The Edge Effects editorial board is happy to announce three new members of our team. To the board, we welcome Bailey Albrecht and Helen J. Bullard. Bailey is a PhD student in the History department who studies how people have shaped their environments, while Helen is a research-based storyteller working toward a custom PhD in Interdisciplinary Arts and Science. We also welcome Elizabeth Hennessy, assistant professor of World Environmental History in the Nelson Institute and History Department, who is stepping in for William Cronon as our new faculty advising editor.
Meanwhile, we bid a fond farewell to editor Spring Greeney, who was part of the Edge Effects development working group and who served as editor for fifteen months. Spring departs to continue work on her dissertation, among several other cool projects.
And finally, today we bring you our monthly set of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
I’m a big fan of podcasts and love listening to them when I’m walking the dog or taking the bus. Last week my favorite podcast, Stuff You Should Know (SYSK), posted an episode titled “How Timber Works,” which explains how trees become tables and what this process means for the environment. SYSK has a huge backlog of episodes covering everything from crystal skulls to road rage, and a surprisingly high number of their podcasts touch on environmental issues. Aside from the recent timber episode, SYSK has covered how sanitary landfills work, what a nuclear winter would be like, and even how terraforming on Mars might work. The hosts, Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark, do a great job of making complex topics understandable, and more importantly, entertaining.
Why do we feed wild animals? This is a question that Cambridge scholar and author of recent best-selling H is for Hawk Helen Macdonald asks in the most recent of her New York Times Magazine series, On Nature. What animals we feed, and how, she convincingly argues, has more to do with who we are and what we desire than with the animals we draw close.
Helen J. Bullard
What is the line between the sacred, and the scientific? What kind of line is it, and when do you know you have crossed it? These are some of the questions Leeanna Torres starts out with in her reflective piece entitled K’yak’yali (Bird, Eagle), for the Center for Humans & Nature. Torres is figuring it out as she goes. As her story swings between a golden eagle called Olo, cared for in an aviary by the Pueblo of Zuni, and a nameless bird in the taxidermy rooms of the museum in which she works, she reaches for answers—and finds more questions. “My hands are in the bird. Not on the bird. In the bird,” she writes. She discusses the spiritual, the ceremonial, the alive, and the “drained of life, but not empty of power.” Torres shuffles scenes like thoughts in this piece, from aviary to museum to bar and back to aviary, scattering still more questions—especially around self and companionship—as she goes.
Some prominent environmental writers recently banded together to create a thoughtful and lively space to share their work outside the confines of more traditional writing for magazines and newspapers. The result was a website called The Last Word On Nothing, which features essays and commentary from a growing cadre of both new and established voices. One of my recent favorites was a balanced analysis of the Paris Climate Talks from environmental and science journalist Michelle Nijhuis.
If you’ve read this far, you can tell that we at Edge Effects like raptors and Helen Macdonald. Her remarkable memoir, H is for Hawk, has received a great deal of attention over the past year, and with good reason. At every level of writing, Macdonald is masterful. Immaculately textured, delightfully specific language features throughout, but Macdonald also seamlessly weaves her chronicle of grief after losing her father with the similarly difficult life story of T.H. White (1906-1964), a fellow austringer and author of The Goshawk and The Sword in the Stone. Wracked with sorrow, Macdonald withdraws from normal human life by training her own goshawk, Mabel—an all-consuming, often punishing task spiked equally with exhilaration and dejection. As the two figures learn to hunt together, Macdonald finally comes to a new understanding of the world she sought to escape, and the world she must learn, over and over again, to inhabit.
Flint, Michigan is in a state of emergency after residents forced public officials to admit that switching the city’s water supply from the Great Lakes to the Flint River has led to unsafe and sometimes toxic levels of lead in drinking water. The city’s failure to implement a corrosion control plan, combined with the harder river water, resulted in the leaching of lead from old pipes. One timeline of the crisis starts with the day that city leaders made the switchover nearly two years ago. But clearly the problem has deeper roots, in an inseparable mix of environmental racism, capital flight, and neglected infrastructure.
As winter storm Jonas blanketed the East Coast with snow earlier this week, cities closed roads and shut down public transportation. With nowhere to go, residents hunkered down and had a little fun. This time-lapse video taken by a Washington DC resident provides a reminder of how beautiful the rhythms of snow days can be. Check out The Washington Post’s ten favorite storm time-lapse videos for more. For those of us interested in environmental change over time, these are a real treat!
Kaitlin Stack Whitney
I’ve been following the ongoing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. As a conservation case study, it has it all: culture (native land and sacred artifacts!), history (failed farmland!), and environment (critical bird habitat!). Former CHE faculty member Dr. Nancy Langston has provided critical historical perspective in the public dialogue with a recent op-ed in the New York Times. Her book Where Land and Water Meet: A Western Landscape Transformed has also been cited in many places, from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” on television to Oregon Public Broadcasting on radio to the Washington Post in print. While the Malheur occupation situation is still unfolding, and I hope it remains peaceful, the importance of history in current conservation debates is already clear.