I have a winter ritual. I start the day cozied up by the wood stove, nestled on pillows, writing and listening to the crackling flames, ever grateful to Wes who insists on building the fire no matter how early I’m up. Next to me is our living room bookshelf, overflowing with nature books. This can be somewhat disconcerting for guests expecting a novel or mystery they might pull out, so I’ve tucked in a few of those in one corner.
Over the weekend, I’ve pulled out two books. One is practical and highly recommended in this time of activism that was so beautifully expressed in the second annual Women’s March. The 2016 book is from Patagonia — “tools for grassroots activists- Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement.” I’ve scoured several chapters for ideas for a project I’m working on for National Wildlife Federation. In the process of reading it in more detail, I read an inspiring case study by Brent Fenty, director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, on Saving the Badlands Wilderness–a place I’m in the process of discovering, so close to Bend.
When I wrote the blog Running the Badlands Wilderness, I lacked the full appreciation of the strategic campaign that garnered support of 200 area businesses, from FootZone ( a running store) to Deschutes Brewery, and stories of a cafe that printed “We Support the Badlands Wilderness” on its menus when they found out the chief of staff for Oregon’s senior senator would be dining there that day. The Conservation Alliance (dedicated to outdoor businesses giving back to the outdoors) played a key role, too. To pass wilderness legislation in Oregon with bipartisan support in 2009 and not give up a single acre of the proposal in the process demonstrates how important it is for us today to think big, work together, and never think the time is wrong to strive for protection of wildlands and wildlife. Thank you Brent and ONDA!
The second book is a a 450-page hardback the size of a dictionary, called Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez, and featuring 45 writers defining 850 terms for the land in ways both informative and elegant, transforming each definition into a compelling story. My favorite way to peruse this book is to randomly open to any page and delve in, and then leave it on a different page. I’m finding every single term worth not just reading, but meditating on. Like this one that particularly seems meaningful in this time we live in: “refugium.”
Barry Lopez writes of “refugium” as the place we are secure from threats, the harbor in a storm, a child in a mother’s arms, and a “patriot refuge from tyrannical government.” The biological meaning is a place where plants and animals “pursue lives protected from exploitation and pursuit.” The Badlands Wilderness is a refugium.
Refugium, as defined by one of the best nature writers of our time, encompasses all the causes represented in the second annual Women’s March this weekend across the nation. All told, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children peacefully marched to protect dreamers and all immigrants, to save the Arctic Refuge and our oceans from oil drilling, to save our threatened national monuments and parks and all public lands, to honor the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to stand up for the return of kindness to America.
This concept of refugium, I realize, drives my beliefs: I believe in an America for people of all colors, faiths, cultures, and sexual orientation. I believe in an America that honors the rights of indigenous peoples and sacred lands. I believe in an America that welcomes immigrants and refugees. I believe in an America that strives to live more simply with less consumption and rewards smaller families, taking seriously the dire threats of overpopulation and climate change to our planet’s future. I believe in an America that adds to our wilderness, wild rivers systems, and national parks, saves every remaining big tree from the chainsaw, restores and connects all that is frayed and broken in our ecosystems, and is proud to fully fund and carry out the Endangered Species Act, while preventing thousands of species of wildlife from becoming endangered. I believe in an America that embraces science and higher education, including free college. I believe in health care for all, and a tax code that fairly targets the rich and corporations. I believe corporations are not people. I believe in a peaceful society with strict gun laws and a greatly reduced military replaced with an expanded Peace Corps and programs to help not harm people of the world.
To truly become a refugium we must change our broken, winner-take-all voting systems to ranked choice voting that assures the makeup of Congress is a true reflection of America, with many more women represented. We must increase voter turnout with making it easier not harder to vote. We must end the outdated electoral college and replace it with the natonal popular vote. We must end partisan divides and learn how to be kind, neighborly, and celebrating common ground.
“Refugium” holds all causes as interconnected. We cannot have social justice without a livable planet. We have a moral obligation to answer the call for the rights of people and all life, including the four-footed, eight-footed, winged, and finned, and scaled, to “pursue lives protected from exploitation and pursuit.” We have the dream and the gathering of will and purpose. This year’s march took the important step of rallying women and all progressives to run for office and to vote!
Home Ground –when not spread open next to the woodstove–resides in the bottom shelf with other tall and weighty books, including the Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds (which I just learned from looking it up that you can buy for the shockingly low price of $12.74!). It’s an 1100-page treasure by the naturalist John K. Terres (who died in 2006). I periodically turn to it for research on all things bird related–from the actual species to understanding the science of color feathers. I’m thinking next week it will be the book to randomly open to any title and leave open for perusal, and likely my next revelation.
This leads to why I collect books on nature and conservation, and if people know me, they also know I’ve got an entire bigger bookshelf dedicated just to birds that overflows into yet another. Despite appearances, with every move I have winnowed books. When I got rid of 90 percent of my furniture to store as little as possible and venture free as a roving minstrel, I admit I boxed up 75 percent of my books. Nature books–from field guides to naturalist musings–just had to stay. I also have a smaller collection of poetry, mythology, children’s books, and writings on all subjects by favorite and familiar authors, including my brilliant brother Rob Richie, of Fairvote.
When it comes to the natural world, I desire a forest of books–each one literally made from trees, and so must be treated with high respect. Like a wild woods brimming with diversity, age, chaos, and life, my nature books range from my disintegrating, yellowed copy of Loren Eiseley’s The Immense Journey that’s motivated me since high school, to my recent passion for turning every yard into a refugium, Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, and to another “must have” book for advocacy, Brock Evan’s Fight & Win.
I love public libraries, too, and perusing new titles at independent bookstores. Books are like the plants and animals of our inside home refugium. Even within my camper’s tight quarters–in the spirit of John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley– I reserved one cupboard for about 10 books (and you might guess the themes).
Returning to the Home Ground book flipped open to reveal the terms red rock, reef, refugium, and relief, I’m struck by the most magical part of Lopez’s exploration of refugium, where he writes of the phenomenon of animals long thought lost to a region suddenly showing up again. Where did they find a hidden refugium to survive all this time? Where was that “inadvertent pocket of protection”? What refugium have we not yet discovered? As recently, as December, 2017, National Geographic reported the discovery of a supposedly extinct marsupial in Australia.
In the midst of incredibly depressing news about the destruction of our environment, I take hope from the pocket-sized, crest-tailed mulgaria that has survived in spite of overwhelming odds against it, and likely because of an overlooked refugium. I look out in the morning light on our acre of pine forest with its cheerful green manzanita understory and know that while small, it connects to the woods next door and the great lava beds nudging up within view of our home. I realize that it would take a lifetime in this one spot to study and know the worlds upon worlds of life at every level and deep into the rocky lava soils. The refugium of the book leads me right out the door into nature. And that’s another reason to collect nature books.
My only lament is the one expressed by early naturalist John Burroughs (and yes I have several of his books): “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”