ISSUE No. 4

Clerestory

A clerestory is a window which allows light and air into the body of an old building. Clerestory Magazine stories and storytellers are like windows through which the pain and beauty of the human experience shine.

The Clerestory Podcast S1 E19

Taking Care of Ourselves
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On Ecology

In the fourth issue of Clerestory Magazine, writers explore the environment and relationality.

Listen to this issue’s playlist on Spotify.

Dear Reader,

In response to the most-recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The New York Times wrote, "A hotter future is certain.” The irreversibility of climate change is striking, but by no means surprising. Scientists, journalists, and activists, alike, have been warning us for decades of the totalizing and catastrophic impact of rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions. We live on a planet, what Bill McKibben called “Eaarth” nearly a decade ago, which is irrevocably damaged and shaped by destruction.

How do we locate ourselves within a dying world? What are our collective responsibilities as our planet changes and the most vulnerable among us are affected by heat, natural disaster, and displacement? What must change in order to save what is left of the planet we inherited? These are only a few of the questions Clerestory Magazine contributors will ask in our fourth issue on “ecology.”

In our summer issue, we responded to the prompt, “what heals?” This time around, we're asking : what connects? How are we connected to each other and the natural world? How can we nurture relationships which are life-giving and life-protecting? And how can we build a world that is founded on relationality, instead of on division and subjugation?

Ecology means “the relationship of living things to their environment and to each other.”

Most of us live in cultures founded not on relationality, but rather, driven by extractive capitalism and toxic masculinity as expressed in "power over," or "dominion over," paradigms - paradigms which led to genocide against indigenous people, violence against women, and the utter destruction of natural, life-sustaining ecosystems. Climate change makes it clear – these systems of violence, extraction, and destruction are unsustainable. They’re killing all of us.

It strikes me, that on a global cultural level, we’re learning many difficult and painful lessons about interconnectedness. The principle we’ve long ignored – that our “humanity is bound up” in each other’s, to borrow Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words – is urgently and loudly expressing itself. We share the same resources. Our actions affect others. We are responsible for each other.

The COVID-19 global pandemic centered interconnectedness. We became frighteningly and precisely aware of how we share the same air, how our actions affect the health of our neighbors and loved ones. Right now, I can conjure images of how aerosol particles move through a classroom or an airplane. While there were waves of collective insight into human compassion and consideration, the pandemic revealed and deepened inequality. Some of us, were and still are, more at risk than others. The more resources you have, the less at risk you are. We know how this plays out in unequal access to vaccines or protective equipment, unequal distribution of space within which to social distance, unequal resources which determine every decision, from sending one's children to school to going to the grocery store.

Our ecological crisis, too, reveals interconnectedness. Rising global temperatures leads to rising sea levels leads to hurricanes with more damaging storm surges, for example. Or, on the flip side, biodiversity reveals the intricacy and majesty of ecosystems. In recent weeks, vulnerable communities have weathered extreme heat, wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. Climate change and environmental degradation - manifest in the inability to evacuate before a hurricane to contaminated water - disproportionately affect low income communities, Majority World countries, and communities of color.

In exploring the meaning of place, in examining intersectional justice and environmental racism, in thinking relationally, I believe we can cultivate more compassionate hearts and act more mindful, sustainable ways. As Dr. Vandana Shiva reminds us, "In nature's economy, the currency is not money, but life."

Gary Snyder, in "For the Children," writes:

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us.

the steep climb of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.

In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say, are valleys,

pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.

To climb these coming crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light.

Stay together, learn the flowers, go light. This is good advice for living purposefully in a dying and uncertain world. Thinking and acting relationally demands a lot of us. It asks that we pay close attention to the suffering of other living beings. It is a more painful, and yet more beautiful way to live. It offers hope for a different kind of world, with flourishing, dignity, and connection at the center.

Over the next three months, Clerestory writers will explore place, the meaning of “nature,” environmental history, climate grief, and what is needed to restore and sustain relationships, between us and between us and other living things. As we undertake this important work, you may find our reading list with further suggestions on ecology here.

Thank you for being here.

Best wishes,

Sarah James

Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Clerestory Magazine

Sarah James is the editor-in-chief and founder of Clerestory Magazine. A graduate of Yale and Middlebury, Sarah is a biracial South Indian-American woman of color and a writer. You can find her work elsewhere in The Porch, Darling, and Relevant, among others, or on her website.

Discover more from Sarah James.
photo story Leaves

Six months ago someone drove through a red light and drastically altered my life. 

interview Collective Wisdom on Ecology

Emily, Naomi, Maryann, and Andrew share reflection and resources on ecology and interconnectedness.

essay Surviving a Food Desert in College

I attend Clark Atlanta University in the West End of Atlanta, an area where 90.5% of the population is Black and the median annual income is around $34,000.

essay Paraquat and Environmental Racism

I grew up in the rural suburbs of Kenya, where farming was the primary source of income for most households. My fascination with plants, farming, and the environment stemmed from my mother’s love for gardening.

interview Seed Stewardship with Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance

When you learn how to save seeds, you are taking part in an ancient tradition of your ancestors and contributing positively to the ecological cycles of the planet.

photo story Please Plan Accordingly

Everything out there is related, linked, connected.

essay Crafting the Body: An Ecology

Imagine for a moment that our skin was a transparent membrane which revealed the inner workings of the body. That we humans had been designed in a way that left the mechanics and chemistry of our anatomy in plain view

essay Erosion of Home

As the ocean air spritzes my face on a late morning this past June, its saltiness meets the saltiness of the hot tears rolling underneath my tortoise-rimmed sunglasses.

essay Arriving at My Senses

It really happened: I received the things I was asking for: the simplicity, the sustainability, the radical freedom I desired.

poem Terra-Vale

Kindred to a forest of birch, a simulacrum of the body, I inhabit . . .

essay The Yellow Ladybug Effect

It was crawling next to Sara for a few seconds before she noticed it . . .

essay Signs of Life at a Park

That day at the 90-acre park in the northwest suburbs of Austin, there were signs of life everywhere, and I was one of them. 

essay Psalm 23 and Climate Change

Worshipping outside for an extended period of time has been an invitation to be surprised by natural elements we cannot control.

essay Reading Growth Rings

The trees hold earth’s history. The pages revealing the evidence of the planet’s stages through the ages are bound most accurately not between the covers of a textbook but between the core and the bark of the oak, maple, pine, languishing ash. 

interview Climate Grief with Hannah Malcolm

Good theology rewrites the stories we tell about ourselves. So for those who belong to a faith tradition, theology is essential to the climate movement...

poem Water Anywhere

Thirsting for a fundamental key to life in the universe. . .

photo story Bush Walk

At the height of the pandemic we were under total lockdown here in Aotearoa. The Government allowed us to leave the house only for necessities and local exercise with those we lived with, our ‘bubble’.

essay Of Widest Worth

A reflection upon Wendell Berry’s “membership” from a suburban neighborhood...

essay A Simple Ham and Cheese Sandwich

A whisper of cloud stretched across the sky, as we stepped out of the lodge. We still had a half-hour to wait for the sun to come up, but the cloud already burned orange-mauve, spreading a pale rose glow onto the snow blanketing the meadow.

essay A Castle of Dreams

There is a place we return to every summer by the Gulf of Mexico. It has a long winding sandy path we walk on to the beach, covered with old oak trees, reaching to the sky with long branches that hang low and thick over the path like a mother’s hug.

essay The Art of Gardening

The gardener is an artist, a creator, and an architect... the serenity in the garden sings to their soul.

essay Transplanted

Early on a summer morning, before the heat held the city captive in its stagnant breath, I sat on a bench in Madison Square Park looking at Ghost Forest, an installation by artist Maya Lin. This barren grove of Great Atlantic white cedar trees stood like weathered sentinels in the verdant park.

essay Haters and the Garden State

Learning to love New Jersey roughly translated into learning how to love myself.