Category: Ashland news


Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Sangamithra Iyer

By Midge Raymond,

Sangamithra Iyer’s essay “Are You Willing?” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: My entry into the world of writing about animals was when I worked for Satya Magazine more than a decade ago. Each month was a deep dive into a pressing planetary issue. Writing about animals became a much larger project: one that probed the intersections with environmentalism and social justice. By doing so, it evolved into a deeper exploration of how both power and compassion operate. Satya was foundational to me, as I discovered the kind of writer I wanted to be: curious, concerned, and willing to confront the complexity of the challenges we faced. My writing about animals still aims to expose multiple truths about how human actions impact the lives of other animals, but I’ve also grown increasingly interested in the role of writing to imagine other ways of being.

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: The lives of animals are often trivialized on the page. When animal stories make their way into the news, even the most respected journalism outlets resort to using puns. This instinct to make the easy joke is a self-defense mechanism, a way of avoiding the discomfort of facing the realities animals endure. As I write in my essay in this anthology, I’m interested in how we as writers create spaces in our work to allow the reader to process the uncomfortable and overcome that initial response of avoidance. Humor can still be a wonderful tool in this regard for the writer and animal advocate, but it’s important that the jokes aren’t at the animals’ expense.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: I trace the animal activism of my early adulthood back to reading Next of Kin by Roger Fouts, which documented the story of Washoe, the first chimpanzee to learn American Sign Language. Washoe and her chimpanzee family were portrayed as fully formed individuals with unique personalities. Reading this book led me to many others and inspired me volunteer at primate sanctuaries.

As a reader, though, one of my favorite things is encountering beautiful animal stories in books that are not specifically about animals, but where the author gives them respectful consideration. In my Writing for Animals essay, I introduce Ahmed Errachidi, a Guantanamo Bay detainee, who writes in his memoir The General about his daily visitors — the ants in his prison cell. Errachidi simply observes and appreciates their lives. He saves food for them and tries to protect them from the guards who stomp on them. It is one of the most beautiful and compelling passages about caring about and coexisting with animals that I have read. Similarly in Zeitoun, Dave Eggers tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he realizes that so many animals had drowned or were left stranded. Both these examples illustrate compassion toward animals in places where there was also dire human suffering. Writing about animals did not detract from the other atrocities but helped to portray a fuller picture.

 

Q: Your essay addresses the challenges of writing about difficult subjects, with the hope of opening hearts. What is the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write in advocating for animals?

A: Several years ago, I went to India to document the rise of factory farming and visited several battery egg facilities, dairies, and a chicken slaughterhouse. We live in a world where violence against animals is both normalized and hidden. Writing against the norm and exposing what is concealed is always difficult. For me, the challenges are multifold. First, there is the emotional difficulty of bearing witness to animal suffering. Second, there is challenge of keeping my readers in a place where even I don’t want to be. (I am the person who can’t handle the meat freezer aisle in the supermarket.) Third is trying to understand the larger story and forces at play — globalization, urbanization, and migration. The story about meat in India is also complicated by religion and the oppressive caste system. Fourth is the difficulty of my choosing — figuring out how to include so much of what I’ve learned in a way that does not overwhelm my readers but rather open their hearts.

Sangamithra Iyer is a writer and civil engineer. She is the author of The Lines We Draw (Hen Press), was a finalist for the 2016 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, and is the editor of Satya: The Long View (2016). Sangu served as the assistant editor of Satya from 2004 to 2007, and as an associate for the public policy action tank Brighter Green. Her writing has been published by n+1, Creative Nonfiction, Waging Nonviolence, Hippocampus Magazine, Local Knowledge, Our Hen House, and VegNews. Her essays have been anthologized in Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy and Sanctuary; Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice; and Letters to a New Vegan. She was a recipient of a Jerome Foundation literature travel grant and an artist residency at the Camargo Foundation. She lives in Queens, where she works on watershed protection and water supply infrastructure planning for New York City.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Marybeth Holleman

By Midge Raymond,

Marybeth Holleman’s essay “Other Nations” appears in Writing for Animals.

 

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: It’s become more challenging, and more interesting. The more I learn and experience the more-than-human world, the more I see the need, as a writer, to be a conduit for them — for my writing to speak for them, in some way. This became very clear to me following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. This was a terrible industrial disaster that took thousands of wild lives, threatened generations more, and permanently degraded a huge swath of coastal wilderness. I witnessed the way humanity considered this disaster as compared to a disaster in which it was human lives that were lost. I realized then that the best I could do was try to give voice to these nonhuman lives, as best I can and in full awareness of the filters I carry as a human.

It’s very challenging, for they’re not like us, and yet, in ways, they are…how to write that? Not by being overly anthropomorphic, which is a disservice to other animals’ true selves, but also not by being anthropocentric, which is also a disservice and a lie. They are not, regardless of the unfortunate legacy of Descartian thinking, mere machines. And it’s fascinating, as a writer, to lean in on that, to step beyond the convenience of either/or thinking, to question pat answers, and to really witness the truths of their lives. In early June on the Kenai River, my husband and I watched salmon jump. Why, I asked my biologist husband, do salmon jump out of the water? He starting to recite theories – to loosen the eggs, to rid of parasites…Well, we don’t really know. And I love that; I love that we don’t always have some clear and constant explanation for what another being is doing. The salmon jumping: What if it’s just for fun, or just for the rush? What if there’s no reason at all, except joy?

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Balance. Standing in the middle. Embracing both/and rather than seeing things as either/or. We wield great power when we write about nonhuman lives; it’s easy for stories about animals to be dismissed as overly romantic or anthropomorphic or complete fantasy. If we want our stories to reach as many people as possible, we must be prepared to straddle beauty and terror, loss and life, differences and similarities. We have to balance our own humility and authority.

Humility. We must remember that our human knowledge will always be limited, regardless of how deeply we try to understand other lives. They are, as Henry Beston wrote, “not brethren, not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” For example, just because I’ve published a book about wolves doesn’t mean I know wolves. Even if I spent years living with wolves, even then, I would not claim to know what it’s like to be a wolf. In fact, what I’ve found to be true in writing about the more-than-human world is that the more I learn, the more I see how little I know. How little all humans know.

Authority. We must root our writing in unmediated experience. Spend time with the animals we’re writing about; write about what we actually see, hear, smell, feel. Do tons of research, read all the scientific information we can, but be sure to root our words in direct, actual experience. Then embrace the authority of our own experience and knowledge. In The Heart of the Sound, I described watching a mountain goat swim from Culross Island to the mainland. Scientists later told me there were no goats on Culross Island, and goats do not swim in saltwater. But I know what I saw. And I know, from that, that as much as science can teach us about the world, it is always —always — an incomplete picture.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: Ursula LeGuin’s short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds.” Yes, it’s science fiction, and fantastical, but it makes you think about language among nonhumans in a different light. It translates to reality. Then there’s Gretchen Primack’s poetry collection Kind, and Lisa Courturier’s amazing essay collection The Hopes of Snakes and lovely poetry collection Animals/Bodies. Nancy Lord has a great short story on a wolf-dog called “Recall of the Wild.” And there’s Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels,” which is a brilliant description of one of those brief moments of unmediated connection with the nonhuman world.

 

Q: You rerouted your career from environmental policy work to creative writing. In what ways do you feel this is more effective and/or rewarding?

A: Oh, so much more rewarding! Effective in a longer-lasting way. Policy can be undone quickly, as we’re seeing right now with many regulations that took decades to put in place. We’d like to think policy is done with a rational, reasoned, careful approach, but it’s just not. When I began work in environmental policy, I learned fast that the problem wasn’t, as I’d naively assumed as a college student, some lack of information transmittal, some failure of communication between scientists and politicians. No, it’s a fundamental difference in intention and values and process. The political realm, in its present form, is fraught with poor decisions with no basis in scientific knowledge or rational thinking…much less the kind of both/and openness that I spoke of above. For example, here in Alaska, the state put in place a no-kill buffer for wolf protection along the boundary of Denali National Park…and then took it away simply out of spite over an unrelated political spat.

Writing, on the other hand, lasts. We still read stories — unabridged, unmediated — that are hundreds of years old. Writing can reach people on a deeper level, a subtle plane, one they may not even consciously recognize. Story bypasses the analytical mind and aims straight for memory and imagination. Story has power; it makes people more empathetic, more able to enter the world of the Other. It is transcendent in its potential to effect change.

The downside is that, with policy work, you can see the effects of your work — whether success or failure — very clearly and sometimes quickly. When they put the wildlife buffer in place, wolves stopped being killed, and more wolves were seen in the park. With writing, you can’t, for the most part, see the effects. There are exceptions, of course: consider Silent Spring. But mostly we writers, and really, all artists, rarely witness any far-reaching effects from our work. Every now and then I’ll get a note from some reader that confirms what I’ve hoped — that my work is reaching people, is having an effect on their view of the world. But mostly I just have to have faith in what I cannot, and likely will never, see—in the ripple effect of my words as they find their way out into the world.

Marybeth Holleman is the author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North. A Pushcart-Prize nominee, her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies, among them Orion, Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Literary Mama, North American Review, AQR, and The Future of Nature, as well as on National Public Radio. Holleman has taught creative writing and women’s studies at the University of Alaska and has written for nonprofits on environmental issues from polar bears to oil spills. A North Carolina transplant, she has lived in Alaska for more than twenty-five years.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Rosemary Lombard

By Midge Raymond,

Rosemary Lombard’s essay “A Case for More Reality in Writing for Animals” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness has evolved?
A: That is a long story with many bends. In grad school, except for a single nonfiction course, I was schooled in academic writing in musicology, a discipline far from animal interests. Only when a female box turtle, Diode, joined my pet male did I begin to write about animals. The description of her first days was as precise as I could make it, but I still had a few courses to take and classes to teach and soon dropped the writing. Yet the behaviors of those first turtles, not at all what I expected from reptiles, fascinated me far more than the dissertation staring me in the face; so, after courses were done, I started teaching in Chicago universities and, instead of the dissertation, began my own self-education about herpetology, animal behavior, and interspecies communication.

Eight years after Diode came, I started writing again. She surprised me — amazed me! She had apparently planned a charade to show she understood the concept of classifying objects, and she followed it up by demonstrating that she understood the meaning of a few spoken words.

I was hooked. An exploratory collaboration with Diode and three others began, and, with games and choices, they learned quickly and with high motivation. Daily I wrote about what was happening. Those descriptive journal entries, volumes of them from 1979 to the present, were my writing teachers. Again, precision and clarity about behaviors were paramount — both in content and syntax. They were data but written as gracefully as I could.

Then I decided to take courses to fill in my self-education: many courses in biology, natural history, animal behavior, and communication, from Bio 101 back to another grad school, with plenty of writing. A monograph came out of a Stanford linguistics course; then a book about the turtle research began to form, and eventually, when I decided on my trade book audience, I wrote many chapters based on the journals, now my external memory.

The next step began with two poetry workshops at a conference and, finally back in the Northwest, a month of memorial birthday readings honoring my old prof William Stafford. Suddenly, poetry was in my ear, and as I became a poet and wide reader in poetry and prose, I found literary skills that could enrich my prose writing. Now I write both poetry and creative nonfiction with the goal to build more respect and empathy for turtles and other animals, especially as related to my concern about wild animal trafficking and the pet trade.

Still, I keep working to notice more as an animal observer and reader-become-writer — I taught several classes on sketching from nature partly to discipline myself to notice details and behaviors — and I participate in writing workshops as well as offering lectures and lecture-demonstrations. Diode and the now thirteen others, mostly second generation, still inspire me. Learning just keeps going.

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?
A: My belief is that writers should attempt to learn enough about the real animals and their places and ways of life in order to acquire and select genuine characteristics and actions as a basis for creating believable characters, whether they’re walking or flying or swimming in the real world or, with added imaginings, in a world of their own.

Elena Passarello, in her Oregon Book Award winner Animals Strike Curious Poses, writes about famed sixteenth-century artist Albrecht Dürer and the photographic precision of his work, such as “the thousand-fold strands of watercolor fur on his Young Hare.” He admonished others to do the same, writing, “Don’t diverge from nature in your imaginings, thinking you want to find things for yourself.” Yet he could — and did — take details from life and produce wildly imaginative work. Yes, the details in our art too can transfer to fantasy and other styles.

Good writing about animals can be engaging and informative and go part of the way toward bringing an audience to take steps toward protecting them. However — and here is the bottom line — those of us who are intense about issues that benefit animals have another step available. Our writing, not only in nonfiction, needs — along with our empathy and skillful storytelling — enough reality that readers can respect and empathize with the characters and then be able to make the emotional transition to the real animals that need the readers’ help. As many have pointed out, we save what we love.

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals? 
A: A catalog of books about animals would be daunting, and even my bookshelves are groaning. I’ll note a few that are both realistic and compassionate and have additional features worth study for the writer.

First, let’s consider a book, still beloved, from the mid-twentieth century, Nobelist Konrad Lorenz’s King Solomon’s Ring. The editors of the Time edition assigned to him qualities we’re looking for: “Every chapter of King Solomon’s Ring is enriched by the fruits of affectionate looking and hard reasoning.” And the author adds the necessity for real facts; he says, ” … I shall not aspire, in this little book, to improve on nature by taking any artistic liberties” — but we must say, not to the exclusion of charm. We must add his personal involvement in the stories of his investigations. Who could forget his account of the thickening naturalist — Konrad himself— “squatting and quacking” for hours on end through the meadow, followed by his adopted string of ducklings as he famously learns the details of imprinting on the “mother,” starting with the first quack they hear (and its continual instruction to follow the mom, whoever she or he may be).

A modern book I have recommended to many is University of Washington researcher John Marzluff’s Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart birds to Behave Like Humans, which includes fascinating accounts of research with wild-flying corvids and, a valuable bonus for some readers, elementary neurosci tech talk about the structure of the bird brain and how that structure has parts that are arranged differently from ours but has corresponding actions.

For perceptive and affectionate books by naturalists who lived with or worked closely with the animals described, I recommend Esther Woolfson’s Corvus: A Life with Birds; Benjamin Kilham’s straightforward accounts of raising orphan bears on his wild land and his discoveries about bear behavior; and Julie Zickefoose’s Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods.

I’ll let Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote, represent the yowling multitude of dog books. I discuss it in my essay, pointing out that, though he translates the behaviors of the dog to language, that translation is based on keen observation of those behaviors and a close relationship with the independent Merle.

Books that include the elements of observation and story plus depth in the concerns of ethical philosophy and animal/environmental activism include Alison Hawthorne Deming’s Zoologies and a pair of books by philosopher/naturalist Kathleen Dean Moore. Moore’s exemplary novel, Piano Tide, integrates her keen knowledge of animals and the rest of southeast Alaska’s natural wonder into the story of the people of a coastal village and the ecoterrorist-in-hiding who has come to live with them. The book of essays paired with Piano Tide is Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change. As reviewer Scott Sanders writes, “No one thinks more rigorously about how we should live on this battered, beautiful planet, or how we should treat our fellow creatures.”

Notable anthologies of short animal pieces include those from Ashland Creek Press, Creative Nonfiction magazine, and Orion magazine. In the latter, Animals and People: A Selection of Essays from Orion Magazine, I point out and, further, suggest books by contributors Jane Goodall, David Gessner, Brian Doyle, Mary Oliver (her ecstatic poetry), and Craig Childs: such intense lovers of animals!

In The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, Childs takes us skillfully on adventures with wild animals in ways armchair naturalists and writers would never venture. Charles Finn, in Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters, provides a set of delightful miniatures: richly described, sometimes funny, always memorable.

Finally, I want to comment on a new book, so new that, so far, I’ve read only the sample provided online. What I read, though, does a fine job of pulling the sensibilities and skills illuminating all these books together into a package so appealing to the general reader that it has risen to best-seller status, a far-off star in the minds of the rest of us. The buzz is about Buzz, which is about bees. Author Thor Hanson (Feathers) uses all the techniques of creative nonfiction, including lively, conversational language; first person involved; informal and informational chats with experts, visits to sites, historical background; and the care with language and diction of fine fiction. His own powers of observation and scientific background show on the page, as well as the fascination and love he has for animals, clearly including the bees.

Animal behaviorist/writer Rosemary Douglas Lombard enjoyed roles as biomedical librarian, naturalist, and university teacher but cherishes decades exploring turtles’ cognitive potential. She won firsts in nonfiction and poetry and published in Bay Nature and Verseweavers, among others. Writings include Turtles All the Way (Finishing Line Press) and WIP Diode’s Experiment. You can find Rosemary online at https://ChelonianConnection.blogspot.com.

Vegan dining at Ashland’s Growers Market

By Midge Raymond,

The Rogue Valley Growers Market is in Ashland on Tuesdays, and thanks to the fact that the Two Peas Food Truck is here also, this means that for one half-day a week, Ashland has a vegan restaurant. (And, with any luck, either the city will finally approve food trucks in town, or maybe Two Peas will open a restaurant. We can hope!)

Two Peas is a much-needed addition not only to the growers market but especially to Ashland, which overall is quite vegan-challlenged when it comes to restaurants (most have only one or two vegan items available). This food truck is 100 percent organic and vegan, and makes a point of being zero waste; they use compostable containers, napkins, and forks. On the day we visited, the entire menu was also gluten-free.

Two Peas offers a wide and interesting variety of items, from waffles to spring rolls to tikka masala and falafel waffles. Because they are focused on using local foods, their menu probably will change depending on seasons and availability.

We opted for breakfast and tried the Breakfast Tacos. One order is three tacos, so we were able to try both options: the sausage and potatoes with kraut, greens, and chipotle cream, and also the tofu scramble with roasted veggies, pickled onion, greens, and creamy pesto.

It was a gigantic plate of food, and while the corn tortillas are tiny under all of the rest, all together they make the perfect meal. The vegan sausage, made from rice and oats, is spiced beautifully, and the potatoes were crispy little nuggets. The chipotle cream was spicy and delicious.

We liked the tofu scramble slightly more; the pesto sauce was great with the salad greens, and the tofu scramble was absolutely wonderful: savory, full of flavor, perfectly cooked. The Breakfast Plate might have to be next on our list of what to try when we return.

Two Peas is also in Medford on Thursdays; check their schedule here. We can’t wait to return next week to make our way down the menu…most of all, we’re thrilled to have an all-vegan menu right here in town, and especially to see them doing so well, based on how busy they were.

  Category: Ashland news, Vegan
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Early Penguins & Patagonia discount ends January 31!

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks to the Ashland Daily Tidings for this article about  My Last Continent, The Tourist Trail, and our upcoming adventure to Argentina!

We are so excited to be teaming up with Adventures by the Book for a journey through the majestic land of Patagonia and immerse yourself in the setting that helped inspire My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail.

Reserve your spot before January 31, 2018, for a $300 discount — reservations are limited as this will be an intimate, exclusive tour.


The backstory: When John and I volunteered at the Punta Tombo penguin colony in Argentina, helping with a penguin census of the largest Magellanic colony in the world, our experiences with the land, penguins, and dedicated scientists inspired our novels, The Tourist Trail and My Last Continent. We can’t wait to take readers and adventurers to see this spectacular colony firsthand, learn about its incredible history, and find out how to help conservation efforts in this extraordinary part of the world.


You’ll also have the opportunity to see and experience wildlife in ways you never imagined as we travel from Buenos Aires to Punta Tombo to the UNESCO World Heritage site Peninsula Valdes, where penguins, rheas, guanacos, foxes, sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, and many more stunning creatures reside. We’ll have a uniquely intimate experience with nature based at the private estancia Rincon Chico, accompanied all the way by a team of experienced local guides. (Note: While we’ll experience a lot of wildlife, we won’t be “roughing it” — the activity level will be light to moderate, and the accommodations will be lovely!)

And if you’re up for a further adventure into the icy places of My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail, there is an optional add-on excursion to Antarctica!

This literary & wildlife adventure includes…

  • Welcome dinner & tour in arrival city Buenos Aires
  • Penguin & wildlife excursions, including whale watching, with local guides
  • Signed copies of My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail 
  • …and so, so, so much more!

Learn more here, and feel free to contact us or Susan McBeth (susan@adventuresbythebook.com) with any questions you have.