, a t-shirt, a denim vest from eBay, and a rain jacket in my backpack. That’s it. 

What is the least amount of time anyone has ever taken to complete the Mongol Derby?

It’s hard to measure because the course length is different every year, and the race isn’t taken so seriously that people are keeping track of such statistics. I do remember Richard Dunwoody, the photographer, commenting on how quickly I was going, as though he hadn’t seen that in past years.

You seemed to eat mutton a lot at the gers (read: yurts). What did it taste like? Was it good?

Hard to say. It had a deep, rich taste. I’m a vegan now, but I think I would eat it again if I returned to Mongolia, out of courtesy to anyone kind enough to offer me food. I stopped eating meat when I came to California for college in 2014. It just didn’t seem necessary, and it seemed weird that my relationship with horses had run alongside my willingness to eat farmed meat before that.

After I’d been treated for cancer, I realized I was coughing up phlegm in reaction to dairy. I was also learning more about the large-scale chicken and milk industries, and I just decided that, unless I were to kill the animal, or milk it with my own hands, I was not going to eat it. We don’t tend to think about where our meat or dairy comes from, or how exactly the animal is living, or what day it died. We watch documentaries, perhaps, but then we forget about them. On the Mongolian steppe, however, people tended to have a closer relationship with the animals they were eating.

Were you ever nervous about sleeping in these random gers? 

I wasn’t nervous. I was clueless. I thought there would be no one around to stay with and that I’d have to sleep tied to my pony. Which I was more excited than nervous about. But I found a fine line between these two emotions. I think they might be the same thing.

 

Photo: Richard Dunwoody
 

Was your first animal a donkey or a pony? 

Actually it was a hamster! I had begged for years for a hamster. My mother was not keen, even though she had hamsters growing up. Eventually she surprised me — she never did surprises — by getting me one for my birthday. Hammy. Hammy escaped once and was found a week later in the chimney place with a blackened nose. She died two-and-a-half years later, buried in the long grass with many tears in her memory.

What’s with the Winnie-the-Pooh thing in the book? Was that just the only notebook you had on hand or do you have a special feeling for Pooh?

Oh, that’s a brilliant question. You made me sigh! So my mother has a special feeling for Pooh. I remember, growing up, her narrating Pooh and the other characters with such precise tones. I used to like Tigger a lot, but I don’t think I was that enamored with Pooh—I didn’t really get his existential honey-eating crisis when I was younger. 

Tigger had boundless energy and I loved that — the way he could keep on bouncing. It gave me energy just to watch. I guess I was also very sporty, and Tigger represented the energy sports both asks for and cultivates more of (the more sport I did, the more energy I felt I had access to).

Did you find a new voice in yourself when writing this book ?

Yes! What a question. That’s one of the things the book gave me. Not just a new voice but the chance to discover many new voices, and realize I was not a single, fixed personality. For example, there’s that nineteen-year-old voice of energy and naïveté, and then the slightly wiser voice that questions, or slows, the charge of the nineteen-year-old, and the more lyrical, poetic voices that like to bask in the beauty of sentences themselves. There’s also the emotionally frank and bald voice (e.g. the bit about Aunt Lucinda’s boob getting bitten — “she was cross. I felt bad.” — not a way I’d ever have written as a teenager, when I was too shy). And I bet you can find more voices in the book which I haven’t mentioned.

Did you choose to jump around in time in the book, or did it just come out that way?

It sort of evolved to be like that. Originally, it was written totally chronologically, from the beginning of the race to the end. Then I tried to summon other threads into the narrative — from childhood, philosophy, etc.

You seem to mention Genghis Khan a lot, but was he good or bad?

My brother Harold has had this quote on his Instagram for years: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It’s Hamlet. I hope that answers your question?

I think so, yeah. So would you ever do the Derby again?

If I could afford to enter! I managed to get a rather large discount when I entered in 2013.

How has your life changed since the Derby? Has it changed?

Yes, it has changed, as life is always changing, but the Derby hasn’t necessarily caused any change. Certainly there was a release of energy after it, of a certain faith in being alive in this world, knowing that space and time — of the race and my experience of it — now existed.

What is one thing about you that would surprise people to know?

Hmm. It might be possibly surprising that I am more scared of bicycles than horses. Not very hard because I’m not scared of horses.

What’s the best story that you had to leave out of the book?
Haha. Well, I left it out for a reason, didn’t I…

 

Kerri Arsenault, Orion reviews editor, curates Young Readers Ask. Have an idea for this column? Contact us.

 

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Mother’s Day: Three Staff Picks

For nearly forty years, Orion has curated some of the best writing and photography about the relationship between people and nature. This Mother’s Day, Orion staff selected three of our most memorable pieces about motherhood, about the strength and compassion, the joy and fatigue and courage sustained by all mothers of the world.

 

  “Fear Itself” by Melanie Challenger
Autumn 2018

“I don’t believe I was truly fearful until I became a mother, which was seven years ago now. There is experiencing fear for yourself, which is really an acute category of loneliness, when you become suddenly aware of your vulnerability and of your entrapment in your single, unique body. Then there is fear for your children, which, loosed from the confines of one body to worry about, magnifies and outstretches both time and specifics. I suspect that many parents are towed by an invisible thread of fear for their children pretty much their whole lives.” Read the full article. 
     
    “The Art of Waiting” by Belle Boggs
January/February 2012

“Near the river, where the song is louder, their discarded larval shells — translucent amber bodies, weightless and eerie — crunch underfoot on my daily walks. Across the river, in a nest constructed near the top of a tall, spindly pine, bald eagles take turns caring for two new eaglets. Baby turtles, baby snakes, and ducklings appear on the water. Under my parents’ porch, three feral cats give birth in quick succession. And on the news, a miracle pregnancy: Jamani, an eleven-year-old female gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo, is expecting, the first gorilla pregnancy there in twenty-two years.” Read the full article.
     
    “Seeking Resemblance” by Jill Sisson Quinn

May/June 2017 – (Available as a Daily Download.) “When I take the dog out to do her business, my one-year-old son points to our barn, which houses an antique tractor, and repeats in a soprano voice, rolling the r as if this is the only way he can squeak it out, ‘Carrr! Carrr! Carrr!’ It is his first word, a general term he uses for anything with wheels (a hose reel, the high chair) and anything that sounds like a car (an airplane, a strong wind). I’d hoped for something more natural — ‘tree’ or ‘sun’ or ‘flower’ — or, of course, ‘momma,’ having waited years for the role, my husband and I finally choosing to adopt in our late thirties. But ‘car’ it is. I carry him toward the barn.” 


Give your mother the gift of an Orion subscription today. 

 

 

On Morel Grounds

MOREL MUSHROOMS ARE WILD FUNGI surrounded by lore and secrecy. Ask a forager to reveal their favorite morel spots and they’ll probably chuckle at the sheer audacity of your question. Rookie mistake. In some mushroom-enthusiast circles, questioning a new acquaintance about their morel territory is like questioning a friend about their favorite sex position: it’s intimate information that may surface after slowly building interpersonal rapport, but usually only in some mutually damning, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” exchange.

In line with this culture of confidentiality, I won’t divulge where I went searching for these mushrooms on a mid-April morning last year. I had never eaten a morel, hadn’t even seen one in the flesh, but I was intrigued by the sparkle that shone in the eyes of those who had.

People describe these mushrooms as tasting meaty yet delicate, earthy yet saline. Veteran foragers who’ve seen both bare years and bumper crops call morels elusive, capricious, and finicky. Leaving empty-handed was a realistic possibility.

I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my pocketknife, and found the trailhead. I shuffled at half-speed while crooking my neck downward to survey the ground flanking the wooded path. After twenty minutes, I paused to second-guess my approach. Technically, all dirt-dwelling mushrooms are low-hanging fruit, but any morels that had popped up trailside were especially likely to have been harvested already. These gourmet nuggets sell for over eighty dollars per pound when fresh—that’s ten times pricier than your standard cremini. I gazed into the untamed boscage and figured better odds awaited off-trail.

While trudging into untracked territory, my eyes scanned the detritus for a fungal cap. Morels here in the mid-Atlantic region vary in color, from blonde to brunette to gray, the same palette as the forest’s carpet of seed pods, sticks, and dead leaves. My retinas worked overtime, living some organic version of Where’s Waldo. This continuous eagle-eye focus left no room in my mind for even a thread of tangential thought.

Less than ten minutes after leaving the trail, it happened. I spotted a ridged auburn nub on the ground. I gasped to nobody and squatted to shroom level. My hands cleared away the surrounding leaves, and my pocketknife sliced the fungus free at its beige-colored base. The whole affair was maybe an inch long. I cut it lengthwise and peeled the two halves open like a locket to discover that the mushroom was hollow. Good. This is a key characteristic for identification; the morel’s toxic lookalike, the false morel, is filled with white, wispy fuzz.

All the other recognition tips I’d studied were colliding with adrenaline inside my mind—stem connected to the veil in the proper place; cap’s pits and ridges looked right. Feeling confident enough, I stored the specimen in a plastic container I’d brought. This is probably the closest an herbivore would ever get to the feeling of a successful hunt, I thought. I continued, electrified.

Seven more morels appeared over the next three hours. I meandered back to where the car was parked, and despite having added a few mushrooms to my backpack, I felt lighter. The time spent immersed in the forest floor patchwork had given my brain a chance to wring itself free of the thoughts that often saturate my consciousness. It was the mental version of tidying a long-neglected room and then looking around and thinking, was there really this much space in here all along?

Later, in my kitchen, I floated my findings in water to dislodge any dirt or insects lingering in the mushrooms’ crevices. I lined the fungi up on a wooden cutting board by size and double-checked their identity, but mostly I just pondered the strangeness of their honeycomb-like exterior. The longer I stared into the caps’ bizarre undulations, the more I became convinced that morels were dreamt up by Smurfs. I imagined a Smurf council meeting underground annually as winter breaks, voting on where to send their floor-fruits that year. Scientists would tell you that specific temperature and moisture conditions trigger morels to surface, but I stand by Smurf theory.

Finally, I coated my morels with flour, sautéed them with butter, sprinkled them with salt. You could complete your own foray in the time it would take me to fully describe the flavor. Neither the wild taste nor the foraging experience were for sale at the handful of supermarkets within walking distance of my apartment in the city. My forest-to-table experience was rewarding and I’ll search again next year. But sorry, I’m still not saying where. O

 

Annie Greene is a science writer based in Washington, D.C.

 

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Spotlight GIVE: Bob Nugent

Spotlight GIVE is a web series highlighting some of the people who make Orion possible through their donations.

 

Name: Bob Nugent
Hometown: Healdsburg, California
Reader Since: 2004

 

Bob Nugent is a long-time subscriber and supporter of Orion. He is an artist from Northern California and has taught painting and drawing for thirty-four years, mostly at Sonoma State University, where he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2005. Bob has held over 120 solo exhibitions and has been included in 650+ group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America. A primary focus of his work centers on Indigenous peoples of Brazil’s Amazon Basin, a region he’s been building a relationship with since 1984.

We visited him at his art studio in Healdsburg, California, for an afternoon conversation over tea and paint fumes.

 

Do you remember your first interaction with Orion?

In the early 2000s, I had a job working with different artists to design wine labels, and Mary Frank was one of the artists. She would occasionally send me updates on what she was up to. One day, she said, hey Bob, check it out. I’m in this magazine called Orion. Her artwork had been selected for a 2004 piece by Terry Tempest Williams. So I checked it out, started reading it, and that was that. I became a subscriber and have remained one ever since.

What attracted you to the magazine?

I love the magazine because I respect the writers who are in it. I hear stories and learn about things without being preached to, and that’s very important to me. I’ll take in the information and listen to everybody but I want to make my own decisions.

Also, it’s presented so nicely. Sort of like getting a gift each time. It comes and it sits by my table, in this room with a television and fireplace—we call this room the “snug.” You know what snugs are right? Like the cozy nooks of England and Ireland. That’s how I feel about Orion. It’s like my snug. There’s no other magazine quite like it.

Now I’m not a big novel kinda guy. I read a lot of magazine articles. I read two newspapers, front to back, every morning. I get distracted too often to read a novel. My wife, Lynda, was an English major and art major. One of our daughters has a Master’s in English literature. So I bought her a subscription, and now she gets it all the time.  

 

“When I contribute to something, I like to see results.
With Orion, everything aligns with my feelings and my ethics…that’s why I give.” 

Tell us how you became an Orion donor.

Well, I never had a lot of money, but there are certain things I want to see continue, and Orion is one of them. If I can help that and keep the ads out of it, then great. I never think my contributions are very large; I never think about that.  

When I contribute to something, I like to see results. That’s why I don’t give to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. It irritates me that the guy running the Red Cross makes a million bucks a year.

With Orion, everything aligns with my feelings. My ethics. I don’t even know that much about the magazine’s inner workings, but I just have a feeling that’s the way it’s going, that’s the way it’s handled. And I like that. So that’s why I give. 

How does Orion influence your own artwork? Or does it?

Orion reinforces my ideas about the way things should happen, so I like to support it because writing is not something I would normally go out and do. I don’t know enough about all the things I read to be able to promote it or talk about something like that. Really, I can only explain my own work, and my work is about the beauty of the Amazon, or, more recently, about the destruction of the Amazon. It’s become that way now.

As for my work, I just know this is something I have to do. I work with the material that I have. There’s always new material to feed on. Always. I don’t particularly understand it all. But that’s why I like it. I learn things, I get feedback. I don’t feed the mainstream in paintings.

 

 

You’ve been reading Orion for almost two decades. You also just mentioned that your daughter is now a subscriber. How might Orion’s stories remain relevant for both long-time readers and newer, younger readers?

I think that you’re doing it. Our girls are all in their forties and the magazine really appeals to them. Younger folks are all in a hurry, and I get it! I was in a hurry when I was younger. I needed to be jarred. I had never really gone anywhere until I was twenty-six years old. Orion has continued to be at the vanguard for artists and writers. It has always led as a sort of curatorial vanguard, and it still does, in my view.

What is Orion missing? What do you want more of?

I love the magazine just the way it is, so that’s a difficult question. I like reading about other places. International. Domestic. I like getting peoples’ reactions from other places and how they interpret that in their work. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do in my work, to bring notice to places. 

When I read Orion, I want to be touched. How you do that, I don’t know. I’m no writer, so that’s why Orion is such magic to me, because I’d love to say evocative things about the places I’ve been but don’t usually have the words to do that. I’d continue fine-tuning that balance between light and dark. I think at times the visuals could be grittier; maybe they’re a little too sweet. I mean, they’re all so beautiful. Refined. But, as we know, not everything in life is so refined.

My response for deepening the magazine’s influence: act with surprise. As a reader, are we looking for stories that fit our vision, or are we surprised by something we hadn’t yet thought of? Maybe experimentation is something you might try once in a while and note the reaction of your readership. 

 

 

As an artist, what do you see as your primary contribution as we face such an uncertain future?

For me, creating and reading Orion is a political act in itself. You’re carving a space, and that’s precisely what I think an artist does too. Carving out a space. You might even consider the magazine itself as an artist, an artist that has the courage to explore territory that other people don’t necessarily want to hear about. Now, that’s what we artists should be doing. And that’s what Orion is doing.

 

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