A Tale of Hope from a Dark Forest

Every once in a while a book comes along that resets the compass of writing. Lorne Rothman’s tale, Southcrop Forest, sets a new standard for ecological literature.

An exciting tale about Auja, a young red oak, and Fur– a collective conscience from a colony of tent caterpillars–Rothman has created an eco-fable as magical as a Tolkien adventure even as he teaches forest ecology. We learn about the imperiled state of the forests at the hands of “hewmans.”

Auja lives in Southcrop Forest where trees retain the ability to communicate across the land through their roots, soil, and leaves–Southcrop Vision. Forests were once connected across the world and could communicate by feeling each others sensations. That was before the hewmans cut down the trees, separating forests by false rock (roads or highways) and their rapacious machines chewed down ancient trees and killed the farms that had kept them alive for eons.

As the story opens, we learn that Southcrop Forest is on the verge of destruction. Auja awakes full of hope and joy, glorying in the sunlight, when the remembrance of their doomed future makes her boughs droop. She is watching a group of fuzzy caterpillars nibbling away in her canopy when suddenly a voice speaks to her! At first Auja thinks it is her fellow trees who whisper continuously but then she realizes the voice is coming from the colony of tent caterpillars. Fur introduces herself to Auja and explains that her colony is a Rune–an ancient being that arose at a Gathering of trees and people a thousand years before.

Guide Oak, a wise being, guides Auja to engage Fur to travel to the Dark Forest (Boreal Forest) to obtain a special gift and take it to Deep Sky where it will save the forests to the north of Southcrop. And thus, the epic journey begins.

Along the way readers learn about the life cycle of the tent caterpillars, their viral and insect predators; the ancient geological history of the land and how trees repopulated the earth after the Big Ice (ice age.)

The mysterious “gift” is the Holy Grail Fur toils to find. He must cross the false trails, battle rogue wasps and a viral plague that infects the forests he travels through.

Rothman, a zoologist, provides young readers with endnotes rich with scientific nomenclature; Old Norse lore; Native American history; chemistry and climate change science which can be easily used in a classroom or enrich the understanding of young and adult readers alike.

This book offers the reader a blend of the magical with the hard realities of the human ecological footprint on the natural world. Through nonhuman characters we see the folly of the “hewman” (a brilliant play on words) from wisdom that understands the web of life as the source of life itself.

The last sentence in the story makes me believe Rothman plans a sequel. I hope so. Southcrop Forest should be required reading for all youth–a textbook and a legend for a new generation and an ecological age.

Get your copy of On Tyranny and Put It In Your Pocket and Get to Work: Our Democracy Depends on It

Dr. Timothy Snyder published On Tyranny, a short, pocket-sized book, in 2017 after we began to understand Donald Trump and his radical right wing Republicans, as a threat to our democratic way of life. Even conservative Republicans have defined this group of Republicans as a “clear and present danger” to our democratic way of life.

Heather Cox Richardson, historian and author of Letter to Americans podcast, gives an especially cogent and concise explanation of “where we are post Roe”.

Hot, Hotter …

When I wrote Threshold, I lived in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson. Later I moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Both places are hot and getting hotter. Too little water or too much water are the respective outcomes for these distinct regions in the United States on the Fourth of July.

When I was writing Threshold, climate change science was rapidly developing but still considered the domain of zealots.

The fact that the Earth is warming is indisputable. The average increase between 2009 to 2018 was 1.34 degrees Fahrenheit. While that may seem small this is a complex figure calculated from average temperatures across the planet, from very cold to very hot. Total surface area of the Earth is billions of square meters. For the average temperature to rise takes a huge amount of energy.

Humans being the complex species that we are, we ignore signs of impending problems when we feel unable to do anything about it. We stick our heads in the sand. That response spells trouble for us.

Read a review about Threshold, then pick up a copy. Its worth the study of how various people react and respond. The book is not a dystopia but a realistic look at how I believe the near future might unfold based on my experience.

Threshold - a Novel about Climate Change in the Southwest
Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest

Letter to the Editor – Virginia Pilot

The following Letter was submitted to the Virginia Pilot on June 14. I recently moved to Virginia Beach and subscribe to the Pilot.

It is great to be back in a military town! Growing up in the Air Force, my sisters and I absorbed the pride and pomp of being an officer’s child. Dad flew bombers, the big guys (B48s and B52s). WWII took his crew over the Pacific during low-level bombing of Tokyo and Saipan. They survived—barely.

You might surmise that my dad was a gung-ho patriot, but you would be mistaken. He was a discerning man who thought for himself. War is never an answer but sometimes its all we get when not to go to war would imperil the nation.

If Dad were alive today, he would be alarmed that we are not paying attention to the forces of authoritarianism in our country and the world. This was how Hitler and Stalin got so far. People doubted that such men could rise to power. Some welcomed them thinking they were intelligent, bold men.

It’s a curious thing that people confuse strongmen with strong leadership. If I am not mistaken, these are two different creatures. The first acts as a centrifugal force, sucking minds to its ideology, the latter upholds the law and invokes the principles that we have agreed to live by.

Beware America. Don’t look to strong men but rather to strong leaders who remind us of our common pledge to uphold certain inalienable rights for every person. Each one of us voters signed up for it. We are a nation governed by laws and each of us is responsible for making sure this is a Republic for the people and by the people. Whoever we choose to represent us must abide by the laws that govern us.

Submitted on June 14, 2022 In Response to the January 6 Insurrection Commission


Photo by Susan Feathers

The First American Democracy

“The future is a construct that is shaped in the present, and that is why to be responsible in the present is the only way of taking serious responsibility for the future. What is important is not the fulfillment of all one’s dreams, but the stubborn determination to continue dreaming.”

~ Gioconda Belli, The Country Under My Skin

Nothing can replace the act of seeking knowledge for oneself. I can read about it, have it explained, or live it through another person’s experience, but in each case I see it incompletely, like the blind man holding the elephant’s tail.

For Americans eighteen and older this has never been more relevant.

In 1990 I sought to learn about our nation’s first people by going to them. I left a high profile position at a well known institution, sold or gave away most of my possessions, packed up my pick up, and traveled to a dusty border town trusting my inner compass. There was a man and woman who agreed to take me on as an apprentice and student to help me understand American culture and my own life’s course through an examination of my country’s historical relationship with the First Americans and with the land, water, air, and wildlife of the North American continent.

Why did I do that, you may wonder. I had come to the realization that instead of my nation being a beacon of light in the world, it was in fact an empire to many other nations and peoples whose cultural beliefs and lands were at odds with ours.  How could there be hunger in a land of plenty? Why were democratic rights applied conditionally to members of our own society and in the world – and my culture accept that? How could we destroy the great natural beauty and abundance of our lands even while extolling how much we love it?

It made no sense to me and created a pervading sense of living a lie. I remember the unreality of my life then as I drove to work where architecturally beautiful buildings and the expansive green of a golf course tumbled down to the deep blue of the Pacific ocean. My day was stressful administering programs at a world renown health care facility where patients—banged up in the American market wars and social striving—suffered from heart problems, addiction, or complications from obesity.

One day I sat looking out the picture windows of my corporate office on a singing blue-sky day in southern California. Internally I felt lost and weak.  My eyes settled on a book that had lain unread on my shelves for many years:  Touch the Earth (T.C. McLuhan.) It is a book of Indian values from Indian voices.

At the first reading I experienced a profound sense of sanity return to me. In them I found a direction to pursue the answers to my deepest questions. I became aware of a pulsing hunger at my core for this knowledge, like something precious lost and then vaguely remembered. Could it be that we have within us the knowledge of past human wisdom buried in our brains at birth? Looking back now, I realize that I had no choice but to make the decisions that led me to seek guidance and leave all I had known before – to clear the decks and make way for something new.

The next three years of living in the daily presence of two American Indian educators (one a Mojave elder, college professor, Korean veteran and social worker; the other an Iroquois artist and musician) changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I still believe the experience made me a better person. But the story of how that evolved is a hard one and definitely not what I had expected. The path to self-understanding is a crucible where falseness is burned away and a tender new skin grown. It requires humility, determination, and humor. It is anything but glamorous.

I hope you will return to my blog for journal entries about my experiences. Until then, here are some links to explore:

The First Democracy: the Haudenosaunee

Basic Call to Consciousness

Beauty: Norfolk Botanical Garden

The Norfolk Botanical Garden history is rich with stories. Ground was broken in 1938 by 200 African American women and men using shovels to create a levee to create a lake, make gardens and trails and to establish a Garden out of a swamp. These men and women held generations of knowledge about soil and plant cultivation. The Garden has dedicated space to honor this original legacy. It has since grown into a 175-acre wonder. Read about the history here.

Many of the images are of hydrangea because my daughter who took me on a fascinating tour of the Garden is an artist studying pattern in this iconic flower. She has studied the history of Virginia over the decades she has lived here with her husband. As she pointed out, Virginia has produced the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Oprah Winfrey, and Booker T. Washington and Henrietta Lacks.

Visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden Website

Stories the Land Holds – Center for Humans and Nature

Click here to access stories curated by Christine Luckasavitch.

I highly recommend the Center for Humans and Nature to all readers. Find solace among great leaders and artists who are providing direction in troubled times.

These stories are from Indigenous nations. Stories heal and stories give us direction. Save this link to listen and return to remember.

Life is under assault because we do not understand that all our ways of being and doing must support life. Life is all. We have forgotten ancient wisdom. We are related to every form of life on Earth. Our kin. It might be a tiny moss or a giant tree, a bug or an elephant, a drop of rain or an ocean. We are all kin.

Remembering is healing.

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.