We began publishing Minding Nature in 2008, shortly after the death of the founder of the Center for Humans and Nature, Strachan Donnelley. Now, with our Spring/Summer 2021 issue, against the backdrop of the dire experiences that virtually all of nature and humanity have been through, we pause with a sigh of loss and for a breath of hope for new beginnings.
We call this journal Minding Nature because its pages, and the work of the Center for Humans and Nature as a whole, exemplify the multiple dimensions of the enterprise that the phrase suggests. I like to think of these dimensions in a simple, old-fashioned (indeed, classically antique) sense. They are the true, the good, and the beautiful.
The time to love is now. Now, while we can choose how to live and how to die. Now, with beauty apparent: breathe, look, touch, savor, and listen. Listen to learn, for you cannot love what you do not know. You can control, contain, and even kill, but you cannot love without first learning.
Given the chance, I could converse all day long about books, podcasts, and artwork by Indigenous authors, researchers, and artists. Though I am unable to list every piece that I love, the following storytellers are a source of inspiration for me. These works are rooted in Ancestral knowledge and often speak to the ways that we remain connected to our Ancestral territories, and are a small snapshot of brilliant works by Indigenous storytellers.
I have chosen Robin Wall Kimmerer's essay “Returning the Gift” as my selection to this issue of Minding Nature. The past year has been full of loss, learning, and love, and throughout it all, Kimmerer’s call to gratitude as a practice of mutual responsibility has given me strength. As the Center’s social media coordinator, I have also seen her essay give strength to many of our readers.
A leitmotif of many of the essays published in Minding Nature during its first fifteen years is interdependence, symbiosis, and the web of mutuality that constitutes the phenomenon of life on the Earth, including human life. In this essay, Lisa Eckenwiler provided one of the most compelling and comprehensive accounts of that ecological vision. She offered a rich conceptual vocabulary for talking together about the nature of being itself, with special reference to the extraordinary relationality of human being, and for reimagining self-identity and agency in ecological terms as citizenship (mutual care, moral kinship).
I like to think that all of us, in these days of reckoning with complex social and environmental problems, are making the necessary connections in (and between) our hearts and minds. I like to think that our collective pandemic experience is providing some pause during which that work proceeds, consciously and subconsciously. Emerging diseases, climate and ecosystem disruption, economic disparity, historic injustice, structural racism, political polarization, food insecurity, other hard realities—none can be addressed in isolation.
Right after the Center published this essay on urban flooding, my basement flooded. This was a rare event for my Northwest Side neighborhood, and it took a one-hundred-year storm to send the water up my basement drain. However, for many people—especially those on the South Side of Chicago—every rainfall is a nerve-fraying potential disaster, and flooding is a way of life that happens again and again and again.
In my reading life, I tend to gravitate toward good storytelling, not conceptual explorations. However, having a good story to tell about the lifegiving and life-generating world in which we live involves by necessity having the words and language to articulate such a story. Glenn Albrecht is a wordsmith, in the sense that he literally invents words that express emotions that may be difficult to name until we see the word itself.
Carol Gould’s prescient essay was written in late 2015. Few then thought that Donald Trump would be the President of the United States in little more than a year. But she was well aware of other storm clouds on the horizon because authoritarian populist and nativistic regimes were beginning to make electoral gains in high-income countries. Soon enough, the United Kingdom would leave the European Union, and authoritarian regimes—or illiberal ones, at any rate—would come to power in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, India, and Australia.
I would like to reshare with our readers “If Your House Is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change.” I have chosen this piece because in her conversation with Mary DeMocker, Kathleen’s words bring me to a place where I simultaneously think critically and feel deeply, which I experience as a heartbreaking sense of love, loss, and understanding. And from that place, I can act. Thank you, Mary and Kathleen, for the gifts of your words.
When I think of ecological citizenship, the first words that come to mind are sustainability, mindfulness, and empathy. I also think about change, and the kind of changes that are needed to become an ecological citizen or an ecological society. Changing a personal habit is difficult, but altering systems established on a global scale is intimidating enough to make it seem impossible.
On the Cover: Ava Carney, A Genius of the Spot II, 2020, glazed ceramic, 29” x 12” x 14”