Friday, November 30, 2007

Speaking up for the wild things

Friday, 10/26 Kaziranga

When I’m traveling, I so often wake long before first light, living a day life, so completely different than my normal night owl existence at home where I’m frequently up writing until 1 or 2 AM (and waking after many are already at work.) On either end of the day, it's quiet and allows time for reflection, a kind of silent focus that we only find in small corners of our too-connected, crazy electronic lives.

This morning I came across this quote when I checked my email on our satellite setup:
"Someone must speak for them. I do not see a delegation for the four footed. I see no seat for eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior, but we are after all a mere part of the Creation."
--Oren Lyons, ONONDAGA

As we head to the park just past dawn, these words echo. In my life as a photographer, people and culture are my fascination. But as a writer and editor, being a voice for conservation and for the creatures we share the planet with has been my driving force. They all fascinate me—even the ones I’m wary of (OK, wary is weak: the things I’m seriously creeped out by or scared to death of) like stinging/biting bugs, poisonous snakes, scorpions—and leeches. So much of the world’s wildlife and wild places are in such dire straits: producing my first book last year, “State of the Wild 2006: A Portrait of Wildlife, Wildlands, and Oceans” was a long labor of love, and left me hugely depressed for months.

But I think of the poet Allen Ginsberg, who again and again layed down on the railroad tracks leading from Rocky Flats nuclear munitions plant. He was arrested numerous times, drawing attention both to the environmental impact of the plant on the pristine Rocky Mountain landscape and to his ardent anti-war stance—but as a Buddhist, he did so without attachment to outcome. He just needed to put right action out into the world. Adopting a similar attitude allows me to write on environmental issues without feeling like I want to slit my wrists.

Friday, November 23, 2007

As the rest of the house sleeps

Writing through curtained light as the rest of the house sleeps. I’ve been up since 4 AM, I’m home in Hoboken, and it’s Thanksgiving. Stuck in zombie jetlag limbo. At an American Museum of Natural History lecture by my zoologist friend Alan Rabinowitz the other night, I struggled to stay conscious, nodding like a narcoleptic through the last half of his talk. He was outlining his 10+ year struggle to save tigers in Myanmar, chronicled in his new book "Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed." Steve (my partner) worked with him there on a story for National Geographic when Alan was fighting to establish what has become the largest tiger reserve in the world outside of India, a tract the size of Vermont.

It’s a particular kind of shock returning home from India. The world drains of color and sound—hi-tech, orderly, slick, commercial. No holy cows blocking major thoroughfares. No crazy weave of pedestrians, motorbikes, tractors, trucks, rickshaws, buses, and livestock vying for roadspace and trying to stay alive amidst the flowing chaos. No vehicles driving down the wrong side of the street.
The cacophony of horns, day-and-night explosion of Diwali fireworks, the blare of music through scratchy speakers, the hawkers—all silenced. Here, women fade into the black-garbed uniform of hip, elegant New York. I miss the dayglo-colored saris of Rajastan’s women, the glitter of their nose rings, arms loaded with bangles, the glint of sun on sequins and gold and silver. Rappers think they have the corner on bling. They have no idea.

Over the next days, I will put up entries I was unable to post during my last few weeks in India. But for today, I am thankful for having had the opportunity to spend time in that most amazing country, am grateful for the love of family and friends—and look forward to breaking my usual status as a pescetarian (a “vegetarian” who sometimes eats fish) with Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. Blessings to all on this Thanksgiving day!