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While I was writing about crinoid fossils for this week’s newsletter, I read this beautiful piece by Jessica Leigh Hester about ‘sidewalk fossils’ - the imprints left behind in a seething metropolis. As she puts it: ‘the fossils — these little flukes, these interesting accidents — were reminders of small, exhilarating life.’
In Aeon, April Nowell explored a forgotten part of the archaeological record: child’s play. Brought back to life in Nowell’s imagining, we see the children of 14,000 years ago making arrangements of shells, drawing on walls, cavorting with their dogs, and making their own scaled-down tools. Just like today’s children, they were not particularly carefree or even naive, but they were engaged in the serious business of learning.
This week’s On Being episode with Ada Limón was so good that I had to listen to it twice, back-to-back. I was held captive by Limón’s humour and joy, but the part that made me rush to find my pen was this sharp insight into the pains of re-entering the world after lockdown: ‘I had a moment where I hadn’t realized how delighted I was to go about my world without my body…I found myself being very comfortable with just being a face, and with just being a head…I was like, “I don’t want you to witness my body. Only my head is for you. My body is for me.”’
A further moment of deep ‘YES’ came to me from Camille T. Dungy’s piece in the Atlantic about the invisibility of Black people in nature writing. I’m troubled by the routine portrayal of wilderness as a space for white, male exploration, and a canvas on which the knowledge of a small, privileged class is painted. It has never been the truth. When I wrote The Electricity of Every Living Thing, I tried to turn the nature memoir inside out, making it clear how hard it is for most people to access wilderness, alone, for extended periods of time. Everyone should have the right to build a relationship with nature in their own way, and in their own places. As the record is gradually set straight, I look forward to reading Dungy’s forthcoming book, Soil, and Erin Sharkey’s anthology, A Darker Wilderness. Alexis Nikole’s recent Instagram reel explains brilliantly why it’s important to bring race into the issue.
In Edifice Complex, Bench Ansfield explored the origin of one of my most used words of 2023 - burnout - and pointed to its roots in structural inequality. To be burned-out is to mirror the slums of 1970s New York, where landlords sometimes realised the value of their investments by burning them down for the insurance money, ravaging the whole neighbourhoods populated by Black and brown people. Burn-out, argues Ansfield, is a term that directly critiques capitalism. Let’s keep that in mind.
On that note - I wish you a restful weekend.
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I paused the Ada Limón interview at that very place too, to play it to my partner. It perfectly and humorously summed up my feelings about life after lockdown. I have set boundaries accordingly. Most people in my life are currently only experiencing me as written words or photos of things I have seen with my eyes in whatsapp messages and emails. In the pandemic I was given permission to protect myself from others, and others from me and I have granted myself an indefinite extension on that permission!
Drew Lanham's Home Place speaks of nature and race. His Instagram posts are little poems.