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In the early summer of 1997, my husband and I found ourselves in the backyard of an empty house on a quiet street in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles. The backyard was Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, an oasis of ponds and pines that had stood mostly intact since 1916. It seemed like paradise with our name written all over it. We knew in our bones that the place could only be ours, and with it, the little house alongside it. The next day we put money down and a month later, moved in.
Our relationships with nonhuman animals are complicated, frustrating, ambiguous, and paradoxical. When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them, I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me. We observe animals, gawk at them in wonder, experiment on them, eat them, wear them, write about them, draw and paint them, move them from here to there as we “redecorate nature.”
People are starting to pay attention to their carbon footprint — how their lifestyle choices tread on the earth. We need to also pay attention to our compassion footprint. In their own ways, animals are constantly asking us to treat them better or leave them alone, and they’re fully justified in making this request. If they could put the request into words, what might their manifesto look like?
Books about ways we can improve our environment make up a small but important part of New World Library’s list. As an acquisitions editor, I’m always looking for positive environmental book ideas. In the San Francisco Bay Area, and other North American cities, it’s becoming more and more obvious that a quiet revolution is taking hold.
“Though it was early April, barely past the last frost, under Jackie’s hand two hundred varieties of plants sprang from the ground in manic glory....”
Two weeks ago, NWL Senior Graphic Designer Tracy Cunningham and I attended a talk with Joanna Macy, renowned environmental activist, Buddhist, and future New World Library author.
Tracy and I had both read Joanna’s memoir, Widening Circles, and after listening to a recording of her speaking with Bill Plotkin, we knew she was an incredibly moving and inspiring speaker. As the event’s organizer and co-speaker, Jonathan Gustin, remarked, some people can transmit their life’s purpose simply through their presence; Joanna Macy is definitely one of those people. She has a powerful aura of joy, deep caring, and immense love for the world.