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“What a time to be alive,” adrienne maree brown has written. “Right now we are in a fast river together — every day there are changes that seemed unimaginable until they occurred.” adrienne maree brown and others use many words and phrases to describe what she does, and who she is: A student of complexity. A student of change and of how groups change together. A “scholar of belonging.” A “scholar of magic.” She grew up loving science fiction, and thought we’d be driving flying cars by now; and yet, has found in speculative fiction the transformative force of vision and imagination that might in fact save us. Our younger listeners have asked to hear adrienne maree brown’s voice on On Being, and here she is, as we enter our own time of evolution. This conversation shines a light on an emerging ecosystem in our world over and against the drumbeat of what is fractured and breaking: working with the complex fullness of reality, and cultivating old and new ways of seeing, to move towards a transformative wholeness of living.

Amidst all of the perspectives and arguments around our ecological future, this much is true: we are not in the natural world — we are part of it. The next-generation marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson would let that reality of belonging show us the way forward. She loves the ocean. She loves human beings. And she’s animated by questions emerging from those loves — and from the science she does — which we scarcely know how to take seriously amidst so much demoralizing bad ecological news. This hour, Krista draws out her creative and pragmatic inquiry: Could we let ourselves be led by what we already know how to do, and by what we have it in us to save? What, she asks, if we get this right?

This conversation was recorded at the 2022 TED Conference. You can hear all of the talks coming out of the conference by following the TED Talks Daily podcast, wherever podcasts are found.

Few books have been more eagerly passed from hand to hand with delight in these last years than Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. Krista interviewed her in 2015, and it quickly became a much-loved show as her voice was just rising in common life. Robin is a botanist and also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She’s written, “Science polishes the gift of seeing, Indigenous traditions work with gifts of listening and language.” An expert in moss — a bryologist — she describes mosses as the “coral reefs of the forest.” Robin Wall Kimmerer opens a sense of wonder and humility for the intelligence in all kinds of life we are used to naming and imagining as inanimate.

The late poet Mary Oliver is among the most beloved writers of modern times. Amidst the harshness of life, she found redemption in the natural world and in beautiful, precise language. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award among her many honors — and published numerous collections of poetry and also some wonderful prose. Krista met with her in 2015 for this rare, intimate conversation. We offer it up anew, as nourishment.

The ornithologist Drew Lanham is lyrical in the languages of science, humans, and birds. His celebrated books include The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature and a collection of poetry and meditations called Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts. Drew Lanham’s way of seeing and hearing and noticing the present and the history that birds traverse — through our backyards and beyond — is a revelatory way to be present to the world and to life in our time.

This conversation took place in partnership with The Great Northern.

Colette Pichon Battle is a generational native of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. The ebb and flow of the Bayou was a background rhythm in her childhood to every aspect of life. She did not ever imagine in that childhood that she would one day be known as a “climate activist.” To be with Colette, and experience her brilliance of mind and spirit and action, is to open up all the ways the words we use and the stories we tell about the transformation of the natural world that is upon us blunt us to the courage we’re called to and the joy we must nurture as our primary energy and motivation. She is a vivid embodiment, too, of the new forms societal shift is taking in our world — led by visionary pragmatists close to the ground, in particular places, persistently and lovingly learning and leading the way for us all.

This conversation was part of The Great Northern Festival, a celebration of Minnesota’s cold, creative winters.

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound but an absence of noise. We take in the world through his ears.

The esteemed writer Jane Hirshfield has been a Zen monk and a visiting artist among neuroscientists. She has said this: “It’s my nature to question, to look at the opposite side. I believe that the best writing also does this … It tells us that where there is sorrow, there will be joy; where there is joy, there will be sorrow … The acknowledgement of the fully complex scope of being is why good art thrills … Acknowledging the fullness of things,” she insists, “is our human task.” And that’s the ground Krista meanders with Jane Hirshfield in this conversation: the fullness of things — through the interplay of Zen and science, poetry and ecology — in her life and writing.

In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological, as much as physical, reality. This is “wintering,” as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. Krista first spoke with Katherine in midwinter 2020, and their conversation continues to offer a helpful container for our pandemic time: as one vast, extended, communal experience of wintering. As 2021 draws to a close — still with so much to metabolize and to carry, with an aching need for replenishment — Katherine May opens up exactly what so many have needed to hear, but haven’t known how to name.

Jane Goodall’s early research studying chimpanzees helped shape the self-understanding of our species and recalled modern Western science to the fact that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. In honor of the publication of her 32nd book — The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times — we’re re-releasing her beautiful conversation with Krista over Zoom from pandemic lockdown. From her decades studying chimpanzees in the Gombe forest to her more recent years attending to human poverty and misunderstanding, the legendary primatologist reflects on the moral and spiritual convictions that have driven her, and what she is teaching and still learning about what it means to be human.

There’s dark matter in the cosmos, and inside us, and hidden beneath our feet. Robert Macfarlane is an explorer and linguist of landscape and his book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is an odyssey that’s full of surprises — from caves and catacombs under land, under cities, and under forests to the meltwater of Greenland. “Since before we were Homo sapiens,” he writes, “humans have been seeking out spaces of darkness in which to find and make meaning.” Darkness in the natural world and in human life, he suggests, is a medium of vision — and descent, a movement toward revelation.

To reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society — this has been Michael Longley’s gift as one of Northern Ireland’s foremost living poets. He is known, in part, as a poet of “the Troubles” — the violent 30-year conflict between Protestants and Catholics, English and Irish. And he is a gentle voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the everyday, never-finished work of social healing.

“The sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us may well be the most serious business of all,” Michael McCarthy writes. He is a naturalist and journalist with a galvanizing call — that we stop relying on the immobilizing language of statistics and take up our joy in nature as our defense of it. And he reminds us that the natural world is where we first found our metaphors and similes and it is the resting place for our psyches.

In this intimate conversation between Krista and one of her beloved teachers, we ponder the world and our place in it, through sacred text, with fresh eyes. We’re accompanied by the meditative and prophetic poetry of Wendell Berry, read for us from his home in Kentucky: “Stay away from anything / that obscures the place it is in. / There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places. / Accept what comes of silence.”

We were made and set here, the writer Annie Dillard once wrote, “to give voice to our astonishments.” Katy Payne is a renowned acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility. She’s found her astonishment — and many life lessons — in listening to two of the world’s largest creatures. From the wild coast of Argentina to the rainforests of Africa, she discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound.

Naturalist Terry Tempest Williams brings meaning and direction to the grief around ecological loss and climate change. She’s a self-described “citizen writer” rooted in the American West, and she draws connections between fierce love and hard work — both in the natural world and the human world. “It all comes down to relationships, to place, to paying attention, to staying, to listening, to learning — of a heightened curiosity with other,” Williams says.

Remembering “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation.” The wildness that we don’t feel during our everyday lives. “I was a fluent stutterer and that opened up a whole new avenue in my life.” Escape to places where language isn’t that important.

How to get to the heart of the human experience without speaking? This question drove Alan Rabinowitz, after a childhood with a severe stutter, to become a wildlife biologist and explorer — “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation.” He died this month at age 64. He was known for his work with big cats, his discovery of new animal species, and for documenting human cultures believed to be lost. Alan Rabinowitz took our understanding of the animal-human bond to new places, while also being wise about the wilderness of the human experience.

Alan Rabinowitz was the founder and chief science officer of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization. He was also a spokesman for the Stuttering Foundation and the author of several books, including Life in the Valley of Death, Beyond the Last Village, and An Indomitable Beast. He died of cancer on August 5, 2018.

Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.

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