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Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson

This excerpt is adapted from Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson (Mountaineers Books, 2020). Richard “Nels” Nelson (1941 – 2019) was a long-time friend and contributor to Orion. 


RICHARD AND I loaded the boat and pushed off on a chilly mid-September morning. As we cruised up Glacier Bay, gray clouds thinned into a rare stretch of fall sun. Late afternoon, we nosed onto a beach and made camp in the treeless, deglaciated terrain. Glistening bergs drifted past on the ebbing tide. Soaring peaks bristled with fresh snow. We’d not seen another boat all day. As Nels had unpacked his recording gear, he handed me a pair of headphones.

“Put these on,” he said. He then gave me his parabolic dish – an unwieldy salad-bowl-shaped thing with a foam handle mounted on the back.

“Hit this to listen,” Nels said, pointing to a button on the recorder he’d slung around my neck. “Enjoy.”

I stepped down the beach, pushed the button.

The gravel under my boots became a rock slide in my inner ear. Two-inch waves lapping against shore exploded like giant surf. A gull drifted over the cove, clucked once, and filled my skull with sound. I eased forward, slow and gentle, aware of each grinding, shuffling step. That giant bionic ear transformed the afternoon into an expansive auditory hallucination – cackling ptarmigan, yodeling loon, hissing barnacle, slippery pop of seaweed under foot.

It was early evening when the batteries died. I slipped off the headphones and stood in a world I thought I knew. It was like being gifted the miracle of glasses after decades of lousy eyesight. Amplified through an exquisite microphone, vague sounds rang crisp, hushed whispers washed clean. How was it that I’d been in Alaska my entire life and never paused to fully listen?



Walking back to camp, my senses, even without headphones, remained tuned to rustling leaves and whistling wings. My ears were not broken, I realized, just clogged with a lifetime of neglect. I felt regret for all I’d been missing, elation for all I might yet hear.

Nels was staking the tent when I returned.

“Well, how did it go?” he asked.

“Acoustic LSD. I think I’m addicted.”

As soon as we got home, I ordered recording gear of my own. Richard and I spent much of the next ten years camping together. We’d pitch our tent in the quietest, most animal-rich spots we could find. We’d clamber out in the pre-dawn dark, clamp headphones over our ears and head out to give the morning a deep and proper listen. 

Evenings, stories rose with the sparks of our smoky, beachside fires. Richard spoke of wintering on the Chukchi coast when dog teams were still the center of Inupiaq economy. He talked of the transformative years of living with Koyukon Indians moving through a forest of eyes. He babbled with rapturous enthusiasm about the spiraling notes of hermit thrushes and echoing calls of loons.

A few months before he died, Richard and I sat together in his Sitka living room. The cancer, settled into his bones, tinged our time together with a precious nostalgia.

Richard gestured at the room, asked if there was anything in the house I wanted.

“The deer bone. That’s it.” I walked over and lifted the shattered and healed leg bone from his window sill.

In The Island Within, Richard described finding the bone while hiking with Gary Synder:

The deer must have lived a long time after its terrible injury. Long enough so the fragments knitted themselves together, as if liquid bone had seeped into the wounds and solidified as a porous, bulging, convoluted mass. Though gnarled and misshapen, the fused bone seemed almost as strong as a healthy one. But the deer’s leg was considerably shortened and had a hollow ivory splinter piercing out from it. As I turned the bone in my hand, I marveled at the determination of living things, and of life itself, to carry on, to mend, and to become whole again after being torn apart.

I didn’t leave with the bone that day. Richard needed it for the hard months ahead. I returned to the house after he’d died. The bone now hangs on the wall inches from my left ear as I write. It’s a gentle reminder to keep seeking out the stories that heal, to keep asking: How do we widen our empathy to include strangers? How do we swell our affinity for community to include other creatures?

The stories of separation that got us into our current mess are not the stories that will get us out. We need stories that illuminate the truth of our connections – to each other and to this precious blue planet. We need to reject narratives of division. We need storytellers who blur boundaries, expand empathy, and stretch our capacity for caring.

Richard Nelson was an ear with legs. He spent fifty years keenly listening to Alaska’s Indigenous peoples and wild creatures. Along the way he gathered a bundle of stories worth hearing. O



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19 Women for the 19th Amendment

To honor the 100th anniversary of the U.S ratification of the 19th Amendment — which guaranteed women the right to vote — we’ve curated 19 of our favorite Orion articles written by women. ​

The Land Has Memory by Priscilla Solis Ybarra and Cherríe Moraga (Winter 2019)

A discussion on Latinx identity and intersectional environmentalism.

Women and Standing Rock, introduction by Layli Long Soldier (35th Anniversary Issue)  

Where does the body end and sacred nature begin?

  10 Skills to Hone for a Post-Oil Future by Ana Maria Spagna (May/June 2013 issue)
Speaking of Nature by Robin Wall Kimmerer (March/April 2017)
Finding language that reveals our kinship with the natural world.
7 Gentle Ways to Use a Broom in Spring by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (March/April 2015)

  Gods Among Us by Terry Tempest Williams (Autumn 2019)

Humanity is not the center of the universe but part of an expanding, contracting, and uncertain future.

The Fracking of Rachel Carson by Sandra Steingraber (September/October 2012)

Fifty years ago a book changed the way we think about nature—or did it?


Exposedby Jennifer Lunden (September/October 2013) 

The mammogram myth and the pinkwashing of America.

  One but Not the Same by Leah Tyus (Autumn 2019)

Racial microaggressions in the backcountry. 

Waste Land, Promised Land by Kimberly Meyer (Spring 2018)

Refugee farmers replant home in post-hurricane Houston.
Where It Begins by Barbara Kingsolver (November/December 2013)

Knitting as a creation story.

Fear Itself by Melanie Challenger (Spring 2018)

The biological and cultural origins of being scared.

Dear Mr. Abbey by Amy Irvine (Autumn 2018)

Twibuke by Terry Tempest Williams (September/October 2008)

Beauty and healing amid the shards of Rwanda. 
Uncommon Gratitude by Trebbe Johnson (July/August 2015)

On giving thanks to wounded places. 

In Real Life by Carmella de los Angeles Guiol (Summer 2018)

The question of connection in the digital world. 
Sunrise on the Medicine Wheel by Elizabeth Dodd (May/June 2008)

Change is no stranger to this place we call home. 

Deep Intellect by Sy Montgomery (November/December 2011) 

When you gaze into the eye of a giant octopus, don’t underestimate what’s going on inside that big, squishy head.


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Op-Ed: We Are Still Here. John Muir Is Not.

“They’re still killing us. In that way, the genocide has not stopped. . . .The genocide isn’t over as long as they’re denying tribes their rights.” Bill Leonard, Tribal chairman of the Southern Sierra Miwuk, in response to the denial of Federal recognition of the Tribe in 2019 despite the fact they are recognized as one of seven Tribes that called the Yosemite Valley Home.

The Indigenous story, the story of displacement and reclamation, genocide and revival, sadness, and strength is the beginning. From the first beings to our present society, Indigenous people have held the best and worst of our lands, the story of their creation, their trade, extraction, potential, and hopefully, their eventual return to purpose. 

IN THE RECENT ARTICLELiberal, progressive — and racist? The Sierra Club faces its white-supremacist history.” the Washington Post confronts the story of John Muir, Joseph LeConte, and other founders of the modern environmental movement. Muir, of course, was the Sierra Club’s first president, and, as the article explained, demonstrated a pattern of racist behavior, championing the voices of white supremacists within the club.

But Muir was inextricably bound to his time and circumstances, and his legacy is but a reflection of his society’s ideologies. In the mid-nineteenth century, when California was being settled, the state university system adopted professional identities, definitions, and practices developed in European universities. These standards displaced local knowledge, values, and understandings of the world; it seemed the very nature of being a scientist entailed a disregard and distrust for the generations of knowledge accrued by California’s first people. For more context, add the industrial frenzy of the California Gold Rush of 1849, the eugenics movement, the government-sponsored bounty on California Indigenous body parts, and the eighteen secret and unratified treaties. Simply put: the Indigenous California community was easy to ignore.

Muir, then, was not the only problem, and to place emphasis on him as an individual detracts from the real work needed — to challenge established racist ideologies embedded in our largest and most influential institutions. Instead of asking how John Muir was racist, perhaps the better question is how the scientific thought that justified those racist behaviors is still actively at the center of the environmental movement? There is little that can be done to reform John Muir at this point, but there is plenty that can be done to rectify present processes and influences.

The same day of that article’s publication, the Sierra Club’s President, Michael Brune, echoed the damage made by John Muir’s opinions on Black and Indigenous people, acknowledging that the Sierra Club was then and continues now to be a largely white organization, both in membership and staffing. He states:

The whiteness and privilege of our early membership fed into a very dangerous idea — one that’s still circulating today. It’s the idea that exploring, enjoying, and protecting the outdoors can be separated from human affairs. Such willful ignorance is what allows some people to shut their eyes to the reality that the wild places we love are also the ancestral homelands of Native peoples, forced off their lands in the decades or centuries before they became national parks. It allows them to overlook, too, the fact that only people insulated from systemic racism and brutality can afford to focus solely on preserving wilderness.

We are thankful for the acknowledgment of the racist beginnings and willful ignorance of this century-old environmental organization. We are equally thankful of the Sierra’s Club internal investment of $5 million to address unequal pay among staff members. But if large environmental conservation organizations like the Sierra Club are to truly take on the work of healing the damage done by their selective gatekeeping of the natural world, then they’ll find that the damage cannot solely be attributed to their ancestors. The work of healing will require directly challenging the present systematic racism that still exists in the environmental movement today. John Muir might not have advocated for Indigenous people then, but the Sierra Club can do so now, by addressing their displacement and exclusion.

This is especially the case for Native people in California, where the Sierra Club is based. When California Native people are punished by game wardens and park authorities while gathering roots, food, and materials in our homelands, we are being challenged both on a personal and on a systematic scale. We are being asked to wholly accept an unjust transfer of lands, to forget a history that is ignored by government actors and environmental advocates, and to internalize and bear the burden of a society in which neither we nor our children have rights or access to our own lands. Even in Brune’s statement, we remain unnamed. The voices of those who have been silenced remain silent despite all attempts to confront structural racism.

America and American ideas about land are predicated on the eradication of Tribal Nations, and any attempt to confront structural racism must center the faces of the Indigenous people who are still fighting for federal recognition, still struggling not to be erased off the earth, still seen as less important than a mining claim or ranch or park. The continued growth of our society depends on their voices and their stories.

We need to tell the story of the Ahwahneechees, of Louisa Tom, who, in her old age, still hid from men in uniform because she remembered being hunted by uniformed men in Yosemite Valley. Of Helen Coates, born in Yosemite Valley in 1927 and who was one of the last Indians living in Yosemite up until 1969 when she was moved by the Park Service when they decided only Indians working full time for the park service could remain. Of Bill Tucker and Les James, both close to eighty, who spent over thirty years working for the park service in order to remain in their homelands. Of Tenaya, who lost his son, his family, his village, his land, and said, “Yes, kill me, as you killed my son; as you would kill my people, if they should come to you! . . . Yes, sir American, you can tell your warriors to kill the old chief. ”

We need to tell the story of how the Sierra Southern Miwuk, as recently as December 2019, were denied Federal recognition because the petitioning group didn’t comprise a “distinct” community. In their Federal recognition petition, they state they are the lineal descendants of the Southern Miwuk, Paiute, Cassons, or Chuckchancee Indian Indigenous to the area which is now known as Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, and its immediate environs. Ironically, they live in Mariposa County, the namesake of the Mariposa Battalion, the militia group that arose to collect government sponsored Indian head bounties in the Valley.

If Sierra Club and, more broadly, the environmental movement wants to do a reckoning that transcends lip service, then we expect them to set aside the time and financial and human resources needed to restore the land bases of those Tribes who are displaced from protected areas such as the Sierras – the club’s namesake — and task their stakeholders with fighting for federal Tribal recognition for the Southern Sierra Miwok, the Wukchumni, the YTTYTT Chumash, and many others. We expect them to use their influence to allow for Tribal gatherers to access their Tribal foods, tribal arts, and stories that stay hidden and silent in some of the most public parts of our national, state, and county parks. We expect their money to fund Indigenous organizations and the institutional support that allows for Indigenous stewardship practices and stories to be heard widely. We expect to be heard. We are still here. John Muir is not.


Rebecca Tortes, Luiseño/Cahuilla/Assiniboine Sioux
Jennifer Malone, Wukchumni/Tachi/Yolumni
Leah Mata Fragua, Yak Tityu Tityu Yak Tilhini Northern Chumash
Hillary Renick, Pomo/Paiute
A-dae Briones, Cochiti/Kiowa
Fred Briones, Pomo

Expanding the Spirit of Democracy

As the world flipped upside-down in March, the Spirit of Democracy: Re-Imagining We the People Conference was planned that month at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. The conference was intended to launch a book edited by David Orr and others called Democracy Unchained. Speakers included Van Jones, Jill Lepore, Bill McKibben, Tiokasin Ghost Horse, and many others. The line-up also included Mary Evelyn Tucker, long-time Orion advisor and founder of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. Due to obvious circumstances, organizers were forced to reschedule the event for an abbreviated version online this fall (details forthcoming). Mary Evelyn Tucker was generous enough to share her thoughts about the future of democracy in this tenuous moment.


HOW MIGHT WE unlock hope in an expansive spirit of democracy for present and future generations in this time of upheaval? As the underside of American society is being revealed and the stark inequities and racial prejudices made manifest, we are called to reflect on what brought us to this disturbing state of affairs. With shock and recrimination we are responding to the truth of our history and the entrenched habits of structural racism along with economic inequity [1]. This history is revealing itself in the consequences of brutal slavery and Jim Crow laws, the near extermination of Native Americans, subsequent theft of land and banishment to reservations, the ongoing history of discrimination against Latinx, Asian, and immigrant communities, and the endless overseas wars and militarization of our society at the expense of the wellbeing of humans and nature.

How do we look clearly at our history and, through reexamining it, seek ways forward? Can we own our past and create a more equitable society, just economics, and inclusive politics? May we ask forgiveness and restore compassion? Can we recognize that democracy rests on peace, not violence and bloated military budgets? In short, how can we rediscover and expand the spiritual roots of democracy?

As these roots lie in the hope of living with inclusive representation in government, with equitable participation in society, and with fairness of opportunity for education and jobs, our challenge is how to make this viable [2]. This will be impossible without a recognition that humans are interwoven with each other and with the larger kinship of life—interconnected and interdependent. This is because relationality is at the heart of life. In this spirit, an authentic democracy affirms the inherent dignity of humans and the intrinsic worth of nature.

Our task, then, is to enhance the wellbeing of both humans and nature as a basis for a truly comprehensive democracy [3]. Clearly, we can’t have a healthy democracy that rests on polluted air, contaminated water, and toxic soil disproportionally exposing people of color to these risks. Our question is how can we find our way back to being members of the Earth community on this precious blue green planet that has given birth to an extraordinary diversity of life – human and more than human?

In this search to expand what community is, we might first examine some historic documents that led to our democracy today, imperfect as it is. These are noteworthy to build on, but we need to enlarge their potential.

We can look at ancient Greek democracy and find it aspirational, but wanting in full participation. That is because it limited decision-making to an elite and excluded others, such as enslaved peoples. We can read the Magna Carta (1215) and see it as a beginning of limiting monarchial rule. However, newly codified privileges of the aristocracy still omitted “the people” [4].

We can hold up the dream of liberty in the American Declaration of Independence (1776), but observe that what became the republic reserved power and privilege to propertied white men. The declaration proclaims that “all men are created equal,” but slavery was enshrined in the American social code. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass said in a Fourth of July speech in 1852: “…you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty” [5]. The drafters of the declaration highlighted “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as inalienable rights. But now we recognize that “life” needs to be expanded to include all life, “liberty” broadened to embrace all races and genders, and the “pursuit of happiness” widened beyond material consumption. 

We can cite the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) and say it is inspiring but still not sufficient. We observe that “liberty, equality, and fraternity” were noble aspirations of the French Revolution for all countries, but insufficiently realized as the colonial and postcolonial periods illustrate. We can examine the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and rejoice in its laudable goals, among which are protections against torture and slavery and upholding personal liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. But we lament that it is still wanting in full adherence and broader inclusion here in the United States and around the world.

So where do we look for aspiration and inspiration to be reunited with the spiritual roots of our democratic yearnings? We may begin with indigenous traditions that have strong cosmovisions celebrating the kinship of all life forms and communitarian social ethics that emphasize a shared common good.

We might start with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy that began in 1142 and exists into the present. Benjamin Franklin was familiar with the Confederacy and referred to it during discussions in the Constitutional Congress. The original Confederacy was a model of peace and consensus-building that arose in response to a period of intense warfare among five related tribal groups. Focusing on harmonious relations between the tribes, it also highlights the importance of decision-making that keeps in mind seven generations into the future. Doing so links social and ecological wellbeing. Intergenerational justice is valued by the Haudenosaunee tribes. These are peoples who hold relationality and kinship among species to be a sacred trust. Thus an expanded spirit of democracy encompasses a broader solidarity among humans and across generations. Moreover, this sacred trust implies fostering the flourishing of the biosphere.

We also need to examine global statements of the last forty years pointing to a broader spirit of democracy that includes both people and planet. We can start with the UN World Charter for Nature (1982) [6]. It is an eloquent tribute to the basis for democracy resting in the health of ecosystems [7]. It states: “The degradation of natural systems owing to excessive consumption and misuse of natural resources, as well as to failure to establish an appropriate economic order among peoples and among States, leads to the breakdown of the economic, social and political framework of civilization.”

Most especially, we can look at the Earth Charter (2000), a declaration of interdependence that highlights the need for a new integration of ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, non-violence and peace [8]. Ecological health and inclusive justice are the basis for human wellbeing and a viable democracy. The Preamble begins with a statement that is clearly relevant now:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Another document we may cite is the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (Earth Day 2010). This arose after the failure of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The World’s Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth drew together some 30,000 people, largely indigenous, in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010. A drafting committee wrote the declaration that was released at the conference on Earth Day. The declaration is based on indigenous cosmovisions of a living Earth community as the basis for a flourishing society, a functional politics, and a just economic system.

What distinguishes the World Charter for Nature, the Earth Charter, and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is that they are planetary in scope and involve the expansion of rights to include all people as well as nature itself. This broadened movement is being pushed forward by events such as we are living through – a pandemic that shows us humans and nature are interdependent and racial upheaval that illustrates we are all interconnected.

In this spirit Thomas Berry wrote, “We cannot have well humans in a sick planet. We cannot have a viable human economy by devastating the Earth economy…. If the climate is altered so that the rainfall and the sunlight are affected, there are serious consequences” [8a]. He called for an Earth jurisprudence based on interdependence of all life and the rights of nature. He observed that the American Constitution and others modeled after it were designed to protect individual human rights. This was more recently extended to protect the rights of corporations. Nature is left out completely.

Thus, the spiritual roots of democracy lie in the aspiration that we can move through this period to reassert interdependence and interconnection in ways that are both ancient and new, simultaneously ecologically and economically viable, and, most critical, politically and socially imperative.

Such aspiration is evident in the Papal encyclical Laudato Si (2010). This letter is a call for an integral ecology that brings together the “cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” In this spirit, mutually enhancing human-Earth relations need to be based on environmental justice and social participation. Pope Francis highlights the principle of the common good along with transparency in decision making. He calls for politics and economics to be in dialogue for human fulfillment. Certainly this is a basis for an expanded spirit of democracy.

A broader context for these documents and movements is our growing recognition that we have emerged as part of a universe story [9]. As the Earth Charter states and as indigenous people have recognized: “Humanity is part of a vast evolving Universe. Earth, our home, is alive, with a unique community of life.” This sensibility offers a narrative that illustrates how all life originated in the cosmic explosion of stars where the elements arose. Moreover, we humans have a common origin arising out of Africa, leading to migration around the planet, and the ongoing formation of unique cultures, complex societies, and varied political systems.

This story helps us to realize that we are biocultural beings joined by both unity and diversity. From this perspective a functional democracy is unlikely to thrive unless it rests on ecologically and culturally vibrant roots. We are trustees for ensuring this process. Elevating a sense of public trust for a healthy planet for future generations is the basis of a thriving democracy. We may now be in the process of creating, over time and with much struggle, biocultural democracies with variations across countries and regions [10].

Is this possible? Is it probable? Let us not allow cynicism and despair to foreshorten our aspirations, for our survival as a species may depend on it.

What would this look like? Can we dream again amid such unraveling of life and communities? Can we revive and expand the spirit of democracy for our time, for our challenges? Can we draw on the great movements that have preceded us, such as the abolition of slavery and the fight for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights? Can we call on new spiritual depths that acknowledge the great mystery of being that contains us all? Can we awaken a fresh reverence for the dynamic complexity of life in which we are embedded?

Such a dream may be our best hope. For we need to create, with due process, vibrant democracies where:

  • political systems hold in trust the foundations for genuine flourishing of life – human and more than human;
  • legal systems ensure equity for people and inclusion for species and healthy ecosystems;
  • economic systems are regarded as subsystems of nature’s economy and function in service to the common good of clean air, water, and soil;
  • financial systems build a basis for community prosperity not individual greed;
  • educational systems teach valuing the integration of ecology, justice, peace, and democracy;
  • religions bring forth new understandings of the dignity of human life and all life;
  • health care systems are based on the assumption that we can’t have healthy people on a sick planet;
  • agricultural systems aim to deliver nourishing food to feed large numbers of people.

All of this is aspirational, yes. But also practical and doable. We need to begin by redefining community as including the greater Earth community – humans and more than humans.

Indeed, there is no lasting future for democracy without a biological basis for life. Thus, a biocultural democracy is the recognition that our common home is the one rare blue green planet that we share. May its future flourishing be our greatest priority, the wellbeing of the human community be our constant aspiration, and the great mystery of life our deepest spiritual inspiration. O


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[1] See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 1980, reprinted many times, latest edition in 2015).

[2] This is developed by Steven Rockefeller, “Renewing the American Democratic Faith”, D. Orr, A Gumbel, B. Kitwana, W. Becker, eds. Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government for the People. (New York: New Press, 2020).

[3] There are various projects already working on this. They include The Democracy Collaborative, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing Democracy for the 21st Century, Democracy the Unites Us.

[4] We might return also to the Charter of the Forest (1217) issued two years after the Magna Carta. This Charter allowed common people access into the royal forests for firewood, farming, and grazing. The enclosure movement that peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries pushed back the democratic inclinations of the Charter. Eventually it was superseded by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act in 1971. However, some of its statues endured for 800 years and this was commemorated in 2017 with a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

[5] Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852. Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1999).

[6] This was signed by all 111 member states at the time, except the United States with 18 abstentions.

[7] Two more human centered documents should be noted. In 1993 the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic was drafted by theologian Hans Kung and adopted by the Parliament of World Religions. It was updated to include the environment in the 2018 Parliament in Toronto. The Charter for Compassion, drafted primarily by religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, was announced in 2009 and points to the need for cities, schools, places of worship, and businesses to adopt practical steps to implement compassionate practices.

[8] This document, over a decade in drafting, represents one of the most participatory civil society document of its kind.

[8a] Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts, Ed by ME Tucker. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books 2006. p 109.

[9] See Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) and Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Journey of the Universe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011).

[10] The historian Lynn White first used the term biodemocracy in his article, “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (Nature, March 1967).

The Best of Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has been an Orion contributor and advisor since the magazine’s beginnings in 1982. Berry is the author of over forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and has farmed in Port Royal, Kentucky, for over forty years.

This week we celebrate Wendell Berry’s eighty-sixth birthday by sharing several of our staff’s all-time favorite essays, poems, short stories, and media clips published in Orion over the past four decades.  


  Best Political Writing: “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear
Summer 2005

This essay was written in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, part of a three-essay book of the same title.
  Best Food and Farm Writing: “The Agrarian Standard
Summer 2002

Twenty-five years after the publication of his landmark book, The Unsettling of America, the author reflects on the state of agricultural life in America.
  Best Poem: “The Defenders
July/August 2009
  Best Interview: “To Live and Love with a Dying World
Spring 2020

A conversation with climate activist Tim DeChristopher.
  Best Fiction: “Whitefoot
January 2007

A story from the center of the world. 
  Best Video: Fire & Grit Plenary Talk (26 minutes)
Summer 1999
Berry delivered this talk in June 1999 during an Orion conference, Fire & Grit, which took place in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.


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