Orion Blog, page 4

I Biked 10,200 Miles to Follow Monarch Migration. I Discovered an Entire World.

Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up to “Biking with Butterflies,” included in the Summer 2019 issue.

For 10,200 miles the monarchs were my guide. They provided the route. They were my teachers.

By watching a caterpillar eat corn-on-the-cob style from a milkweed leaf, I was taught about the evolutionary arms race playing out in ditches across their range.

By watching a tattered female—wings more sky than orange—lay an egg, I was finally able to grasp the magnitude of their multigenerational migration.

By watching evicted caterpillars crawling on milkweed beheaded from a recent mowing, I was able to feel the lesson of responsibility.

By crossing a continent alongside the monarch butterfly, my migrant teachers taught me how to see.

Map courtesy of MonarchWatch.org

While looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars, along the way I was introduced to many shyer creatures. The googly-eyed spider peeking out from a curtain of milkweed. The angelic moth, sateen white, floating from purple bloom to purple bloom. The fiery-legged insect, fresh from its recent molt, gaining bearings in the stubble of the milkweed’s white hairs.

Following the monarchs thousands of miles by bicycle, I discovered an entire world. Here are six memorable encounters:

 

1. Tussock Moth

Wading through a strip of prairie alongside a bike path in New York, I spotted a mob of tussock moth caterpillars gorging on milkweed. Like monarchs, tussock moths can store milkweed’s toxins and use them for their own defense. Unlike monarchs that advertise their toxicity with flashy warning (aposematic) coloration, the tussock moth adults are drab, nocturnal creatures. Instead of bright colors, they evolved an organ that clicks, to be detectable by bats. Aposematic sound. The bats learn that these clicks are best avoided.

I didn’t know any of that as I watched those tussock moth caterpillars, each one a mess of black hairs, orange lashes, and white whiskers. Unlike monarchs that distribute themselves among many plants, tussock moths stick together for much of their lives. Together they formed a shag carpet.

2. Skunk

Zipping through a patchwork of rural Canada, I encountered the most dangerous animal of my trip. At first sight, I slammed on my brakes, and we locked eyes. There, teetering at the edge of the road, lurked a skunk. With only the width of the road separating us, the skunk paused. Her curious nose and eyes read the wind in a way I would never be able to do. The white stripes on black fur matched the pavement markings.

The worst-case scenario flashed in my mind. Getting sprayed would have been bad. With no shower in sight, and no change of clothes, I would have smelled like a skunk for the rest of my trip. Someone once told me that bathing in tomato juice was the antidote to skunk spray. I only had ketchup. Would ketchup work? I imagined rolling up to my next school presentation on my junky bike covered in ketchup, smelling like a skunk.

“Worth the risk,” I whispered as the skunk’s beady eyes looked at me and decided I was no threat. She cut through the grass along the shoulder, leaving me disappointed. Lathering myself in ketchup would have made for a good story.

3. Leopard Frog

At the edge of a pond, I found my camping spot in a half-finished housing development in Texas. Here, as the light of our sun gave way, frogs began to sing. Cricket frogs clicked at the edge of water and mud, while the larger leopard frogs squeaked before launching themselves into the safety of turbid water. 

I saw the approaching army of bulldozers looming nearby and lights of new homes polluting the once raw darkness. The male frogs called, attracting mates to lay eggs, to begin another generation. The very act of those frogs calling was an act of defiance. As development continued to squeeze life out of Texas, the frogs still called, to remind anyone listening that it was their home too. I listened. And with a heavy heart, I wondered how anyone could call such destruction progress.

4. Barred Owl

As I doggy-paddled through a roadside lake in Rhode Island, I caught a glimpse of an alert barred owl. I slipped from the water, onto a sun-warmed boulder, to watch the bird as it watched me. The wind mixed his tan and cream breast feathers, and stirred the brown circles around his darting eyes. Connected by curiosity, we watched each other, and after a few moments he closed his eyes as if to declare me harmless.

When darkness arrived, I retreated to my tent. I was expecting to hear the “hoooo cooks for youuuu” call of adult barred owls. Instead, as canopy leaves shuffled in the wind, a shrieking “caaaa” cut like lighting through the dark. One call was answered by another. Echoes. The owl I had seen was likely a juvenile. I found it reassuring to know that owls must learn to be owls. They too must learn to sing their song, hunt their food, and navigate their world. We were both teachers, the forest our classroom. 

5. Goldenrod

Searching for monarchs I was rewarded with blooming rainbows: pink Joe-Pye weed, violet wine cups, purple lupines, orange butterfly weed, blue larkspur. But my favorite was the goldenrod. As autumn led me south, the best miles were fenced by thick stands of goldenrod. I watched the plumes of their yellow tentacles rise like waves, spill into the wind, and feed clusters of monarchs with their blooms. Like a good friend, I was always happy to see the goldenrod waving back. The pollinators must have been happy to see them too. I never met a lonely goldenrod.

6. Green Snake

A rough green snake stretched across the Katy Trail in Missouri, basking in the sun. I was off my bike and the snake was in my hand before my bike’s wheels could stop spinning. I still feel the quilt of her keeled scales twisting through my fingers. I still see her eyes, huge and alive, watching me. A tube of muscle, a balance of power and grace. I can still see the peaceful beast melting into the leaves when I let her go.

It is easy to be scared of something we do not know, something we are taught to be afraid of. Snakes, bears, bees, wolves—we are taught to be afraid of such wildness. We let fear control us. War on nature. War on migrants. War on the lesser known. To be afraid is to be dangerous, and to be taught, especially by a snake or monarch, is to be liberated.

And, Yes, Monarchs…

Of course, across the continent I found monarchs. The heroes of this story. The ambassadors of nature. They invite all of us to dive into their world and discover the brilliance of our own backyards. It is their undeniable beauty that lures us into their world. And there we linger. We see the spiders, snakes, and skunks that all benefit when the prairie is protected. These monarchs, the gateway bugs, hold our hands as we enter new worlds.

Learn More:

Why Thomas Berry Matters Today:
Mary Evelyn Tucker Reflects on Her Latest Book, Thomas Berry: A Biography

Thomas Berry (1914–2009) was one of the twentieth century’s most prescient and profound thinkers. As a cultural historian, he sought a broader perspective on humanity’s relationship to Earth in order to respond to the ecological and social challenges of our times.

Thomas Berry: A Biography, by Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim, and Andrew Angyal (Columbia University Press, 2019), is the first biography of Berry. The book illuminates his remarkable vision and its continuing relevance for achieving transformative social change and environmental renewal.

Mary Evelyn Tucker is co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale where she teaches in an MA program between the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Divinity School. With John Grim she organized ten conferences on World Religions and Ecology at Harvard. They were series editors for the ten resulting volumes from Harvard. She co-edited Confucianism and Ecology, Buddhism and Ecology, and Hinduism and Ecology. She has authored with John Grim, Ecology and Religion (Island Press, 2014). They also edited Thomas Berry’s books including Selected Writings (Orbis, 2014). With Brian Thomas Swimme she wrote Journey of the Universe (Yale, 2011) and was the executive producer of the Emmy award-winning film Journey that aired on PBS. 

Orion’s Editor-in-Chief H. Emerson Blake recently spoke with Mary Evelyn Tucker about the book.

 

What distinguishes Thomas Berry from other modern thinkers and philosophers?

Berry overcomes many of the abstractions and intellectualizations that are present in many modern thinkers. He is seeking a more encompassing worldview for contemporary dilemmas, such as racial divisions and ecological exploitation. This is why Berry calls us to a Great Story for the Great Work of transformative change for the well-being of both people and the planet.

Berry is interested in our identity as humans in the largest sense of our being. This means that an important part of who we are is our race or ethnicity, gender or sexuality, state or nation. We are richly differentiated, yet also one species. Thus, he is keen to awaken our deepest identity as related to the cosmos itself—we arise from out of universe and Earth processes. This is an ancient reality and yet a new discovery. That is because all cultures have had cosmologies that explain where we come from and where we are going. But now through the lens of science we have a new sense of cosmology as the interrelationship of systems—galactic, planetary, and ecosphere. We are part of nested circles of interwoven realities from stars to planets, from mountains to rivers, from humans to more than humans.

The awareness of this relationally is born from a new understanding of evolutionary time—cosmic, geological, and human. We are older than we thought. We have arisen out of the deep time of the universe unfolding. We are kin to all biological life. 

Thus, we sense we are related both to that which is minute and that which is infinite—to the microcosm of the atom and the macrocosm of the universe. Within such immensity, we belong here. As the Chinese Neo-Confucian scholar, Zhang Zai, said, “Heaven is my father; Earth is my mother and even a small child has a place on their midst. Therefore, that which fills Heaven and Earth, I consider as my body; that which directs Heaven and Earth, I considered as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, all creatures are my companions.”

This cosmological identity is very old in the human family, especially among indigenous peoples. Yet it is also being understood anew though the lens of science from the microscope to the telescope. We sense it in the awareness of the communication patterns of all mammals, in the migratory patterns of birds and fish, in the hidden life of trees and fungi. 

This opens us up to awe and reverence in the face of vast mystery and endless complexity. Such awe can lead to action; such reverence can lead to responsibility. A new understanding of our role not as dominators or exploiters, but care takers, care givers. As such we are participants in the dynamic creative powers of the universe and Earth. May it be so!

You’ve known Thomas Berry since you were twenty-four. How do you think your life would be different if you hadn’t met him?

There is no doubt my life would have been radically different without meeting Berry.

Before I went to Japan to teach in 1973 I was given some of his yet unpublished essays to read. I didn’t understand them well before I left, but once there I began to sense their import. In particular, I was so moved by his understanding of Asian religions that I wrote him for a copy of his book on Buddhism. The miracle of my life is that he wrote back!

When I came back to the States in 1975 I met him at his Riverdale Center for Religious Research along the Hudson River. The moment I met him there on a bright winter day in early February I knew I had met my teacher. For the next 34 years I studied with him at Fordham, planned lecture series with him at Riverdale, prepared and edited his Riverdale papers into five books of essay, and eventually wrote his biography. All of this was done with John Grim, my husband and collaborator, whom I met in graduate school studying with Thomas at Fordham. I have been fortunate in finding an inspiring teacher and a dedicated partner. 

In writing Thomas Berry: A Biography, what new thoughts did you develop about Berry that you hadn’t had before?

I was continually amazed at his persistence against great odds. He came out of a Catholic background in the south, but grew to embrace all religions and cultures. He entered a monastic order devoted to personal prayer and divine contemplation, but he branched out of this to contemplate the Earth and Cosmos. He was asked to preach retreats not teach in a university, but he broke free of that restraint to found one of the first graduate history of religions program of its kind in the country. He was encouraged to remain in the monastery, but he traveled the world giving talks and attending conferences. 

His persistence and continual growth were fascinating to me. All of this is because he had a penetrating intelligence and a unique ability to synthesize material. He brought these gifts early on to address the ecological problems we were facing—fifty years ago and down to the present. He was prescient in anticipating our challenges and helping us to develop the stamina to understand them and endure.

Berry died in 2009. What do you think his reaction to the today’s political turmoil would be?

He would be devastated with the racial upheaval and white supremacism, with the militarism of our society and the violence of our ongoing wars, with the destruction of the rainforests and the pollution of our oceans. Yet he understood that as we are shutting down the Cenozoic era due to the rate of species extinction, we are also laying the foundations for a new Ecozoic era for the flourishing of the Earth community. 

He predicted that our institutions would not be up to the task of this Great Transition. And we see this in the inadequate response of government, economics, education, and religion. All of these institutions are unraveling in terms of efficacy to meet our current challenges. He would say they are breaking down so as to break though to new forms of ecopolitics, ecoeconomics, ecoeducation, ecospirituality. This is the Great Work we need to be involved in fostering, individually and in communities.

Where do you hope that Berry’s legacy, and the work of the Thomas Berry Foundation, will be a few decades from now? 

Berry’s legacy of a “new story” is already available in the projects we have been birthing with the Journey of the Universe projectThese are an Emmy award winning film, a book (Yale, 2011), a series of interviews with ten scientists and ten environmentalists, and massive open online classes with Yale / Coursera. One of the online classes is “The Worldview of Thomas Berry.” We hope these materials will move out further into societies around the world. Already the book has been translated into some ten languages and the online classes have over 24,000 people participating. This cosmological perspective will help to engender ways that can see our commonalities amidst our differences. There is no future without a shared future and that sensibility is what Journey is trying to midwife. 

By the same token we would hope that his efforts to teach the world’s religions, and encourage understanding of indigenous traditions, will also lay the ground work for greater tolerance and respect. Moreover, he saw that the role of religious communities needs to be elevated in the struggle for greater awareness of an integral ecology fostering ecojustice. His insights will endure, his spirit will continue to inspire.

Additional Resources: 

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Behind the Cover: Margot Glass, Dandelion

Orion’s Summer 2019 cover has become a hit, and it wasn’t even trying. The illustration is of a dandelion, what many consider a weed, ordinary flora, overlooked and under-appreciated for its beauty.

However, this dandelion was different. This dandelion, drawn with 14-karat gold to a black backdrop, was finally given a spotlight, made visible, celebrated. The cover glistens metallic on magazine shelves when placed beside a lineup of otherwise summer hues and prolific harvests. The artwork is subversive, an X-ray, a photo negative, an inside-out investigation of the flower’s interior secrets.

And this was precisely what artist Margot Glass was hoping to communicate.

Two weeks before the cover launch I met with Margot for a walk around her favorite trail in Hadley, Massachusetts, and later, a visit to her studio. Glass is a humble artist, mother, and pursuant of the out-of-doors. I found her generous with her time and rooted in the inclusion and attention of her surroundings. Her work is a direct reflection of that. 

Margot Glass grew up in New York City and studied art at the Art Students’ League, Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work explores the ephemeral through still life, nature and botany, text and communication. Find Glass’s full artist statement on her website.  

Here’s what emerged in our conversation.


On the Importance of Going Slow:
“Each of these drawings takes roughly thirty hours, on average. These drawings are really slow. I continue to experiment with grounds and primers to serve as a foundation for the drawing, and the prepared surface is extremely fragile and unforgiving. It’s difficult stuff to work with. There’s no taking anything back. If I touch the drawing and it spreads across the paper, everything is ruined. So I have to be very careful while I’m working, bringing as much detail I can without overworking it.

They’re slow, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing them. After a while, your whole worldview changes because suddenly you’re getting this very intimate and enlarged view of the plant, and I can tune out the rest of the world. I just love the challenge of capturing them before they completely disintegrate.”

 

“I just love the challenge of capturing them before they completely disintegrate.”


On the Joys of Ordinary Nature:
“I have always appreciated ornamental plants, the beauty of planned gardens and parks. But I just find my eye always goes to the plants popping up on the margins, in between things. I appreciate the ‘accidental beauty’ of what’s growing in the places where no one tinkers. We live in a place where we have altered our landscape in large and small ways, and I want to highlight the beauty of the more modest plants underfoot.”

“The dandelion drawings are painstaking and slow, and I sometimes find myself holding my breath when putting lines down—almost as if I’m trying not to blow the seeds off the flower head!”


On Accessibility and Inclusion in the Natural World:
“This trail we’re following is a favorite of mine because it allows everyone to access and enjoy the experience of taking a walk through the forest. Right before you arrived I saw a family group of mixed age and physical ability who may not have had the opportunity to walk together outside on just any ordinary trail. Not only does this trail provide access to people of all abilities, but the very existence of this forest boardwalk also offers a visual reminder to be kind and considerate to all.”

 


On Preciousness and Vulnerability:
“I have a collection of bugs in my studio. They’re like gems to me. I like finding the preciousness of something other people might not necessarily take the time to see, something they might want to eradicate, feeling as though it doesn’t belong in a perfectly cultivated garden. Of all the plants I like to draw, the dandelion is the quintessential magical plant. I chose to use gold because I thought it’d be an interesting pairing, to celebrate its beauty and not treat these essential parts of our landscape as something to be disposed of.

What’s so incredible is their structure, or when you find patches of irregularity, a little gap in the seeds. I get so mesmerized by the delicacy. There’s something about dandelions that suggests volume, and yet they’re so vulnerable to any strong wind or breeze.” 


On Being on Orion’s Cover:
“Making art is a solitary practice. I’m so accustomed to being alone at the work table, making drawings without thinking about an audience of any kind. There is something surreal about having it shared in such a public way.

I am still really surprised to see it there when I look at the magazine. It’s an honor! And it’s not just any magazine cover; I really appreciate what Orion is about, and the quality of the work represented in the magazine, so having my work on the cover has special value to me.

This particular drawing on the cover is on view through January 2020 at the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton, New York, in Focus on Nature XV, an exhibition organized by the New York State Museum.”

 

 

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Eight Questions for the Author: Bryce Andrews, Down from the Mountain

Our Spring 2019 issue featured a hair-raising article, “The Edge of the Stand,” about following—or being followed by—a hungry grizzly bear at the edge of a Montana cornfield. This complicated relationship between predators and people rests at the core of the piece, excerpted from Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) by Bryce Andrews.

We caught up with Andrews to learn more about his work in Montana and the lessons embedded in these edge zones, pairing people and carnivores, domesticated and wild, settled and indigenous. Included is a short film, “Corn Bears,” courtesy of the nonprofit People and Carnivores.   

NT: Say I’m new to your book, your work with People and Carnivores, and to Western Montana. Tell me, in three sentences, what Down from the Mountain is all about.  

BA: Down from the Mountain is about a grizzly bear’s life and death, and how farmers collide and coexist with large carnivores in Montana’s Mission Valley. It’s a simple story that opens onto larger challenges—issues like climate change and the subdivision of rural land. It’s about the urgency of our present moment and the hard work necessary to help grizzlies thrive in the crowded landscape of today’s West.

NT: What’s been your scariest encounter with a grizzly bear?  

BA: Given the amount of time I’ve spent recreating and working in grizzly country, I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to bear encounters. I’ve seen and been near a lot of grizzlies, and have been impressed by their restraint. For the most part, bears treat us very well.

My scariest encounter was near Yellowstone National Park. I was gathering cattle for a ranch where I worked, and ended up finding a steer that had either been killed or scavenged by a grizzly. The carcass had been partially buried in a grove of thick timber, and as I got off my horse and went to remove its ear tags, I realized the bear was nearby. I never saw that grizzly, just heard it breaking brush.

(VIDEO: “Corn Bears.” Field testing a new electric fence design to keep grizzly bears away from
agricultural food sources. Courtesy of People and Carnivores.)

NT: When chronicling these grizzlies and their lust for sweet corn, a word kept surfacing for me: diabetes. What are some major health concerns for wild animals as they begin to consume disproportionate amounts of calories from corn and other human foods, as their communities are brought ever closer to ours?

BA: That’s a good question for a biologist to weigh in on, but I can speak to what I’ve seen in the field. Corn and other similarly plentiful, starchy crops do the same things to bears that they do to us when we eat them in excess. Cornfield bears end up obese—sometimes to the point where they struggle to run. Their teeth tend to fail and decay at a faster rate than bears using natural food sources.

Bears feeding on agricultural crops are also exposed to pesticides and herbicides—to substances like glyphosate. As our farming practices grow increasingly reliant on chemicals, as in the case of corn that has been genetically modified to resist herbicide, wild animals will encounter and ingest whatever substances we spray or spread on our fields.

NT: Down from the Mountain takes place on the Flathead Reservation in Western Montana. What are some traditional mythologies surrounding the grizzly bear? How are they expressed by tribal members in response to these animals today?

BA: While I’d recommend talking with a Salish, Kootenai, or Pend d’Orielle person about grizzlies in tribal mythology and culture, one thing is obvious even to an outsider like me: The tribes of the Flathead Reservation care deeply about their bears. The tribal government has protected grizzlies with impressive consistency and diligence. As grizzlies spread south and move from their current core habitat, we should all thank the tribes for their good work and management.

A significant portion of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness is reserved for grizzly conservation, with all human entry prohibited in key seasons. That restriction is a rare one, and it’s hard for me to imagine a state government or national forest taking a similar position. Banning human entry to key habitat is a bold step, and one worth considering in essential places. What I’m saying is that the rest of us can learn a few things from the tribes about living with grizzlies. 

NT: Your relationship to modernity, to technology, gadgets, and urban atrophy seem to be a central tension in the book. Drones, for example, were a tool you learned to use for monitoring grizzly bear movements. How do you view these technologies now? 

BA: Drones and other technologies are useful in my work because they allow us to see into the lives of animals. What we learn from a bird’s-eye view, or from data uploaded by GPS collars can help us avoid conflict with other species. If we know where a bear dens, or how it tends to cross a highway, we’ve got a better chance of keeping that animal and others alive and out of trouble.

A rancher once said to me of his rifle: “It’s a tool, like any other.” The same thing applies to the technologies we’re discussing here. Drones, like chainsaws or guns, don’t have a bias toward good or evil. Whether we use them well or poorly comes down to our own judgment and restraint.

NT: Why is it important for humans to live among predators? Not everyone can (or would like to) live in such intimate contact with resident grizzlies. What are some takeaway lessons you might share from your time living and working in grizzly country?

BA: Grizzlies are an essential part of a complex whole, as pistons are necessary to an engine. That’s well established and proven, but I want to touch on something more immediate, emotional, and selfish. Here’s something I wrote in the book: 

“There is something about grizzlies that fascinates and pulls at everyone who encounters them. Half of it is their odd mix of bulk and grace. A healthy bear is a walking paradox — a heavy, seemingly ungainly creature that can turn swift and lithe in a moment. Near Yellowstone, I have seen a boar running faster than a sprinting horse can, stretching out and loping across an open meadow. Coming to a stand of brush, that bear stopped short. Losing all evidence of strength and speed, he went lumpish and shambled from sight. The phase shift was as complete and unlikely as water flashing to steam, and I never forgot it.

Then there are the eyes, which are not unlike ours in shape, size, and distance from each other. A bear’s eyes—small in their wide heads—seem made for looking back, for focusing on and assessing us. When grizzlies are not afraid or raging, there is something tranquil, sympathetic, and even shy about their eyes.

When a human meets a bear, their gazes join like halves of a split stone. A charged arc is struck between two creatures, and the rest of the world disappears in the glare. That fire is treacherous and tends toward destruction. It also contains a measure of recognition.

Nobody can say what a grizzly makes of that moment, but I know what it means to me. Looking bears in the face—an experience as consuming as falling—has given me a better grasp of what I am and how I fit into a wild older world.”

Here’s the heart of it: I want to share these mountains with grizzlies because they remind us that human beings once lived in a community that exceeded our species. When I am alone and I encounter a grizzly, I am always humbled by its power. When the bear does not eat me, I’m left feeling grateful. Those emotions—humility, gratitude, and even fear—are good things for a human being.

NT: Would you say there is a sense of wildness removed, even from free-roaming animals, when their habitats are becoming snuffed out, increasingly limited, managed, and fenced over time?

BA: Yes. When grizzlies learn to feed on corn, their lives become simple and more sedentary. Instead of climbing peaks in search of insect colonies, an important late-summer food, they stay low in the valley. Instead of stitching together a complex, varied seasonal feeding ground, they focus on our activities and begin to live more closely with us. Much is lost in this transition, which amounts to a form of domestication.

NT: Near the end of the book you find yourself in a zoo with captive grizzly cubs. I enjoyed how you rendered this tension—sure, they’re survivors, but is there any remnant dignity in such a spectacle, placed into a life encaged, domestic, controlled?

I can’t say whether a life in captivity—even with dedicated care, which the cubs certainly have—is better than death for a wild thing. I looked for a long time at those two cubs, and still don’t know what I would have done if their fate had been left to me. I do know what’s better for us, though. It’s better for us to have those cubs alive, because they’re doing us and the rest of their species a service. People visiting that zoo have a chance to connect with wild animals. That sort of connection is too rare these days, particularly in cities. Some people who see those grizzlies and learn their story will be moved to action. That, in any case, is my hope.

More Resources:
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Editor’s Choice: Top 3 Articles on Population

For U.N. World Population Day, here are three of Orion’s best articles on the challenges of overpopulation:​

 
State of the Species by Charles Mann.
Art by The Petri Island Project
November/December 2012  (This essay was a finalist for a 2013 National Magazine Award in the Essay category.)

The problem with environmentalists, Lynn Margulis used to say, is that they think conservation has something to do with biological reality. A researcher who specialized in cells and microorganisms, Margulis was one of the most important biologists in the last half century—she literally helped to reorder the tree of life, convincing her colleagues that it did not consist of two kingdoms (plants and animals), but five or even six (plants, animals, fungi, protists, and two types of bacteria). Read more.

 

 

Crowded Planet: A Conversation with Alan Weisman. Art by Alain Guiget.
September/October 2013  

Over the course of the past one hundred years, we humans have grown in population at a rate rarely seen outside of a petri dish. Alan Weisman, author of the best-selling The World Without Us, spent two years traveling to twenty nations to investigate what this population explosion means for our species as well as those we share the planet with—and, most importantly, what we can do about it. Read more

 

 


The Centroid
 by Jeremy Miller. Photo by John Trotter
March/April 2013  

On a warm day in March 2011, I find myself in the back seat of a white, government-issue Chevy Suburban, rolling over spongy pasturelands in the sparsely populated foothills of the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. The vehicle is being piloted by Brian Ward, a geodetic advisor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dave Doyle, the chief surveyor with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey division, sits in the passenger seat, looking intently at a dashboard-mounted GPS screen. “Almost there. Just a little farther on,” Doyle mutters as Ward slaloms through an agitated herd of beef cattle. Read more.