Kindred Spirits, and Why We Should Know a Few Who Aren't

Sometimes we meet kindred spirits face to face. Sometimes we meet them between the pages of a book. And we almost always recognize it when we do, because usually they share a similar vision of the world, maybe even how we wish the world could be.

I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Susan J. Tweit's new book, Walking Nature Home: A Love Story (forthcoming March, 2009, University of Texas Press). I met Susan a few years ago and have been familiar with her work for a long time, but it wasn't until reading Walking Nature Home that I realized how many passions we share, and how many similar challenges we have faced.

In this new book, which won't be released until next March, Susan intimately merges science with heart and spirit. She writes about what it is to be human with the precision of a scientist, yet with the eloquence of a poet. If you’ve ever searched the night sky for the bright shape of Orion, or tenderly lifted the mangled body of a rabbit from the road, or had to move from a place you loved, or trekked alone across a mountain range, or fallen in love, you will be at home within the pages of this book.

Another thing about kindred spirits, is that they frequently reappear. Yesterday an email from High Country News appeared in my inbox. When I opened it, there was Susan's name, front and center, featuring a link to an online version of one of her recent "Writers on the Range" articles (this one on roadkill). Kindred spirits not only often read the same books, but we often share the same subscriptions.

Which isn't always a good thing. Pyschologist Jonathan Haidt, speaking on about the difference between liberals and conservatives, challenges us to listen to people who don't share our values. If our goal is to seek a deeper understanding of the world, we need diversity, he says. "When people all share values, when people share morals, they become a team. And once you engage the psychology of teams, you shut down open-mindedness."

I'm not sure how that relates to the teams we're most familiar with - football or baseball or basketball -but I think Haidt is telling us that it's good to listen to those who don't agree with us. It's healthy to have friends with political views that don't match ours. It's good to challenge ourselves to think beyond our own opinions by trying to understand the opinions of others.

And it's good to read books, and magazines, and newsletters that challenge us. I faithfully read Orion Magazine, and especially find their articles on sustainability and stewardship hopeful, but just to make sure I keep my finger on the pulse of the aching hearts of small family-owned ranches, stewards who are also trying to live sustainably, I also read the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, edited by Jennifer Womack, who was reared in the same ranching country where I reared my son and daughter.

I also belong to and read the publications of the Quivira Coalition. Founded by a rancher and two environmentalists in June 1997,their initial mission was to offer "common sense solutions to the grazing debate,' principally by broadcasting the principles of ecologically sensitive ranch management." Their current mission is to foster health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration, and land stewardship.

Courtney White, one of the environmentalists who founded the Quivira Coalition ,and its current executive director, also has a new book out. Revolution on the Range: Rise of a New Ranch in the American West. The inside flap quotes Wendell Berry: "The only possible result of the human effort to 'conquer' nature and one another is human defeat. The longstanding conflict between ranchers and conservationists is not only hopeless but ruinous for both..."

Both Courtney White, and Wendell Berry, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a couple years ago at Quivira's 6th annual conference, are kindred spirits - men who share similar visions. The audience at that convention symbolized the West at its best. 450 people filled the chairs in the large room when Berry spoke - ranchers and farmers, environmentalists, federal land managers, state land managers, students, and educators - all of them conservationists in their own right. They wore cowboy hats and Birkenstocks and tennis shoes and steel-toed boots.

Like Susan Tweit, they were at the convention because they loved the West, and each held a personal vision of how to restore the land and heal the communities. You might say all of us were there walking the land we love home. And we weren't walking alone. That was the beauty of it. We were walking together.

If you don't want to wait until next March to read Susan's forthcoming memoir, check out this best-seller, Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road Home, a collaboration with photographer Jim Steinberg. Colorado's Governor Ritter thought the book was so good, he gave a copy to Obama and other dignitaries when he was in Denver for the DNC.


Susan J Tweit said…

Thank you for the thoughtful look at my work and all we share, as well as for the reminder about connections and remembering to listen to all voices, from all viewpoints. You've got such a generous way about you, and such deep roots in the landscapes you inhabit. I feel fortunate to have crossed paths this way!

Page Lambert said…
The lovely thing about deep roots is that, like the trees that inhabit the arid landscapes of the West, our roots allow us to spread ourselves out in a more expansive way. Living a more engaged life is something I strive for everyday.

Popular posts from this blog


The Light Shines from the West: Lifting the Veil of History