Three Callings for Your Life and for Our Time

Krista Tippett’s 2019 Commencement Speech at Middlebury College

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Editor’s note: This speech was delivered on May 26 at the Middlebury College commencement ceremony

What an honor and a joy to be with all of you.

Thank you for inviting me President Patton and greetings, esteemed graduates and faculty and family and friends — on this day of celebration and transition and passage.

It won’t be lost on any of you that the world too is in a moment of transition and passage. I know that you have received an abundance of messaging in your lives already about all that is broken and seems left to you to fix. What I hope to impart you to this morning is a sense of the abundance you have to work with, too — the grandeur of the calling of being alive at this moment in time and the fact that you and your generation are brilliantly up to this.

It is a strange, redemptive truth of our species that we are made by what would break us. And this is a civilizational moment to get curious and serious about that — to put our wildest creativity and our most vivid, vigorous words to the human capacity to grow and evolve. The great frontier of this century, I believe, is to reckon finally with the hazard and the bounty of what it means to be human. Every dramatic rift of this early century runs through fault lines of human hearts and well-being. Politics has become the thinnest of veneers over human dramas of pain and fear and anger, of dreams and yearning and hope. Our ecological future depends ultimately on human behavior. Our racial future rests as much on the formation of better lives as on the creation of better laws.

The internet is not inventing these problems. It is implicated in all of them, because it is a new canvas for the old human condition, with a power to magnify every dream and every hurt and put them up for the whole world to see. It’s given a new kind of public face to our magnanimity and to the primal, trollish margins of our psyches — which were there all along. It draws us inward and outward, often in the same experience, and so is bringing us back full circle to the challenge of human being and becoming.

I love a line of a poem titled “Vocation” by the late William Stafford. He wrote:

“Your job is to figure out what the world is trying to be.”

I’d extend that a little bit: Your job is to figure out what the what the world is trying to be, whether it knows it or not. You could make a compelling case that the world is doing its best to turn inwards and hurtle backwards. But this poetry breaks my heart open. That’s one of the things a heart is for.

And this is one of the things poetry is for. In society after society, across human history, poetry rises up in times of crisis, when official language is failing us and we must reach anew to give voice to what is deepest and truest about ourselves and the world. Poetry is rising in our country and our world now, driven in part by your generation. So, by the way, congratulations on graduating from a college with a poet at its helm.

That language of vocation is important to me. I commend it to you and take it as one pointer to the way forward. It comes from the Latin “vocare” — calling. Your vocation, in the mid-20th-century world I was born into, was your job title. This was such a diminishment of us. We are called not merely to be professionals but to be friends, neighbors, colleagues, family, citizens, lovers of the world. We are called to creativity and caring and play for which we will never be paid — and which will make life worth living.

And each of us imprints the people and the world around us, breath to breath and hour to hour, as much in who we are and how we are present as in whatever we do. I hear this longing and commitment rising up in your generation: to take up the question of who you will be and how you will be in the world with as much seriousness and joy as the question we’ve privileged in this culture — of what you will do. I see you insisting on joining inner life with outer presence in the world. The pursuit of what it means to be human, in your generation, has become intimate and civilizational all at once.

Given that, I’d like to propose three callings for your life and for our time this morning. The first is moral imagination.

Imagination is our gift as a species to move purposefully towards what does not yet exist and walk willingly through the unknown to get there. It has a power to change what seems possible and so to shift what becomes possible. Moral imagination looks inward as much as it acts outward. It works with a long sense of time and opens its eyes to assumptions that come to us by way of politics and economics, identity and geography, and subtly erode our humanity. It carries its questions as vividly as its answers. It stays curious, even about its own convictions. For it knows that none of us is an equation that computes. Our own positions are never as logical to us as they feel. And so we need to cultivate every form of human intelligence — emotional and spiritual and social as well as economic and political and factual — if what we really want is to approach undergirding truths about the nature of reality, the complexity of human action and inaction, and the possibilities for transformation with which moral imagination would grapple and live.

The phrase “undergirding truths” I borrow from another poet, Elizabeth Alexander. How to muster a shared vocabulary of undergirding truths, of an underlying humanity, is an urgent question in the middle of our life together. How to orient together towards what matters and measure what matters in human terms needs the same magnitude of disruptive, imaginative energy and investment that powers our other forms of enterprise and our wondrous data-generating technologies.

The Northern Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama writes:

“When I was a child
I learnt to count to five:
One, two, there, four, five.
But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count

One life
One life
One life
One life …”

The second calling for our time that I’d name is wholeness. A genius of the Enlightenment that formed the modern West was a new ingenuity of categories and parts. Our ability to see and study intricacy grew hand in hand with a sophistication, with mechanics and a value of specialization. We divided our sense of ourselves into separate compartments called body, mind, and spirit. We perfected systems for defining an “us” and containing the “other.” We made of the natural world an “other.”

Now, we’re understanding that we live in stardust-infused bodies — and that we’ve inhabited ecosystems while we organized around parts. For us, all of life is revealed in its insistence on wholeness: the organic interplay between our bodies, the natural world, the lives we make, the world we create. And for all our awakening to the power of digital technologies to divide and isolate us, this too is true: Our technologies have given us the tools for the first time in the history of our species to begin to think and act as a species.

Take this in: You are the first generation in the history of your species to come into adulthood possessing the tools to think and act as a species. We’ve scarcely named this wondrous fact in our midst; it stands in such contrast to depths of confusion and fracture all around. But we are, again, creatures who are made by what would break us — and the digital canvas is amplifying that too.

There is paradox here — a sure sign that we’re circling around undergirding truths and the complexity of reality that they hold. Life online is leading to a renaissance of convenings. Virtual connection, it turns out, makes us hungry get together again in the old-fashioned flesh and blood. Even as we spend more of our time in digital realms, our particular identities and the ground beneath our feet are growing more meaningful, not less so. We are taking in the history of the places we inhabit with a new — if profoundly belated — openness and reckoning.

I’m so grateful to be up here today alongside Chief Don Stevens of the Abenaki tribes in Vermont. The On Being Project is located on Dakota land.

And as our technologies take us onto the frontier of our own brains for the first time, we are grasping how they’ve been trying to take care of us, to help us navigate the overwhelmingness of reality, by dividing the world up into categories and binaries — who is in, and who is out; who is human, and who is not; what is what. But now your generation has come along and is reimagining and redefining gender.

I am fascinated to ponder how this move might change us at a species level as it settles.

Gender is at once the either/or by which every human being across time has been defined since birth — and an ultimate proof that to look at any human category closely enough is to see infinite variation. As hard as we try to see where one begins and the other ends, we are shown how interwoven and uncontainable such distinctions remain. The deepest truth held within this, our most elemental category and binary, is the inescapability of interdependence — the sometimes joyful, sometimes maddening, always fact that we need each other.

“There is no them,” the poet, journalist, and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea says. “There is only us.”

Which leads to the third calling I’d commend to you. That is to figure out how love might work in the world you are making — in the world that wants to be: love as a pragmatic, muscular public good.

Love is a word used sparingly in our public places. It is invoked in politics, when it is invoked, as a balm to crisis, not an avenue beyond it. But we are the generation of humans learning to shine a light on hate, to call it out, to take it seriously in legal and political terms. In my mind, this becomes an opening and imperative to summon the same seriousness about love in our life together.

Love is the most reliable muscle of human transformation, the most reliable muscle of human wholeness. And while is it also the most watered down word in the English language, our real-world, on-the-ground experience of love contradicts every objection that love is too “soft” to inform or reshape the disagreements and disarray of our life together in this early century. The challenge is in owning the body of natural intelligence we have about how love actually usually unromantically works in life and offering that up in word and deed.

In the many loves in our intimate and extended circles of friends and family and colleagues and neighbors, love is more muscle than pathos. Our lives of love are full of things that feel impossible and unreasonable in public life right now: hospitable attention, curiosity, generous listening, and meaningful civility — and we exercise them not as ends in themselves but as pragmatic means towards living more abundantly, and towards balancing what we have to say and making sure it can be heard. In real life as we live it, love is only rarely about feeling perfectly understood or perfectly understanding. It may in any given moment have little to do with agreement or likeness. It is shot through with wildness and contradiction just like us, and it could teach us to live together with our wildness and contradictions honored.

I hear the word love rising in our time, feel it as a longing everywhere I turn in politics, in the arts, in ecology, in society — not in the shrill places that get all the attention but in every margin where new, generative realities are being crafted. Everywhere I go I see beautiful lives, breathtaking social creativity, and moral courage unfolding in local spaces where people are incubating the new realities we want to inhabit — clearing some ground to stand on together and begin to speak and learn and move forward together across our fractures with our vitalizing differences intact.

This is always the way change has happened across human history. It never starts in the headlines. It always ferments in the margins between people — one life to one life to one life to one life at a time. And our technologies give us a potential — if and as we choose to shape them to human purpose — to scale the force of relationship: connection, with quality. I wish for you that you take this up as a joy and a privilege of your generation, alongside the better-publicized perils. For you, the work you do inside yourself and to create relationship online and off is of civilizational importance. The life-giving, lifelong work of being ever more deeply human is work you do in service to our beautiful, hurting world.

Pursue moral imagination.

Practice muscular, adventurous, public love.

Plant yourself in a spacious understanding of all the things that add up to your vocation, your vocations, as a whole and multitudinous human being.

Know that you have it in you, wherever you are, whatever you do, to begin to have the conversations you want to be hearing and create the world you want to inhabit. I can’t wait to see what else you have to teach us.

Blessings and congratulations.

Contributors

Krista Tippett created and leads the On Being Project, hosts the On Being radio show and podcast, and curates the Civil Conversations Project. She received the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 2014. She speaks widely and writes books including Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Read her full bio here.

The Hand of Native American Women, Visible at Last

Sonya Kelliher-Combs installs her work, “Idiot Strings, The Things We Carry,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where the exhibition “Hearts of Our People: Native American Women Artists” opens soon.CreditCreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times  By Tess Thackara for The New York Times  May 31, 2019  In early June, an installation by a Native American artist will hang in the galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but it won’t look like Native art in any traditional sense. “Idiot Strings, The Things We Carry” (2017), by  Sonya Kelliher-Combs , an Athabascan and Inupiat artist from Alaska, is a series of goat and sheep hide pouches attached to strings, forming floating pockets. They cast shadows on the ground, creating an ethereal effect.  The piece is, in part, the artist’s response to the suicides of three of her relatives. The strings invoke “the idea of tethering,” she said, “to not forget about these people.” (Native Alaskan communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.)  If “Idiot Strings” honors the artist’s cultural heritage, it also represents its evolution. Ms. Kelliher-Combs grew up in Nome, where experimenting with scraps of material was a communal activity for Native women, a way to spend time with siblings and elders. It was only at college that she began to understand those experiences from a non-Native perspective — as art.  “It’s such an interesting idea,  to be an artist, ” she said recently in a phone interview. “It seems very decadent in a lot of ways.”  Although Native women are generally the art-makers in their communities, they have seen themselves as conduits for something higher, “holding sacred space,” the Chemehuevi artist  Cara Romero  said.  Teri Greeves , a beadwork artist in the Kiowa nation of Oklahoma, explained, “In a Native way, when you create something, it doesn’t really belong to you.”  This perspective on art-making is quite distinct from the individualistic concept of the artist that still haunts the American art world — the lone creator and progenitor of a singular vision. It’s a tension that underscores the challenges at the heart of an ambitious exhibition,  “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists,”  opening June 2 at the  Minneapolis Institute of Art  (known as MIA), which will shine a light on over a thousand years of art made by Native American women. It rests on the premise that the role of women in Native communities has gone widely ignored in the mainstream American art world, and the United States at large.  From the beginning, “Hearts of Our People” was intended to bring greater visibility to Native women without compromising their Indigenous values. Organized by Ms. Greeves and  Jill Ahlberg Yohe  — an associate curator of Native American Art at MIA, and a non-Native — the exhibition has been shepherded along by an all-female advisory panel of 21 Native artists and experts of Indigenous art from across the United States and Canada.  The cohort of women that Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe assembled represents nations from the Haida of Alaska to the Mohawk of the eastern United States and the Canadian southeast. They have been involved in virtually every decision, such as determining the exhibition’s thematic structure and signing off on the artwork and texts for the extensive catalog. In doing so, they may have set an example for indigenizing the curatorial process.  “It was a women’s space, and we meant it that way,” Ms. Greeves said of the “knowledge-sharing” session that launched the project. “In the Native community, this is not unusual — to have a group of women speaking together about powerful, important things.”  Western museums generally rely on a hierarchical structure of curatorial authority, not a consensus-building approach. Ms. Greeves, who has been advising American curators on Native art shows for years, said the process has often left her feeling used, and like a token.  “A curator, or curators, usually men, come up with an idea, then they get a group of Indians together for a one-day meeting, check off the N.E.A. grant-writing thing that has asked for a diversity of voices, and then they go about curating whatever they were going to curate,” she said. “You asked me to come in and give authority to your show, but I have no authority. It may ruffle feathers, but diversity means there’s a different way of doing things. If you want buy-in from the Native communities, you have to listen to them.”  The result of inviting a broad constituency of voices, Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe said, is an exhibition that is wide and diverse in scope, in terms of mediums, geographies, themes and generations — and rich in Indigenous knowledge about the narrative and spiritual significance of each object.  Several art experts said that the show could help overturn patriarchal attitudes that resonate in the mainstream art world.  “The bulk of interest in the U.S. seems geared toward the trope of the male Native warrior,” said  Nancy Mithlo , a professor of gender studies and American Indian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. With early European colonizers and Eurocentric museums rendering makers anonymous and relegating Native objects to ethnographic displays, objects by women have long been consigned to the lesser category of functional craft rather than the product of (largely female) skill and ingenuity.  With 117 objects set to go on view — a vast array including pots and baskets, photography and performance — the exhibition will outline the artistic achievements of Native women, noting, for example, that they were early creators of abstraction. Hundreds, even thousands, of years before Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman began looking at Native work and became heroes of American abstraction, Indigenous women represented the world in patterns, lines and shapes. (Native men have more generally been the history-keepers, creators of figurative art with a narrative thrust, and carvers of wooden masks and totem poles.)  The show also tries to answer  why  Native women have made objects throughout time: to honor their ancestors, to express their cultural values and personal aesthetics, to cultivate relationships with humans and nature, to provide for their communities.  Among the oldest works on view is an ancient Pueblo pot from circa 1000-1300. Its female maker represented her community’s symbiotic relationship to the land and corn harvest in a snaking geometric pattern on the pot’s surface, composed of tiny squares to indicate cornfields. A tailored hunting coat from circa 1750, made by an Innu woman in Labrador, is composed of caribou hide and painted with bands of intricate pink pattern intended to dazzle wild caribou into submission.  The exhibition elucidates the innovations that artists brought to tradition. For instance,  Mary Sully,  an avant-garde Dakota artist from the 20th century, made jewel-like, kaleidoscopic triptychs on paper that fuse Native American designs with a Western modernist aesthetic. Often, they form abstracted portraits of celebrities.   Cherish Parrish , an Anishinaabeg basket-weaver whose work will appear in the exhibition alongside her mother’s, harvests black ash bark from the swamps of the Michigan wetlands and turns it into baskets, much like her ancestors. But her approach is contemporary, and her own. “The Next Generation — Carriers of Culture,” a black ash and sweetgrass basket that approximates the contour of a pregnant woman’s torso, was inspired in part by Greek statuary — appendages broken off, but the essence still intact. It reflects the particular role of women in being fertile purveyors of cultural knowledge.  The organizers have taken pains to ensure nothing is included that could create an uncomfortable experience for Native visitors to the museum, who generally understand artworks as living, breathing objects imbued with spirit — which raises a question of whether these objects belong in a Western museum at all.  Among the more troubling encounters, some Native Americans said in interviews, is seeing funerary objects on display, like the ancient pots made by the Mimbres women of New Mexico. These elegant bowls, typically painted white and black and decorated with figurative or abstract designs, were placed over the faces of the deceased and punctured with a spirit hole, commonly believed to be a conduit through which the soul of the dead could escape.   They were never meant to have been removed from the body, yet hundreds of them populate collections across the country, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.  “There is no trust for museums in Native communities, because they came and stole out of our graves for this stuff,” Ms. Greeves said. “Or they came to us in our downest, worst times and bought our family heirlooms that we desperately sold.”  Earlier this year, an exhibition of Mimbres pottery planned for the Art Institute of Chicago  was put on hold indefinitely  amid concerns that the organizers had failed to seek out Native voices and perspectives in the creation of the show.  Ms. Yohe tapped a network of archaeologists and scholars to determine whether there were Mimbres pots that were used in a non-funerary context. Those inquiries unearthed a pot used in a domestic setting in Utah circa 1000; painted with a fine abstract pattern, it will appear in the show.  But when she wanted to include a quill-decorated shirt made by a Cheyenne woman in the 1800s, “one of the most beautiful works I have ever seen in my life,” she said, “Teri told me: you shouldn’t be showing that shirt because it was a warrior shirt,” covered in potent medicine. That sent the curator to the Cheyenne homelands in Oklahoma to seek their opinion. They ultimately declined to let her exhibit the shirt but offered her a beaded pipe bag made by the Cheyenne/Kiowa artist Heather Levi for the MIA.  Minneapolis has been at the center of a recent controversy surrounding the representation of Native histories and cultural heritage in museums. In 2017, the artist Sam Durant’s  “Scaffold”  went on view in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden of the Walker Art Center,  approximating the form of a gallows  where 38 Dakota people were massacred on the order of President Lincoln in 1862. (Durant is non-Native.) The work was ultimately removed; its intellectual property was transferred to the Dakota, and it was buried in a secret location.  The organizers of “Hearts of Our People” say their exhibition was in production years before this event occurred. But to the case of “Scaffold,” they have let an artist offer a response.  Julie Buffalohead , from the Ponca nation, presents “The Garden”   (2017), a painted and collaged image on paper that suggests the superficial temptations of the contemporary art world and lays a painful event to rest. It transports several works from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to a spirit world populated by rabbits and a coyote, animals that often play trickster figures in Native stories. A rabbit perched on “Scaffold” offers a young woman a cherry on a spoon — a reference to  Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’ s giant sculpture “Spoonbridge and Cherry”   (1985-88), the centerpiece of the Sculpture Garden. Lured by the plump fruit, her attentions are distracted from the rabbit that lies in front of her, a noose around its neck.  Last March, at the  Indian Art Fair at the Heard Museum  in Phoenix, Ariz. — where, six years ago, Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe first began to plan an exhibition by and for Native women artists — several board members and artists featured in the show gathered to sell their work or catch up with colleagues. Over plates of Navajo tacos, while Apache “gaan” dancers shook legs decorated with bells,  Christina Burke , one of the exhibition’s advisers and curator of Native American and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. (where “Hearts of Our People” will travel in 2020), reflected on how the exhibition has established a model for museum development.  “The process was totally different than any other exhibition I’ve worked on in 30 years,” Ms. Burke said. “I’m an anthropologist, and there’s a long history of an imbalance of power — anthropologists are sometimes known as culture vultures who come into communities and collect objects and stories and songs and leave and never go back.”  With Oklahoma home to dozens of tribal nations, she hopes to make the Philbrook collection more accessible to Native artists and communities, and open up the institution to more Indigenous knowledge.  For the younger generation of Native women artists in the show, it represents an opportunity not only to reclaim their past, but to proclaim their presence in the modern world. At her booth at the Indian Art Fair, Ms. Romero was selling her richly colored photographs of  Chemehuevi  boys roaming through their homelands of the Southern California desert in feather headdresses and Ray-Bans, or running alongside the giant wind turbines of the San Gorgonio Pass.  When Ms. Romero was studying cultural anthropology at college, she said, her class barely knew that Native peoples still existed. “Everything was in the past,” she said. “I wanted to tell the modern story of Native identity.”  At the MIA, Ms. Romero will show a portrait of the  Santa Clara Pueblo potter Kaa Folwell,  whom she depicts as Clay Woman, the Tewa mother spirit of clay. Ms. Romero shows Ms. Folwell naked, her body painted in white clay from a sacred source, in the “geometric lightning design” of a Mesa Verde vessel.  Captured in motion, her hair fiercely fanning out around her head, she represents the “spirit that has been passed on to her through thousands of years,” Ms. Romero said. It is an image that is thoroughly contemporary, a reclamation of the Native female body, and a fusion of Native values with mainstream Western fashion photography.  “Native women are powerful,” Ms. Romero said. “We are also modern, and we want to be represented against all the other cultures of the world. We are here.”

Sonya Kelliher-Combs installs her work, “Idiot Strings, The Things We Carry,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where the exhibition “Hearts of Our People: Native American Women Artists” opens soon.CreditCreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

By Tess Thackara for The New York Times

May 31, 2019

In early June, an installation by a Native American artist will hang in the galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but it won’t look like Native art in any traditional sense. “Idiot Strings, The Things We Carry” (2017), by Sonya Kelliher-Combs, an Athabascan and Inupiat artist from Alaska, is a series of goat and sheep hide pouches attached to strings, forming floating pockets. They cast shadows on the ground, creating an ethereal effect.

The piece is, in part, the artist’s response to the suicides of three of her relatives. The strings invoke “the idea of tethering,” she said, “to not forget about these people.” (Native Alaskan communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.)

If “Idiot Strings” honors the artist’s cultural heritage, it also represents its evolution. Ms. Kelliher-Combs grew up in Nome, where experimenting with scraps of material was a communal activity for Native women, a way to spend time with siblings and elders. It was only at college that she began to understand those experiences from a non-Native perspective — as art.

“It’s such an interesting idea, to be an artist,” she said recently in a phone interview. “It seems very decadent in a lot of ways.”

Although Native women are generally the art-makers in their communities, they have seen themselves as conduits for something higher, “holding sacred space,” the Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero said. Teri Greeves, a beadwork artist in the Kiowa nation of Oklahoma, explained, “In a Native way, when you create something, it doesn’t really belong to you.”

This perspective on art-making is quite distinct from the individualistic concept of the artist that still haunts the American art world — the lone creator and progenitor of a singular vision. It’s a tension that underscores the challenges at the heart of an ambitious exhibition, “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists,” opening June 2 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (known as MIA), which will shine a light on over a thousand years of art made by Native American women. It rests on the premise that the role of women in Native communities has gone widely ignored in the mainstream American art world, and the United States at large.

From the beginning, “Hearts of Our People” was intended to bring greater visibility to Native women without compromising their Indigenous values. Organized by Ms. Greeves and Jill Ahlberg Yohe — an associate curator of Native American Art at MIA, and a non-Native — the exhibition has been shepherded along by an all-female advisory panel of 21 Native artists and experts of Indigenous art from across the United States and Canada.

The cohort of women that Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe assembled represents nations from the Haida of Alaska to the Mohawk of the eastern United States and the Canadian southeast. They have been involved in virtually every decision, such as determining the exhibition’s thematic structure and signing off on the artwork and texts for the extensive catalog. In doing so, they may have set an example for indigenizing the curatorial process.

“It was a women’s space, and we meant it that way,” Ms. Greeves said of the “knowledge-sharing” session that launched the project. “In the Native community, this is not unusual — to have a group of women speaking together about powerful, important things.”

Western museums generally rely on a hierarchical structure of curatorial authority, not a consensus-building approach. Ms. Greeves, who has been advising American curators on Native art shows for years, said the process has often left her feeling used, and like a token.

“A curator, or curators, usually men, come up with an idea, then they get a group of Indians together for a one-day meeting, check off the N.E.A. grant-writing thing that has asked for a diversity of voices, and then they go about curating whatever they were going to curate,” she said. “You asked me to come in and give authority to your show, but I have no authority. It may ruffle feathers, but diversity means there’s a different way of doing things. If you want buy-in from the Native communities, you have to listen to them.”

The result of inviting a broad constituency of voices, Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe said, is an exhibition that is wide and diverse in scope, in terms of mediums, geographies, themes and generations — and rich in Indigenous knowledge about the narrative and spiritual significance of each object.

Several art experts said that the show could help overturn patriarchal attitudes that resonate in the mainstream art world.

“The bulk of interest in the U.S. seems geared toward the trope of the male Native warrior,” said Nancy Mithlo, a professor of gender studies and American Indian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. With early European colonizers and Eurocentric museums rendering makers anonymous and relegating Native objects to ethnographic displays, objects by women have long been consigned to the lesser category of functional craft rather than the product of (largely female) skill and ingenuity.

With 117 objects set to go on view — a vast array including pots and baskets, photography and performance — the exhibition will outline the artistic achievements of Native women, noting, for example, that they were early creators of abstraction. Hundreds, even thousands, of years before Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman began looking at Native work and became heroes of American abstraction, Indigenous women represented the world in patterns, lines and shapes. (Native men have more generally been the history-keepers, creators of figurative art with a narrative thrust, and carvers of wooden masks and totem poles.)

The show also tries to answer why Native women have made objects throughout time: to honor their ancestors, to express their cultural values and personal aesthetics, to cultivate relationships with humans and nature, to provide for their communities.

Among the oldest works on view is an ancient Pueblo pot from circa 1000-1300. Its female maker represented her community’s symbiotic relationship to the land and corn harvest in a snaking geometric pattern on the pot’s surface, composed of tiny squares to indicate cornfields. A tailored hunting coat from circa 1750, made by an Innu woman in Labrador, is composed of caribou hide and painted with bands of intricate pink pattern intended to dazzle wild caribou into submission.

The exhibition elucidates the innovations that artists brought to tradition. For instance, Mary Sully, an avant-garde Dakota artist from the 20th century, made jewel-like, kaleidoscopic triptychs on paper that fuse Native American designs with a Western modernist aesthetic. Often, they form abstracted portraits of celebrities.

Cherish Parrish, an Anishinaabeg basket-weaver whose work will appear in the exhibition alongside her mother’s, harvests black ash bark from the swamps of the Michigan wetlands and turns it into baskets, much like her ancestors. But her approach is contemporary, and her own. “The Next Generation — Carriers of Culture,” a black ash and sweetgrass basket that approximates the contour of a pregnant woman’s torso, was inspired in part by Greek statuary — appendages broken off, but the essence still intact. It reflects the particular role of women in being fertile purveyors of cultural knowledge.

The organizers have taken pains to ensure nothing is included that could create an uncomfortable experience for Native visitors to the museum, who generally understand artworks as living, breathing objects imbued with spirit — which raises a question of whether these objects belong in a Western museum at all.

Among the more troubling encounters, some Native Americans said in interviews, is seeing funerary objects on display, like the ancient pots made by the Mimbres women of New Mexico. These elegant bowls, typically painted white and black and decorated with figurative or abstract designs, were placed over the faces of the deceased and punctured with a spirit hole, commonly believed to be a conduit through which the soul of the dead could escape. They were never meant to have been removed from the body, yet hundreds of them populate collections across the country, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

“There is no trust for museums in Native communities, because they came and stole out of our graves for this stuff,” Ms. Greeves said. “Or they came to us in our downest, worst times and bought our family heirlooms that we desperately sold.”

Earlier this year, an exhibition of Mimbres pottery planned for the Art Institute of Chicago was put on hold indefinitely amid concerns that the organizers had failed to seek out Native voices and perspectives in the creation of the show.

Ms. Yohe tapped a network of archaeologists and scholars to determine whether there were Mimbres pots that were used in a non-funerary context. Those inquiries unearthed a pot used in a domestic setting in Utah circa 1000; painted with a fine abstract pattern, it will appear in the show.

But when she wanted to include a quill-decorated shirt made by a Cheyenne woman in the 1800s, “one of the most beautiful works I have ever seen in my life,” she said, “Teri told me: you shouldn’t be showing that shirt because it was a warrior shirt,” covered in potent medicine. That sent the curator to the Cheyenne homelands in Oklahoma to seek their opinion. They ultimately declined to let her exhibit the shirt but offered her a beaded pipe bag made by the Cheyenne/Kiowa artist Heather Levi for the MIA.

Minneapolis has been at the center of a recent controversy surrounding the representation of Native histories and cultural heritage in museums. In 2017, the artist Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” went on view in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden of the Walker Art Center, approximating the form of a gallows where 38 Dakota people were massacred on the order of President Lincoln in 1862. (Durant is non-Native.) The work was ultimately removed; its intellectual property was transferred to the Dakota, and it was buried in a secret location.

The organizers of “Hearts of Our People” say their exhibition was in production years before this event occurred. But to the case of “Scaffold,” they have let an artist offer a response. Julie Buffalohead, from the Ponca nation, presents “The Garden” (2017), a painted and collaged image on paper that suggests the superficial temptations of the contemporary art world and lays a painful event to rest. It transports several works from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to a spirit world populated by rabbits and a coyote, animals that often play trickster figures in Native stories. A rabbit perched on “Scaffold” offers a young woman a cherry on a spoon — a reference to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s giant sculpture “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985-88), the centerpiece of the Sculpture Garden. Lured by the plump fruit, her attentions are distracted from the rabbit that lies in front of her, a noose around its neck.

Last March, at the Indian Art Fair at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. — where, six years ago, Ms. Greeves and Ms. Yohe first began to plan an exhibition by and for Native women artists — several board members and artists featured in the show gathered to sell their work or catch up with colleagues. Over plates of Navajo tacos, while Apache “gaan” dancers shook legs decorated with bells, Christina Burke, one of the exhibition’s advisers and curator of Native American and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. (where “Hearts of Our People” will travel in 2020), reflected on how the exhibition has established a model for museum development.

“The process was totally different than any other exhibition I’ve worked on in 30 years,” Ms. Burke said. “I’m an anthropologist, and there’s a long history of an imbalance of power — anthropologists are sometimes known as culture vultures who come into communities and collect objects and stories and songs and leave and never go back.”

With Oklahoma home to dozens of tribal nations, she hopes to make the Philbrook collection more accessible to Native artists and communities, and open up the institution to more Indigenous knowledge.

For the younger generation of Native women artists in the show, it represents an opportunity not only to reclaim their past, but to proclaim their presence in the modern world. At her booth at the Indian Art Fair, Ms. Romero was selling her richly colored photographs of Chemehuevi boys roaming through their homelands of the Southern California desert in feather headdresses and Ray-Bans, or running alongside the giant wind turbines of the San Gorgonio Pass.

When Ms. Romero was studying cultural anthropology at college, she said, her class barely knew that Native peoples still existed. “Everything was in the past,” she said. “I wanted to tell the modern story of Native identity.”

At the MIA, Ms. Romero will show a portrait of the Santa Clara Pueblo potter Kaa Folwell, whom she depicts as Clay Woman, the Tewa mother spirit of clay. Ms. Romero shows Ms. Folwell naked, her body painted in white clay from a sacred source, in the “geometric lightning design” of a Mesa Verde vessel.

Captured in motion, her hair fiercely fanning out around her head, she represents the “spirit that has been passed on to her through thousands of years,” Ms. Romero said. It is an image that is thoroughly contemporary, a reclamation of the Native female body, and a fusion of Native values with mainstream Western fashion photography.

“Native women are powerful,” Ms. Romero said. “We are also modern, and we want to be represented against all the other cultures of the world. We are here.”

Climate Crisis Forces Us to Ask: To What Do We Devote Ourselves?

By Dahr Jamail, TRUTHOUT,  May 6, 2019  “The universe says loss demands birth and the two are lovers.”  —Deena Metzger   During the times when I’m being as emotionally honest with myself as I’m capable — when I truly ponder the idea that this industrialized version of our species may well have already baked enough warming into Earth’s life-supporting biosphere that all of us may very well be on the way out — I feel at a total loss as to what to do.  From that point of numbness, my life force begins to ask, “What next, then?” Cycling through this process for years since I’ve been reporting on the climate crisis, and most intensely during the research and field trips for my book   The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption  , circumstances (namely my own grief and despair) have inevitably forced me into contending with my emotions.  I’ve learned, through a lot of pain and struggling, that the only way forward is to allow myself to deeply feel and express the fear, rage, shock, panic, sadness, anxiety and despair. Only then can I move into a place of taking some of the deep breaths which accompany acceptance of the grave situation at hand.  You, dear reader, who are paying such close attention to the unraveling of all that we know, must share in many of these feelings. When you see another of these grotesque, pasty-white iterations of humanity stuffed into a glossy suit, acting as nothing more than a fossil-fueled ventriloquist’s puppet, do you, like me, burn inside with rage, a rage that threatens to incinerate you? Do you fantasize of their demise? Of somehow bringing them, at least, a taste of the pain their soulless and heartless actions are bringing to the fish searching for food atop the bleached-out coral reefs? To show them the starving polar bears swimming for hundreds of miles to find no ice to rest upon? At these times, I wonder if any of these so-called humans can feel a goddamn thing anymore.  Do you feel the emptiness inside when you become aware of  emperor penguin chicks drowning  from collapsing ice resulting from planetary warming? Or the fear that comes when we understand our  ability to feed ourselves  is now very much under threat?   First: Accepting Reality   When you read of how 1.5 acres of rainforest are vanishing  every ,  single ,  second , does your heart clench in fear? Or when the last of another of the rare frogs existing within said rainforest is lost from this world forever, do you shed the tears that come from a seemingly impotent sadness?  When you come to understand what co-founder of  Extinction Rebellion  Roger Hallam, himself a former organic farmer, has previously  told the public , all of these feelings set in even more deeply. In the aforementioned lecture, to paraphrase Hallam, he pointed out how we have already warmed the planet 1.2 degrees Celsius (1.2°C). Based on observational data, we are easily within a decade of losing the summer sea ice in the Arctic. Within another decade, Earth will warm another .5°C due to the melting ice alone. There is already another .5°C warming to come from CO2 that has already been emitted but we’ve yet to experience the warming. The water vapor effect from these events (and other processes already in motion) doubles the impact of warming from other sources, adding another 1°C warming. Hence, at 3°C warming, most of the Amazon rainforest is lost, which in itself adds another 1.5°C of warming. At this point, most likely, Earth is tipped into a hothouse state, possibly into conditions that render it uninhabitable by humans.  Perhaps you might think this sounds too extreme, the stuff of science fiction. If so, consider this: the level of CO2 in the atmosphere today hasn’t been seen in 12 million years, and this level of greenhouse gas is rapidly bringing Earth back into the state it was in during the Eocene Epoch, 33 million years ago, when there was no ice on either of the poles.  I wonder if any of these so-called humans can feel a goddamn thing anymore.  At that point, there was very little temperature difference between the poles and the equator, according to Harvard University Professor James Anderson, who is best known for  establishing  that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging the ozone layer, in an interview with   Forbes  magazine .  “The ocean was running almost 10ºC warmer all the way to the bottom than it is today,” Anderson said, “and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere would have meant that storm systems would be violent in the extreme, because water vapor, which is an exponential function of water temperature, is the gasoline that fuels the frequency and intensity of storm systems.”  He warned of the folly of those who believe we can recover from this track we are on simply by reducing CO2 emissions — unless we undertake a deeply radical transformation of industry and the economic system, coupled with halting carbon emissions alongside removing what is already in the atmosphere, all within five years’ time.  “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero,” Anderson  said , while reminding us that 75 to 80 percent of the permanent ice has already melted in just the last 35 years.  Anderson warned that people have failed to come to grips with this, along with the  pending collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet , which by itself will raise sea levels seven meters.  “When you look at the irreversibility and you study the numbers, this along with the moral issue is what keeps you up at night,” Anderson said.   Second: How Shall We Be?    “My sense is that only seldom is the problem that we “don’t know” — or, at any rate, that we don’t know enough,” Chris Goode, author of  The Forest and the Field,  has written. “The real problem is that we don’t have a living-space in which to fully know what we know, in which to confront that knowledge and respond to it emotionally without immediately becoming entrenched in a position of fear, denial and hopelessness.”  On Earth Day I was part of a panel at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The panel discussion, titled “ Chroniclers of the Climate Apocalypse ,” was comprised of climate journalist Oliver Milman, climate and health reporter Sheri Fink, and myself.  It is imperative to do what we can to protect the planet, even without a guarantee of success.  During the Q and A session, someone asked me a question along the lines of this: “What do you do, Dahr, or how are you being, with the grieving that comes from how far along we already are?”  I laughed dryly, thought for a brief moment, and then answered honestly: “I don’t know? I get to figure it out all over each day. Each time I give one of my book readings, it is different, because I’m having to evolve every day.”  And that is my truth.  My unsettledness around the question arises for two reasons: One, it always forces me to look into my heart to answer, rather than my head, which means I must experience all of the emotions brought about by the crisis within which we all must live; secondly, when I do this the right way, each moment it shifts and I must live on those emotional front lines, caretaking myself alongside listening, deeply, for what I am called to do next for the planet.  For Roger Hallam, his 20 years of organic farming connected him deeply enough to Earth that when a series of climate-disruption-fueled floods made it impossible for him to continue, he knew what he needed to do: work on his Ph.D. research on the dynamics of political power with particular reference to radical campaign design.  He then co-founded  Extinction Rebellion , a group that  describes itself  as “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.”  I asked Hallam why it is imperative for people to rebel.  “Life is short and all we really know is that it pays to live a good life — whatever happens,” he said. “And that means the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule is broken in the most grotesque way … particularly by way of what we are doing to our kids.”  To those who feel there is no point in rebelling or taking other actions for the betterment of the planet, who feel that all is lost, Hallam had this to say: “We are in this life to do good, not to bargain with outcomes that are out of our control, anyhow.”  In other words, it is imperative to do what we can to protect the planet, even without a guarantee of success.   Third: To What Are We Devoted?   By way of the corporate capitalist industrial growth culture within which most of us have been raised and immersed, we have become disconnected from the planet we are so deeply part of. This, I believe, is the root cause of the climate crisis we now find ourselves in. Hence, the first step toward answering the question of “how to be” during this time, which must be answered before any of us can decide “what to do,” is to connect ourselves back to the planet. For we cannot begin to walk until our feet are on the ground.  Each day I wake and begin to process the daily news of the climate catastrophe and the global political tilt into overt fascism. The associated trauma, grief, rage and despair that come from all of this draws me back to the work of Stan Rushworth, Cherokee elder, activist and scholar, who has guided much of my own thinking about how to move forward. Rushworth has reminded me that while Western colonialist culture believes in “rights,” many Indigenous cultures teach of “obligations” that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself.  Hence, when the grief and rage threaten to consume me, I now orient myself around the question, “What are my obligations?” In other words, “From this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet,  to what do I devote my life? “  Each of us must ask ourselves this question every day, as we face down catastrophe.

By Dahr Jamail, TRUTHOUT, May 6, 2019

“The universe says
loss demands birth
and the two
are lovers.”
—Deena Metzger

During the times when I’m being as emotionally honest with myself as I’m capable — when I truly ponder the idea that this industrialized version of our species may well have already baked enough warming into Earth’s life-supporting biosphere that all of us may very well be on the way out — I feel at a total loss as to what to do.

From that point of numbness, my life force begins to ask, “What next, then?” Cycling through this process for years since I’ve been reporting on the climate crisis, and most intensely during the research and field trips for my book The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, circumstances (namely my own grief and despair) have inevitably forced me into contending with my emotions.

I’ve learned, through a lot of pain and struggling, that the only way forward is to allow myself to deeply feel and express the fear, rage, shock, panic, sadness, anxiety and despair. Only then can I move into a place of taking some of the deep breaths which accompany acceptance of the grave situation at hand.

You, dear reader, who are paying such close attention to the unraveling of all that we know, must share in many of these feelings. When you see another of these grotesque, pasty-white iterations of humanity stuffed into a glossy suit, acting as nothing more than a fossil-fueled ventriloquist’s puppet, do you, like me, burn inside with rage, a rage that threatens to incinerate you? Do you fantasize of their demise? Of somehow bringing them, at least, a taste of the pain their soulless and heartless actions are bringing to the fish searching for food atop the bleached-out coral reefs? To show them the starving polar bears swimming for hundreds of miles to find no ice to rest upon? At these times, I wonder if any of these so-called humans can feel a goddamn thing anymore.

Do you feel the emptiness inside when you become aware of emperor penguin chicks drowning from collapsing ice resulting from planetary warming? Or the fear that comes when we understand our ability to feed ourselves is now very much under threat?

First: Accepting Reality

When you read of how 1.5 acres of rainforest are vanishing every, single, second, does your heart clench in fear? Or when the last of another of the rare frogs existing within said rainforest is lost from this world forever, do you shed the tears that come from a seemingly impotent sadness?

When you come to understand what co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Roger Hallam, himself a former organic farmer, has previously told the public, all of these feelings set in even more deeply. In the aforementioned lecture, to paraphrase Hallam, he pointed out how we have already warmed the planet 1.2 degrees Celsius (1.2°C). Based on observational data, we are easily within a decade of losing the summer sea ice in the Arctic. Within another decade, Earth will warm another .5°C due to the melting ice alone. There is already another .5°C warming to come from CO2 that has already been emitted but we’ve yet to experience the warming. The water vapor effect from these events (and other processes already in motion) doubles the impact of warming from other sources, adding another 1°C warming. Hence, at 3°C warming, most of the Amazon rainforest is lost, which in itself adds another 1.5°C of warming. At this point, most likely, Earth is tipped into a hothouse state, possibly into conditions that render it uninhabitable by humans.

Perhaps you might think this sounds too extreme, the stuff of science fiction. If so, consider this: the level of CO2 in the atmosphere today hasn’t been seen in 12 million years, and this level of greenhouse gas is rapidly bringing Earth back into the state it was in during the Eocene Epoch, 33 million years ago, when there was no ice on either of the poles.

I wonder if any of these so-called humans can feel a goddamn thing anymore.

At that point, there was very little temperature difference between the poles and the equator, according to Harvard University Professor James Anderson, who is best known for establishing that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging the ozone layer, in an interview with Forbes magazine.

“The ocean was running almost 10ºC warmer all the way to the bottom than it is today,” Anderson said, “and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere would have meant that storm systems would be violent in the extreme, because water vapor, which is an exponential function of water temperature, is the gasoline that fuels the frequency and intensity of storm systems.”

He warned of the folly of those who believe we can recover from this track we are on simply by reducing CO2 emissions — unless we undertake a deeply radical transformation of industry and the economic system, coupled with halting carbon emissions alongside removing what is already in the atmosphere, all within five years’ time.

“The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero,” Anderson said, while reminding us that 75 to 80 percent of the permanent ice has already melted in just the last 35 years.

Anderson warned that people have failed to come to grips with this, along with the pending collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which by itself will raise sea levels seven meters.

“When you look at the irreversibility and you study the numbers, this along with the moral issue is what keeps you up at night,” Anderson said.

Second: How Shall We Be?

“My sense is that only seldom is the problem that we “don’t know” — or, at any rate, that we don’t know enough,” Chris Goode, author of The Forest and the Field, has written. “The real problem is that we don’t have a living-space in which to fully know what we know, in which to confront that knowledge and respond to it emotionally without immediately becoming entrenched in a position of fear, denial and hopelessness.”

On Earth Day I was part of a panel at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The panel discussion, titled “Chroniclers of the Climate Apocalypse,” was comprised of climate journalist Oliver Milman, climate and health reporter Sheri Fink, and myself.

It is imperative to do what we can to protect the planet, even without a guarantee of success.

During the Q and A session, someone asked me a question along the lines of this: “What do you do, Dahr, or how are you being, with the grieving that comes from how far along we already are?”

I laughed dryly, thought for a brief moment, and then answered honestly: “I don’t know? I get to figure it out all over each day. Each time I give one of my book readings, it is different, because I’m having to evolve every day.”

And that is my truth.

My unsettledness around the question arises for two reasons: One, it always forces me to look into my heart to answer, rather than my head, which means I must experience all of the emotions brought about by the crisis within which we all must live; secondly, when I do this the right way, each moment it shifts and I must live on those emotional front lines, caretaking myself alongside listening, deeply, for what I am called to do next for the planet.

For Roger Hallam, his 20 years of organic farming connected him deeply enough to Earth that when a series of climate-disruption-fueled floods made it impossible for him to continue, he knew what he needed to do: work on his Ph.D. research on the dynamics of political power with particular reference to radical campaign design.

He then co-founded Extinction Rebellion, a group that describes itself as “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.”

I asked Hallam why it is imperative for people to rebel.

“Life is short and all we really know is that it pays to live a good life — whatever happens,” he said. “And that means the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule is broken in the most grotesque way … particularly by way of what we are doing to our kids.”

To those who feel there is no point in rebelling or taking other actions for the betterment of the planet, who feel that all is lost, Hallam had this to say: “We are in this life to do good, not to bargain with outcomes that are out of our control, anyhow.”

In other words, it is imperative to do what we can to protect the planet, even without a guarantee of success.

Third: To What Are We Devoted?

By way of the corporate capitalist industrial growth culture within which most of us have been raised and immersed, we have become disconnected from the planet we are so deeply part of. This, I believe, is the root cause of the climate crisis we now find ourselves in. Hence, the first step toward answering the question of “how to be” during this time, which must be answered before any of us can decide “what to do,” is to connect ourselves back to the planet. For we cannot begin to walk until our feet are on the ground.

Each day I wake and begin to process the daily news of the climate catastrophe and the global political tilt into overt fascism. The associated trauma, grief, rage and despair that come from all of this draws me back to the work of Stan Rushworth, Cherokee elder, activist and scholar, who has guided much of my own thinking about how to move forward. Rushworth has reminded me that while Western colonialist culture believes in “rights,” many Indigenous cultures teach of “obligations” that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself.

Hence, when the grief and rage threaten to consume me, I now orient myself around the question, “What are my obligations?” In other words, “From this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life?

Each of us must ask ourselves this question every day, as we face down catastrophe.

The Earth is Just as Alive as You Are

by Ferris Jabr in the New York Times, April 20, 2019:  Every year the nearly 400 billion trees in the Amazon rain forest and all the creatures that depend on them are drenched in seven feet of rain — four times the annual rainfall in London. This deluge is partly due to geographical serendipity. Intense equatorial sunlight speeds the evaporation of water from sea and land to sky, trade winds bring moisture from the ocean, and bordering mountains force incoming air to rise, cool and condense. Rain forests happen where it happens to rain.  But that’s only half the story. Life in the Amazon does not simply receive rain — it summons it. All of that lush vegetation releases 20 billion tons of water vapor into the sky every day. Trees saturate the air with gaseous compounds and salts. Fungi exhale plumes of spores. The wind sweeps bacteria, pollen, leaf fragments and bits of insect shells into the atmosphere. The wet breath of the forest, peppered with microbes and organic residues, creates ideal conditions for rain. With so much water in the air and so many minute particles on which the water can condense, rain clouds quickly form.  The Amazon sustains much more than itself, however. Forests are vital pumps of Earth’s circulatory system. All of the water that gushes upward from the Amazon forms an enormous flying river, which brings precipitation to farms and cities throughout South America. Some scientists have concluded that through long-range atmospheric ripple effects the Amazon contributes to rainfall in places as far away as Canada.  The Amazon’s rain ritual is just one of the many astonishing ways in which living creatures transform their environments and the planet as a whole. Much of this ecology has only recently been discovered or understood. We now have compelling evidence that  microbes  are involved in numerous geological processes; some scientists think they played a role in  forming the continents .  Trees, algae and other photosynthetic organisms produce most of the world’s breathable oxygen, helping maintain it at a level high enough to support complex life, but not so high that Earth would erupt in flames at the slightest spark. Ocean plankton drive chemical cycles on which all other life depends and emit gases that increase cloud cover, altering global climate. Seaweed, coral reefs and shellfish store huge amounts of carbon, balance the ocean’s chemistry and defend shorelines from severe weather. And animals as diverse as elephants, prairie dogs and termites continually reconstruct the planet’s crust, altering the flow of water, air and nutrients and improving the prospects of millions of species.  Humans are the most extreme example of a creature transforming Earth. By spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we have drastically altered the planet’s response to solar radiation, spiking global temperatures, raising sea levels and intensifying storms.  One of the many obstacles to reckoning with global warming is the stubborn notion that humans are not powerful enough to affect the entire planet. “ I don’t believe it ,” President Trump said in response to one of his administration’s reports on anthropogenic climate change. In truth, we are far from the only creatures with such power, nor are we the first species to devastate the global ecosystem. The history of life on Earth is the history of life remaking Earth.  Faced with this preponderance of evidence, it is time to revive an idea that was once roundly mocked: the  Gaia hypothesis . Conceived by the British chemist James Lovelock in the early 1970s and later developed with the American biologist Lynn Margulis, the Gaia hypothesis proposes that all the living and nonliving elements of Earth are “parts and partners of a vast being who in her entirety has the power to maintain our planet as a fit and comfortable habitat for life.”  Although this bold idea found an enthusiastic audience among the general public, many scientists criticized and ridiculed it. “I would prefer that the Gaia hypothesis be restricted to its natural habitat of station bookstalls, rather than polluting works of serious scholarship,” the evolutionary biologist Graham Bell wrote in 1987. The microbiologist John Postgate was especially  vehement : “Gaia — the Great Earth Mother! The planetary organism!” he wrote in New Scientist. “Am I the only biologist to suffer a nasty twitch, a feeling of unreality, when the media invite me yet again to take it seriously?”  Over time, however, scientific opposition to Gaia waned. In his early writing, Dr. Lovelock occasionally granted Gaia too much agency, which encouraged the misperception that the living Earth was yearning for some optimal state. But the essence of his hypothesis — the idea that life transforms and in many cases regulates the planet — proved prescient and profoundly true. We and all living creatures are not just inhabitants of Earth, we are Earth — an outgrowth of its physical structure and an engine of its global cycles. Although some scientists still recoil at the mention of Gaia, these truths have become part of mainstream science.  “It’s definitely time to revisit Gaia,” said Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester. Some scientists even agree that the planet is in a very meaningful sense alive. “Life is not something that happened  on  Earth, but something that happened  to  Earth,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “There is this feedback between the living and nonliving parts of the planet that make the planet very different from what it would otherwise be.” As Dr. Margulis wrote, “Earth, in the biological sense, has a body sustained by complex physiological processes. Life is a planetary-level phenomenon and Earth’s surface has been alive for at least 3,000 million years.”  Those who bristle at the notion of a living planet will argue that Earth cannot be alive because it does not eat, reproduce or evolve. Yet science has never established a precise and universally accepted definition of life, only a long list of its qualities. Like many living creatures, Earth has a highly organized structure, a membrane and daily rhythms; it consumes, stores and transforms energy; and if asteroid-hitching microbes or space-faring humans colonize other worlds, who is to say that planets are not capable of procreation?  If Earth breathes, sweats and quakes — if it births zillions of organisms that ceaselessly devour, transfigure and replenish its air, water and rock — and if those creatures and their physical environments evolve in tandem, then why shouldn’t we think of our planet as alive?  Humans are the brain — the consciousness — of the planet. We are Earth made aware of itself. Viewed this way, our ecological responsibility could not be clearer. By fuming greenhouse gases, we have not simply changed the climate; we have critically wounded a global life form and severely disrupted its biological rhythms. No other member of this living assembly has our privileged perspective. No one else can see the sinews and vessels of our planetary body. Only we can choose to help keep Earth alive.  Gaia’s legacy can help us fulfill this responsibility. We can learn to recognize and amplify the planet’s innate climate-stabilizing processes. Earth has its own methods for storing carbon: A complex chain of chemical reactions involving plants, plankton and shellfish can lock atmospheric carbon in limestone. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, many Earth system scientists think we should study how to augment this natural sequestration and related processes.  In recent years the Amazon rain forest has endured unusually intense and frequent droughts, which some scientists have linked to deforestation and forest fires. It would be easy to compartmentalize these ecological shifts as local tragedies, but that detachment is an illusion.  As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Explore what's at stake and what you can do about it.  Seen through the lens of Gaia, the Amazon’s plight is the draining of our communal veins and arteries. We must learn to feel its thirst viscerally. “We are a part of this Earth and we cannot therefore consider our affairs in isolation,” Dr. Lovelock wrote. “We are so tied to the Earth that its chills or fevers are our chills and fevers also.”

by Ferris Jabr in the New York Times, April 20, 2019:

Every year the nearly 400 billion trees in the Amazon rain forest and all the creatures that depend on them are drenched in seven feet of rain — four times the annual rainfall in London. This deluge is partly due to geographical serendipity. Intense equatorial sunlight speeds the evaporation of water from sea and land to sky, trade winds bring moisture from the ocean, and bordering mountains force incoming air to rise, cool and condense. Rain forests happen where it happens to rain.

But that’s only half the story. Life in the Amazon does not simply receive rain — it summons it. All of that lush vegetation releases 20 billion tons of water vapor into the sky every day. Trees saturate the air with gaseous compounds and salts. Fungi exhale plumes of spores. The wind sweeps bacteria, pollen, leaf fragments and bits of insect shells into the atmosphere. The wet breath of the forest, peppered with microbes and organic residues, creates ideal conditions for rain. With so much water in the air and so many minute particles on which the water can condense, rain clouds quickly form.

The Amazon sustains much more than itself, however. Forests are vital pumps of Earth’s circulatory system. All of the water that gushes upward from the Amazon forms an enormous flying river, which brings precipitation to farms and cities throughout South America. Some scientists have concluded that through long-range atmospheric ripple effects the Amazon contributes to rainfall in places as far away as Canada.

The Amazon’s rain ritual is just one of the many astonishing ways in which living creatures transform their environments and the planet as a whole. Much of this ecology has only recently been discovered or understood. We now have compelling evidence that microbes are involved in numerous geological processes; some scientists think they played a role in forming the continents.

Trees, algae and other photosynthetic organisms produce most of the world’s breathable oxygen, helping maintain it at a level high enough to support complex life, but not so high that Earth would erupt in flames at the slightest spark. Ocean plankton drive chemical cycles on which all other life depends and emit gases that increase cloud cover, altering global climate. Seaweed, coral reefs and shellfish store huge amounts of carbon, balance the ocean’s chemistry and defend shorelines from severe weather. And animals as diverse as elephants, prairie dogs and termites continually reconstruct the planet’s crust, altering the flow of water, air and nutrients and improving the prospects of millions of species.

Humans are the most extreme example of a creature transforming Earth. By spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we have drastically altered the planet’s response to solar radiation, spiking global temperatures, raising sea levels and intensifying storms.

One of the many obstacles to reckoning with global warming is the stubborn notion that humans are not powerful enough to affect the entire planet. “I don’t believe it,” President Trump said in response to one of his administration’s reports on anthropogenic climate change. In truth, we are far from the only creatures with such power, nor are we the first species to devastate the global ecosystem. The history of life on Earth is the history of life remaking Earth.

Faced with this preponderance of evidence, it is time to revive an idea that was once roundly mocked: the Gaia hypothesis. Conceived by the British chemist James Lovelock in the early 1970s and later developed with the American biologist Lynn Margulis, the Gaia hypothesis proposes that all the living and nonliving elements of Earth are “parts and partners of a vast being who in her entirety has the power to maintain our planet as a fit and comfortable habitat for life.”

Although this bold idea found an enthusiastic audience among the general public, many scientists criticized and ridiculed it. “I would prefer that the Gaia hypothesis be restricted to its natural habitat of station bookstalls, rather than polluting works of serious scholarship,” the evolutionary biologist Graham Bell wrote in 1987. The microbiologist John Postgate was especially vehement: “Gaia — the Great Earth Mother! The planetary organism!” he wrote in New Scientist. “Am I the only biologist to suffer a nasty twitch, a feeling of unreality, when the media invite me yet again to take it seriously?”

Over time, however, scientific opposition to Gaia waned. In his early writing, Dr. Lovelock occasionally granted Gaia too much agency, which encouraged the misperception that the living Earth was yearning for some optimal state. But the essence of his hypothesis — the idea that life transforms and in many cases regulates the planet — proved prescient and profoundly true. We and all living creatures are not just inhabitants of Earth, we are Earth — an outgrowth of its physical structure and an engine of its global cycles. Although some scientists still recoil at the mention of Gaia, these truths have become part of mainstream science.

“It’s definitely time to revisit Gaia,” said Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester. Some scientists even agree that the planet is in a very meaningful sense alive. “Life is not something that happened on Earth, but something that happened to Earth,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “There is this feedback between the living and nonliving parts of the planet that make the planet very different from what it would otherwise be.” As Dr. Margulis wrote, “Earth, in the biological sense, has a body sustained by complex physiological processes. Life is a planetary-level phenomenon and Earth’s surface has been alive for at least 3,000 million years.”

Those who bristle at the notion of a living planet will argue that Earth cannot be alive because it does not eat, reproduce or evolve. Yet science has never established a precise and universally accepted definition of life, only a long list of its qualities. Like many living creatures, Earth has a highly organized structure, a membrane and daily rhythms; it consumes, stores and transforms energy; and if asteroid-hitching microbes or space-faring humans colonize other worlds, who is to say that planets are not capable of procreation?

If Earth breathes, sweats and quakes — if it births zillions of organisms that ceaselessly devour, transfigure and replenish its air, water and rock — and if those creatures and their physical environments evolve in tandem, then why shouldn’t we think of our planet as alive?

Humans are the brain — the consciousness — of the planet. We are Earth made aware of itself. Viewed this way, our ecological responsibility could not be clearer. By fuming greenhouse gases, we have not simply changed the climate; we have critically wounded a global life form and severely disrupted its biological rhythms. No other member of this living assembly has our privileged perspective. No one else can see the sinews and vessels of our planetary body. Only we can choose to help keep Earth alive.

Gaia’s legacy can help us fulfill this responsibility. We can learn to recognize and amplify the planet’s innate climate-stabilizing processes. Earth has its own methods for storing carbon: A complex chain of chemical reactions involving plants, plankton and shellfish can lock atmospheric carbon in limestone. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, many Earth system scientists think we should study how to augment this natural sequestration and related processes.

In recent years the Amazon rain forest has endured unusually intense and frequent droughts, which some scientists have linked to deforestation and forest fires. It would be easy to compartmentalize these ecological shifts as local tragedies, but that detachment is an illusion.

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Seen through the lens of Gaia, the Amazon’s plight is the draining of our communal veins and arteries. We must learn to feel its thirst viscerally. “We are a part of this Earth and we cannot therefore consider our affairs in isolation,” Dr. Lovelock wrote. “We are so tied to the Earth that its chills or fevers are our chills and fevers also.”

A Joan of Arc for the 21st Century?

Sixteen year old Greta Thunberg addressing Davos on the climate crisis. Although we’ll need a global community to recognize and reverse the unfolding disaster of global warming, this young woman with Asbergers is a remarkable example of determination and courage that I’d like to emulate.

Virtual Embalming

Strangely beautiful memorials by Frederick Heyman: "I used photogrammetry (3D scans) to create frozen moments in time," the Antwerp-based visionary explains. "Digital installations constructed out of relics of the past. This was not only to conserve what once was, but also to recycle the present and attempt to shape the future. These images, whether based on fact or fiction, tell us how people want to remember and be remembered. They expose the desire to overcome time, space and a physical presence.”