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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.

Mary Oliver was one of our greatest and most beloved poets. She is often quoted by people across ages and backgrounds — and it’s fitting, since she described poetry as a sacred community ritual. “When you write a poem, you write it for anybody and everybody,” she said. Mary died on January 17, 2019, at the age of 83. She was a prolific and decorated poet, whose honors included the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In this 2015 conversation — one of the rare interviews she granted during her lifetime — she discussed the wisdom of the world, the salvation of poetry, and the life behind her writing.

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.

“The rocks are beyond slow, beyond strong, and yet yielding to a soft green breath as powerful as a glacier, the mosses wearing away their surfaces, grain by grain bringing them slowly back to sand. There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.”

 

This is how Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about moss, which she studies as a botanist and bryologist. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she joins science’s ability to “polish the art of seeing” with her personal, civilizational lineage of “listening” to plant life — heeding the languages of the natural world. This gives her a grammar not of feminine and masculine but of animate and inanimate — a way into the vitality and intelligence of plant life that science is now also seeing. It opens a new way for us to reimagine a natural reciprocity with the world around us as “a generative and creative way to be a human in the world.”

“The sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us,” Michael McCarthy writes, “may well be the most serious business of all.” He is a naturalist and journalist, and this is his delightful and galvanizing call — that we can stop relying on the immobilizing language of statistics and take up our joy in the natural world as our civilizational defense of it. With a perspective equally infused by science, reportage, and poetry, he reminds us that the natural world is where we evolved, where we found our metaphors and similes, and it is the resting place for our psyches.

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 to Northern Ireland as one of its foremost living poets. He is a voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the force of words in a society that has moved away from sectarianism in living memory. The Good Friday Agreement was signed 20 years ago this month, and social healing is ongoing work to this day.

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle was the first person to walk solo on the bottom of the sea, under a quarter mile of water. She has watched humanity’s enduring fascination with “outer space” while she has delighted in “inner space” — the alien and increasingly endangered worlds beneath earth’s waters. These frontiers, as Sylvia Earle points out, are our very life-support system. She takes us inside the knowledge she’s gathered from a lifetime of research and literally swimming with sharks.

Xavier Le Pichon, one of the world’s leading geophysicists, helped create the field of plate tectonics. A devout Catholic and spiritual thinker, he raised his family in intentional communities centered around people with mental disabilities. He shares his rare perspective on the meaning of humanity — a perspective equally informed by his scientific and personal encounters with fragility as a fundament of vital, evolving systems. Le Pichon has come to think of caring attention to weakness as an essential quality that allowed humanity to evolve.

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. And she’s found her astonishment in listening to two of the world’s most exotic creatures. She has decoded the language of elephants and was among the first scientists to discover that whales are composers of song.

Disruption is around every corner by way of globally connected economies, inevitable superstorms, and technology’s endless reinvention. But most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change? Andrew Zolli introduces “resilience thinking,” a new generation’s wisdom for a world of constant change.

Terry Tempest Williams is a naturalist and writer, a biologist by training with a literary mind, who comes from a long Mormon lineage in Utah. She draws political, spiritual, and creative inspiration from her experience of the interior American West. She offers stories of neighborly collaboration that turns into environmental protection, and the value that comes from vitriolic disagreement inside families.

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