The internet is an interesting world where I have met so many people with overlapping interests. When I was a guest facilitator/editor/organizer for a blog carnival, Rana happened about the call for blogs. She was kind enough to re-post the call on her blog because of her generous spirit and interest in diversity and the environment. We agreed to interview one another. Read Rana’s interview with me and my interview with Rana as follows:
What’s the story behind the Frogs and Ravens blog as a title?
There isn’t really a story! *laughs* People have asked me about it, and about the tagline “Some days we are ravens, other days, frogs” pretty much from the beginning. The rather uninteresting answer is that the name and the phrase just popped into my head, I liked them, and that’s it. I have learned, however, that there are a number of Pacific Northwest myths about both frogs and ravens, so maybe I was channeling that subconsciously. Both animals also have human qualities – frogs in their shape, ravens in their intelligence – and are creatures of more than one world – water and earth for frogs, air and earth for ravens. They also offer an interesting contrast in that frogs are quite vulnerable to environmental change, while ravens (like all corvids) are opportunistic and adaptable. And, of course, frogs are not infrequently prey for ravens. So there are a lot of interesting resonances to play with.
Tell me a little about yourself and your Frogs and Ravens blog.
I always have trouble summarizing myself, and similar difficulties with summarizing the blog. I have a lot of interests, so it’s a bit hard to fit either into a nice little package! That said, there are a few areas that I find myself returning to time and again over the years. These would be photography, writing, academia, politics with a small p, animals, and the environment. Yoga and crafts like knitting and sketching make their way in as well. I’ve always loved the non-human world, so it’s not surprising that I keep being drawn back to it. I’ve long thought of myself as a creative person – my favorite classes as a kid were art, dance, and story-time – and I’ve been writing and taking photographs and camping since I was a kid. The blog reflects these somewhat scattered interests.
What interests you concerning diversity (human) and the environment?
As a white environmentalist with a middle-class background, and as a historian who studies the environment, it’s been pretty obvious that environmentalism in this country has (like the rest of American society) problems with race and diversity. My own ignorance embarrasses me – I have some sense of the issues from my work in American Indian history and from teaching the environmental history of early America (including Southern slavery), but it’s clearly coming from a position of racial privilege – and so I’m grateful to those who have something useful to say about it. Directing others to blogs like yours seems the very least I can do.
Do you have any concerns about the lack of diversity (people of color) in the environment(alism) dialogue? If so, what? What would you like see change?
Oh, yes. The two main issues as I see it are (1) a lack of attention by mainstream (read, largely white and middle-class) environmental organizations to the concerns of people living in rural areas and in urban areas, many of whom are people of color, and (2) the very reasonable response of many people of color to see environmental issues in terms of a bunch of privileged white people who are more worried about trees and non-human animals than with their fellow human beings. It’s not at all surprising that this is the way things have played out, but it bothers me both on a practical and a philosophical level. On the practical level, we need as many people as possible to care about the environment and its health – and that includes the health and welfare of human beings. On the philosophical level, I have real issues with the idea that environmentalism is something one does as a sort of privileged leisure activity, and an activity that’s only appropriate for those with the money and time to pursue it. There are lots of ways of respecting the planet and its species, and no one way is perfect. I particularly find it troubling when middle-class white people fetishize indigenous cultures’ relationships with the environment as a way of excusing their own passivity in the face of environmental threats, or when they try to ease their guilt over their privilege by paying other people to take inner-city children camping for one week, rather than questioning why such access to healthy outdoor activities isn’t a part of everyone’s daily life.
But, then, as a person speaking from a position of privilege myself, I feel wary of being too proscriptive in my suggestions. If people like me are the only ones talking, then the problem hasn’t been solved; it’s just more white people talking to themselves about what they think people of color need.
I was enthralled by your photographs focusing on nature at Zenfolio. Why do you find nature photography meaningful?
One of the best things about photography, for me, is the way it forces me to slow down and pay attention. So taking photographs is a sort of focused meditation on the world. It’s also somewhat selfish, in that it allows me to capture things and moments and take them home with me, to be appreciated after the moment has passed. I think of them as a sort of external memory, a tool for looking back at a moment in time and seeing things that escaped my notice the first time. I don’t know that I think of myself as a nature photographer, however. As the case with the blog, my photography is more about my perspective than about the genre; the strand that keeps the whole thing together is my interest and ways of seeing the world. I happen to like subjects that others define as nature, but I’m also interested in things like garbage and buildings. If I have anything resembling a formal philosophy for my photography, it’s that I do portraiture – but my portraits are not always of living things.
One of my favorite photos titled “Yawn.“ What was going on here?
If I remember right – it’s been nearly 20 years since I took that picture – I was spending the afternoon at the San Diego Zoo testing out this brand of black-and-white film that could be developed using color processes. When you had it processed that way, instead of using black-and-white chemicals, you’d get these interesting grainy sepia tones. Anyway, in this particular case, I remember watching not only the primates on the inside of the glass, but also the human primates on the outside. And this mother with her infant was very calm in the face of all these excited children and adults staring at her, and I just wanted to capture that feeling.
I went back and (re-)read some of your posts. I wondered if you would elaborate on what you think:
Do you expand on your ethical response to the genetic modification beyond “Feral Canola,” the title of the blog:
In linking to this piece, I was mostly struck by the adjective “feral” being applied to plants. I’m used to it being used in reference to animals like dogs and cats, which are not simply pets that have ended up homeless, but animals which have reverted to a wild, unsocialized state. Such animals tend to react to human beings with the same fear and aggression you see in wild animals that were never domesticated; a feral kitten, for example, is not just a pet that hasn’t been housebroken yet, but a fairly savage little animal that will bite and claw if it is captured. So it was interesting thinking of plants in this way. What makes a plant “feral” as opposed to escaped? What makes it different from a plant that is a weed, or something like a wildflower (which is not domesticated but not unwanted like weeds). Is becoming “feral” something that only gene-modified plants can do, or is this something that might happen to any domesticated plant? Does “feral” when applied to plants evoke that same sense of something hostile and suspicious of humans?
Please tell me more about your garden. The metaphor of battle is powerful in “Garden.”
Here I was reacting to my observations of the pea plants and the cucurbits. Both of these like to reach out and wrap tendrils around objects in their path, and when said object is another plant, may end up pulling it down and cutting off its sunlight. So, like when I was thinking about feral plants, I was intrigued by the idea that we tend to think of animals alone as the active, assertive species in ecosystems, but my observations made it clear that plants can be just as aggressive, albeit at a slower pace. So, I was wondering, why do we think of plants as passive, and of active “nature” as animalistic? (Just think of the connotation of “vegetative” versus “animalistic.”) Certainly our own encounters with weeds – and now, feral GMOs – ought to suggest that wildness can be vegetable as well as animal.”
This also riffs off of my on-going fascination with how human beings like to define “nature” as if it’s this solid, concrete thing, instead of a bunch of human cultural constructs applied to a great variety of objects and living things, not all of whom co-operate so politely with their human-imposed expectations.
Photos Provided by Rana
I lived this interview, so informative, especially regarding the issue of class, race and environmentalism. Thanks for the education.
I really enjoyed doing the interview and am glad it spoke to you.