Bad News in a Kind Voice

This fall I invited Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the U. S. Geological Survey, to visit with Ecotone’s editorial staff, to help us get a better collective sense of what the climate crisis means. He shared visualizations of the stunningly rapid increases in Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide and global surface temperature since the 1850s. We’re used to hearing about these issues, of course, but it was a gift to have them outlined so clearly.

Adam’s visit resonated through our subsequent meetings, pushing us toward deeper engagement with the crisis and the questions it raises. That’s partly because of what he shared—and partly because of the frank, humble, human way he talked about the data. We’re glad to be able to include in this issue one visualization of such data, and his commentary on it. This feature is the first in a series we’re calling Climate Annotations, in which contributors will engage with reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with other sources, offering scientific as well as artistic responses. We hope the series will invite additional close, ongoing attention to climate crisis, that it will help make that engagement more possible to sustain over time.

For each issue our student editorial team drafts cover lines for the magazine, which requires, more than most editorial work, a willingness to be goofy, to see what our minds toss up. As we were talking about Adam’s annotation, people offered some catchy and fitting options, including the one you’ll see on the back cover of the issue. But the one that made us laugh the most, because it felt the truest to our experience of him in person (i.e., on Zoom), came from editorial and design team member Maggie Hare: “Adam Terando delivers bad news in a kind voice.”

We observe and act, and rest, and observe and act again because we know it is all of our responsibility to engage, and keep engaging, with the harm caused by anthropogenic climate change.

Though we didn’t use this line on the cover, it has stayed with me since—a visceral reminder of the responsibility we share to deliver the news of the world, and keep delivering it, to ourselves and each other—so that we remember, so that we are spurred to take action and keep taking it, and to do so in ever more inventive ways. Kindness is a better vehicle for such news than anything I can think of (though yelling is also important sometimes). If not for Adam’s kindness when he spoke with our team—the awareness of human and more-than-human suffering, the awareness of how it feels to be responsible for carrying the knowledge of this crisis and others—we might not have heard as well. We might have more quickly retreated.

Sometimes, of course, retreat is needed—we can’t think about only what’s wrong all the time. The most compelling art for me doesn’t try to erase what’s wrong, but lifts it up, illuminates it alongside the good. When we were at work on our Love Issue a couple years back, I got accustomed to saying that, secretly, every issue of Ecotone is the Love Issue. Okay, it’s not a secret: every issue is. This issue allows us to add: every issue of Ecotone is the Climate Issue. In this one, a debut short story from Emily Kevlin brings us into the mind of a mother as she sees the effects of a California wildfire on her home landscape. Poems from Amber Flora Thomas and Matt MacFarland ask us to observe closely, with their speakers, both damage and resilience.

I find a necessary rest in Pritha Bhattacharyya’s poignant story of a family’s internal climate, “Long Division,” and in Katherine Indermaur’s poem “The Dream You Aren’t Having.” I find it too through deep immersion in another writer’s thinking with a poem, as in Matty Layne Glasgow’s Poem in a Landscape essay on Brian Teare’s epic “Doomstead Days.” I feel relief on encountering the wit and truth-telling of Dan Albergotti’s poem about the exit of truth from the public stage—even as it reminds me of that crisis of fact. I hope this issue will offer respite and, in equal measure, bring big truths blazing back into awareness, as do Cecily Parks’s elegiac essay “The Past in Pastoral,” Craig Santos Perez and Anne Barngrover’s poems “Ocean Haiku During the Pandemic” and “Ceres in the Burning Rainforest,” and Amaris Ketcham’s comic “Mile High, Mile Deep,” the blue ink for which she made from copper oxide in a nod to the contaminated waters of the nearby Berkeley Pit.

We observe and act, and rest, and observe and act again because we know it is all of our responsibility to engage, and keep engaging, with the harm caused by anthropogenic climate change, particularly the unequally distributed burden of that harm as it falls on poor and marginalized communities. As the Ecotone team talked this year about how to hold the truths of climate crisis in our thinking and being, we decided to call on contributors to this issue to help. Several of the writers and artists featured here have also written climate postcards—brief missives to a friend, a family member, or an elected representative, each considering climate crisis in a personal light. These will be featured on our website over the coming months. And so that you can send your own climate postcard if you wish, tucked into each copy of this issue is a blank postcard with work by Radha Pandey—a page from her artist’s book Deep Time, which is also featured on the cover. We hope you’ll write someone with your own thoughts on climate! If you do, please let us know—we’d love to hear what you have to say.

This issue brings two changes to our masthead that deserve celebration: Michael Ramos has been promoted from assistant art director to art director, and postgraduate fellow Sophia Stid, for her final year with the magazine, has been promoted to associate editor. We have them to thank for some of the works I’ve mentioned here—our cover is the first designed by Michael in his new role, and he also designed the accompanying art feature, as well as continuing to mentor our student design team in making interior spreads. Sophia acquired and edited numerous essays and poems for the issue, as well as our opening short story and the aforementioned, beautifully blue-hued comic. Please join us in congratulating them! I am delighted to be able to recognize them here—both for their fine work and for their dedication to Ecotone’s mission of reimagining place.

It’s easy to see the interrelation of the struggle for health and safety during the pandemic; activism for the right of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color to equity, safety, and respect; advocacy for fair wages and working conditions; and the need for timely action to address the climate crisis and slow the massive harms it is causing. Each of those struggles might—temporarily—daunt even a stronghearted person. But thanks to scientists, writers, artists, journalists, activists, ourselves, we can hear the bad news—in a kind voice, in a yell, in song. It’s our work and privilege both to listen and to answer back: to make good news with words and action, in voices that are kind, yes, and emphatic, and unrelenting. One of the most well-known songs by Carl Rutherford, the West Virginia musician, coal miner, and activist, is an elegy for landscapes affected by mountaintop removal. In a less widely circulated song, “I Gotta Go See,” he sang a line that still runs through my head sometimes, twenty years after I first heard it: “I can’t give up till I go see what I can do.