The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey
By Derick Lugo
This summer, our Artistic Staff has been especially curious about the concept of trails. We observed many people turning to nature, as they’re able, to get through quarantine. Through time, there have been a multiplicity of reasons that humans have journeyed outdoors, and not all of them are enlightening or by choice. I’m so excited to share the art that emerged from our creative process with you soon!
In the meantime, Derick Lugo’s trail story is so worth a read. I laughed HARD and felt a desire to use a flashlight when reading these pages before bed. He gifted readers a glimpse into the transformation that happened for him along the Appalachian Trail. As a lifelong city-dweller, Lugo describes his evolving relationship with the thousands of miles of ground he covered during a “thru-hike” or multi-month walk from Georgia to Maine. Give this a read if you’re looking for a rewarding and lighthearted tale.
Enjoy this interview with the author, and learn more here.
When the Climate Crisis Gets Personal
Plenty of natural disasters (perhaps we should start calling them unnatural disasters) have already hit during 2020, including the Australian Bushfire, Coronavirus, Locust Swarms in East Africa and South Asia, mass flooding, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Most recently, the United States saw Tropical Storm Laura on the East Coast, the Midwest Derecho, and the ongoing California Wildfire season.
My childhood home, and parents’ residence, sits 25 miles away from the current outer perimeter of the CZU Lightning Complex Fires devastating Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. The fire began August 17th, and has burned 78,000 acres, with only 19% contained. This is just one of the 560 fires currently burning across the state.
Many Californians, local and ex-pat, are experiencing heartbreak. As the media shines the spotlight on these fires (that happen every year), we throw up our hands and cry, “How could this happen? Oh it’s so sad.” And yes it is. It is devastating beyond belief. But what I find more devastating is that the public continually fails to draw a link to climate change and colonization of the West. Some resources in this newsletter will help explain why separation of indigenous people from their land and land customs aids in the devastation.
If you look at Google Maps, my town sits right at the border between “white” and “green,” the green color demarcating hundreds of thousands of acres of State Parks, Open Space Preserves, conservation areas, and wildlife reserves that now sit on Ohlone, Awaswas, and Ramaytush land. From there, the map remains different shades of green until the coast. This ecological area is home to some of the oldest and most majestic trees in the world: the Giant Redwood Trees. It is hard to describe the beauty, majesty, and sacredness of these trees without taking you on a hike.
I am privileged to have spent weekends and summers exploring this area right in my backyard. I would take trips to the beach in Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, which is now ravaged by flames. I spent camping trips in the Portola Redwoods State Park and Big Basin State Park, which has been decimated, perhaps irrevocably. My parents met in Santa Cruz, and have lived overshadowed by the presence of these mountains for over forty-five years – and now our home is in danger of being destroyed too. And even saying that is hard, knowing that there are far more who have been required to evacuate all across the state, and even lost their homes or businesses due to the fire’s path. It’s also important to note that the loss of the natural landscape I know and love cannot compare to the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their land, and the legal discrimination against the right to care for their homelands today.
Instead of thoughtful mourning, or direct response, or even unfiltered outrage, the most common response I encounter to these disasters is apathy. The amount of articles that get shared with the captions like, “2020 strikes again” or “another one for apocalypse bingo.” As if this is all just happening to us. That we are not culpable. That we are poor pawns in a cosmic chess game. That we’re just living in some apocalyptic year in a cursed decade, instead of active participants in our own downfall.
Fires like this happen every year. Even as a self-proclaimed eco-nerd, I recognize that in years prior, I succumbed to the habitual response to scan facebook, call my family members to make sure they’re out of the zone, maybe donate what I can, and watch some news footage. I feel sad for a few days, I remember the smell of wildfire smoke in the air, and I go on because it’s not actively happening… to me.
But now, it’s personal. I no longer have the luxury of pretending it’s happening to someone else, and that is sobering. How many people must lose their homes? How many people in frontline communities, especially those in communities of color, must live with diseases made more prevalent by climate change? How many people will suffer health problems due to unclean water? At what point will a symptom of the ecological crisis personally affect everyone on this planet in a drastic and deeply personal way? And, at what point will we learn to be preemptively un-apathetic? The truth is, time is running out and we need to turn up the caring dial – right now – because we still have a chance to aid the Earth’s healing.
- Claire Allegra Taylor, Managing Director
American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West
By Nate Blakeslee
I heard about this book while attending a webinar about historically noteworthy women in Yellowstone National Park. It tells the tale of O-Six, an alpha female wolf who lived in the region. You may have heard about her--she became pretty famous in 2012 because of the politics surrounding her death. The “sanitization” and subsequent conservation of the wolf population in our country is one of the most dramatic stories around!
While I learned volumes about the complexity of social dynamics amongst the wolf population (and there’s some crazy stuff to learn!), I also grew acquainted with the people who watch, hunt, and live as neighbors to those packs. As someone who has spent the majority of her life on the East Coast, Midwest, or living abroad, I was eager to witness the impact of the government’s pattern of “selling access to the West’s rich resources.” As Blakeslee articulates, “residents of a place like Idaho, where fully two-thirds of the land is federally owned, don’t make decisions about how the resources in their own backyards should be used. Instead...people all over the country...feel that they should have a say in how the West is managed, because it belongs to them just as much as anybody who actually lives there” (128).
As we’ve seen with other Book Club selections, our relationships with public land should necessarily be complicated. The concepts of land “ownership” and “control” are fraught with damaging implications. I benefited greatly from absorbing another perspective through this story. If you’re interested in talking about it more, send me a message at email@example.com.
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (REVISIONING HISTORY Book 3)
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Dunbar-Ortiz doesn’t just correct the history books—she precisely constructs the template for US American settler colonialism that has echoed in refrains across oceans and over decades of political leaders. She is comprehensive in her approach—as we all should be when considering the pervasive history of violence towards Indigenous populations—sparing no person from scrutiny. She is just as convicting as late Native historian Jack Forbes, who said, “While living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past” (235). By the end of this read, you will hold a new understanding of the relationships, betrayals, and pain that are the keystone to our country’s foundations.
This is a living, breathing history. It will make you hesitate before calling the Virginia Tech killings the “worst massacre” in US history (195). It may also encourage you to advocate for nationhood instead of genocide in your own civic actions. It is likely that you have been taught that the United States does not approve or encourage the killing of civilians. Unfortunately, that has never been true. Dunbar-Ortiz tells the bloody story of a people connected to the land “not as an economic resource but as a relationship between people and place, a profound feature of the resilience of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas” (208).
Are you reading our book club suggestions and interested in continuing the dialogue? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org!
Letters from the Directors
As COVID-19 wears on, it is becoming ever-more-apparent that people around our globe are affected differently. Some refuse to acknowledge that the pandemic exists. Others refuse to wear a mask in public. And still others are creating and caretaking and grocery shopping for vulnerable friends.
To a certain extent, people all over our planet are evaluating their core values and what drives them in the world. Movements such as Black Lives Matter are gathering much-needed support and vitality. There have also been increased reports of abuse, suicide and disrupted services, especially for those in higher-risk categories such as people with disabilities. These dynamics do not negate one another. They complexify the story.
So many of our news outlets and content on social media platforms are simplified for quick, consumable info bites. We do things differently at The Kaleidoscapes. Here, we are most interested in that complexity.
We are also convicted by the idea that the arts and sciences go together like PB&J on a summer afternoon. Science gives us insight into the undercurrents of life on Earth. And good art makes us grapple with those subtleties. Art is the arena for meaning-making in life.
We’ve watched climate-deniers complexifying the work of activists for years, and we’ve seen many people lose stamina and face burn-out. But this is not the time to isolate or grow overwhelmed! An article headline from 2017 recently went viral, saying “I Don’t Know How to Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People (HuffPost, Kayla Chadwick, Contributor).” These days, the sentiment can feel extremely relevant. Our society has misconstrued care for our surroundings as partisan.
Now is the time to reach deep into our pockets and energy reserves to sustain the things we care about. Now is the time to consider: What narratives do you want to remember from this moment in history, and how were you involved?
We know it’s a complex story, and access plays a key role, but we hope you may gain some endurance and repose from the environment where you live—whether through birdsong, a trusted trail or getting caught in a summer thunderstorm. Please, continue to wear your mask. And we’ll continue to produce work that attempts to hold the complexity of human experience at its core.
Gail Tierney, Artistic Director
Clean and White follows the historical conflation of whiteness and cleanliness across every aspect of society. As a reader, we see archival evidence of advertising techniques—postcards that claim a soap will wash a Black person’s skin so clean that it becomes white. We are invited to approach the inscription on the Statue of Liberty with new eyes, correlating immigrants to refuse even in an invitation to enter the land. We hear about public health and perception—including the former belief that disease was caused solely by bad odors rather than bacteria as scientists later came to understand. We are also shown statistics about the risk and illness associated with managing industrial society’s waste and how BIPOC are disproportionately affected. We see formative examples that are distilled down to the root sources of environmental racism. In doing so, we are equipped to view living dynamics in our current society with more nuance.
With many of our books on this list, The Kaleidoscapes are asserting that all people deserve an environment where they may thrive. But if the cleanliness of our biosphere is intermingled with the ideals of white supremacy, that future cannot be possible.
Even if you don’t choose to read this book, ask yourself: Who does your “dirty work?” And do you afford them full personhood or might your underlying beliefs consider them dirtier than you?
Our very first Book Club meeting will be held on August 4th at 5pm EST! Fill out this RSVP to join. There’s no expectation that you’ve already read one of the books.
A few years ago, as the dream for this company was taking shape and I was recovering from a serious illness, I reached for this book. Florence Williams shares some of the physiological benefits of spending time outside. Her chapters travel around the world, sharing different perspectives that she witnessed firsthand. Her words became foundational to our team as we became emboldened to get audiences outside for our plays--however that may look in the different communities we engage.
Williams says it best, but if you are facing stress, get outside! It will lower your cortisol levels. It will fuel your work. It will remind you just how extraordinary this planet is that we get to call home.
Are you reading our book club suggestions and interested in continuing the dialogue? Get in touch with email@example.com! And stay tuned for an upcoming project about The Kaleidoscapes’ interpretation of traces during the pandemic.
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape
By Lauret Savoy
Savoy offers her readers a glimpse of how it is to exist outside of the binary of Black or White in the United States.
She has captured the difficulty of that meaning-making on the page and suggested brilliant and revitalizing approaches to United Statesian history, as indicated in the following passage:
“A wiser measure of the ecological footprint would include people, or at least their labor. It might factor in the losses of relationships with land or home, losses of self-determination, and losses of health or life. What if the footprint measured, over time, on whom and what the nation’s foot has trod—that is, who has paid for prosperity?” (43).
Ultimately, she invites us to consider our own inner landscapes and the ways that skin color so often affects history and identity in relation to place.
Are you reading our book club suggestions and interested in continuing the dialogue? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org! And stay tuned for an upcoming project about The Kaleidoscapes’ interpretation of traces during the pandemic as we move towards Stage 3 of re-opening in many states.
Black Faces, White Spaces
Written by Emilie Winter, Community Engagement Coordinator of The Kaleidoscapes
I first came across Carolyn Finney's book Black Faces, White Spaces in my last year of college, while I worked on my senior thesis. My thesis was about the racialization of outdoor spaces. I drew so much from Finney's work, as I attempted to better understand the relationships of race and nature as well as race and recreation in the U.S and Brazil. This particular book revealed that the nature of these very relationships is a complex one, both historical and geographically contingent.
I approached this body of work as a white Brazilian woman, who resides in and has traveled throughout the United States. The differences between these two nations could not be more distinct, a point that was driven home during a recent family visit to Telluride, Colorado. I was visiting family there one summer, and I quickly realized that this resort mountain town was overwhelmingly white. People of color were almost entirely absent in the shops, on the streets or on the ski slopes. I asked my aunt – a 45-year-old white woman who has lived there for 25 years- why that was the case. Her response to me was: “well Emilie, Black people don’t like mountains”. Black. People. Don’t. Like. Mountains…? Not only was this statement completely apolitical and ahistorical, but also I knew from my own experiences that this statement was simply not true. How did such a false perception like my aunt's become a dominant narrative that seems to be ingrained in the minds of white America?
In this book, Finney explores why and how Black communities are so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism. Finney states that the “stories of environmental experiences for many African Americans are often explicitly embedded in the larger historical context in which they took place” (p. 62). I recommend this book to those who want to persist in unfolding this larger context, those who want to challenge distorted notions of systemic racism in outdoor spaces. Finney provides the reader with a kind of knowledge that too often goes unheard -- her writing is inviting and provocative at the same time. She cleverly uses language that is accessible to non-academia folks, while also challenging and shifting paradigms so many of us hold with racial identity and its relationship with the Great Outdoors.
This book is a must-read. Finney artfully employs anecdotes to educate and stretch her readers. She is clear and concise about the reasons why “the great outdoors” are not perceived as universally great for everyone, particularly Black folks in the USA. She is generous with her family’s story, recognizing that most academic writing only values a certain kind of knowledge production. Along with her expertise in geography, she values references to cultural spaces “where African Americans have been able to produce and disseminate information about themselves, by themselves” (129). Her book convicts The Kaleidoscapes to engage with ongoing anti-racism work, representation, and intentional inclusion to ensure that all people feel that they belong in nature. We each inherit complex histories and relationships to the land, and Finney helps us understand how to reconcile with our own legacy.
Find a local, Black-owned bookstore and give this book a read! Here is a list of Black bookstores by state with online orders.