Orion Blog

Photo Extra: Inside a Bolivian Prison Village

In the Autumn 2019 issue, Andrea Carrubba’s photo essay “Prison Village” explores a self-governing prison in Bolivia, where the absence of regulatory procedures has allowed a fully functioning society to grow entirely within its walls—an inside-out city.

Carrubba recently shared some additional images and thoughts with us, following his time at the San Pedro prison. Andrea Carrubba is a photojournalist from Italy, focused on social and humanitarian stories. His work has been exhibited across Europe.



Richard Nelson Flies Away on the West Coast of Salmon Nation

Richard Nelson
(1941 – 2019)

The only job description that fully fit with Richard Nelson’s (“Nels”) temperament and enormous skill set was that of being in exuberant contact with the wild world. All other job descriptions imposed on him by institutions or scholarly disciplines were side issues, or at best, springboards for getting him into the wilderness: as an ethnographer studying survival on sea ice; a field anthropologist investigating subsistence hunting; an ethnozoologist documenting traditional knowledge and values of Athapaskan fishers, foragers, and hunters; a videographer; an award-winning nature writer; a wilderness conservationist; an aural ecologist of soundscapes and radio producer.

Over the wayward arc of Nels mastering one art or science after another, he would shed one label after another, simply to get closer and closer to the wild source at the heart of this precious world.

None of these taglines encompasses who Nels really was or what ultimately motivated him. From an early age, he was captivated by the wonder of the natural world. As a young man, he was trained by First Nations peoples in the disciplines of seeing and hearing every subtle signal of health or disruption that could be found in his surroundings. He was mentored not just in traditional knowledge, but in millennia-old traditions of treating the bounty of nature as a sacred gift. And yet, his lifelong deepening of seeing wild nature as the ultimate home of the sacred did nothing to constrain his outrageous sense of humor and unabashed joy of being immersed in the world of ravens, salmon, bears, and wolves with his closet friends and neighbors. It was his mandate.

For those of us who watched as Nels morphed to more fully follow his passions, it is easy to forget just how accomplished he was in any task or discipline he took on. He was an expert naturalist from an early age, but also a rigorous scholar of both anthropology and biology. And yet, few of his fishing and hunting companions ever knew (or cared) about his academic credentials from the University of Wisconsin, University of California, and time teaching in a variety of colleges. They were more in awe of his navigation savvy in the troubled waters of Sitka Sound, his stalking, hunting, and butchering skills related to his own pursuit of subsistence based on large game. Nels had an ear and a memory for birdsong on par with some of the greatest ornithologists I’ve ever met, from Ted Parker to Steven Hopp. But Nels used this talent not simply to add more species to his life list, but to understand the dynamics of wildlife communities and the communication networks among their members.

Once, not far from the edge of the Grand Canyon, I brought Nels together with Southwestern aural ecologist Jack Loeffler to celebrate an evening of their three decades of recording natural sounds around the world. We dimmed the lights and simply let them take turns playing their recordings of some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful soundscapes on this planet, then interpreting what we heard. The audience was not merely in awe of the gorgeousness of the sounds themselves, but, rather, what Nels and Jack could hear that we could not.


Photo: Debra Gwartney, Inside Passage, Alaska, 2017.

For all my grief over knowing that he has now flown away to sing more prayers with other ravens, I feel blessed to have spent part of three days with Nels and his partner Debbie during the last month of his life as a human. They previewed for me the film, Singing Planet, that they had been working on with their colleagues Liz and Hank—a masterwork that I hope all of you will be able to see in the future. And yet, we spent most of our time together simply listening to the symphony of sounds around San Francisco Bay—each change of wind direction, each bird, each rusting bow of redwoods nearby. Nels was fully present and attentive—just like his beloved huskies used to be—to every melody and harmony that enveloped him.

We will continue to be inspired by Richard Nelson—his elegant and exuberant life—more than we will miss him, because he is still thrumming in the very air that we breathe.

Three Essays to Fear this Halloween

This Halloween, we asked Orion staff to name some of the eeriest, most skin-crawling articles from the past three decades of archives. From rabid bats to radical bicycle gangs and snake hallucinations, here are three staff favorites guaranteed to leave a mark. Subscribe by November 5 and start your subscription with the Autumn 2019 issue.

  Send in the Clowns” by Marc Svenvold (January 2008) 
I AWOKE TO BIRD SONG and slant January light cutting through the brush that surrounded our hut — a circular, thatched roof on poles, no walls, concrete floor, modeled after the traditional palapa of northeastern Mexico. Across from me, Pete the Feral Boy snoozed away in his bag. His tall bike — two bike frames welded on top of one another in a high-riding style popular among alternative bicycle youth culture — was loaded with Indian clubs and ukuleles and, dangling from the frame, assorted articles of clothing that Pete had found on the side of the road or in dumpsters.
  Fear Itself” by Melanie Challenger (Spring 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.
  The Rabies Principle” by Sandra Steingraber (Fall 2007) 
THE FINEST DESCRIPTION of the precautionary principle that I’ve ever heard came from David Gee of the European Environment Agency in a speech before a convocation of environmental ministers in Belgium. After arguing that benefit of the doubt should be granted to public health rather than to the things that threaten it, Gee said that precaution helps us avoid, during times of uncertainty, the construction of “pipelines of unstoppable consequences.” Gee’s remarks were met with stout applause.

Behind the Cover: Camille Seaman

Camille Seaman was born in 1969 to a Native American (Shinnecock tribe) father and African American mother. Her photographs have been published in National Geographic, Italian Geo, German Geo, TIME, New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and many others. She frequently leads photography workshops, is a Senior TED Fellow, and her TED talks have over 3 million cumulative views. Seaman’s photography was previously featured in our 35th anniversary issue feature, “Women of Standing Rock” and “Conscience and Resistance,” by Scott Russell Sanders. 

We caught up with Camille to learn about the Autumn 2019 cover image (above): where it took place, what it means to her, and, more generally, what role her photography plays in our current ecological moment. She responded while on assignment in Costa Rica with a series of audio dispatches. Here, we’ve provided both the unedited audio and edited text:

Describe the image on the Autumn 2019 issue cover. Any specific story there?  

That picture was made in Kansas back in 2008, and it was the first storm chasing trip I had gone on. The story was basically that my daughter was watching storm chasing on TV and I was vacuuming the house. I saw this incredible light and she saw me looking at the TV sort of sideways and said: “Mom, you should do that.”

“What, storm chase?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.

Then her dad came in and said: “Yeah, why don’t you Google it?”

So I Googled “storm chasing,” and this whole world rose. One website really stood out to me. It had lightning flashes and thunder sounds and I thought, I can recognize passion when I see it. I want to go with that guy. Unfortunately, all of his trips were sold out for the year. That was May 2008. I sent him an email saying, “I’m really interested in doing this, please let me know if anyone cancels.” Less than an hour later he emailed back. “I had one spot just come up, and can you be here in three days?”

And that’s how it happened. Three days after my daughter said, “Mom, you should do that,” I was, well, doing it.



Okay, back to the cover image: This was one of those pictures from that trip. I don’t think I was prepared for what storm chasing was. It’s a sensory overload. It’s not just the visuals, it’s the smells of the charged particles, the smell of the earth, the incredible light.

It’s amazing how many roads in the United States are still unpaved, especially in the center of the country, and I’m not sure why. We just sort of forgot about the middle of our country. And here was this dusty dirt road that led onto a paved road and these power lines and the colors of the wheat fields.

“Where does this road lead to? Where are we going?”

The thing about storm chasing is that the storm can be fifty miles wide, so you have this very dark area in front of you, but then just to your west is this bright shining sun that somehow makes its way under the curtain of clouds. You get this western light and it can be just remarkable. Usually, by the time these storms are really initiating, it’s later in the day so you get this golden light, so here was this picture of this road.

I think I wondered: where does this road lead to? Where are we going? And that’s the story of that picture.     

Do you remember the very first photo you ever took? In what ways does your Shinnecock heritage inform your photography?

Well, I’m not sure how old your readers are (laughing) but I do remember being a very small child and my family saying: “Give the camera to Camille. She doesn’t cut off people’s heads!”

The camera was this Kodak 110, this little rectangular camera where you put this cartridge of tiny film. The resolution of these images was horrible, but for some reason, even then, it felt fine in my hands.

I don’t think I ever considered myself to be a photographer until I was in my 30s, but it was something that was always with me. I had a camera at all times.

But that was my first image, I’m pretty sure, of my family standing together on Long Island. I don’t know if it was a special event or just people grouped together or what. Of course, that means I’m not in a lot of family photos, because I was making them.

“I’m not photographing a thing, I’m not photographing an inanimate object. I’m photographing my relative.”

But you wanted to know about Shinnecock origins and how that informed my imagery. Well, I would like to think that intention is very powerful and, you know. For example, whether it’s a storm or person or an iceberg, when I photograph it I’m not photographing a thing, I’m not photographing an inanimate object. I’m photographing my relative. I’m photographing some aspect of my connectedness to everything, not just other humans. Trying to break out of this human-centric kind of thinking. It’s so important that we remember, that we relearn that we are not separate from nature, that we cannot do whatever we want to the planet or plant or river or fish or the land itself, and to think that it has no consequence.

We are interconnected and interrelated with everything and everyone. All are our relatives, so when I photograph, I’m trying to do it with the intention that these are my relatives, that there is no separation, and hopefully some form of that emotional connection is revealed or carried through.

In the cover image, of this road, with these poles and this light and this storm, I’d like to think that we are the storm. That is our sweat, that’s our water that makes that cloud. And so, everything that occurs to us, we have created for ourselves.

You’ve had several images published in Orion in the past. What does it mean for you to share your work in a time of tumult, uncertainty, and loss?  

Quite often in my life I wonder what’s the point? Am I having an effect? Am I making a difference? Or am I just part of the noise or, even worse, am I just part of the problem? Here I am traveling around to create these images and I wonder: is it worth it? Am I doing anything of value? Am I doing anything that resonates with people?

And so having things published in Orion, or any place, is important, where someone might see it and it might resonate. It might move them. It might remind them of what they love and what they want to fight for and what they want to save.

“We are the storm. That is our sweat, that’s our water that makes that cloud. Everything that occurs to us, we have created for ourselves.”

I think my job as an artist is to do exactly the same thing that the universe does: evolve, create, and expand consciousness. On top of that, if I can create compassion and empathy for some subject, that someone might not have had awareness or exposure to before, then it’s worthwhile. If somehow I can affect someone enough to trigger them to be a little bit more awake or aware of something that I saw or felt, then it’s worthwhile.

But I’ll be honest: I still really don’t know.

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Dean Kuipers Recommends These Five Thinkers on Ecology and Psyche

(Editor’s Note: Orion contributor and journalist Dean Kuipers reflects on his new memoir, The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family, and the Land that Healed Them (Bloomsbury) by exploring five authors of deep ecology and ecopsychology that shaped his narrative.)

The Deer Camp is the true story of how my family was put back together through working the land. My two younger brothers and I were raised as hunters and fishermen in Michigan, believing, as our father Bruce and our uncles did, that there was no greater skill than the assessment of habitat. In Dad’s world, the outdoors was paradise, and indoors was hell. He wrecked his marriage to our mother by unapologetically chasing women. Their long skid toward divorce drove me toward ecology and religion, and my youngest brother Joe to booze and acid.

In 1989, my father bought a 95-acre deer hunting property in Michigan and put a cabin on it. None of us wanted to go there with him. After a decade, my middle brother Brett proposed we do habitat work on the place, taking out an old pine plantation to create some aspen browse for grouse and woodcock and deer. We went to work with tractors and chainsaws, and our family’s relationship continued to grow worse. In 2004 a new forest poured up out of the sand. Dad greeted us that spring with hugs and kisses and said “I love you,” which hadn’t happened in many, many years. He was a different person, and it was mostly a result of the land’s restoration.

The Deer Camp is an ecopsychological story, the restoration of the land creating deep interior change. It’s informed by a lifetime of reading about the human-nature relationship. Here are five theorists discussed in the book, and how their concepts shaped my thinking and writing:

1. Gregory Bateson: What Thinks: Person plus Environment.

Bateson was a multidisciplinarian. He was married to Margaret Mead and pursued anthropology with her in the Pacific Islands pre-WWII. During his time as a cyberneticist in the 1940s, his work on systems theory led him to ponder “mindedness” as a function of nature. He didn’t believe human “thinking” happened in our heads, but, rather, that it was co-created by the world around us.

In his 1972 book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind he writes: “What thinks is the total system which engages in trial and error, which is man plus environment.” He followed this idea even further in Mind and Nature (1979), where he wrote, “You decide you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is part of your wider eco-mental system—and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.”

Earth is driven insane if it can’t function, and so we are too. I read Bateson when I was twenty years old, and when my family began restoring wild agency to nature, we were shocked at the result. Our minds—along with the land—healed.

2. W.S. Merwin: Imagination is Nature.

In 2010, I interviewed U.S. Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin, for the Los Angeles Times. We met at his home in Maui where he and his wife, Paula Merwin, were in the middle of a 40+-year project raising a native palm forest in a former pineapple field. Over dinner, we were discussing the source of poetry when Merwin said:

“The imagination is nature. There’s never been any separation.”

The imagination creates images and ideas, using input from our senses, memories and murky unconscious sources. During deer season, I loved going out to the deer blinds in the dark to wait for sunrise. At our camp in Michigan, I began sitting in the deer blinds at night, letting the darkness wash through me.

Merwin’s idea inhabited that place: if dark objects and creatures have imagination, are imagination, then they aren’t merely objects. They are subjects. They have subjectivity.

3. Jeannette Armstrong: Land-Dreaming Capacity.

In the essential collection of essays Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, educator and activist Jeannette Armstrong digs into her native Okanagan understanding of “mind.” She explains that Okanagan people understand their “selves” as being made up of four capacities: the physical self, the emotional self, the thinking/intellectual self, and the spiritual self.

The physical captured me most: “physical” is not just of the earth; it is the earth. The body is a part of the land. She notes that the tribal word for this physical self translates as “the land-dreaming capacity.”

I shuddered when I read this. We aren’t just a part of the earth: we dream its dreams. Our consciousness is part of its consciousness. This led me to all kinds of questions about our experience raising trees and planting bushes and native grasses:

Was the land itself calling out for change? Did the idea to replace those plantation pines come from the sand? I titled that chapter: “Does Sand Dream of Trees?” Today, a larger shared dream becomes obvious: our desire to address climate change is not just our own, but originates from the land itself.

4. Paul Shepard: Nature and Madness.

Shepard, a prolific scholar of human ecology, wrote about the development of our brains and culture during the Pleistocene ice ages. His 1982 book, Nature and Madness, begins:

“My question is: why do men persist in destroying their habitat?” Because, he answers, we are mad. Shepard’s theory however, is that the madness is not innate. He put forward a theory, based on Erik Erikson’s stages of child development and Shepard’s own observations of hunter-gatherers, that our modern ontogeny is broken. A fully realized relationship with Earth is encouraged in children and then ripped away at adulthood, preventing us from reaching maturity. Modern culture celebrates narcissistic adolescence, addiction to technology, violence, religious fundamentalism, and war, while becoming further separated from the language of nature. 

5. Wendell Berry: Small Solutions, Unrelentingly Practical.

In 2013 I corresponded with poet and agriculturalist Wendell Berry. When I asked how he responded to global crises such as species extinction or climate change, he answered:

“The problems are big, they are even big emergencies, but they can’t be solved by big solutions. What our understanding of nature tells us is that the big problems can be solved only by small solutions, unrelentingly practical, made by individuals in relation to small parcels of land farmed or forested or mined, in their home watersheds.”

At its most fundamental, problems like climate change result from humans in places, millions of places, and the solution is also in places. Planting one tree matters. Not everyone has a forest or farm, but there’s work to do in every watershed, shutting down cars, protecting native wildlife, gardening for food. When you let the outside in, it inhabits you and you can’t help but care about it. The outside becomes you.

Dean Kuipers is a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles CityBeat and other publications. He is also the author of Burning Rainbow FarmOperation Bite Back, and, with his wife Lauri Kranz, A Garden Can Be Anywhere. They live in Los Angeles.

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