Media

From Publishers Weekly:
“In 1983 writer Jonathan White, founder and president of the Resource Institute, a nonprofit educational organization in Seattle, transformed a dilapidated schooner into a floating classroom to which he invited environmentalists, writers and scientists to discuss humanity’s place within nature and the vital spiritual and ecological lessons we can learn from animals, the land and indigenous peoples. Here, White draws on these seminars to pose new questions to the likes of Gretel Ehrlich, David Brower, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gary Snyder, Peter Matthiessen and eight others. The resulting dialogues knock down walls to widen the floor of discussion. Rather than outline an answer to the ills of modernity and overdevelopment, they demonstrate the complexities of the problem. Although serious and informative, the interviews are highly accessible and, at times, even amusing. By sharing their knowledge, research and personal anecdotes, the participants accent common themes, like the the reality of an interdependence between nature and humanity rather than a romanticized independent natural world. Infused with passion and spirituality, Talking on the Water reminds us that if we abuse nature, we’re ultimately abusing ourselves.”

Excerpt from Jonathan White’s interview with Paul Shepard:

JONATHAN WHITE: “You describe yourself as a human ecologist. What does that mean?”

PAUL SHEPARD: It means that I consider human history and culture as ecological factors. If I were studying the ecology of salamanders or prairies, I wouldn’t have to deal with culture or written history. In the study of human ecology, however, I take as my primary data any evidence I can find–ideologies, religions, myths, histories of thought–that has to do with the way people interact with the environment. By environment, I mean not just our social environment but the larger environment, including the plants and animals around us.

My master’s thesis at Yale [in the interdisciplinary conservation program, directed by conservationist Paul Sears and evolutionary biologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson] started out as a comparison of how landscape painters saw nature and how I saw it as an ecologist. The project grew into a doctoral dissertation [on] attitudes towards the American landscape during the first part of the nineteenth century. My thesis involved landscape painting and the history of gardening. And, as you can probably guess, it didn’t leave me as a particularly marketable graduate. I carried that manuscript around for thirteen years, rewriting it endlessly, until it was published under the title Man in the Landscape in 1967.

Just before it was published, I was beginning to doubt whether landscape was an appropriate focal point for the study of human ecology. The way we use and relate to landscape is too closely influenced by trends and fashions. So I began reading anthropology. It was an exciting time in that field, and also in paleontology and archaeology, because a lot of work on the past and present-day hunter-gatherers was being done. These studies required a return to my training in biology and zoology, and I welcomed the chance to look for a new species model for understanding what human ecology might entail.

I started that new search by writing a book on hunting, The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, which was a way of pulling together my own thoughts on that subject. Thinking Animals came next, which was an exploration of the role animals play in the thought processes of pre-civilized or non-civilized people. Nature and Madness, published in 1982, looked at the human developmental process as it relates to the natural world in a historical context. The Sacred Paw, which has a chapter written by Barry Sanders, was a look at the ecology of a specific animal, the bear. While I still have an interest in landscape, I am largely directed toward the model of hunter-gatherers as a context for the study of our own species’ evolution.”

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