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.
Of history and story:
“Everything has history: our ideas have a history, nature have a history, our place in nature has multiple histories… But the wonderful consequence is that everything also has a story. And rather than take the world as a static, unchanging place – in fact, there’s always a story.”
On the perils of sustainability:
“If one cares about the claims of justice, if one cares about how different groups have differential access to resources and power, only in the political realm can those ever be contested. If one appeals to a transcendent nature as a solution to such differences, injustice will almost inevitably be reinforced. It’s only through politics that we address inequity and injustice.”
On the small, slow acts for change:
“But the older I get, the more I mistrust the notion of a revolutionary leap. It seems to me that daily practice—small choices, lives well lived, mindfully and attentively lived—is the only way a just society can sustain itself. We have to make daily choices.”
The connective disciplines (I just made that term up):
“Ecology, storytelling, history—they all render connections visible. We make that which is invisible visible through story, and thereby reveal people’s relationships to other living things.”
The need for complexity in stories for change:
“Messy stories invite us into politics. They also invite us to laugh at ourselves. And those things together—the ability to laugh, to experience hope, to be inspired toward action at the personal and political levels—these strike me as the work of engaged storytelling in a world we’re trying to change for the better.”
Storytelling to remember:
“When we lose track of the narratives that human beings need to suffuse their lives and the world with meaning, we forget what makes the world worth saving. Telling stories is how we remember.”
So many head nods…
I would love to hear your thoughts on these statements and on the entire conversation, which you can read here:
Header Image: Terrace field in Yunnan, China. Photo by Jialiang Gao at wikimedia commons. I thought it appropriate for this post as the image contains nature, culture, artifice, and history.