The Environment Forum | Terry Tempest Williams – The Hour of Land


Good evening, friends. I’m Homi Bhabha, and I direct
the Mahindra Humanities Center here at Harvard in the
company of wonderful friends and colleagues, many of
whom are with us today. It’s very much a collective
and collaborative conversation. And indeed, this forum, this
forum on the environment, has emerged out of
that conversation. Every year, I like to feature
both a new kind of theme, or set of ideas, at the
Humanities Center, something that challenges the
norms that we deal with. Something different
at the Center to institutionalize the Center
around a set of new ideas. But for us, it has
also been really important to find new
ways, new forms, new fora, for launching these ideas. So it’s an attempt to
both change the content and the form together. And that makes me a
literary formalist, but that’s what I am. The environment forum
has been convened by Robin Kelsey and Ian
Miller, two very dear friends. Ian cannot be with us today
due to personal family reasons, but we miss him, and we
really celebrate his presence. He’s been a great energetic
colleague and friend, and he will of course come
back and make his contribution. We also launched, last year,
another panel with Claire Messud called Writers Speak. So we are trying now to set up
these semi-autonomous panels, of course very much also
in our friendly embrace. And it gives me the
greatest pleasure to have today the realization,
the actualization, of questions, and
issues, and problems that we have been discussing
at the Humanities Center. Tried to find the right
[? forum, ?] as I said earlier, and I think this is the right
[? forum. ?] And I think Terry Tempest Williams is the
right voice to launch this [? forum. ?] And I very much
hope that we will develop this with the same energy
that we have today. But in setting up this forum,
I also want to remind you, and to remember, in fact,
colleagues of ours who have been working in the
field of environment, in the field of climate
change, in the humanities for a long time,
and who are clearly important voices
for us to listen to and to collaborate with
as we set up this panel. And I think in particular here
of Larry Buell and my colleague Jim [? Engel, ?] who is kindly
here with us this evening. I think the hour of
the land has come. And if we don’t listen,
and if we don’t reflect, I think we are in a
very difficult position. Earlier in the summer, I was
in Venice with a few people, working on the Habitat Charter
of the UN, the new version of the Habitat Charter. And I have to say that
the question of land became extraordinarily
important. Who owns the land now? What forms of land
speculation take place? How does land get
depatriated by market forces? Lands are literally bought up. I mean, I believe a
huge chunk, and I’m sure you know this, a
huge chunk of Detroit is being bought by
the Chinese now. Huge. Large parts of the Caribbean
are being bought up. So the whole question of
land was very important. I, of course, come
from a country, from India, from a city, Mumbai,
where there is absolutely very little green space. It must be the
least in the world. And these thoughts
brought to me, this afternoon
brought to my mind a passage by Hannah Arendt,
written for completely different purposes. She was writing about refugees. And I think, however, that
this connection is not simply an accidental one. Because the cities,
the lands, the places from which refugees leave
are now very often demolished by war, by deprivation. So I think that’s
another way of thinking about what our ecological or
environmental ethics should be. I mean, the destruction
in the world at the moment, a world that will
have to be relived, land that will have to be re-nurtured. And in that context, I thought
of this passage out of context, but I’m going to read it to you. “Deadly danger to
any civilization is no longer likely
to come from without. No barbarians threaten to
destroy what they cannot understand, as the
Mongolians threatened Europe for centuries. Even the emergence of
totalitarian governments is a phenomenon within, and
not outside, our civilisation. The danger is that a globally,
universally interrelated civilization may produce
barbaric practices from its own midst, by
forcing millions of people into conditions which,
despite all appearances, are the conditions of savagery.” And I have taken this out
of its original context, from The Origins
of Totalitarianism. While reading it,
I have continually tweaked it, and written
it, I hope relevantly, for our discussions today. The danger from within
in our arrogance, in our vanity, in our certainty
of knowing what we are doing, knowing where we want
to go, what progress is. And with that, I leave
you and thank you. Terry, thank you very much. Thank you, Robin. Thank you, Ian. Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Homi. I’m just going to say a few
words about this evening, which is a very special
one for me, and I hope for everyone interested
in the environmental humanities at Harvard. It’s a great moment to launch
this initiative, made possible by Homi’s interest
and generosity. Our gratitude is
equal to our delight in his company over
the weeks and months that we have discussed this. It’s an exciting
moment generally, because this is only
one, as Homi indicated, one of multiple
initiatives taking place right now in the
environmental humanities. And I’d be remiss
if I didn’t mention that professor Joyce Chaplin
and Laura Martin, who are conveniently sitting
next to each other, have established the
Environmental History Working Group at the Harvard University
Center for the Environment under the generous sponsorship
of its director Dan Schrag, and that Professor Karen
Thornber is launching an Environmental Humanities
Initiative focused on China at the Harvard
Global Institute. So there’s a lot that’s
happening that’s exciting. And in this matrix
of new programs, I think this forum has
a very special place. And I’d like to say a
word or two about that. The reason that Ian and I
approached professor Bhabha with the idea for this
forum was that we were not content with seeding
conversations around the university
with little sprinkles of the humanities,
and what it might have to say about
environmental issues, however important that
sprinkling may be. We wanted to bring
our environment to the center of conversations
about what the humanities are and what they might be. In other words, our aim was
not to bring the environment to the humanities
as one more topic, but rather to ask what
happens to the humanities when one takes the immensely
challenging circumstances that we face with respect to our
environment as a starting point for asking what a humanist
might do in the world. To put this another way,
we wanted to ensure that we recognized, as an
intellectual community, that we cannot address the
environmental conundrums we face without asking fundamental
questions about who we, as humans, are, which are
questions at the heart of the humanities. As is the case of most
good new things at Harvard, the forum has been
driven into existence by a younger generation
that is productively urging the elders to pay
attention to the most pressing issues of the day. So I would like to pay my
respects to that younger generation. But I would also like
to acknowledge, again, Joyce Chaplin
personally, because it was her very generous
invitation to join Larry Buell and Joyce in directing
a Warren Center seminar that led to my interest
in initiating this forum. And I would like
to just echo what Homi said about wishing
that Ian was here to tell his own story
of his involvement, and he is certainly
here in spirit. To launch this effort,
Ian and I wanted someone with a vigorously
independent voice. Someone who took deep
thinking out into the world. Someone who demonstrated what
a humanist sensibility could mean for the practice
of citizenship. Someone of staunch integrity
and brilliant insight who could model the
shape of our ambition and its implications for action. In other words, we wanted
Terry Tempest Williams, author of, among
other books, Refuge, An Unspoken Hunger, A
Voice in the Wilderness, When Women Were Birds, Finding
Beauty in a Broken World, and most recently,
The Hour of Land. Ms. Williams is a
writer of gorgeous prose and deep conscience. And if you’ve read her
work, you know this. And if you haven’t, you
have some lovely afternoons or evenings ahead of you. Ms. Williams has garnered
awards, distinctions, and accolades, but if
she will forgive me, I’d rather say
something personal about my experience
of reading her work. From that reading,
I can tell you that I will never look
at starlings, or magpies, plastic forks, or unused
journals, to-do lists, or prairie dogs the
way I did before. From that reading I
have learned how vital it is to write
oneself into the land so that one can find a
place for one’s own voice, and how remarkable it
is when that voice is equal to that land’s marvels. From that reading,
I have learned that the most
pathetic fallacy is to think that you can
keep the world voiceless and yet hospitable. From that reading,
I have learned how a romantic conception
of the world can coexist, reconciled and unreconciled,
with the hard facts about ourselves. From that reading,
I have learned that you can be a nature writer,
with the desert in your bones, and yet deliver an
abundance of insights into the most social of things. Insights into families, into
the weight of generations, and into the risk that any
meaningful personal freedom requires. And I could go on,
but let me offer you the much sweeter pleasure
of getting to know the source of my lessons. Please join me in
welcoming a great writer and a great person,
and a perfect speaker to launch our
initiative this evening, Terry Tempest Williams. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Robin. I’m nervous. I’ll get over it. So I want you to bear with me. Thank you, Robin. It’s such a pleasure
and privilege to be here this evening. I so appreciate your
invitation to be part of this launch of
environmental humanities. From what I can tell,
and the research of just my own curiosity of what’s
happening at Harvard, it’s happening. Whether it’s the center
of the environment, or what you were referencing
with history, what’s happening here in this
extraordinary forum at the Mahindra Center, I’m
really honored to be here. And thank you, Homi Bhabha. Thank you for that chilling
reminder of savagery. And I wanted to
ask you so I don’t forget, you talked about lives
relived and land re-nurtured. I don’t want to forget
that, because I think that’s exactly where we are. And some of the most powerful
poignant conversations I’ve had have been in anticipation
of this conversation today. And thank you Robin
and Ian for your faith, for allowing someone
from the outback, so to speak, in
Utah, to come here. And I’m honored to
be able to build the bridges between
the intellectual rigor within the Academy and student
engagement on the ground, in the service of communities,
both human and wild, I think is essential. And I agree with you. I think the next
generation is demanding it. And it is our call and
pressure to listen. I also want to
acknowledge Ian Miller, and my prayers are with
Ian and his family. And thank you,
Sarah Razor and Jill [? Redskin ?] for
the conversations that we’ve been having. I think that environmental
humanities allow us to see the world whole. And I see two of
my former students, Andrew [? Nalani ?]
and Carrie Rosenblum. And you have been my teachers. I see Tim DeChristopher,
and you are my teacher. And it’s this next
generation that makes me appreciate what Thoreau
said in Walden, when he said, I’m 30 years old, and my seniors
have yet to teach me anything. And it makes me smile. I think our task as
educators is to create an environment, an atmosphere,
where students can flourish with what they already know
and intuit by being alive at this moment in time. Environmental humanities
can support them with a type of ground truthing. Hands on the earth,
[? we’ll ?] remember where the source
of our power lies, and it is deeply humbling. Just for my own sense,
so I know where you are, would students please
stand so we can honor you? Thank you. I just like to know
where the weight is. Ours is a storied world. Story is the umbilical cord
between the past, present, and future. It keeps things known. I think when someone
tells a story, we become accountable for that
knowledge which is shared. Story becomes the
conscience of the community. Environmental humanities
is the correspondence between the inner
and outer landscapes where deep listening occurs. And I see this kind of
engagement here at Harvard. Just with my own friends,
I think about the work that Sharon Harper is
doing as a photographer with the national
parks, whether it’s looking at the presence
of glacial erratics, or the intricacy
of desert plants and how they speak
to one another. Linda Bilmes, her
research on national parks and our call to figure
out how to fund them. A call for an endowment. And with her research showing
that $90 billion a year could come from a small tax,
that in her research shows that citizens are willing
to do to protect and preserve our national parks three times
what our Congress has said yes to. At a time where this
huge advertising has gone along with
Find Your Park, now how are we going
to pay for them? That research is going on here. Or that beloved
work of Ed Wilson, who now is one of our elders,
and has been for a long time, as far as I’m concerned. I remember meeting him as
a student at the University of Utah, and I’ll never
forget asking him, as a 20-year-old, Dr.
Wilson, are you hopeful? And he said, no,
but I’m optimistic. Just keep doing the work. I’ve never forgotten that. And now, in his 80s, as he
tells us if we as a species are to survive, half
the earth is required. Half the earth
protected in wildness is required so that we
can have lives relived and land re-nurtured. This is what’s at stake. And I hold the words of
Calestous Juma, another mentor of mine, at the Kennedy School,
when he last month was saying to me, we may, in
fact, be ungovernable, the world right now. And that our only hope is if we
return, not go back, but return to a renewed sense of community
where the ethic of place, and of caring for one another,
returns in our governance. And I think of the
work his wife is doing, Alison, in the wild
stretches of river here, along the watersheds of the
Concord and Merrimack River. So wherever we live, wherever
our sense of place is, wherever our ethic
of place resides. Whether it’s along the
banks of the Charles River, or facing the Atlantic Ocean, or
in my case, the Great Salt Lake and inland sea. A mirage in the desert, water
in the desert that nobody can drink, that kind of paradox. These are the places that
infuse our spirit with a deeper sense of morality. So we’re here tonight to
celebrate these things. And I would argue that we
are here because of love. And I don’t know how that
word sits here at Harvard, but I imagine we’re all
sitting here with that word. A love of knowledge. A love of place. A love of our students. A love of our material. A love of each other. And I think that’s really what
I want to talk about tonight. To be here because of love. To act in the name of love. To be part of a community, as
elder [? Leopold ?] reminds us, that is not just our own
species, but rocks, rivers, plants, animals,
and human beings. To see the world
whole, even holy. It’s [? that ?] notion
to see ourselves as one species among many. We are not the center
of the universe. I think we forget that. Our national parks,
I would argue, are a gateway into
the intersection of the human and the wild,
where, for many of us, our sense of an ecology
of residency resides. I would suggest
that collaboration is the way forward. And so tonight, as I share
these remarks for the next hour, maybe less, I would
ask each of us to consider, how do we take
the gifts that are ours, and give them up in
the name of community? Each in our own way,
each in our own time, with the gifts that are
ours to protect these lands as breathing spaces. This morning, Brooke and I
went to the [INAUDIBLE] museum, where, as you know, there’s
this fantastic exhibit called The Land
Remains, A Century of Conservation of America’s
National Parks With Maps. How many of you have
seen the exhibit? You have something
to look forward to. It’s amazing, and I can’t
wait to go back tomorrow. I think it’s important. And we were able to see
through the lenses of David Weimer, the librarian,
for the geographic, the cartographic collections. And Scott Walker, who curated
the show with Bonnie Burns. In one map, I promise you,
of Yellowstone National Park, and this is where
Brooke and I are living, in the greater Yellowstone
ecosystem right now, in one map, it’s
everything I needed to know about the power of perceptions. It was a map that was created
through the Hayden Expedition, 1871, of the geyser basin. If someone were to
say, you know, what is environmental humanities? How about the Hayden Expedition? How about Thomas
Moran as artist? How about William
Jackson as photographer? How about the cast of luminaries
in the sciences, biology, collecting specimens, the
geologists, and Hayden himself. And I love that there
were 32 mappists, who were making not an
aerial point of view that we have now of
Yellowstone, but really looking on the ground. And don’t ask me how, with
the tools that they did, created something so accurate. The four of us this
morning were just in awe of what collaboration
can be on the land and in the world. Not only just mapping
new territory, but mapping the imagination
with that point of view. And just last week I was in
Jackson, Wyoming, and listened to Bob Smith, who’s the leading
authority on seismic mapping right now. And I can’t wait to have him go
back and look at Hayden’s map and see the overlay. And how what is the
connective tissue of a map in the 21st century,
and a map in the 19th century? It is the imagination. The stories. While we were there, there
was a brother and sister who, every map was an
ignition of stories. And I think this is what the
environmental humanities do for us. It’s also what our
national parks are for us. They are memory palaces. The stories that we tell
ourselves, not just one story, but multiple stories. 300 million visitations occur
over a year, and it’s rising. Why? I think because we
are increasingly losing our breaths. And they are the
breathing spaces that remind us, once again,
where the source of our power comes from. Not just human, but wild. There was a map of Yosemite. And it was very near
the map of Yellowstone. And I couldn’t help but think of
President Obama and the speech that he delivered
in June in Yosemite to celebrate the centennial
of our national parks. I was not prepared for his joy. He was the first president
of the United States to come back to Yosemite. For over 50 years,
the last president to visit Yosemite National
Park was John F. Kennedy. You can imagine a
security nightmare, right? He came. And he spoke. And what I loved, and
this was maybe a week after the mass
murders in Orlando, he spoke with such conviction. And it was clear that he
moved off the prepared texts, and he said, this is what
I want to say to you. Can you imagine what it
was like for a boy of 11, living in Hawaii on an island,
to come to the mainland and have my mother take
me to the place she felt was most important
for me to see, Yellowstone? He said, can you
imagine what it was like to see a moose
knee-deep in a pond? Or to turn a corner and see
golden meadows with deer? And at the close of the day,
to see a grizzly with two cubs. He said, it changes you. It changes me. And it reminds me, he said,
as Yosemite reminds me, that we are part of something
so much greater than ourselves. That is our president
right now, speaking about the national parks. And I love, and I think it’s
important for us to recognize, that he has now surpassed Teddy
Roosevelt as our conservation president. That now he has protected
over 265 million acres of land and water. I think that matters. Again, a stay against savagery. Our national parks are blood. All over the world this is true. They are more than scenery. They are portals and
thresholds of wonder, an open door that
swings back and forth from our past to our future. “This something we
call America lives not so much in political
institutions as in its rocks and skies and
seas,” wrote the photographer Paul Strand. This is the hour of land, when
our mistakes and shortcomings must be placed in the
perspective of time. The hour of land is
where we remember what we have forgotten. We are not the only species
who lives and breathes and loves on this planet. There is something
enduring that circulates in the heart of nature,
that deserves our respect and attention. This was my intent in
writing The Hour of Land, And what I want you to
know is that my stories are rooted in the American West. This is my home ground. I live in a state, a contentious
state, I will say, called Utah. And the Red Rock Desert,
where our five national parks, Zion, Bryce, Capitol
Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, I’ve always viewed
as our backyard. And I hope you’ll forgive
me if I share a story. It happens young. And I would urge
you to think about, what is your mother park? What are your earliest memories
of a landscape that held you? And for me, it’s this. I grew up in the
Mormon religion. We had a ritual that when
you turned eight years old and you were about
to be baptized, you climbed Mount Timpanogos. And you made your way
to the top of Timpanogos by way of Timpanogos Cave,
which is a national monument. And I remember there must have
been 12 of us, eight years old. We followed our teacher up a
steep mile-and-a-half paved trail. I remember the big metal
green doors opening. There was a park
ranger to meet us. We walked up on risers moving
through Father Time’s Jewel Box, through the
Valley of Sleep. All I could think
of was, where is the great heart of Timpanogos? Because we were
raised with the story, it was a Ute story, that the
heart of the maiden was here. So a child of eight years
old took that literally. And I just kept looking
for the great heart. We turned. The temperature dropped. There was the great
heart, dripping. I wondered if I
were to touch it, would it register
as cold or heat? I swear it was beating. I became so obsessed
with the great heart before me, the
stalactites, stalagmites that registered as teeth. Here was this heart,
this beating heart, in the center of the mountain,
that when the lights turned off and the door closed,
and I was left inside the mountain with
such a depth of darkness I have never been able to
duplicate, there I was. Lost. Found. I can’t tell you when fear
transformed itself into awe. I also can’t tell
you how long it was that I was inside that
dark center of the mountain. But when the doors opened, and
the light went on, I was sorry. And for the rest
of my life, I’ve been looking for that
heart, that beating heart. The depth of that mountain. In the Centennial year of
our beloved national parks, there is much to
celebrate and much to protect in the
political climate of today. Bernard DeVoto,
who is a writer I seek in these times
in the Interior West, when if you read the GOP
platform, the language is, quote, “to dispose
of all public lands. To dispose of all
federal lands.” End quote. I think that should
concern all of us. DeVoto wrote in 1951, on
America’s public lands, “you had better watch
this now and from now on. The land grabbers are
on the loose again, and they can only be stopped
only as they were before, by the effective marshaling
of public opinion.” That was in 1951. 2016, it’s the same story. The stakes are just higher. Public lands. That’s what I want
to talk about today. That’s what’s fueling
the American West. And when I’m in
the East, I’m very mindful that a lot
of people don’t care about the public lands. A lot of people don’t even
know what public lands are. And I will never forget a few
years ago, a friend of mine, Bill Hedden, who
graduated from Harvard, he was part of the Back
to the Land Movement, went into Castle Valley where
we live now, in Salt Lake, a hamlet in the
desert of 300 people. We were in New York. We were on Madison Avenue. We were just coming out
of the Whitney Museum. And he said, you
know, Terry, nobody cares about public lands. And I said, oh yes, they do. And he said, I’ll bet you. He said I bet you cannot find
one out of 10 people in this city that even know
what public lands are. And I said, OK, you’re on. And he said, I’ll bet you $100. I needed the money. So we went and asked
the first person excuse me can you tell me
what the BLM is? We thought that would be the
marker, the Bureau of Land Management, who is the
largest federal landholder in the country. I asked the first person, could
you tell me what the BLM is? And he said, is it a car? I asked the second person. Is it a disease? A center for disease? And airlines. Today, it would be
Black Lives Matter. We went all the way through. No one could tell
us what the BLM was. We were down to nine. I was losing. I’m not a good loser. I scoured the last one
very, very carefully. And across the road,
I saw a young woman wearing turquoise jewelry,
and I thought, that one. And I ran across
through several cabs, grabbed her, and
said, excuse me, can you tell me what the BLM is? And she said, you mean the
Bureau of Land Management? I work for them. And then the next
thing was instructive. She said, am I in trouble? So for those of us who worry
about our public lands, that is a statement. In 1955, Wallace Stegner, whom
I love, the same era as DeVoto, wrote this right when
Dinosaur National Monument was threatened by the
Bureau of Reclamation building a hydroelectric dam
that would choke the Yampa and Green Rivers. This is what he wrote. “It is a better world with
some buffalo left in it. A richer world with
some gorgeous canyons unmarred by sign boards, hot
dog stands, superhighways, or high tension lines. Undrowned by power or
irrigation reservoirs. If we preserved as
parks only those places that have no economic
possibilities, we would have no parks. And in the decades to
come, it will not only be the buffalo and the trumpeter
swan who need sanctuaries. Our own species is
going to need them too. It needs them now.” As you know, the
dam was never built. Today, six decades
later, the monument remains an oasis of calm. The rivers are free flowing. And the signs of
the Fremont people who once inhabited these
desert lands are still there. And the Ute people still
inhabit those lands. It’s in a boom or bust cycle. Now it’s a bust
cycle, and the people are wondering what to do
with their new houses, their new trucks, and no
wages to support them. 40 of our national
parks in America are threatened by oil
and gas development. 12 of our national parks already
have oil and gas development in them, with 30
parks now threatened. Theodore Roosevelt
National Park among them. The very park, the very
land in the Badlands of North Dakota that
Teddy Roosevelt said allowed him to
develop the character to become president
of the United States. The same lands that healed
him after his wife and mother died on the same day, when
he put an X in his journal, “the light has gone
out of my life.” Those lands are now
threatened, right in the shadow of the Bakken oil fields
that in its prime two years ago was producing 1
million barrels a day. As we mark the centennial of
the National Park Service, my question is this. What is the relevance
of our national parks in the 21st century, and how
might these public comments bring us back home to a
United States of humility? So when I was thinking about
our parks, how they really are a gateway drug to
our public lands, which is what I really care about, I
thought about a dinner party. I thought– Brooke
and I, in the desert, we have a fair amount of them. And we have 12 chairs
around our table. So I thought, OK,
if I were to invite 12 national parks to dinner,
which ones would they be? So I knew who would be at the
head of the table, my mother park, which is Grand Teton
National Park, and Canyonlands National Park, which is
very near where we live. I thought about who would be
at the center of the table that would keep the
conversation going. Parks that I didn’t know
well, but I really trusted. Acadia National Park and
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, both with familial ties. Then I thought about
the dream guest, that I would never
dare invite, but I knew other people who would. And those would be the parks
I’d never been to before. Big Bend in Texas, which by
the way, if I ever disappear, that’s where it’ll be,
and Gates of the Arctic in Alaska above
the Arctic Circle, the least-visited national
park within the system. And then I thought about the
bad boys and girls, the people you love to have at
the dinner party, but they don’t really
behave very well. And that would be Gettysburg,
Alcatraz, Gulf Island National Seashore. The ideas they bring,
slavery, war, incarceration, the BP oil spill. I thought about the complicated
guest whose family that you really don’t want
to invite, but you have to, because you don’t
know if you’re up to them, and that was Glacier
National Park. I didn’t know if I
could tell the story of the complicated, violent
history of the National Park Service in the Blackfoot Nation. I didn’t know how
to convey the notion that the very namesake
of Glacier National Park, that the glaciers
are disappearing. Now 15 remain. Glacier was at the dinner table. There was the unexpected guest. Effigy Mounds National
Monument in Iowa. How many of you have
been to Effigy Mounds? I’d never even
heard of it either. Honestly, one of
the top five places I’ve ever been in my life. Effigy mounds in the
shapes of marching bears. 10 bears in a row
lining the ridge. A Falcon effigy mound,
200-foot wingspan. A Lakota man who’s now the
cultural resource manager took us there. A holy place. Most all of the effigy
mounds have been plowed under, replaced by corn. And then, the guest
that changed everything. Cesar Chavez National Monument. And it was in that moment
around the dinner table I realized that my
mentor whom I adore, who I took almost everything he
said as gospel truth, Wallace Stegner, that our national
parks were our best idea. I wish he were alive today so
I could say, really, Wally? I’m not sure I agree. What about an evolving idea? If you think about 2016,
100 years past 1916, Stephen Mather, the first
national park director, a moneyed man, a privileged
man, a white man, made his fortune from
Borax, 20 mules strong. His concerns were how
can we get other people to pay for these parks? His concern about
Yosemite National Park was, would Mrs. Astor be
comfortable camping there? She wasn’t, and so they
built the Ahwahnee Hotel, named, ironically, after the
very people the park displaced. Fast forward 2016. The Ahwahnee name has been
removed because of a court case. A battle over trademarks. Forget the native people. An evolving idea. That is a shadow side. The other side of an evolving
idea with our national parks is we now have a
black president who was a community organizer
who, in 2012, honored another community organizer,
Cesar Chavez, who, in his term, we see the shifting demographics
within our national parks. Harriet Tubman Underground
Railroad National Monument. Stonewall National Monument. Looking at the struggle and the
triumph of the LGBT community. The Women’s House
in Washington, DC. And now, in Utah, in a state
with such contentiousness around oil and gas development,
the tribes are rising up. And the Navajo, the Hopi, the
Zuni, and the two Ute nations, along with 25 Pueblo nations,
are asking the president to please protect close to 2
million acres of their home ground adjacent to Canyonlands
National Park in the Bears Ears National Monument. They are saying, these
lands are sacred. These are the lands where our
ancestors’ bones are buried. These are the lands where we
can still hear their songs on the voice of the wind. Where their ceremonies are held. Where their medicines
are gleaned. I think it will happen. And what an extraordinary
healing for the United States Government to honor the voices
of indigenous people in place. An evolving idea. What I have learned is that
there is no such thing as one portrait or one story,
only the authority of our own experiences shared. Again, the stories. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t until I read
Jorie Graham’s poem “We” that I really saw how these
individual pieces came together. And I think it’s so
important that in this idea of both our national
parks as breathing spaces, and environmental
humanities, that we see how different artists, different
scholars, different thinkers, different disciplines
influence us. And in her poem “We” that
I read just by accident, it was the January
issue in 2015. The last thing I
grabbed as I was going to write for six weeks. It was her poem that
gave me the bones I needed, the scaffolding
to build, to create, The Hour of Land. And what I will tell you is that
I built this book differently, because suddenly,
a sense of place became a poetics of place that
gave rise to an ethic of place. And I want to read you
the 13 lines that Jorie, who is one of your
colleagues, as you know, allowed me to use in her
extraordinary generosity. [? “By ?] definition,
keep promise. All this is what the wind knows. The stones, the
steel, the galaxies. There is no prevailing. Death, yes, but as a gathering. Any wind will tell you
there is no private space. What more shall we do
to others, to otherness? We are in some strange
wind, says the wind. The bodies are all gone from it. The purchases have been made. It is so extreme, this taking
the place of the standing in for this disappearing
of all the witnesses. I say to myself, keep on. It will not be the end. Not [? yet.” ?] 13 lines from a
very long poem by Jorie Graham gave me the legs to stand on. Keep promise. I want to read with you
an excerpt from my mother park, Grand Teton
National Park, and I would ask you to think
about what is yours? Bless you. “On my father’s 80th
birthday, we saw a bear. A grizzly standing upright. We had just hiked
to Grand View point in Grand Teton National Park,
where Emma Matilda Lake and Two Ocean Lake appear below. And if you turn around, the
glory of the Teton Range looms behind you. We were a party of four
generations, the youngest just one-year-old, and
we were resting at the base of the trail
when the grizzly appeared. Instead of being
afraid, we stood, as the bear did, trying to get
a better look at the elusive beast. The bear bolted into
the woods, gone. My niece smiled and
looked to her grandfather. Happy birthday, John. Like so many
families, our family has been coming to the
Tetons for generations. Grand Teton National Park
was a cherished landscape for my great grandfather,
John Henry Tempest senior. He passed his affection
for this place on to my grandfather, John Henry
Tempest Junior, who passed it on to his sons, John
and Richard, who passed it on to us, and another
two generations past mine. Our entire Tempest clan can
be found here most summers, climbing peaks, hiking trails,
and cherishing the wildflowers and wildlife, knowing
each species by name. Our national parks are
memory palaces where our personal histories reside.” All you need to know is that my
father in college, his nickname was Teton Tempest. “Not long ago, my father and
I were hiking to Taggart Lake, a short lovely walk to
the base of the Tetons. As we walked up the trail, we
heard a horn blow repeatedly. Around the bend, a man
in a Harvard sweatshirt, half-crazed with fear, was
holding a bear horn out in front of him, pressing the
button every 15 seconds or so. A large canister of bear
spray hung low from his belt, and numerous bear bells
dangled from his backpack. He looked– excuse me– like a one man marching band. The expression on his face
when he met us head-on was one of sheer terror. ‘Good God, man,’ my father
said. ‘You look like you belong in the circus,
not in the Tetons. I’ve been hiking this
trail for 70 years, and never seen a bear on it yet. Cut the horn.’ I forget what the
hiker said in response, but I do recall my
father’s parting comment. ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t
advertise where you went to school.'” [LAUGHTER] As you know, the great
philanthropist John D. Rockefeller had much to do
with Grand Teton National Park, in the same way he had a lot to
do with Acadia and many others. Again, wrought with paradox. Standard oil, et cetera,
et cetera, et cetera. Promises keep,
Jorie Graham’s line. I think a vow was made when John
D. Rockefeller was invited out to Yellowstone National
Park by Horace Albright, who was the first superintendent
of Yellowstone, not long after those maps were
made by the Hayden Survey. Immediately, John D. Rockefeller
recognized that it wasn’t just the Tetons that
needed protecting, rock and ice, but the entire
valley, with a meandering river called the Snake, wolves,
bears, bison, all of it. And what they did
surreptitiously was set up the Snake
River Land Company and quietly bought up all
the lands around what is now Grand Teton National Park. You can imagine what
that did to the locals. They were outraged. There was a man named Cliff
Hansen, who later became Senator and Governor of
the State of Wyoming, led a stampede in
protest saying, how dare you take our lands
when our boys are fighting for these lands
during World War II? Again, the irony. Never mind the native people. This is this history. He told FDR, either
you take these lands, or I’m going to turn them
over to the developers. FDR created a national
monument, not so unlike what Obama just did with
Roxanne Quimby and Burt’s Bees, and the Katahdin Woods and
Waters National Monument just last month. Anyway, Lawrence
Rockefeller, son of John D., Who was doing all the
financial arrangements in this transaction,
said to his father, can’t we keep the most
beautiful piece for ourselves? And John D. said no, they
belong to the American people. He pleaded. He won. But somewhere, I think, a vow
was made and a promise kept, that when Lawrence Rockefeller
was in his early 90s, he decided the family had
had those lands long enough. The same lands that every
president, every diplomat, every notable had
been to the JY Ranch at the base of Death Canyon. And at 92, sent out a letter to
his children and kin and said, we’ve had these
lands long enough. And a giant rewilding
project occurred. All 40-plus cabins were
cataloged, curated, and removed. Rewilded. And today, you can
go to those lands and never know that a
distinguished American family once went there for leisure. “Promises kept. The scales of nature will
always seek equilibrium a feather can tip the balance. The Lawrence
Rockefeller Preserve was dedicated on June 21, 2008. Mr. Rockefeller’s daughter,
Lucy Rockefeller Waletsky said, ‘my father recognized mind,
body, spirit as one word. My own father was among the
first visitors in Grand Teton National Park to see the eastern
shore of Phelps Lake when it was finally open to the public. As a man who has walked most
of the trails in the Tetons, he walked the
newly-marked trail in awe, never imagining that this path
would one day be open to him, too. The Lawrence
Rockefeller preserve has become his favorite
place in the Tetons. We’ve walked it together
well over a dozen times, and each time we’ve
gleaned something new. A patch of columbines,
a doe and her fawns, an unexpected
headstone among pines.’ The Rockefellers
shared their wealth. Our public lands, whether a
national park or monument, wildlife refuge, forest, or
prairie make each one of us land rich. It is our inheritance
as citizens of a country called America. In the summer of 2014, Lawrence
Rockefeller’s youngest brother David, the last living child
of John D. Rockefeller Junior, returned to the restored
shores of Phelps Lake. Gone were the horse stables,
the cabins, and the lodge. Wild gardens of
columbines and paintbursh extended down to the lake shore. Sitting in a wheelchair,
one year shy of 100, David Rockefeller looked
out across Phelps Lake toward Death Canyon with tears
streaming down his cheeks. The Tetons are my mother park. Not a year of my life has
passed without the Tetons’ jagged presence. Not one. I am of this place. Family is a place, and my
family is located here, those who are living and
those who have passed. I am settled in
the scent of sage. After we’d been gifted by
the sight of the grizzly on my father’s
birthday, John Tempest picked up his great grandson,
Wyatt, and held him. ‘Did you see that big
bear, little man?’ Later that day, Wyatt would
take his first awkward steps toward the extended hands
of his great grandfather on his 80th birthday. He would not know it
then, but one day he’d be told that the day
he learned to walk was the day he saw a
grizzly standing upright in the presence of family. Four generations that will
be followed by four more, and four more beyond that. This is what we can
promise the future. A legacy of care. That we will be good stewards,
and not take too much or give back too little. That we will recognize
wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent
and complex history. An unfathomable wealth that
should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent. Privilege is what we
inherit by our status as Homo sapiens
living on this planet. This is the privilege
of imagination. What we choose to do with
our privilege as a species is up to us. Humility is born in wildness. We are not protecting
grizzlies from extinction. They are protecting us from
the extinction of experience. The very presence of
a grizzly returns us to an ecology of awe. We tremble at what appears to
be a dream yet stands before us on two legs and roars.” These words have been
removed from the new version of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Acorn, adder, almond,
apricot, ash, ass. Beaver, beech, beetroot,
blackberry, bloom, bluebell, bramble, brook,
buttercup, boar, bullock. Canary, canter, carnation,
catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, cowslip, crocus,
cheetah, colt, cygnet. Doe, drake, ferret, goldfish. Heron, herring, kingfisher,
lark, lobster, leopard. Magpie, minnow, mussel, newt. Otter, ox, oyster, panther,
pelican, porcupine, porpoise. Raven, stork, terrapin,
thrush, weasel, wren. Dandelion, fern, fungus,
gooseberry, hazelnut, heather. Holly, horse, chestnut,
ivy, lavender, leek. Melon, minnow, monarch,
holly, ivy, mistletoe. Nectar, pasture,
poppy, primrose, prune. Radish, rhubarb,
spinach, sycamore. Tulip, turnip, vine,
violet, walnut, willow. Gone. Removed. These are the words
that have been added. Blog, broadband, MP3 player,
voicemail, attachment, database, export. Chat room, bullet point,
cut and paste, analog. Celebrity with a capital C,
vandalism, negotiate, conflict, common sense, debate, EU. Drought, brainy, boisterous,
cautionary tale, bilingual. Bungee jumping, committee,
compulsory, cope. Democratic, allergic,
biodegradable, emotion. Dyslexic, donate, endangered,
Euro, apparatus, food chain, incisor. Square number, [? trapezium, ?]
colloquial, idiom. Curriculum, classify,
chronological, block graph. And when the editor was
asked why, she said, we took out these words because
they were no longer relevant or part of our children’s lives. If we can remove words
from a dictionary that are so alive with
meaning, and withhold them from our children, removing
what is alive in the world becomes easy. The wild is no longer
part of our vocabulary. I hear the poet
W.S. Merwin’s words. “Through all of youth
I was looking for you, without knowing what
I was looking for.” Nature becomes a
forgotten language. These are difficult times,
transformative times, times of extreme
actions, especially within our national
parks and public lands. Extreme drought, extreme
fires, extreme development with extreme policy
shifts needed in the name of climate change. The world is changing
dramatically, both ecologically as well as politically,
but I believe our greatest transformation as a
species will be spiritual. The word “we” must
include all species. Last fall, I was able to go
to the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake
City, and I was so moved by the religious
scholar Karen Armstrong who talked
about compassion as an act, not an emotion. And she said, if
compassion was an emotion, it would be most closely
aligned with discomfort. Think about that. And I started thinking
about discomfort. Holy disruption. Sacred discomfort. Disturbance as a transformative
act of a new, evolving story. What would that look like? What would that feel like? And I think this kind of
discomfort, disturbance, and holy disruption,
this kind of leadership is actually very
alive here at Harvard. What if the act of divestment
is really an act of compassion? And I want to honor
the students here at this university who are
making this administration uncomfortable. This, too, is a breathing space. This, too, is part of
an ecology of residency, and we can no longer separate
the concerns of this generation with the vitality
of our public lands. Even our national parks. Especially when you hear
the current director of the national parks
say our greatest threat, the greatest threat
to our national parks and public lands, which is
really us, is climate change. And so I honor you. Tim DeChristopher,
who was my companion at Alcatraz, who showed
me the relationship between confinement
and creativity, in whatever form that may take. Thank you, Tim, for your
leadership of the heart. How you make us
uncomfortable, even as you see the trench of a pipeline
as an anticipatory grave. An analog to other
anticipatory graves as we saw in Pakistan, in
the deadly heat of drought before there were even
the dead to fill them. And that you were not afraid
to make us uncomfortable, and to be arrested once again in
the name of an ethic of place. I think it honors all of us that
you are at the Divinity School here. I saw Chloe Maxmin, another
one of your students, who led Divest Harvard. I saw her power of
discomfort and persuasion in Paris, in the climate talks. And she was part of SustainUS,
the youth group of the United Nations. And I see and recognize
the fierce commitment of you, Kelsey Wirth,
with Mothers Out in Front. Again, these are not
disparate issues, but they are the same
response to life. We are here because of love. A stay against savagery. Sacred rage. That’s something I
would love to get into in environmental
humanities. How do we take our love,
a love that is wild, and put it into action? How do we take what is
abstract in the Academy, and make it real, blood real? Breathing spaces. I want to close with a
thought and then a story. We the people have
made mistakes. We’ve made mistakes
in our relationships with those who came before
us, and the land that holds their histories. We have made mistakes in how
we’ve managed and misunderstood the wild. But after spending a lifetime
immersed in our national parks and public lands, I
have found we are slowly learning what it
means to behave more respectfully and
responsively to the closest thing we have, as American
citizens, to sacred lands. We have much to learn
from the native people. “Prayers have to be
walked, not just talked,” Regina Lopez Whiteskunk
said, who is Navajo. At the intersection of
landscape and culture, diversity and inclusion,
patterns of cooperation emerge in the name of community. Collaboration is
the way forward. We are at a crossroads. We can continue on the path
we’ve been on in this nation that privileges profit
over people and land, or we can unite as citizens
with a common cause; the health and wealth of the
Earth that sustains us. If we cannot commit to this
kind of fundamental shift in our relationship
to people and place, then democracy becomes another
myth perpetuated by those in power who care
only about themselves. We have arrived at
the hour of land. The time has come for acts
of reverence and restraint on behalf of the earth. Cesar Chavez said, quote,
“after 30 years of organizing poor people, I have
become convinced that the two greatest
aspirations of humankind are equality and participation. If we can learn to
listen to the land, then we can learn to
listen to one another. This is the beginning
of ceremony.” I want to close with three
pages that are the last three pages in the book, and then we
can open it up for questions. “‘It is time to weep and
sing,’ wrote W.H. Auden. At a low ebb of hope, I
ask my friend Doug Peacock how he staves off despair. This is the man who kept
a map of Yellowstone in the back pocket
of his fatigues throughout the Vietnam War. This is the man who the writer
Edward Abbey fashioned George Washington Hayduke after,
who eventually blew up the Glen Canyon dam. ‘Insulate yourself with friends,
and seek out wild places,’ he said, Which is exactly
what I was doing, seeking out my friend on the
other side of Yellowstone on the day we learned that the
US Fish and Wildlife Service had denied wolverines protection
under the Endangered Species Act. While driving from Jackson
Hole to Livingston, Montana, I was listening to
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, recomposed by the
musician Max Richter. I love this piece of music,
and I love the story behind it. Richter’s favorite
piece of music was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He’d played it as a
musician hundreds of times and heard it many more times
than he’d ever performed it, but the strangest
thing started to occur. The Four Seasons had become so
commercialized, so trivialized, played in elevators
and as the soundtrack for cheap commercials,
that he could no longer hear its beauty. It had become lost to him,
demoted to musical wallpaper. Max Richter did the unthinkable. He reimagined
Vivaldi’s masterpiece and recomposed it so we
could hear it once again at this moment in time. He added the bass notes. ‘The Four Seasons,’ he said, ‘is
something we all carry around with us. It’s everywhere. In a way, we stop
being able to hear it. So this project was about
reclaiming this music for me personally,’ he said. ‘I wanted to fall in love
with it all over again. By getting inside it and
rediscovering it for myself, I was able to take a new
path through a well-known landscape.’ Unquote. I was listening to the
Four Seasons recomposed as I was en route to Doug. My mind was moving
toward reverie. With the music, it
was exactly what I needed to recompose
myself as I was driving through Yellowstone to Montana. Inspiring me to
reimagine everything, including our national parks. Our institutions and agencies
are no longer working for us. It is time to reimagine our
universities, our churches, our hospitals, our governments. Even the wilderness movement
as a movement of direct action. Time to reimagine our public
lands as sanctuaries, refuges, and sacred lands. Time to rethink what is
acceptable and what is not. I became lost in the music. And then, as I was driving
through the Hayden Valley, the cars in front of me came
to an abrupt halt. Bison jam. The bison, hundreds of them,
not only crossed the road, but walked alongside us. I was now at a crawl, barely
going five miles per hour. I rolled down my window, still
listening to the Four Seasons with the volume much
louder than I realized. The bison started
moving closer to my car. I started getting
nervous, thought about rolling up my window. But then I began
noticing the bison turning their heads
toward the music, walking even closer to the car. I imagined they were
enjoying Vivaldi as I was, and I relaxed as we
listened to the music together for close
to a mile, all of us, slowly moving down the road. I was late to Doug’s house. He was waiting. I brought him a nice
French Bordeaux. We took the bottle
and two glasses outside with a view
of Paradise Valley. Doug had written a plea
on the wolverine’s behalf a week before. It was published online
in the Daily Beast. He’d received a note from his
editor, Chris Dickey, the son of the poet James Dickey. I’m sorry, Chris said, perhaps
this poem from my father will help. Under a thunderous sky
with bolts of lightning adding punctuation,
Doug and I read “For the Last Wolverine”
out loud to each other between sips of wine. Alternating between stanzas
with tears streaming down our cheeks. The final lines undid us. ‘Alone, with maybe
some dim racial notion of being the last, but none of
how much your unnoticed going will mean. How much the timid poem
needs the mindless explosion of your rage, the glutton’s
internal fire, the elk’s heart in the belly, sprouting wings. The pact of the blind
swallowing thing with himself, to eat the world and not be
driven off of it until it is gone, even if it takes forever. I take you as you are, and
make of you what I will. Skunk bear, carcajou,
bloodthirsty. Non-survivor. Lord, let me die,
but not die out.’ Doug and I raised our glasses
to the mountains, black clouds billowing all around us with
a swath of red clouds turned pink. ‘To wolverine,’ Doug said. And then he turned to me
with tears in his eyes. We lose nothing by loving.” [MUSIC – MAX RICHTER, “VIVALDI –
THE FOUR SEASONS”] This is the hour of land. May each of us
create beautiful acts of discomfort and disturbance,
each in our own way, each in our own time, with
the gifts that are ours. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Terry, thank you [? for that. ?]
[INAUDIBLE] any questions [? and ?] have something
of a conversation. We’d like you to stand here. I think they’re going to
want you miked [INAUDIBLE].. I have a question. Yeah. So thank you. That was wonderful. Thank you for the opportunity
to share space together. Now it’s you bringing
us to that point where compassion and
discomfort come together, is such a powerful thing
to do in this moment. I had a question
about the senses. You mentioned the moment of
Dinosaur National Monument, which is a moment when David
Brower and the Sierra Club realized the power of
photography, which of course is my great historical interest
in the environmental movement. And in some sense, many of
the lands that were preserved, were preserved with
the notion that they were, in the terminology of the
Sierra Club, scenic resources. So it was very much a
notion that their value was primarily visual. And of course one of the
things about the national parks is you can’t keep
sound out, right? And there’s been wonderful
investigations of that. But you talked a
lot about the wind, and the voice of the wind. And then you left us with music. So I was just thinking about
this relationship between the parks and the senses, and
what you can keep out and what you can’t. And I just wondered
if there’s anything that you could say
about, in the experience of writing this
book, did you have thoughts about
how our senses are engaged in the national parks? That’s such a great
question, Robin, and I do think that our national
parks are essential experience. I would even go
so far as to talk about an erotic experience
in the traditional sense of that word, that it does– it is an embodied experience. And the thing that I was struck
by was that in every instance that we visited national
parks, and Brooke and I went to many, many, the wind
was the common denominator. Both as an elegance of
breeze, and both as a terror. You know, the Chinese say
the wind will take your chi. And I mean, bitter winds in
the Tetons or Yellowstone. And a blessed wind, a
hot wind, in Big Bend. A blizzard wind in the
gates of the Arctic. A disturbance at
Gettysburg, where when you hear the myth or the story
that the reason why there are so many vultures
over the cornfields in their inebriated flight
is because they still have a memory of
the fields of blood. That when that breeze would blow
through those furrowed fields, you felt the
spirits of the dead. So that was a very
sensual experience. But the other common
denominator was water. And light on that water. In every instance, even in
the depth of the desert, on the borders of Mexico
and the Rio Grande. You saw American children
skipping rocks across the river to the Mexican children
skipping them back. And you think, a wall? Really? These arbitrary boundaries
that water keep reminding us. And I found, just
ritualistically, and maybe this says
something about me, but I just had to put my
hands flat on the surface of every single body
of water that we saw. Almost as an act of gratitude. And huckleberries. You eat them. You know, sacred datura. You smell it, and hope that
some of those hallucinations will enter in. When we were in
Effigy Mounds, we took off our shoes
as an act of respect to walk those bears,
falcons, wolves. So I think it is deeply
a sensual experience. And again, we forget that. You know, we live our
urban lives and I don’t– we lose so much
by our forgetting. And so when we remember, it
floods us with an emotion, and I think that is
another sensory experience. And the last
comment I would make is, I don’t know how many of
you read this small large book, The Collapse of
Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes
and Erik Conway. Have you read this? I loved how, when they talk
about in the age of climate, it’s written from
the future back. From the perspective of
a Chinese environmental historian. And he looks at our moment
in time, and he says, who were these people? They knew exactly
what was happening. They had all the data. They had all the facts. And yet, they did nothing. Except for those that
had the most to lose. Not our lives, not the
world that we love, but the corporations. And he says, the
artist did not know, or did not believe, in the
power of the emotional register. The scientists were too timid,
and the public went to sleep. And so I think being
in wild places, being in natural places,
allows us to stay awake. Yes, Andrew. I want to follow up on the
question about the place of senses in this, and the
place of the environmental humanities. In your response, part of
what’s running through my mind is that maybe the environmental
humanities are not– what the scientists are
giving us is more information. What else do we know
about climate change? And you mention in your
delivery that what is needed is a transformation. And could the
environmental humanities, then, offer us a
different way of knowing? Would you say that. What is called for is a
different [? way ?] of knowing, not just merely what we know? I think that’s beautifully put. And one of the things I love
about the humanities in all its manifestations is
the questions it asks. Not necessarily the
answers that we seek. A different way of knowing,
a different way of being. How would you answer that? Yeah. I [? think it’s ?]
definitely [INAUDIBLE].. But the humanities, as you say,
[INAUDIBLE] notorious for that, but [INAUDIBLE]
consider unanswerable. [? It’s ?] a complicated moment
for us when we [INAUDIBLE] And I would say to not lose
that emotional register. To not take the
ineffable seriously. That the spiritual
element is substantial, something that is substantial
beyond the substantial. And we don’t privilege that. And I would argue that’s
what makes us human. Hi. I’m also from the West. I’m from Idaho. So I’m really happy to hear you. As you were speaking,
I was thinking about what is the international
focus to preserve wild lands and wild spaces in countries
that are still developing? And we can see the devastation
of the resources and the lands that are happening there. So what is your
response to that? Thank you for that. It’s interesting that
the national park idea is a global, now, idea. And I was just at the
World Ranger’s Conference, which was really fascinating,
and it was a revelation to me. And the leadership
was largely coming from countries like the Congo,
Cameroon, Thailand, Taiwan, Argentina. Lands where they are in conflict
with oil and gas development, again with fossil fuels, and
it is the indigenous people who are taking up the cause. So that what we saw
happen at Standing Rock this past week, with
the tribes over 200 supporting no pipeline, and
a stay from the United States government in honoring
that, we’re seeing globally all over the world. Whether it’s in the
Amazon, whether it’s in the forests of the Congo,
with rangers, many of them women, taking
unbelievably bold stances. I think of one woman in
particular in Cameroon who was fighting
against the poachers. And she had galvanized members
of her community to help her. And at one point, the poachers
assaulted her, raped her, and thought that they
would do everything short of killing her so that
she would no longer speak. She is speaking. And to me, it’s the indigenous
voices, it’s the local voices, it’s the voices on
the ground worldwide that are really doing the
front line direct actions. Oftentimes that may not be a
politically correct answer, because I think there is a
deep tradition of colonialism that we are a part of. But I think if you look deeper,
the climate justice movement, and the movement that E.O.
Wilson is calling for, of half the Earth
to be protected, is gaining tremendous traction,
because it is ultimately the open space of
humanity, democracy. Breathing space. Yes. It sounds like,
from your experience that you described when
you were eight years old, that a sense of the divine
and sense of the sublime, really, is essential to a
deep and abiding connection with the Earth. And do you see the
environmental humanities, or a place for the
environmental humanities, in trying to provoke
the sublime, in a sense, in today’s culture of
very domesticated lives that we live? And if so, how can we try and
provoke that sublime feeling? I love the word provoke. I think that’s really useful. And I think that notion
of humility comes to mind. We can be pretty
arrogant, as a species, and again it goes
back to that notion that we are not the only
species that lives and breathes. And, I would argue,
grieves on the planet. Let me answer this with a
story, and then perhaps that can be the closure of
this gathering, which I’m so grateful for. Brooke and I were– how to say this? We’ve been married 41
years, and last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary,
which was in and of itself miraculous. And we both said to
each other, where do we want to go to celebrate? And instantaneously, what
came out of our mouth was Yellowstone. And we went north
to Yellowstone, up into the Lamar
Valley, which is right on the border of Wyoming
and Montana in the corner up by Mammoth, if
you’ve been there. And we got up before dawn. It was that wonderful
crepuscular hour, where the shadows
are still among us as the first light
of day is coming. And as we looked in
the Lamar Valley, and we could see the mist
rising from the Lamar River, we saw this mound. And with our binoculars,
closer examination, we saw that it was a carcass. A bison carcass. And as the light started
to stream in with dawn, we saw there were two
coyotes scouring bones. There were several eagles
also cleaning bones, and a flurry of ravens. A ranger arrived and
told us the back story, that the day before
this mother bison was in the process of
giving birth to a stillborn. She was struggling. The calf was already dead. And the Lamar Valley
wolf pack came in, and they took her down. It was a quick
and violent death. Predator, prey. We continued to
watch the carcass. Suddenly, the hackles on
the coyotes were raised. The eagles flew, and
the ravens disappeared. The coyotes, gone. And out from the
lodgepole forest, we saw this magnificent
white wolf, alpha male, walk around,
[? enter ?] the carcass. For maybe an hour,
devoured what remained. From our perspective, we
could see that stomach swell. In time, the wolf pulled
out, this bib of blood, and disappeared as quickly
as he had appeared. We left, went on our
day, came back at dusk, hoping that we could
see that same wolf. There was the scaffolding
of bones shimmering. Last light of day. And we noticed about 200 or 300
bison a quarter of a mile away. Suddenly, seven bison in a
straight line, single file, evenly spaced, walked
toward the mother bison. They circled her once. They circled her twice. Tightened their circle, pawed
her body, sniffed her body, nudged her, and
lowered their heads. Circled one more time,
and left as they came. Straight line, evenly spaced. Save one lone bull
who stayed with her. We are not the only species
that lives, and loves, and breathes on this planet. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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