I wake up in the middle of the night to read Suzanne Simard. So, it seems, does Coach Beard, the sleeper fave character on the charming and messy TV show, Ted Lasso. From the CBC :
The character of Coach Nate, played by Nick Mohammed, is complaining he never gets credit for his tactical game planning. That's when the philosophical and wacky Coach Beard, played by Brendan Hunt, replies:
"You know, we used to believe that trees competed with each other for light. Suzanne Simard's field work challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community. Trees work in harmony to share the sunlight."
I loved this under-the-breath moment because A) pop culture rarely talks climate, as I have whined about aplenty, and B) Coach Beard’s reading references speak to the growing popularity of books about the animacy of nature. In a different episode Coach Beard reads another favourite of this emerging canon, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake.
I’m new to it all. I tend to prefer policy papers, behavioural science tracts, books about electrification and climate communication, quality doorstop material. For longer than I’d like to admit, I resisted this ‘nature has feelings’ lit. It seemed kinda, I dunno, floofy. And also, scary. I feel bad enough about what we’ve destroyed of this world without worrying about whether mushrooms have feelings. But Braiding Sweetgrass (Here’s Patch Adams reading + reviewing Robin Wall Kimmerer’s chapter on Learning the Grammar of Animacy - watch it for his glasses alone.) was my gateway moss, and now I can’t put these books down.
I loved this Ezra Klein interview with The Overstory author Richard Powers because they talk about bridging this human/nature divide (humans are nature, I know, which they also discuss in the interview), and this little snippet encapsulates it perfectly:
Richard: I think if I were to give this an oversimplification, I was concerned as a younger writer, in my 20s and 30s and 40s, with the human sciences that amplify our ability to control and master and manipulate our situation here and to understand ourselves. And in my 50s and 60s, I’ve become interested in the humbling sciences, I guess I would say, that point our attention away from ourselves and onto other living things.
Ezra: I love that idea of the humbling sciences. I’m going to steal that from here on out.
Richard: Yeah. And you know, amazement and wonder are very close to humility in my own emotional wheel. The more astonishing the world around us becomes, the more we have to share the limelight with these other things that are just mind boggling.
Yes! It makes me think of Mary Oliver:
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
I know that I’ve been prioritizing the wondrous, if manipulative, power of humanity over the astonishing, edifying powers of the natural world. Humans are indeed part of the natural world, so to prioritize their knowledge to the exclusion of the rest of the world is just…narrow, and a bit sad.
But why was it so hard for me to come around to the humbling sciences? It couldn’t just be the aforementioned fears about mushroom consciousness. I think part of it was the deep-seated belief in the primacy of human knowledge—that the more I read of behavioural science, the more I can solve for human irrationality when it comes to the climate crisis, and life in general. It’s an impatient means of gathering information towards defeating a problem with a very ticking time clock. It’s hard to balance the obvious fact that we need to act now, despite the fact that we have only a tiny understanding of this world we have to save. And to be clear, coming round to the sentience of nature is not just about cheerleading for natural solutions. It’s more like listening to what nature has to offer to the conversation about natural solutions. Less Giving Tree, more Sharing Tree.
Besides, an embrace of one way of seeing doesn’t mean you’ve forsaken another. Learning about how trees talk to each other doesn’t mean you don’t care about how humans talk to each other. I say it far too much, but this paragraph really warrants a ‘duh,’ doesn’t it?
At some point on his Odyssean journey, Coach Beard, or the dazzling writers who put pen to that episode (one of whom is Brett Goldstein…Roy Kent reads Finding the Mother Tree? Now that’s an audiobook I’d pay good money for), seems to have gotten all this into his pleasantly mysterious noggin. Over the arc of two seasons Coach Beard’s reading goes from narrowly literal to natural literature as well, from Coaching Soccer for Dummies to these two very profound books, no disrespect to the Dummies series of course. Change is possible. Football is life. And trees talk. Who knew?
What else might Beard read, I wonder? Here are my guesses:
How to be Animal Melanie Challenger
How to Blow Up a Pipeline Andreas Malm
Gathering Moss Robin Wall Kimmerer
Rooted Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Desert Solitaire Edward Abbey (Because we all know Coach Beard goes to Burning Man)
The Royal Game Stefan Zweig
What are your favourite The Forest is Talking books? Let me know!
Bonnie let me know that the OPP video was...a bit much! It was a helpful reminder that I don’t think twice about a lot of the less than great messaging in all the cultural artifacts of my youth - which usually came with a heavy dose of misogyny, materialism, or just plain gross priorities. There was no need to share the video when the tagline would have sufficed!
Last last week:
I’ll continue to share the meditations on climate sleeplessness. Here’s this beauty from Nathan:
In response to your invitation: Yes, climate keeps me up at night. Less than it used to, when the weight of it all was still sinking in. Now it's more or less a feature of my days and sometimes nights. Your way of reframing it as poubelle and answering it with some good reading is helpful. There seems to be no shortage of amazing books, directly climate-related and not, right now and I rarely get to them during the day -- partly because I am, irrationally, worried that they will keep me up thinking. Selecting a few that are most inspiring and beautiful for poubelle reading seems a sensible way to both a) attend to the topic keeping me up and b) channel the energy in a useful direction. Which seem to me to be the two (oversimplified) steps to living with climate anxiety.
Speaking of books, I would like to give one away: Reader Adam Stones’ Influence: Powerful Communications Positive Change. Writes Adam:
It’s a total communications how-to for impact entrepreneurs and societal changemakers. I’ve met so many people who have had great ideas to change the world but simply didn’t know how to get the world to listen. So when my toddler’s eyes last year asked ‘what are you doing to help my future?’, I decided to write this book (Your mantra of grieve, breathe, seize definitely applied here…). It’s actually all the work I have been doing for the past decade or so packaged up into a simple guidebook.
I love this. If you could use some tools to better communicate your climate ideas, email me! I’ll write all the names down and one of our guinea pig’s will choose a winner next week. In the meantime, check out Adam’s free tools here (sign up on the main page). Or read one of his posts to get a sense of what he’s all about. I like this one on why all changemakers need to view themselves as communicators.
I’m a sucker for anything on the ‘third space,’ IE communal spaces that are neither work nor home. Sarah Sax, writing in Yes!, explores Why Libraries are Essential to Climate Justice.
We’re all solutions journalists now! (And not a moment too soon.) CBC promises more climate journalism.
If you’ve long been puzzled by DAC (Direct Air Capture), Clive Thompson’s piece in Mother Jones is the most straightforward and comprehensive overview I’ve read in a while: Is Sucking Carbon Out of the Air the Solution to Our Climate Crisis? (TL;DR - maybe?)
Great little Twitter thread on prepping your brain for COP coverage from Akshat Rathi.
Why your ‘personal infrastructure decisions actually do affect the climate. Adele Peters on Saul Griffith’s very logical plan of emissions attack.
Who else? Coach Beard from the most perfect Scorcese-homage of an episode. (Earworm warning: you won’t be able to get this song out of your head ever ever ever again):
Thanks so much for reading. Make sure to drag this email into your primary folder if it tends to go to sludge. If you like this newsletter, please subscribe or share. And as always, please let me know how to make it better.
Have a lovely, cozy, joyful weekend,
You mention "the sentience of nature." As you likely know, it's also sort-of expressed as the Gaia concept or "Gaia hypothesis". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis ... I guess to what extent depends on how we understand "sentience," perhaps a conversation for another day.
Regardless: there's a Spanish farewell, "Go with God" — "Vaya con dios." Years ago I coined an animist version, ¡Vaya con Gaia!"
Sarah, you're the artist, perhaps you could do something with this.
I'd never heard of Suzanne Simard but understood the concept of trees communicating through roots and soil as a community. I googled her and found this TED talk. Recommended. https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other