Last week I explored Amy Leach’s creative non-fiction and its appeal to wonder and imagination. This week, I would like to turn to fiction and highlight a fantastical tale that does the same. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Author of Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of Therolinguistics takes place in the future, but does not dwell on new technologies or societies. Exploring the secret languages of things large and small, Acacia Seeds instead tasks my imagination to envision a wholly different way of relating to the world, to see familiar beings in a new light, and to expand my moral horizons to consider the greater community of which humanity is a part of. Deliciously satirical and ethically provocative, Acacia Seeds is one of my favourite works to read and reread, and a wonderful little Ekostory to celebrate Earth Day 2014.
It wasn’t my intention to continue with the art theme. But as the rule of three calls and I learn more about writing and blogging, I found myself more inclined to follow intuition than push through to produce work that doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just easier to showcase other people’s incredible work instead of doing research for a long piece. Given the choice between being attuned and growing lazy, I’m sticking with the former interpretation.
I’ve been a fan of Albertus Gorman’s work over at The Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog ever since I began blogging in 2012. For the better part of the last decade, Gorman has used materials washed up at Ohio State Park to create sculptures and craft stories that explore the impacts we have on the places we inhabit. Some of his work from Ohio Falls is now featured in The Potential in Everything, an exhibition at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.
In a recent post exploring the evolution of nature writing, we chatted about what makes for great art. Gorman shared an illuminating comment as it relates to his journey:
“One person’s kitsch is another person’s masterpiece. I tread this path myself with my river art. I want my work to have a popular feel similar to the way folk art functions because I want what I am trying to communicate through it to reach a target audience that often doesn’t think about how creativity or conceptual art can be used to positively affect the environment. My own work has evolved over time to include objects, images, and now stories working in tandem with one another. There is some risk taking here and sometimes it works better times than others.”
Mulling this over, I decided to revisit his blog to find examples of how he uses art and writing to promote awareness around the environment. The following is a list of five of my favourite pieces he’s published over the past year:
Stickied in belated honour of Steinbeck’s birthday, born February 27, 1902.
What was the story that began this journey? That question has been on my mind since I reflected back on the past year of Ekostories. What tale triggered this exploration of nature, culture, and self? After some thought, one story came to the forefront, a surprise contender. It is a work that straddles the boundary between fiction and non-fiction. It is a story that melds science with literature, philosophy with social commentary, art with ethics and adventure. It is John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
That’s not entirely true. While the cover bears the name of the author of Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath, The Log from the Sea of Cortez was a collaboration between the Nobel prize-winning novelist and marine biologist Ed Ricketts. The book chronicles the two friends’ six-week, four thousand mile marine specimen collecting expedition in the Gulf of California, detailing the adventures, discoveries, and camaraderie as they travel from site to site, passing towns, reefs, isles, and sea.
Like the voyage itself, the travelogue allows time and space for observation and thought, linking real experiences to meditations on humanity’s place in the world and universe. For me, the book’s ability to spark curiosity and expand horizons makes it a natural history classic, and the perfect tale to kick off a new year of Ekostories.
“Estraven stood there in harness beside me looking at that magnificent and unspeakable desolation. ‘I am glad I have lived to see this,’ he said.
I felt as he did. It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” (p.220)
Have you ever read something where the author articulated precisely the ideas that you’ve been trying to work out in your own mind for ages? Have you ever felt that flash of recognition, that chill of goosebumps, and obeyed that urge to nod along and shout “yes!” out loud? And once the giddiness subsides, have you ever felt that sinking realization that someone managed to conveyed those ideas better than you ever could have?
I recently had that experience with a piece from Orion Magazine. “Out of the Wild” features a conversation between authors Michael Pollan and William Cronon as they chat about many of the ideas I’ve been grappling with on Ekostories: Concepts of nature and culture, the power of stories for change, the importance of personal sustainability. Regular readers will know that I’ve written a few essays on Pollan’s work, namely on Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education and The Botany of Desire, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed his contributions to this piece. But in my opinion it was Cronon, an environmental historian, who made this exchange a must-read. I’ve included a few of his thought-provoking comments below.
“In our loss and fear we craved the acts of religion, the ceremonies that allow us to admit our helplessness, our dependence on the great forces we do not understand.” (Lavinia, p. 177)
This piece is dedicated to Russell Collier, fellow Le Guin fan, dear colleague, guide, friend. In memoriam.
Lavinia, a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, is many things: Historical fiction set in the Italian Bronze Age; a mythic fantasy derived from the last six books of Vergil’s Aeneid; an experiment in which the narrator is aware of her own fictionality; a postmodern tale where creation and creator come to learn and love one another. But above all, Lavinia is a haunting story crafted by a great storyteller. It is not my favourite of Le Guin’s works, but it is perhaps the most beautifully written. Her laconic prose brings to life a little known pre-Roman world, captures the lived essences of a semi-mythical people, and offers voice to one neglected, to tell the tale of her life and beyond.