MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World
Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy, editors
Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2002
210 pp., $18.95, paperback
ISBN 1-57131-267-6

Recently, while on the University of New Mexico campus, I bumped into a biology faculty member who was breathlessly arguing for induced meandering, a plea for getting rivers back to how they used to flow. I thought to myself, "yeah, lets think about how things used to be and learn from that." She spoke uninterrupted in what seemed to have been fifteen minutes, then walked away. Two minutes later, she darted back and apologized for not having introduced herself and then proceeded to say, "You know I just realized, I participated in a workshop that asked us to do more listening than talking …and well I'm afraid I didn't do that with you, I'm sorry. We have to be aware of these things -- well, Oh dear, I have to go." She looked at me, then turned away and trotted off to her next appointment.

How can we listen to the environment and each other talking about the environment, to better understand multiple perspectives?" The Colors of Nature is a place to start.

The Colors of Nature is a collection of essays by a range of authors representing diverse backgrounds who describe their unique relationships to the environment. The writers traverse the landscape: from the northern Cascades, south to the Chihuahua desert, and on to the woodlands of upstate New York. What readers can expect here are varying perspectives that encompass historical contexts, indigenous people, traditional communities, and people of color whom have been and are marginalized in this country. The contributors include Japanese American, Mestizo, African American, Hawaiian, Arab American, Chicano and Native American writers and poets.

Editors Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy ask, "Why is the world of nature writing and the environmental movement in general so overwhelmingly white?" Gary Paul Nabhan writes:

Conference after conference of nature literature, meeting after meeting of environmental activists, we receive group photos that largely look as though they are underexposed, as if they consist of monotones, not the range of colors, characters, and communities that collectively inhabit the earth.

Are Nabhan's observations fitting? Or can one question the types of conferences and meetings he attends? I believe mainstream environmentalism is sin conciencia (without consciousness) to the ideals and actions of individuals who represent poor, minority communities in this country. I appreciate the editors for choosing the selected writings from persons whose first language may not be English and may not be considered mainstream.

Colors is comprised of individuals who describe the environment as including experiences, storytelling and music demonstrated in ritual and community. Jackson-Opoku's essay for example, uses rhythm to draw connections resulted in cultural isolation of Blacks in this country to the their tribal homelands. Kanaka'ole Kanahele's highlights the importance of ancestral remembrance to the integrity and survival of her native Hawaii, all of which is embraced in song and prayer. Alarcon's poetry is a testament to spiritual survival and lifeways to Mesoamerica in what he describes as ecopoetics. While all essays are unique to a personal historic memory, they each offer an account of the various people, lands, and culture hidden in language, music, and prayer that represent the environment in all its complicated beauty. They are gifts to be shared.

Not to be taken lightly, each composition is to be cared for in a way that only undivided attention and an open heart can bring. So, whether it is listening to the land as demonstrated in the life of Joseph Bruchac or joining in on the pointed humor of Al Young, we need to celebrate this book. I ask friends, relatives, and the biology teacher out there, wherever you are, sit, relax, and enjoy while I read a selection entitled "Silent Parrot Blues" by Al Young. "Even I, who knew next to nothing about parrots, understood that this parrot was exceptional…"

— Frances Ortega


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(800) 520-6455 (outside Minnesota) or (612) 332-3192
fax: (612) 215-2550
www.milkweed.org


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"For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along."
--Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
December 22, 1987



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