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11 Great Green Tales: A Retrospective

Ekostories Revisit Word Cloud

100,000 views.

For some it may not seem like much, but for an essayist writing on about what is still a niche subject, it seems like cause for celebration. Thank you for making it possible. A writer writing in solitude, while a fulfilling exercise, is ultimately an incomplete act – it is the reader that lifts words from the screen and reconstructs new possible meanings from them. So for those who have stayed to glean a quote, skim a passage, take in a page, a piece, or a series – My sincere and heartfelt gratitude. I hope that you come away as inspired by these tales as I did.

In light of this milestone and with the debut of Ekostories’ revamped look (Cocoa’s fantastic typography is what persuaded me to switch over), I thought it would be good to do a retrospective on some of the stories featured over the past two and a half years. This following piece serves both as an introduction for new visitors and to longtime readers interested in revisiting older pieces. Enjoy!

So What Are Ekostories?

We’ve all seen them before: “Green” books and documentaries that bombard us with messages that nature is good and humans are bad. Even as someone who wants to tread more lightly on the planet, these types of stories get to be a drag after a while. In their attempts to appeal to our conscience, they come across as preachy and heavy-handed.

This is a list of better stories, tales free of Unobtainium and Truffula trees. These are stories that explore humanity’s relationship with the planet in ways both subtle and complex. They differ in their approaches and employ different mediums in their telling. Instead of overwhelming us with guilt and shame, they evoke a broad range of emotions to help us understand why we should care about the Earth and in turn, ourselves. There are environmental themes woven through them, but they do not come at the price of being great stories. Here are my favourite 11 non-preachy green tales:

11.) My Neighbour Totoro, by Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro

Image of My Neighbour Totoro © 1988 by Studio Ghibli. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: Kids play with furry forest spirits and use their imaginations.

Considered by the late Roger Ebert to be one of the greatest children’s film of all time, My Neighbour Totoro is a movie about two sisters’s adventures with local forest spirits in their new countryside surroundings. The world of Totoro is one where kids are allowed to act like kids, where it’s perfectly OK to nap on the tummy of giant furry creatures, and where adults are not dismissive jerks, but gentle guides who let children embark on their own journeys of learning and discovery. In a world increasingly disconnected from nature, Totoro highlights the value of unstructured play and unfettered imagination for the cultivation of independent and resilient individuals.

10.) Alone in the Wilderness, with Dick Proenneke

Alone In the Wilderness with Dick Proenneke

Image from Alone in the Wilderness © 2004 Bob Swerer Productions. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: Dude builds cabin in woods, lives alone for 30 years.

Before Man Vs. Wild and Survivorman, there was Dick Proenneke, a retired mechanic who spent three decades living alone at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. Alone in the Wilderness is the first of three fascinating documentaries that depicts Proenneke’s time living in the heart of the wild, highlighting his skills as an unparalleled outdoorsman. His astonishing feats of self-reliance, seen from scenes of building his own cabin, devising bear-proof locks, and carving his own spoons, are balanced with a personal humility and a deep appreciation for the wildlife around him. Proenneke’s chronicles serve as an exploration of what it means to live simply and close to the land, with intention and meaning.

9.) Pikmin 1 & 2, by Nintendo

Pikmin and Olimar Nintendo

Image of Pikmin © 2004 Nintendo, Inc. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less:  Tiny alien crash-lands and befriends the local flora/fauna.

Nintendo’s first two Pikmin games follow the adventures of Olimar, a diminutive astronaut who has crash-landed on Earth in the far distant future. These games use daily journal entries to tell whimsical and occasionally poignant tales. Through these logs, Olimar’s personal thoughts are slowly revealed, from his fears of becoming forever stranded to his changing attitude towards the alien world. They speak to a profoundly curious explorer who constantly observes, speculates, and learns from the world around him. Through the relationships he forges with the indigenous wildlife, Olimar comes to cultivate a sense of wonder towards a strange yet recognizable world.

8.) Flower, by thatgamecompany

Flower thatgamecompany dreaming flowers

Image of Flower © 2009 thatgamecompany, Inc. All rights reserved. Click to read.

In 10 words or less:  Exploring the daydreams and nightmares of flowers.

A videogame that takes full advantage of the interactive nature of its medium, Flower features a solitary petal for its protagonist and delivers an emotionally stirring narrative centered on the theme of empowerment. At first, the petal’s powers are minor: Rejuvenating small patches of grass; changing rock formations; making the wind blow. But by the final level, the petal becomes an irresistible force capable of bringing about sweeping renewal to the heart of a decaying city. Without uttering a single word, Flower conveys the notion that even the most powerless of us can utterly transform the world.

7.) Belonging, by Jeannie Baker

Window and Belonging

Window and Belonging © Jeannie Baker. Images from gatheringbooks.org.

In 10 words or less:  A cityscape’s transformation from grey to green over a generation.

Another story told without words, Belonging is a children’s book that features a series of beautiful textured collages illustrating the changes of a place during the formative years of its protagonist. Over two decades, the grey and drab cityscape gradually transforms into a vibrant and colourful neighbourhood. Scene by scene, a neglected lot turns into a safe and popular playground, demolished buildings reveal a beautiful lake view, and re-greening efforts bring character and colour back to the neighbourhood. In Belonging, nature is the catalyst for creating a thriving community full of happy and healthy people.

6.) Overview, by the Planetary Collective

In 10 words or less:  Reflections of stargazers looking back at our pale blue dot.

Shifting the focus from local places to outer space, Overview is a tightly paced and expertly scored short film that explores the profound change in outlook of astronauts returning from space. Dubbed the Overview Effect, these cognitive shifts are triggered by seeing the planet in a new light, as a tiny oasis in an infinite cosmic backdrop. Awed by the earth’s dynamic beauty and recognizing its shocking fragility, these modern-day heroes realize the collective responsibility the human race has towards the only home we have ever known. A concern for the planet and the desire to explore space may not initially seem like the most compatible of ideas, but in Overview, their connection becomes crystal-clear.

5.) Star Trek: The Next Generation’s The Inner Light

Star Trek TNG Inner Light

Images of Star Trek: The Next Generation © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: Living with hope in the face of doom and despair.

Staying in the realm of space, The Inner Light, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is a poignant tale of one man living in a society facing an impending environmental catastrophe. Weaving together ideas of nature, culture, and identity into a powerful hour of television, The Inner Light shows the type of story science-fiction is uniquely capable of telling. The idea that nature can be a source of hope for culture is a powerful one, seen early on as the village rallies together to keep a single tree alive in the face of a prolonged drought. The episode also reinforces the idea that there is no culture without nature. When it is revealed that the planet’s soils can no longer support life, it is inevitable that society is doomed.

4.) There’s a Hair in My Dirt, by Gary Larson

In 10 words or less:  Nature’s not what you think, so start learning and appreciating.

A twisted take on a fairy tale, There’s a Hair in My Dirt is a story of an earthworm telling a story about a silly woman who’s enamoured with nature. In customary Far Side fashion, Larson employs his unique brand of humour and way of seeing the world to subvert expectations that nature is a gentle and benevolent force. The story cautions against glorifying the natural world without a solid understanding of how it works: Nature is not just life and light, but also death and decay. The story’s hilarious and disturbing conclusion reinforces the importance of understanding the flora and fauna humanity shares this world with.

3.) Some Thoughts on the Common Toad, by George Orwell

Orwell's Common Toad

Image from PeterMoore.co.uk. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: Beauty exists, even in one who will never become a prince.

Renowned for Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell was also regarded as one of the greatest narrative essayists in the 20th century. One of his more meditative pieces, Some Thoughts on the Common Toad speaks to the influences of the natural world, even during the darkest times of World War II. Short, succinct, and masterfully constructed, Orwell jumps seamlessly from finding transcendence in the eyes of a toad to the miracles spring brings to a battered London, before cautioning us of blind pursuits for better futures, lest we fail to appreciate the pleasures nature freely affords us.

2.) The Man Who planted Trees, by Frédéric Back

Man Who Planted Trees or L’homme qui plantait des arbres

Image of The Man Who Planted Trees © 1987 Radio Canada. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: One man doing good work changes himself and the world.

A visually stunning, Academy award-winning short film, The Man Who Planted Trees is the story of one man’s efforts to revitalize nature and culture in a barren land, demonstrating that humanity’s impact on the planet can be a positive one. Dedicating his life to the utopian enterprise of planting trees, shepherd and beekeeper Elzéard Bouffier derives a deep sense of joy from his work, and over the course of several decades single-handedly turns a desolate region of France into a lush environment where both forest and village thrive. The combination of the swirling sketch style visuals and Christopher Plummer’s restrained narration complements and enhances the story, transforming an inspiring work into an unforgettable audiovisual experience.

1.) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaa Watercolour

Image of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind © Hayao Miyazaki. All rights reserved.

In 10 words or less: Legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest and most epic work.

The graphic novel version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is regarded as legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus and one of the greatest piece of ecological science fiction ever created. Spanning over a thousand pages, it is an epic exercise in world-building on par with Herbert’s Dune and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. As a princess from a small kingdom at the edge of the Periphery, Nausicaa becomes embroiled in a war between two powers vying for control of a world full of toxic jungles, acid lakes, and giant insects. Along the way, she becomes the mediator for nature and culture, forging bonds with inhabitants of both worlds and becoming the strand that binds them together. Unlike the film of the same title, there is no easy answers to the difficulties of living in a hard world; the ending culminates in an unforgettable clash of worldviews and philosophies – There’s nothing like it.

What do you think of this list? Do you think another story deserves to be featured? What are your own favourite green tales, and why? Also, any feedback on the new theme is appreciated!

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