Orion Blog, page 2

Orion Partners with the 18th Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is proud to partner with Orion to promote the 18th annual flagship festival taking place January 16-20, 2020 in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. This partnership highlights the organizations’ shared goals of increasing the environmental groundswell and inspiring awareness and change by sharing stories and ideas of sustainability, conservation, social justice and community. 

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival recently unveiled its full lineup of over 140 environmental and activist films, including sixteen world premieres. The five-day festival features activist workshops, music, art exhibits, youth programs as well as opportunities to meet filmmakers and special guests. Tickets are now available.

This year’s festival theme, “(re)Generation,” gestures toward renewal and possibilities for restoring earth and human communities while creating a positive future for the next generation. The official 2020 artwork was created by naturalist and author Obi Kaufmann with this idea in mind. A poet, painter, and naturalist, Kaufmann blends science and art to illuminate a multifaceted array of the natural world, forming a uniquely elemental narrative based on the shaping forces of earth, air, fire, and water. 

Obi took a moment from his book tour to talk with Wild & Scenic Film Festival Director Jorie Emory about his work and creative process:

Jorie Emory: Tell us about yourself. Who is Obi Kaufmann?

Obi Kaufmann: I am a painter who has spent his life scrambling through California’s backcountry, looking for the story that binds all life together here in this most beautiful of all places—California. I am thrilled at the success of my first book The California Field Atlas as well as follow-up work, The State of Water, Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource. These days, my professional and creative career is now solely about communicating the beauty and intrinsic value I find across California’s living systems. I have a lot of fun reaching out to the community by weekly essays and daily Instagram posts.

JE: Walk us through the artwork you created for the 2020 Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

OK: In the painting I created for the festival, I wanted to celebrate the forest biodiversity of the northern Sierra Nevada. The mountain depicted is the south face of the Sierra Buttes, near the headwaters of the North Fork of the Yuba River—kitkitdizze flowers flank the habitat of the Lahontan trout and halo the black bear—golden eagles, blue tailed skinks, the endangered red-legged frog, and the yellow-rumped warbler complete this portrait of biodiversity thriving in this beautiful watershed.



JE: Your artwork and writing is so often place-based. Can you tell us about your approach to painting and writing about places that are special to you?

OK: California’s portfolio of diversity astounds me at every turn and offers me enough inspiration for a hundred books to come. I could paint a hundred maps, a hundred landscapes, a hundred renderings of plants and animals within and about California’s natural world, every day for the rest of my life, and still not have enough time to tell all the story that I wanted to tell.

JE: You and Wild & Scenic Film Festival have somewhat of a shared mission to use art to educate and embolden people towards sustainability and environmental advocacy. How did you discover the intersection of art and activism, and why is it crucial in this moment?”

OK: My activism is the careful tracking of my own journey towards a better understanding of the more-than-human world of ecology and natural history. I know that if I can turn the key inside myself, I can turn the whole world. This process of understanding, a consilience of all knowledge between truth and meaning, or science and art, is our unfolding destiny and the best shot we’ve got. As we discuss what conservation looks like across our natural legacy in the 22nd century—and we should be talking about that today—we are beginning to realize that we have the opportunity to leave 21st century California in better shape than we left it at the end of the 20th century. This new paradigm is a function of increased knowledge and supported by the communal telling of a better story of how we may tend to the many responsibilities we have to the world’s ecology, and how they relate to the democratic rights we all enjoy on a daily basis.


 JE: Our Festival’s tagline is “Where activism gets inspired.” What inspires you?

OK: I spent my youth removing myself from the human world, disappearing into the mountains to seek solace there from chaos I felt in the city. This function of my own baggage has, over the decades, been tempered by an emergent paradigm: despite the fits of politics and media, there is a new dawn happening right now. I see it in the eyes of the hundreds of people I meet every month on book tour. The old ways of extraction of replenishment and development over restoration are being tackled in the creative minds of the young who can see past societal folly with drive and inspiration I can hardly keep up with. O



Amitav Ghosh on Literature and Climate Coincidence

A problem as massive as global climate change is difficult to capture in literary language. Amitav Ghosh knows this better than most.

Now in his sixties, the award-winning author of eight novels and four books of nonfiction has in recent years tried to write about climate change in both genres.

In his 2016 book of essays The Great Derangement, Ghosh argued that not enough contemporary novels were addressing climate change as a central issue of our time. One of the problems, he said, has to do with the history of the genre. The novel arose in Europe alongside the middle class, whose readers wanted depictions of stable, everyday life. Literature about spectacular events, like fairy tales and epics, faded from popularity.

But Ghosh claimed that focusing on mundane life was actually unrealistic in our era of ever more frequent climate disasters, from Chennai floods to California wildfires. The type of life represented in most Western novels is currently a fantasy for everyone but a select, wealthy few—and even those few are facing more climate disruptions. Fiction, he said, should try to represent the true pace of catastrophe that the world already faces.

“All that the world asks is that artists and writers respond to the realities of the world around them,” Ghosh said when we sat down recently for an interview in Toronto. “I wouldn’t even call it climate; I would just say the realities of today. We can’t just shut our eyes to something like Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Maria.”

In his latest novel Gun Island, released this fall, Ghosh creates a world in which his characters literally fly from fire to flood, each scene unfolding in a new disaster zone. When I first read the novel, the high volume of extraordinary moments sometimes felt overwhelming. To Ghosh, strange coincidences are ordinary.

“At breakfast today at the hotel,” he said, “someone came and sat at a nearby table. And I was thinking, I know him. I wonder if it’s him. I get up, and, yeah, it’s Dipesh.” Dipesh Chakrabarty, the renowned University of Chicago historian, was in town to deliver a lecture. Like Ghosh, he has recently turned his attention to the impacts of climate change on human cultures. Ghosh splits his time between Kolkata, Goa, and Brooklyn while Chakrabarty lives in Chicago. But Ghosh invited Chakrabarty to join him for lunch later that day, and the two men were able to revisit old intellectual debates over hummus and falafel.

The same coincidence occurs in Gun Island, down to the profession of the friend. The narrator, Deen, a rare book collector who lives in Kolkata and Brooklyn, encounters an acclaimed Italian historian, Cinta Schiavon, in California, the American Midwest, Kolkata, and Venice, at various points in the novel. She uses her bottomless knowledge of the global seventeenth century to help Deen solve the mystery of a mysterious merchant figure, also a world traveler, who may or may not have been cursed by a snake goddess.

“All that the world asks is that artists and writers respond
to the realities of the world around them.”

For Ghosh, the international, multi-city setting is crucial in a novel that seeks to show the way people move through the contemporary world.

“Migration is something I’ve written about all my life, going back to my first book,” Ghosh said. “Every book, in one way or the other, has addressed this question of displacement, migration, dislocation, travel, and so on, because that’s very much the reality of my own life.”

In Gun Island, Ghosh’s fascination with global migration becomes intimately tied with the geographical scale of climate change.

“This reality is no longer local. It’s no longer particular. It’s not reducible to one place. You have to approach it globally; there’s no getting away from it. So there’s a scalar challenge,” Ghosh said. “You have to find ways of working in huge durations of time, and that was another challenge that I felt I was trying to do in this book.”

Ghosh believes that we need to understand what was happening in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in order to make sense of the present climate crisis and today’s global migration patterns. Ghosh has a place among many scholars, writers, scientists, and historians who are currently trying to pinpoint a start date for our environmental crises. Scientists associated with the idea of the Anthropocene tend to place the pivotal moment at the end of World War II, which coincides with the beginning of the nuclear era and the great acceleration of carbon emissions. Historians have commonly cited the early years of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century as the culprit. Ghosh goes back even farther, to the centuries that saw the rise of vast European empires setting up colonies around the world, disrupting Indigenous ways of life and setting the stage for global discontent and migration—from countries made poor by colonization to those made wealthy by it.

It is unusual for a contemporary novelist to allot so much space to research from historians and scientists, notably Piya Roy, the dolphin biologist who returns from Ghosh’s 2004 novel The Hungry Tide to teach Deen—and by extension the readers of Gun Island—about how climate change has affected the habitats and migratory patterns of marine species living in the Sundarbans and the Mediterranean. Ghosh rejects the mantra of “show, don’t tell.” Citing Eric Bennett’s 2015 book Workshops of Empire, Ghosh said the mantra originated with the agendas of intelligence agencies in the middle of the twentieth century who wanted “a depoliticized art, an art that would disconnect from the world.”

“This is the sad thing that happened in the world at exactly the time when greenhouse gas emissions were soaring,” Ghosh said. Literature turned toward art that was “completely disengaged from reality.”

Ghosh thinks that a lot of contemporary fiction has become far too concerned with “I, me, and myself,” he said. “And that’s not what I do. That doesn’t interest me.”

He cites John Steinbeck as an example of the type of realist writer he is trying to emulate. Steinbeck “worked with the migrants, he visited these camps,” when researching The Grapes of Wrath. “Steinbeck himself was an upper-middle-class Californian. He was not an Oklahoman. So he made notes. He talked to people.” Before beginning Gun Island, Ghosh toured migrant camps in Italy, interviewing young people from Asia and Africa who made the dangerous trek to Europe in search of a better life.

“Before I did anything in anthropology, I was a journalist,” he said. “That was my first job, and in many ways, I have the instincts of a journalist. So my instinct is always to take out a notebook and take notes. You could call it anthropology, you could call it ethnography, you could call it journalism, you could call it whatever. In my head, they’re not different, it’s all just there.”

A complex picture emerged from Ghosh’s on-the-ground research in Italy. “I went there with the idea that these were climate migrants,” Ghosh said. Very often, he learned that the migrants from South Asia did in fact count climate factors among their reasons for leaving their home countries. Some had seen their farmland rendered infertile by encroaching saltwater; others had lived through drought.

“But at the same time, the thing that really struck me was that none of them would accept the label climate migrant or climate refugee. At first I thought that there was some kind of resistance to the term, some sense of shame. I realized later that it was much more complex, that this phenomenon so many experts call climate migration isn’t really reducible to anything as simple as that. It’s much more complicated.” Those complications shoot through Gun Island, climate concerns intertwining with issues of economic migration and histories of empire and dispossession.

Ghosh plans to begin work on a new novel soon. I asked him whether he expects climate change will play a central role in this book too.

“I don’t call them climate themes,” he said. “I think it’s just reality. It’s the world that we’re dealing with, these interconnected realities. So, yeah, absolutely, it will be about the real world.” O


Solastalgia: Naiads of the New World

In the Autumn 2019 issue, Suzette Marie Martin creates anachronistic nature deities to confront environmental degradation in the Anthropocene age. Her ink drawings of river nymphs on reproductions of North American colonial maps mark the passage from millennia of “uncharted territory” to the disappearance of countless indigenous cultures, and extensive environmental changes that began during the European exploration and settlement of the New World. In classical mythology, Naiads were known to protect freshwater sources. Here, the nymphs’ bodies passively incorporate waterways renamed by the colonizing peoples.

We asked the artist some questions about the power and violence of maps, and what might happen to her counter-mapping nymphs in a time of rising sea levels and political instability. 


“Naiad of the Delaware River, 1777.” Faden, William. The course of Delaware River from Philadelphia to Chester, exhibiting the several works erected by the rebels to defend its passage, with the attacks made upon them by His Majesty’s land & sea forces. [1777] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.


Why Greek mythology?

From the earliest human records and across many cultures, Nature has often been embodied by the Goddess. Indigenous peoples of the New World may or may not have represented their rivers with female deities, but knowledge of Greek mythology was embedded in elitist and patriarchal education systems of Europe, from the Renaissance forward, and carried on to the colonies by the upper classes.

Okay, let us in on your process for visualizing these nymphs. 

One of the most time-consuming parts of the process is looking and sketching, looking and sketching, until a figure emerges.

The earliest maps of the New World were hand drawn in ink and sent back to Europe for etching and publication. I draw in ink directly onto the paper in order to connect myself to the original process. Because ink on paper is unforgiving, I prepare for the drawing with preliminary sketches on tracing paper laid directly over a print of the map, or sometimes using a digital tablet and software to draw on an image file. I try to use a minimal amount of lines, allowing the topographical features of the map and the surrounding terrain to determine the body of the Naiad. I practice my brush drawing on scrap paper, and then hope I can draw the final version without an error or a blotch. I have ruined more than one print of these maps!

“Naiads of the Lower, Mid and Upper Hudson River, 1777” Sauthier, Claude Joseph, and William Faden. A topographical map of Hudsons River, with the channels depth of water, rocks, shoals &c. and the country adjacent, from Sandy-Hook, New York and bay to Fort Edward, also the communication with Canada by Lake George and Lake Champlain, as high as Fort Chambly on Sorel River. [London, Wm. Faden, 1777] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Would this be considered “counter-mapping?”

Counter-mapping is a practice used to make land claims, identify areas of desired access, or convey cultural values that diverge from the dominant paradigm. I’ve known several artists who frequently repurpose old maps in collage as a base for painting, drawing, or sculptural material, but I was largely unaware of the concept of counter-mapping for social justice purposes when I began this series.

When I began this series, I was thinking about water pollution. I had been developing several series of re-imagined nature goddesses for the Anthropocene over the past several years. I wondered: How I could incorporate Naiads—benevolent nymphs associated with sources of fresh water—within this theme?

I currently live in New York’s Lower Hudson River Valley and am constantly crossing the river on its many bridges. The Hudson River is filled with toxic pollutants from urban run-off and the numerous factories that dumped centuries of industrial waste directly into its waters. I began thinking about the pre-industrial river before highways and cities and factories, and my research led me to a treasure trove of colonial era maps at the United States Library of Congress.

Looking at these simplified charts, I began to visualize the Hudson itself as a goddess, as the circulatory or digestive or nervous system. It was a way for me to depict the Nature/Human dichotomy by layering a Western mythological spirit over a navigational map, a way to depict root causes of anthropogenic problems running far deeper than twentieth century’s Great Acceleration.

With today’s climate crisis comes sea level rise and widespread political unrest. How do you see these nymphs responding to mapped territory in an age of rising uncertainty?

This is a very interesting question and one that I hadn’t considered before. My focus has primarily been on early North American navigational charts and maps of “discovery”—documents from the initial claiming and renaming of the New World by European colonial powers. So when I look at maps that depict future sea level rise, it’s hard for me to imagine a living spirit within these waters.

The river banks change with each storm, with each drought, with each degree of atmospheric heat, with each foot of sea level rise. They are becoming disconnected from the rhythms of formerly predictable seasonal changes. The fresh, healing waters the Naiads embody are becoming filled with salt surging from the seas and the remains of flooded cities, towns, and monoculture farms, toxic industrial run-off, agricultural chemicals, sewage, and garbage. I think that political unrest or dissolution, occupation, and climate migration maps may not be appropriate for Nature deities at all: this is more the realm for the Gods of Destruction. Or perhaps this makes the case that Naiads are more necessary today than ever before. O


“Naiad of the Chesapeak Bay, 1685” Browne, Christopher, Active. A new map of Virginia, Maryland, and the improved parts of Pennsylvania & New Jersey. [London: Sold by Christopher Browne at the Globe near west end of St. Pauls Church, 1685] Map.Retrieved from the Library of Congress.


About the Artist: Suzette Martin’s artistic practice is informed by observational studies, goddess mythology, and inquiry into environmental issues, with references to academic art traditions and twentieth century expressionist mark making. She currently lives in a 1906 farmhouse engulfed by the suburbs of the New York City metropolitan area. 

More Resources:

Spotlight GIVE: Mary Ann Hoyt

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

Name: Mary Ann Hoyt
Hometown: Williamsburg, Massachusetts
Reader Since: 2001

Mary Ann Hoyt has been a loyal Orion reader for nearly twenty years. A lifelong lover of the outdoors, Mary is also a food justice advocate, volunteer, and retired after working with her husband in wholesale distribution.

What was your first interaction with Orion?

“I can’t remember the exact moment I first read Orion but it was love at first sight. Now I really can’t open the magazine without wanting to read the whole thing.”

What drew you to it initially?

“What I was most interested in was the magazine’s sense of place. In my own life I find myself moving around a lot, so I can easily appreciate the sense of place through remembering the evocative way writers use words.”

Do you prefer Orion’s words or its art and photography?

“Both. I love them both equally. Also, I just can’t let go of any of the issues. Have ‘em stacked up. We sometimes even use some of them as art. They’re just gorgeous.”

“Just to see any issue—it fills my heart. It fills my mind.
t’s a gift every time it comes in the mail.”

Orion’s secret sauce is?

“The touch. When it’s in your lap, you just feel a part of it. I’ll often read it at the coffee shop or on the airplane; that’s where I do most of my reading. I was out having lunch the other day and brought my Orion with me.”

Okay, real talk: Do you think Orion is “preaching to the choir?”

“I have a brother in upstate New York who is an avid hunter, and he would definitely appreciate Orion. I don’t think he would view it as outside his purview. That’s what I think makes Orion feel so real. It’s not click-bait. It doesn’t just gloss over issues that everyone else is talking about.”

How has Orion evolved for you as a reader over time?

“The gifts I find in Orion have changed just as my life changed. When I was working full-time on our business I probably wasn’t looking at the same articles I look at today. Sometimes I just couldn’t make the space. Now I can take time, find out what is being said, and work with it. Also, it always feels good to have shared several gift subscriptions with friends.”

But life can feel so overwhelming. How has Orion met you?

“Today’s issues can sometimes just feel too much to bear. I mean, I’ve done various things in my life. I worked at the food co-op for many years, so food justice was important in my life, nutrition, food as valuable commodity. Orion’s focus on food met me during that time, for example.”

How balanced do you find magazine’s content?

“With Orion you know you’re going to have a little bit of everything, like a balanced meal: you’ve got your appetizers (Community, Lay of the Land), your soup (Photo Essays, Interviews), your salad (Poetry, Reviews), your entrée (Features), and dessert at the end (Coda, Enumerations). But you can’t have all dessert all the time, nor do you only want just the entrée. Balance, you see.

With a Lay of the Land you can be enriched immediately, understand the gravity of something, and be able to weave it your life. The other day I was chuckling out loud at the restaurant at that owl piece. I was just beaming at the café.”


“I want to support things that I think are also supporting that depth in me.
Orion is one of those things.”

What compelled you to start giving to Orion?

“I’ll be honest. It was a long time before I could afford to give. But when I could I freely did it. I don’t come from a background of wealth, and I don’t take it lightly. My family and I value certain things: good education, good food, good family, and good friends. I want to support things that I think are also supporting that depth in me. Orion is one of those things. I deeply understand and champion what you do. Devotion. Passion. That’s what I care about most and that’s what I want to support.

I’m 150 percent convinced that what Orion is doing is a major thing. Just to see any issue—it fills my heart. It fills my mind. It’s beautiful and I know that everyone behind its production understands its contribution. It’s a gift every time it comes in the mail.”

What would you like to see more of in the magazine?

“There’s a lot of scary stuff out there; so many heavy things. Climate change. Extinction. We have these core issues thrust upon us every day. How, I wonder, might we approach them from new, creative angles, through a sort of hopeful new side door? What’s that new door? Usually, I find it’s just a matter of first opening up a new door inside yourself.”

You seem to be a person of action.

“Yes, and that’s what I think is the major thing I feel with Orion, the genuine action. It’s beautiful. It’s thought-provoking. It’s real. Look, I don’t take any of the magazine lightly—I want to do something with it.”

Make a donation today or join as a sustaining partner with a small monthly donation of $10 or more. As a nonprofit, 100 percent ad-free print magazine, Orion relies on the generosity of individuals to bring you the world’s most urgent and necessary stories you’ll only find in print and online. 

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.