"The conditions that are conducive to the experience of solastalgia have intensified and grown globally." -Glenn Albrecht
Hello, and much happiness to whatever end-of-the-year thing that you celebrate! For me it is the natural world, winter solstice (at least in the northern hemisphere), the silence of the meadow at night, and the way snow falls so beautifully and hushes the rest of the world around us. I also love to hear the wildness of this time of year, the gales and howling rains and thunderstorms. When coming up with this newsletter, I thought of doing a retrospective of the year. And then I thought that, really, every year comes not with more nostalgia but solastalgia than the year before. Not to be utterly dark and grim, but if we cannot recognize the palpable pain of losing species, natural landscapes, healthy ecosystems, and all the cultural and experiential traditions that come along with these things, then we are lying to ourselves and burying inconvenient truths. The fact is, we can be courageous, fearless, and hopeful during these times, too, despite hard facts. I recently watched an emotional and great new movie called A Boy Called Christmas, wherein an aunt relates a fable to the young children in her family to get them excited by the holiday as well as to help them deal with the pain of losing their mother. Because the story she tells also has pain in it and the kids question her about how to deal with it, she replies, “Grief is the price we pay for love, and it’s worth it a million times over.” That quote explains how I also view solastalgia, which is a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change. We know climate change is not some far-future thing that will happen. It is already here. I’ve watched family nearly evacuated in British Columbia over the summer, due to wildfires, and just this fall, due to flooding that killed hundreds of people and thousands of animals. Coupled with COVID 19, another environmental disaster, I’d say that while a lot of us are still able to insulate ourselves against the worst scenarios, it is getting more impossible to do that every year.
December Book Recommendation
The idea of solastalgia has been around for a while, also in fiction and prose, which Dragonfly explores. Even before the term came along, lamentations have arisen often by authors seeking to tell the story of loss and extinction. I’d been aware of this my whole life, but it really came into further focus when I read Lorna Crozier’s The Wild In You (Greystone Books 2015). Because I’m doing a retrospective and have a new newsletter-only feature with a monthly book recommendation, I suggest this book of poems and illustrations. I interviewed Lorna in April 2016 and had also met the photographer Ian McAllister once at the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby, BC, when he and Andrew Nikiforuk gave a presentation about the dangers of the Canadian oil sands. In the interview, Lorna and I talked about the pain of watching nature disappear around us. Her poems deal with that. A notable quote by Lorna from our interview:
As we destroy one species after another we become smaller, lesser, more alone. I bet there’s now a psychological term for that.
(Yes, there is now.) Later, she said something that mirrors my feeling of doing something to counteract the deep feelings of loss.
If we’re lucky enough to get into the wilderness, our bodies and our spirits crackle with life. Our legs on a trail feel stronger. They become animal again. Our sense of smell is honed. Raven speaks to us in one of the 200 dialects ornithologists have been able to measure. When a grizzly inhales my scent, I live for a moment inside his body, inside his mind. How can I not be changed? To get inside myself in a deep and meaningful way, where I might, if I’m lucky, find words to say what can’t be said, I have to get outside. I have to be larger than myself. Rain-drenched, I have to breathe in the wolf, the grizzly, breathe in the wild beauty of the world. And I have to figure out what to do to protect it—to stop all those human things that are causing such harm. The most optimistic part of me hopes the poems are one small way to do that.
There’s the love born from grief.
In the spirit of looking back, I cataloged some major wildlife species for this month’s backyard wildlife post, with the help of Nova Scotia Canada. In doing so, involved with this writing was a retrospective of our interactions with species around us and our experiences observing them. Check out my post, Backyard Wildlife: All the Things.
World Eco-fiction Spotlight
This month I chatted with Pola Oloixarac about her novel Dark Constellations, which was one of those rare books I just couldn't put down. Read more here. This one rates up there with one of my favorite reads from this past year. Though the novel came out in 2019 and I had gotten it then, I didn’t get a chance to read it until later nor did I get to talk with the author until just this year. Translated by Roy Kesey, Dark Constellations is a slim science-fiction novel set mostly in Argentina that has its feet in biological exploration and its eyes in the future—to hacking and DNA research. Dark, mysterious, and surreal, the story has three main characters whose works connect with each other over the course of 150 years.
Speaking of retrospective, however, one of my favorite quotes in our interview was:
Dark constellations were the way the Incas named and organized their astronomic exploration of the night sky. In the southern hemisphere, unlike the North, the dark spaces between the stars are much wider: interestingly, the Incas built their characters and stories as written inside the dark spaces, and not around the lights dots of the stars like the Western tradition. -Pola Oloixarac
I love the idea that Pola drew on early imaginings by the Incas as an inspiration to this novel.
A Look Back at My Favorite Novels in 2021
In no order, here are my favorite reads from this year; note, I read them this year even though they might have been published earlier:
Pola Oloixarac’s Dark Constellations (see above).
Venetia Welby’s Dreamtime. Weirdly enough (maybe not!), this novel also summons solastalgia. Venetia propels us into a haunted world of the future, to lost worlds and oneiric places, which are in ruin, screaming of the past, present, and a questionable future. Ghosts, memories, mutations, and consequences filter into the present. Disease and pollution make the world a place where the only way to forget is to get inebriated somehow, but to truly rise above might just mean facing harsh truths, strengthening one’s will and spirit, and finding love. See my interview with the author here.
I’d heard from the editor of Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2020) back in late October, and because I started a new job in the beginning of November, I shelved some things until I had the time to really check them out. When I finally added the book to the database in late November, I realized it was the 900th book, and it looked good and sales proceeds from the book are donated to RAVEN and Climate Justice Toronto. I figured I’d celebrate the 900th book added to the database by buying the book to help their cause. It was totally worth it. This is a book of poems, essays, and short stories confronting colonization, racism, and the social inequalities that are endemic to the climate crisis. And it’s beautiful, inside and out; it’s also based in Canada. I even recognized some of the authors, like Stephen Collis, who I worked with back in the Vancouver area a few times.
A Look Ahead
Even in solastalgia, we must look ahead.
While I’m sure there will be plenty more new and upcoming eco-novels, here’s a few I’ve read about that have some good reviews so far: The Last Woman in the World by Inga Simpson, Jessie Greengrass’s The High House, The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Hungry Earth by Nicholas Kaurmann, Milk Teeth by Helene Bukowski, The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed, Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson, Bewilderment by Richard Powers, and Canyonlands Carnage by Scott Graham. I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s The Morning Star now, and it’s really good.
Uh, there’s also my own children’s illustrated book that went on sale November 26th! Finn’s Tree Alphabet is the first book in The Adventures of Finn Wilder series, which is focused on outdoor adventures, bringing the beauty and importance of nature into children’s lives while also educating and inspiring them. Finn’s Tree Alphabet goes A-Z with different trees from all over the world. Descriptions elicit wonder as well as laughter.
A Look Back at My Favorite Eco-Films in 2021
It’s actually been a pretty good year for this.
The new Silent Night movie is one of the best fictional films I’ve seen about ecological disaster. What starts as a dark comedy ends up as a thoughtful and moving drama that puts all of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths into one last Christmas, and the last night on Earth. Silent Night is a cautionary tale of climate change; in fact, it is to climate change as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach was of nuclear disaster.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is a wonderful exploration of how natural landscape manifests in what's known as folk horror. Seriously, if you can find this, it’s highly recommended.
Other Recent Films and a Look Ahead
An all-star cast parodies the general public’s apathetic and distracted reaction to huge things like climate change in Don’t Look Up. I’ll reserve further commentary until after I see it, but it looks good! It comes out on Netflix on December 24th.
Dune was recently released in theaters, so we got a chance to go on the first night, and, well, maybe not many people in our small town in Nova Scotia were going to theaters yet, but it felt safe with only two other couples (it was a late show). I thought this was a wonderful rendition and highly recommend it.
My Octopus Teacher came out in 2020. It’s actually a documentary but beautifully photographed, and it’s just a heartwarming story all the way around. It’s the opposite of solastalgia because it lifts you up, but it’s also cautionary about the loss of marine life everywhere. Afterward, I desperately wanted to learn how to scuba-dive in the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
The Dead Don't Die, a deadpan comedy, has a remarkable ensemble cast and environmental commentary. It seems to have come out in 2019, but I only had access to watch it recently, so will still recommend it.
Some of Octavia Butler's work is being adapted to the silver screen. According to Vanity Fair, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is producing the pilot for a series adaptation of Kindred for FX, and Issa Rae and J.J. Abrams will produce a Fledgling pilot for HBO. Viola Davis’s production company JuVee will join Amazon and Wanuri Kahiu to adapt Wild Seed, and Ava DuVernay and Amazon are also working on Dawn. Garrett Bradley will write and direct Parable of the Sower as a feature film.
What Else Is New?
This coming week I’ll be doing a presentation about eco-fiction with DORKS, a new series affiliated with Rice University. This week’s topic is science & art! I will talk about ecologically oriented fiction, and Autumn Anglin will talk about fungi and art & citizen science. This event will happen December 18 at 3:15 pm EST. Link: https://riceuniversity.zoom.us/j/99690008521?pwd=d2JFQ2VtalQxRkUrL3dnWE1MVUtYdz09; passcode: 886382
The Rewilding Our Discord is alive and deep in conversation about Matt Bell’s novel Appleseed! We’ll probably wrap up the discussion before the end of the year, but are pretty flexible. Sometime in January, we’ll vote on a new book to read, so now’s a good time to join. The Discord invite is https://discord.gg/txgJNVg. Also, one of our members is working on an article about solarpunk, so watch for that soon. And a big congrats to fellow administrator Lovis Geier (vlogger at Ecofictology), who just passed her PhD viva and is now a doctor!
Green Stories in the UK often runs writing competitions. Their current one, on adult novels, closes December 30, 2021. Check their site often, however, as they run new competitions throughout the year. Entries must conform to the green stories criteria of showing a positive vision of what a sustainable society might look like or include green solutions, policies, or characters in the context of an otherwise mainstream story.
A new review is up of Eliza Mood's O Man of Clay, a futuristic horror-climate-change novel set in North East England and Siberia.
Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is not only being adapted to film but to a musical theater event created by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon, directed by Eric Ting. The event takes place in February 2022 at the Krannert Center, and tickets go on sale January 12, 2022. See the Krannert Center for more information.
In case you’ve missed these exciting resources at Dragonfly, which are constantly being updated, check ‘em out!
World’s biggest playlist? Our environmental/nature song-of-the-week playlist goes back to 2015.
Inspiring and informative author quotes from Dragonfly’s interviews
List of ecologically focused games
List of eco/climate films and documentaries
Eco-fiction links and resources
Book database (with more than 900 titles)
Turning the Tide: The Youngest Generation (fiction aimed toward children, teens, and young adults)
Indie Corner: New as of mid-2020, we give a hats off to authors who publish independently
Backyard Wildlife: A hidden gem exploring how we are rewilding our own backyard and meadow
Artists & Climate Change. This is an extraordinary resource delving into all kinds of the arts focused on climate change. For a while now they’ve been rerunning my world eco-fiction spotlights. Recently they’ve made me a core writer for their team, and I’m both honored and grateful. Look for my “Wild Authors” series there.