What story are trees telling?

The Treeline by Ben Rawlence is a roving discovery and discussion of the trees that ring the northern hemisphere in the Boreal Forest. The Boreal system contains one third of all the trees on Earth; controlling rain patterns more than the tropical forests, these trees modulate world climate.

This is a very detailed and fascinating travel and scientific discussion of the trees that are our last hope for sustaining the world weather and climate and modulating the concentration of carbon dioxide. [Diana Beresford-Kroeger, in her book Arboretum Aborealis points out that the Boreal forests sequester a huge concentration of carbon, the release of which would be catastrophic.]

Rawlence considers the ethical issues. What do we regard as sacred? What does it mean to be human are questions at the basis of the ecological crises that his travel journal and book are illuminating

Ben Rawlence has founded the Black Mountains College which is focused on education about the ecological crises and to adapt and find new ways of working and living. The courses are free. A Bachelor’s degree is offered, Arts, Ecology and Systems Change.

Rawlence interviews the peoples, scientists, and activists who are witnessing the changing forests and the bell ringers (birch and larch) of massive change. His travel journal, meeting people who live in and around the Boreal zone, and their lives demonstrate how people live in concert with the natural cycles of this biological zone. Varying world views depend on the country where they live, an insight into the immensity of our world and the massive changes we are seeing among these forests. For example, in some taiga areas of the Boreal in Russia, people doubt there is climate change because they do not see the same changes that other peoples are seeing in their geographic area. However, due to temperature and geographic variations, changes in the Russian taiga are less visible, happening in underlying ice.

I am listening on Audible which I suggest because the information is dense. Also, as I have done, you can do concurrent research online into areas that are explored while listening to Rawlence’s discussion and insights.

This is a great interview with Rawlence about the book and his experiences.

What if we came together?

You may have heard of a zeitgeist. Others mention confluence. I recall that E.O. Wilson, famed biologist and conservationist, titled his book Consilience.

I am seeing this type of interspecies convergence of ideas in the morass of news and art and economics and everyday human social and political enterprise: we are coming together. Yes we are also coming apart but, we are coming together more and in more ways. I ask you to just pay attention.

One day you read or hear about awe as a critical part of sustaining ourselves through troubled times. Next thing you know it is in books, discussions, podcasts, etc. It has been bubbling up before it was seen then it comes at us from myriad sectors and myriad media.

We feel it as a species finally. The changing Earth, the related uncertainties. But also, the renascence and creativity rising to the challenge.

Will it be in time to preserve the Earth’s ecosystems that have been supportive of life for so long (to us) but briefly in stellar time? Maybe.

Meanwhile, experience it. We ARE coming together.

Writing the Landscape – Updated


Kentucky is a land of dozens of tribal nations. Once densely populated with virgin forests, the people cleared some of these wooded areas to create meadowlands. Game inhabited these areas to graze on the wild grasses. Good hunting. The people kept the meadows productive with a light firing each season, creating savannahs that can still be seen today, a gentle impression on the land. See Native Americans of Clay County and Kentucky pdf below.

When I walk around the countryside in Southcentral Kentucky, I am aware of trees and farms and rivers and lakes and sandstone or limestone outcrops–a porous land on and through which waters flow. Karst landscape it is called. Carved by water, there are caverns, caves and blue holes where springs surface like eyes peering up at us terrestrial beings.

I am writing a new novel based in Kentucky in Bowling Green. The frame of the novel is the land. Its presence permeates the story about a young girl whose family has deep roots in the land, five generations of farming on what was indigenous land. She is a new generation with dreams in her eyes about regenerating her family’s land, back to what it might have been when reciprocity between human and soil was natural and both thrived.

She wonders, “What would reparations look like? What could I do to make it right?”

The Global Forest. See New York Times Article about Diana Beresford-Kroeger with whom my character studies and receives the wisdom and practical knowledge about reforesting her land from Diana and her husband, Christian.

Why Is a Jaguar a Character in Threshold?

Jaguar Track

To tell a story set in the Sonoran Desert, which occurs in only one region of the world, we must include the iconic species of plants and animals who are its defining features. Their presence maintains the balance of life and contributes to the great beauty of this desert landscape. The saguaro cactus is its signature plant life, who some believe evolved from a tree in the tropical rainforest that dried to a savannah and then to a desert over thousands of years.

Saguaro in Tucson Arizona after a rainstorm. Its long shallow roots absorb water efficiently after a heavy monsoon rain.

Threshold tells the stories of many desert plants, trees, insects, invertebrates, and mammals. One strategy for conserving water is to be active at dusk and dawn. These animals are said to be crepuscular (as contrasted with nocturnal). The jaguar is thus, and also nocturnal. Panthera onca is the third largest of the cat family with a bite more powerful than the tiger or lion.

I named the jaguar character in Threshold. Duma. With the risk of personifying a wild animal by human standards, I tried to stay strictly to the known biology, behavior, and observed lifeways of jaguars in the Sonoran Desert. In my story Duma obtains his name from first graders in Phoenix. You’ll have to read the book to learn how that came about. Below you see another feature of this remarkable character: he is an albino, a White Cat, causing local observers to refer to him as the “ghost cat” as he moves about the fields and pastures of farms and ranches, terrifying livestock and infuriating their caretakers.

Duma is my writer’s device to represent wild nature and the impact of a changing climate and human activity on his lifeways. His story also allowed me to describe the labyrinth of environmental and conservation laws on both sides of the border and how Duma becomes, literally, emmeshed in them. He crosses the U.S. -Mexico border while roaming his natural range which stretches from Sonora in Mexico north to Phoenix in Arizona. Duma is caught up in the social and political turmoil.

It is important to me to consider the lives of other species who share our habitats in what is a human centric world.

Go to Terrain.org to read or listen to more of Threshold

Why Should You Read Threshold?

A Story about a Community In the Throes of Climate Change

Threshold was published in 2016. Seven years later the characters and the action are recognizable as the Southwest has continued to heat up.

Drought and worries about growing food, sustaining adequate water supply, a dying Colorado River from overuse, and threat of losing hydropower all are present day challenges.

Threshold is written with youth in mind. Three teenage characters in different circumstances, and their families, navigate climate change differently, but all are thrown into finding sustaining ways to live and work.

Teachers, Middle School to High School young adults, parents, youth leaders, book clubs, and environmental conservation organizations will find Threshold interesting and useful. Stop by my table on March 2, Sunday in the Young Adult tables in the Indie Author Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books.

For teachers, see the page titled Threshold the Novel on this blog to download a standards articulation for Threshold.

Church groups and book clubs will find this a thought provoking novel to discuss.

Hear a chapter read by the author on Terrain.org.

Remembering Origins

More conversation with Amitav Ghosh, author of The Nutmeg’s Curse on Emergence Magazine brings up similar themes incorporated into Threshold, a novel about climate change in the Southwest. In it, I layered the rich cultural endowment of the Tucson area, with ancient Indigenous and current day Native Nations wisdom, and Mexican American land and agricultural practices that have and continue to shape the local zeitgeist. But, like most communities in the Southwest, capitalistic systems drive commerce rendering the living Earth mute. All these ways of living mix together yet one has dominated the political and economic forces, imperiling Tucsonans to climate emergencies.

Listen to a chapter from Threshold as a major character of Mexican descent, Delores Olivarez, takes a hike up “A” mountain observing the changes in the Tucson valley that trace all these cultural ways of knowing. Thanks to Terrain.org for publishing this chapter of Threshold.

The Nutmeg’s Curse

Amitav Ghosh’s book, The Nutmeg’s CurseParables for a Planet in Crisis – is an insightful genealogy of exploitation and extermination of people in Indonesia by Dutch explorers for control of a spice – nutmeg. The Plantation Economy.

He draws our attention to the ideas and practices that have led to destruction of entire civilizations for a profit. These destructive processes made European and American cultures rich while destroying cultures and landscapes of poorer countries whose people have been exploited.

Ghosh rightly points out that developed nations must reconsider how we live on Earth. Our way of life is clearly unsustainable. But, he asks, who is responsible for climate change? Who should pay?

Listen to an interview with the author on Living on Earth.

In similar ways, the mesquite forests were cut down along the Colorado River for steamboat power during the Gold Rush. Native people harvested wood from the forests and piloted the boats transporting Europeans in search of treasure across the river near Yuma. By then, native culture had been so disrupted by the colonization of North America that these were their only options to sustain their communities. The forests had been key sources of food, shelter, and energy for the Colorado River Nations who had lived sustainably within the margins of mesquite forests for thousands of years.

Photo by Susan Feathers, Sonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ

Read Threshold, a tale about how to live in a time of climate change.

Where will the lithium come from?

I have introduced readers to the Volts Podcast with David Roberts on numerous occasions and topics related to decarbonizing the economy.

In this podcast about lithium mining constraints, David interviews Dr. Thea Riofrancos. Thea is a scholar on resource extraction, renewable energy, climate change, green technology, social movements, and the left in Latin America.

Listen to an expert describe the constraints on meeting the demand for lithium for EV batteries. We need to get out ahead of this because there are justice and environmental factors to be considered. During the discussion, Dr. Riofrancos reflects on this moment in history and forecasts into the future about economic and environmental outcomes. She spurs us to ask other questions such as how do we want transportation to look in the future? Does everyone need a car? What about public transportation?

Extraction has realistic impacts. We need to be informed and move carefully.

Eye opening, smart, and timely. Listen now.

Read my novel Threshold for a story based in the Southwest concerning the complexities of climate change in each landscape. Go here to order a copy.