A Quest for Ecological Wisdom and Compassion
Welcome to Chrysalis!
Today I’m launching a new podcast, called Chrysalis, where I’ll be in conversation with a remarkable group of environmental thinkers about their paths through life and the transformations they’ve experienced along the way. My guests are great writers, artists, activists, scientists, and spiritual leaders whose stories can help guide us into new ways of relating to the rest of life on Earth.
If you’re in Austin, we will be doing a live recording of the show on October 27, 2021, in collaboration with the University of Texas. We will also livestream the event. Please subscribe to receive the details of this event when we have them.
Check out the Chrysalis podcast trailer:
Please share the trailer far and wide! And rate and review the show on other podcast platforms to help us spread the word!
A Storm in the Distance, Louisiana Gulf Coast, 2017, John Fiege
This launch is for more than just a podcast. I want you to join me in building a community, exchanging ideas, and staying connected in meaningful ways. I’ll be hosting the podcast here on Substack, where you can listen, support my work, leave comments, and be in conversation with others. I am super excited to grow a community of people willing to look creatively and intentionally at what more we can do to shift our relationship to the world around us to defend, restore, and invigorate healthy ecosystems across the beautiful and fragile biosphere of this planet.
A Space for Storytelling
Our current ecological predicament is bleak: climate chaos, habitat destruction, mass extinction, ocean acidification, environmental injustice.
It’s overwhelming to contemplate. There are even names for this kind of despair: climate grief, environmental trauma, ecological stress disorder.
But ecological crisis can also call us to transform ourselves for the better—as individuals, as societies, as a species.
Some scholars over the years have suggested that rather than calling ourselves homo sapiens, the wise humans, it would be more accurate to call ourselves homo narrans, the storytelling humans. We began sitting around the fire and telling stories with our ancestors hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of years ago.
The climate crisis itself casts a long, dark shadow over our claims to wisdom, but maybe storytelling is a way for us to find a path out of the darkness and into the light of ecological wisdom and compassion.
I’m starting the Chrysalis podcast and newsletter to create a space for telling stories that can expand our views of the world and our dreams of the possible roles we can all play in building a more just, sustainable society.
Mississippi Chicken Production Still, John Fiege
I’ve been telling stories about our relationship with the rest of nature my entire adult life, through filmmaking, photography, writing, and teaching. Chrysalis is a place for me to bring together everything I’ve learned and experienced over the past few decades—including many of the fascinating environmental thinkers I’ve encountered along the way.
Slow Season Short Film
With the podcast, I have lively, provocative conversations with fascinating guests, all thinking about this planet and how to live on it in ways that are surprisingly different, but almost magically resonant with one another.
Reflective, exploratory, and generous in spirit, each show is grounded in the journey of a single guest over a lifetime of walking on the Earth, from childhood experiences, to big ideas developed over the course of a career, to reflections on what it will take to turn ecological crisis into regeneration.
My Ecological Journey
My love of the natural world and my focus on ecological protection blossomed when my seventh grade class took a trip to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, on a barrier island off the coast of Virginia. Biking through a springtime rain shower with my teacher and friends, I had the most magical experience: raindrops hitting my face, I was surrounded by birds, wild horses, marshes, and the ocean. I felt more present, more in and of the world, than I had ever felt before that blissfully immersive moment. The boundary dissolved between what I saw as myself and what I saw as nature.
But on that same trip, I learned how DDT and other pesticides had decimated the island’s bird populations years earlier. This enchanting ecological ecstasy, combined with the horror of how we can destroy it, lit a fire inside me.
I set out on a lifelong journey to discover the intricacies of our relationship with the rest of nature. I studied science, philosophy, religion, anthropology, geography, and environmental history. I wrote a master’s thesis on the history of the National Zoo and what our representations of nature at the zoo reveal about our changing views of our relationship to nature.
Along the way, I eventually read the book that helped save the birds I saw at Chincoteague: Rachel Carson’s seminal 1962 book, Silent Spring, which led to a ban on DDT in the U.S. and helped spark the modern environmental movement.
Silent Spring on Earth, Letchworth State Park, New York, 2020, John Fiege
Rachel Carson was a great biologist, but she was also a great writer who knew how to tell a good story. That combination of scientific knowledge and captivating writing enabled her to have an enormous impact on society.
She wrote in Silent Spring, “In nature nothing exists alone.”
This idea of interconnectedness, how disrupting one element of an ecological system disrupts the entire system, has become the basis of my work and connects my earliest interests to what I’ve done since then.
I learned how to take photographs and make films. I told stories about the interconnectedness of our ecological predicament: stories about immigrant poultry workers, the BP oil spill, the Keystone XL pipeline, Hurricane Harvey, and environmental justice on the Gulf Coast. I realized that to change our relationship with the rest of life on Earth, we needed new stories about who we are and who we can be.
Shoulders Deep Production Still
From Storytelling to Community-Building
Chrysalis is a storytelling project—a quest for ecological wisdom and compassion—but it is also a community-building project. The modern world has allowed unprecedented opportunities for mobility and travel, made possible by fossil fuels, which has led to both the climate crisis and what might be called a crisis of community—our gas-powered mobility has scattered and shattered our in-person communities. And more recently, the smartphone and social media revolutions have compounded the crisis of community with a mental health crisis: a pandemic of loneliness, isolation, and despair.
Substack is a relatively new internet platform that makes it easy to build community and cultivate thoughtful conversations and meaningful connections, which I hope will be a powerful antidote to the mental health crises provoked and invoked by social media.
But even if Substack is a more nourishing platform, it is still digital, virtual, and remote. I will work to forge connections to people and places outside the digital realm in a couple ways. First, I will continually encourage people, through my writing and photography, to get outside and to become involved in their in-person communities and local ecologies. Second, I will hold live in-person events for the podcast where I hope to connect with my listeners and catalyze connections to other people, organizations, and opportunities in their communities.
If you have an idea for a live event or want to host the live recording of an episode at your institution or organization, please contact me.
Raising Aniya Production Still
Sustainable: Ecologically and Financially
If you would like to support Chrysalis, you can make a donation here, which will help us enormously with our current expenses for producing the show.
If you are a funder interested in supporting Chrysalis and helping us expand our reach, or if you have a business interested in sponsoring the podcast, please contact us.
Above All Else trailer
We Love Roll Call, Y’all!
Keep an eye out for the first episode: a conversation with the incomparable environmental justice champion, Jacqui Patterson. You’re going to love the stories she tells and the connections she makes in ways that I haven’t heard anywhere else.
I hope you can listen to the podcast, read the newsletter, and be a part of the community. I would love to hear from you!
Please share the podcast with your friends and colleagues, and let me know what you think of the show. I would love any suggestions you have for potential guests or topics that interest you.
If you’re in Austin, I hope to see you on October 27, 2021. If you’re not in Austin, stay tuned for more details about the livestream.
Looking forward to connecting with you all!
Love and peace,