As a refuge, as a threat, as a place to live
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Doug Smith’s descriptions of the wolf haters [“The Howling Wilderness,” interview by Al Kesselheim, January 2021] was sad and sickening. Wolves have held a special place in my heart ever since I encountered a wild one in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.
The interview dovetailed with that issue’s Correspondence section, specifically the responses to Whitney Phillips’s perspectives on bias in today’s politics [“Dark Corners,” interview by Finn Cohen, November 2020]. Smith describes the wolf haters as a group, and they are; Phillips describes right-wing haters as a group, and they are, too.
The responses to Phillips are seriously warped. John Spiri offers contrasting points of view on Kyle Rittenhouse as a “right-wing zealot” on one hand, and an “upstanding citizen . . . who encountered violent attackers” on the other. But Spiri misses the point: no matter which way you look at it, Rittenhouse committed crimes.
The right-wing haters are vastly more confrontational, destructive, and deadly than any group from the Left.
I applaud Doug Smith’s long-term commitment to wolves. I met him years ago when he took our Yellowstone Institute class to an unused acclimation wolf pen — a spiritual experience for me. I am disappointed, however, that he is still collaring wolves, after already having tagged about five hundred.
When is enough enough? When does “in the name of science” become a harmful addiction?
Misty’s question is a good one, and I get it a lot. I, too, wish we could stop studying everything. With wolves, however, we don’t stop for two reasons. One, wolves are controversial, and data and scientific evidence are the best ways to counter the untrue things people say about them. And two, the best kind of research is long term; short-term research answers the basic questions, but long-term work gets beneath the surface of biological systems and studies variation over the years.
There is so much pressure on wildlife that we will not save it unless we counter misinformation with knowledge.
Like Teddy Macker and his brother [“Sonny Boy Williamson,” January 2021], I, too, had trouble finding the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson outside of tiny Tutwiler, Mississippi — even with the help of GPS. The church to which the graveyard was once attached no longer stands. I drove past it to a dead end where massive cotton harvesters were mobilizing for the day’s work. All across the Mississippi Delta there are overgrown graveyards. It takes patience and a poetic touch, à la Macker’s, to discern the beauty that remains.
Eileen Crist [“Our Great Reckoning,” interview by Leath Tonino, December 2020] articulated important, controversial truths about our environmental crisis: that both population and consumption need to be reduced dramatically; that the current extinction crisis is not natural, but extreme and unprecedented; and that our ecological troubles don’t merely stem from “human nature.” She puts the blame where it belongs: millennia of indoctrination in the false notion of human supremacy.
The Indigenous practice of seeing “everything as alive, as wondrous in itself” — which she calls animism and I call Gaia-centered spirituality — seems to be the only spiritual path that has any hope of helping us.
All of us — including present-day “nature colonialists,” as Crist describes them — are descended from animist Indigenous people. We have it in our genes to be, as Crist says, “in love with the Earth, our source.” We don’t need to change so much as remember who we already are.
Eileen Crist’s idea of “human supremacy” is an appropriate term for our sad, unsustainable system of dominating plants and animals — and the earth itself.
Since I’m a middle-class woman living in the United States, where I consume more than my fair share of the earth’s resources, I have chosen not to have children. That decision is my small part in protecting the planet.
There are other things I can do, too: I can eat more vegetarian meals, consume less, or give up my car in favor of a bike. There are no easy solutions, but I try to keep my ecological footprint as small as possible.
Timothy Gallagher showed how touch can form a bond between physician and patient [“The Practice of Touch,” December 2020]. The way he listens to his patients and experiences his own emotions made me think of Helen Keller’s quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.”
Because I live in Maine, I was eager to read Nick Fuller Googins’s essay “Maine Escapes” [December 2020], but I stopped on the first page: I didn’t want to read a paean to the rugged life of a lobsterman. Though I love many people who earn their livelihoods through the death of sea life, all the killing makes me sad. The lobster buoys that many find charming are, to me, gaudy polystyrene trash polluting our bays — and evidence of suffering.
But I always read every word of The Sun, so I started the essay again and discovered that Googins elegantly brought us a story of imprisonment, freedom, cruelty, kindness, transformation, and hope. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read in The Sun.
By cleverly juxtaposing Nick Fuller Googins’s seemingly disparate jobs, “Maine Escapes” offers insight into the troubling issues of harvesting sea life for human consumption and our failure to combat social issues that can make prison feel safer than the outside world. Googins exposed difficult truths here, but his sensitive writing made the piece a pleasure to read.
When Barbara Kingsolver’s husband asked the neighborhood children if they could name any root vegetables other than carrots [“The Only Real Story,” The Dog-Eared Page, December 2020], I had to chuckle when they replied, “Spaghetti.”
It reminded me of the April Fool’s documentary-spoof the BBC perpetrated on their viewers decades ago. After announcing the annual spaghetti harvest was in full swing, they showed young women in native costume strolling through a grove of trees, collecting strands of limp spaghetti from branches and filling their baskets to the brim. The network was flooded by calls of gratitude from the public, who found the segment very educational.
Sy Safransky’s “Become a Friend of The Sun” letter [December 2020] struck me hard. I’m a relatively new subscriber. I ordered the magazine on a whim, and one issue in, I realized that this is what I had been waiting most of my life to read.
When I learned Safransky started The Sun in 1974, four years after I graduated college, I was floored by what he has accomplished — and is still accomplishing. To stay the course with hope is the greatest of strengths. Thank you for getting me through the last four years, when my despair came close to overwhelming me.
I am grateful for Forest Woodward’s exquisite photo on the December 2020 cover. Though I’ve never been to Tuvalu, and most likely will never go there, I found myself in the lagoon with little Elsie, water dripping down our faces, hair plastered to our foreheads.
Two years ago my son almost cut off the end of his index finger with a circular saw, and I flew from Queens, New York, to Asheville, North Carolina, to care for him. I lived with him and his housemates for two months, shuttling him to doctors’ appointments, arranging surgery, feeding him.
There was a lot of just hanging out, too. His girlfriend had gotten him a subscription to The Sun, and I picked up an issue to pass the time. I was immediately transfixed. I read every word, down to the fine print in the opening pages.
In The Sun I find humor, tragedy, joy, and insightful, thought-provoking writing. It’s a six-course meal for the soul. I don’t remember how many issues I read, but I went from one to the next the whole time I was there.
This year my son gave me a subscription of my own. I’m not a voracious reader, but when I get my hands on The Sun, I become one.