Words > Stories > Action

RE Nature: Concerning nature.
Renature: To restore to original condition.

We began plans for this issue of Understorey Magazine over a year ago, in August and September of 2018. It seems like a long time has passed.

At that time, few people knew of Greta Thunberg, fewer had attended a Climate Strike. Extinction Rebellion did not exist. The IPCC had yet to release their game-changing report, the one that warned we had only twelve years to take serious action against climate change.

In the past year, it seems, our awareness has transformed. Even our language has changed. It is now commonplace to talk of the “climate crisis” or the “climate emergency.”

But while global awareness has recently surged, the situation itself—warming, melting, acidification—is not new at all. Half a century ago, back in the 1970s, Exxon (and probably others) accurately predicted and then actively buried the fact that burning fossil fuels would rapidly warm the planet. A quarter of a century ago, in 1992, nations met in Rio to sign the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal was to limit “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate. And decades ago, Indigenous people, especially those in the Arctic, sounded the alarm, told us we are not doing enough. They have been living in a changed climate ever since.

The climate crisis has been called a “long emergency.” But things are speeding up—and it’s not just the climate we have to worry about. The UN has also issued dire, unprecedented warnings about species extinction. Some researchers say there are in fact nine planetary limits or boundaries; global temperature and species extinction only two of them. They say we have already transgressed four of those boundaries. Without a radical change of direction, and soon, we will not survive as a species.

So….

Why write poetry? Why write fiction or memoir? Why take time to paint or weave or sketch? Even for one morning, why ponder stories when so much is at stake?

A guiding principle of Understorey Magazine is that stories inspire change. Unearthing stories that are not often or not widely shared can build bonds, strengthen community, fuel action. This is why, for 17 issues now, we have chosen themes that are vital to our everyday lives but tend to stay hidden under the surface of everyday conversation: age, blood, service, motherhood, and more. In telling these stories, we announce: This has happened. This is happening—to me, to us. Stories help move us forward, they urge the question: Now what?

But as author and environmental journalist Linda Pannozzo recently reminded me, both through her writing and in person, stories can also blind us. Told over and over, stories can mire us in “truths” that were never truths, ideas that never made any sense at all. Patriarchy, for instance. Or more generally, dominion. Terra nullius. Nature’s bounty. Limitless economic growth. Whose stories are these? How are they sustained? What happens if we erase them and tell something new?

In his essential book, The Truth about Stories, Thomas King says: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” Think about this for a moment. We are the stories we tell. We become the stories we tell.

In this issue of Understorey Magazine, our contributors do not lord over nature’s bounty. Nor do they stand aside in reverence or awe. They do not separate themselves at all—from nature, or from a nature in crisis. “We are accomplices,” writes Anna Quon, capturing in three words an alternate and necessary story.

Mi’kmaw author Tiffany Morris asks about specific words and definitions: “there is not a word in every language for / extinction event,” she writes. What does it mean that the English-speaking colonial world now requires this term?

Many of our contributors look at the storytellers themselves. “Auteur theory is for the birds,” writes Tanis MacDonald, forcing us to question who is penning the stories we tell of nature. Who believes they are directing the plot? And what about those relegated to the wings? Those who are homeless, endangered, living precariously, already suffering, or already lost? How will their stories shape who we are as a society and a species?

Of course, we have to do more than sit and write. We also have to rally crowds, get our hands dirty, listen to the too-busy and the still-doubtful. And, yes, we must pause to acknowledge the absolute wonder and our place in it. But creating a new narrative requires brave new storytellers, as well as a place to tell their stories.

So we invite you to read, think, comment, share, and act—RE Nature.

Thank you to all of our writers and visual artists, and to all who submitted work. We could not publish everything but we appreciated and learned from everything we read. Special thanks to our poetry editor, Rachel Edmonds, who vetted submissions and provided editorial comments, all while undergoing chemotherapy and planning a wedding. And a big thank you to our cover artist, Jane Whitten. Jane creates woven art with non-traditional but sadly abundant materials such as discarded plastic bags, telephone wire, and fishing line. The resulting portrayal of natural beauty and nature in crisis suggests not only where we now stand in the world, but several possible future stories.

The cover for Understorey Magazine Issue 17 showing sea stars created by Jane Whitten with plastic bags and telephone wire.

Katherine Barrett

About Katherine Barrett

Katherine Barrett is Understorey Magazine’s founder and editor in chief.

About Jane Whitten

For the past twenty plus years Jane Whitten has been an experimental basket maker, knitter, crocheter, stitcher and general tinkerer. She gathers urban flotsam and jetsam and explore ways of reusing these materials to create forms and vessels. She works on the premise that if she has enough of something she just has to figure out what the material brings to the table and what she needs to add to create the desired form. Her work is determined by what she’s been able to hunt and gather. Though amount and variety of garbage always horrifies her, she has to reign herself in and be selective in what she collects and uses. She relishes in the treasure hunt. Underlying her experimentation with materials, techniques, and structures, is her passion and concern for the environment. She has recently retired and returned to the east coast of Canada after living and working in inland Australia for over a decade. Reconnecting with the ocean environment and reconfirming her understanding of its fragility has been a powerful experience and one that has inspired her. Whitten has exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, USA, New Zealand, and Australia. She was nominated for the Canada Council’s 2001 Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Fine Craft and has won numerous awards for creations. Her work is in public and private collections nationally and internationally.

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