Date: June 5, 2012

Tonight on Ecotopia we’ll be bringing you another of the series we call “EcoLit”, reading from works we think are powerful not only because of their Ecotopian content, but because of the quality of the writing. We receive a number of examination copies of environmental books here at the station, and we aren’t always able to interview the authors. So we have gone through the bookshelves to find passages that are just plain good reading, literary reading in the sense of materials where the words and the content mesh in ways that are, well, Ecotopian.

Listen to the Program

The Readings

(The introduction to each reading is provided, not the text itself.)

We’ll start with reading from a book by a local author and KZFR programmer, Chris Nelson, who’s written a wonderful travel book called THE VEGGIE VOYAGERS; AN ECO-FRIENDLY, LOW BUDGET LOOP OF NORTH AMERICA’S WILD PLACES POWERED BY USED COOKING OIL. The title pretty well sums up the story: Chris and Michael Pike fitted their camper out to burn vegetable oil, not the biodiesel that requires a good deal of chemical processing, but veggie oil that Michael filtered and then centrifuged with a modified Acme Juicer.Chris writes in the introduction: “This book is naturally dedicated to the people we love and care about, but deeper than that, to our poor planet. Humans have no right to overwhelm the earth or to harm one another. Nor do we humans have the right to destroy the habitats of other species. We individuallyand collectively must learn sustainability. We must take responsibility for what we do minute to minute and implement the collective actions that will save the future for the health and survival of all we know and love. There is no alternative.  In the passage we’ll read now, Chris and Michael have traveled across the U.S. and Canada to Maine, and what Chris calls “the crisp shine of the Atlantic,” to a refuge honoring one of the pioneers of the current ecological movement:  Veggie Voyagers: p. 62 You can also follow her writings on environmental and peace issues at

Appreciation of and respect for the land and its beauty comes in many ways. Our next reading is from an autobiography by Canadian writer Sharon Butala and her book, Perfection of Morning. Here she writes about the differences in perceptions of the land between her husband, Peter, and herself, a city kid moved to the ranch.  Subtlety of the Land 166-167.  Sharon Butala, Perfection of Morning, Published by HarperCollins in 1994.

In their book, Edges of Bounty: Adventures in the Edible Valley, William Emery, writer, and Scott Squire, photographer, describe their learning quest about food and its production in the Central Valley, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. In this passage, they described what they learned from Stuart and Emily Rowe, who are dairy farmers near Dixon.  William Emery and Scott Squire, Edges of Bounty, Heyday Books, 2008.

And speaking of visiting the farm, here’s a passage from a book by Catherine Friend called Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet. It’s a collection of anecdotes about hers and her partner’s fifteen years of sheep farming, often comic, but with deep underlying appreciation of the ways of people and animals.  Sheepish, by Catherine Friend, DaCapo Press, 2011

An issue that we have explored frequently on this program centers on the apparent assumption–especially here in the New World–that whatever is out there in nature, whether it be trees, minerals, or animals, is free for the taking, the more the better. For example, much of the exploration of the United States, from East to increasingly West, was driven by the fur trade, fueled by the passion for beaver-skin men’s hats in London. In Fur, Fortune, and Empire, Eric Jay Dolin explores what he calls “The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.” Here’s a passage that traces the fur trade all the way back to the Plymouth Colony, though in this case a naïve and unsuccessful venture by a man named Thomas Weston.  Fur, Fortune, and Empire, Eric Jay Dolin, Norton 2010, and Dolin goes on to describe how the beaver was nearly hunted to extinction, saved, in no small measure, because beaver skin hats went out of fashion.

Mark Kurlansky has written a book for younger readers about another kind of extraction, one going on today that could lead to a World Without Fish. Mark Kurlansky, Workman Publishing, 2011.|

Nor is extraction-to-extinction limited to fish and animals. In this next segment from her book A Doubtful River, writer Mary Webb describes how the Truckee River, which starts at Lake Tahoe and ends at Pyramid Lake in the Nevada desert northwest of Reno, was dammed, sluiced, canaled and channeled, almost to extinction. A Doubtful River, by Mary Webb, with photographs by Peter Goin and Robert Dawson. University of Nevada Press, 2000.

Channeling the water also leads to chaneling people, mostly toward the water. In his book, Bird on Fire, Andrew Ross describes lessons that could or should be learned from what he calls “the world’s least sustainable city,” Phoenix, Arizona. In this excerpt, Ross discusses the voracious appetite of Phoenix for new land, new subdivisions, and speculates about possible results, comparing modern-day Phoenix to the prehistoric Hohokam (hə-hō’kəm) people who occupied the same territory and constructed an elaborate system of canals and drainages. Bird on Fire. Andrew Ross. Oxford, 2011.

OK, we’re done with the apocalyptic warnings and stories of overextraction. Here are few description of wilderness and wildness, places where, to quote Sierra Club pioneer David Brower, “the hand of man has not set foot.” (Kenneth Brower, The Wildness Within, Heyday Books, 2012).

Here’s a selection that focuses on the planet rather than people. Here, from his book Cold, is a description by Bill Streever of the planet during the Pleistocene era, the last ice age.  Cold, Bill Streever, Back Bay Books, 2009.

And in our own time, here is John Hanson Mitchell, lying on his back in the meadow on a Sunday afternoon, just . . . looking up:.  “Sundays in the Sky.” John Hanson Mitchell in Soul of the Sky. Mt Washington Observatory, 1999,

Thank you for listening to Ecotopia this evening as we’ve explored some recent environmental writing, from observations of the world to catastrophic predictions about our common future.