Mother’s Lament

Artist Michael Gresalfi‘s painting of past, present and possible future states of our coral ecosystems – the ‘rainforests of the seas’ – points to a grim outcome if we cannot rapidly implement international strategies. He finds inspiration in the “elegant tit-for-tat” coral-algae relationship of shelter, food and, photosynthesis: “the algae also paint their coral hosts with their famous colors — the riotous colors of a reef are actually a symbol of one of the world’s oldest alliances.”


This painting depicts the tragic deterioration and loss of our oceans’ coral reefs since the advent of the post-industrial ‘Anthropocene era’. I have presented this science-informed vision within a three-panel view of the past, present, and possible future viability of these so-called ‘rainforests of the seas’.

Michael Gresalfi is an artist who seeks to incorporate art with climate change data, and whose work in encaustic medium, glass paint, oils and acrylics includes ‘Our Changing Planet’.

 

Increased ocean temperatures and changing ocean chemistry are the greatest global threats to coral reef ecosystems. These threats are caused by warmer atmospheric temperatures and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in seawater. As atmospheric temperatures rise, so do seawater temperatures.

This painting depicts the tragic deterioration and loss of our oceans’ coral reefs since the advent of the post-industrial ‘Anthropocene era’. I have presented this science-informed vision within a three-panel view of the past, present, and possible future viability of these so-called ‘rainforests of the seas’.

Coral ‘bleaching’ occurs as a stress response to both increasing ocean temperatures and pollution. The mass extinction of these critical ecosystems is envisioned within the third panel. This grim future is unfortunately a realistic outcome unless humanity works together to quickly design and then rapidly implement internationally agreed-upon mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The coral-algae relationship is an elegant tit-for-tat. The algae find shelter in the coral’s exoskeleton, and use its waste to perform photosynthesis. In exchange, the algae gives the coral oxygen and energy-rich sugars, plus a built-in waste management system. The algae also paint their coral hosts with their famous colors — the riotous colors of a reef are actually a symbol of one of the world’s oldest alliances.

When a coral is stressed, it can take drastic measures and expel its photosynthetic roommates. This removes the need to share nutrients, but also takes away the coral’s main food source; according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), up to 90 percent of the sugars that algae produce are donated to the coral. If the algae don’t return within a few weeks, the coral will die.


Mother’s Lament is a 36′ x 30′ acrylic painting on framed canvas

You can find more of Michael’s work at his website. And in our archive, you can find his previous Creative Showcase pieces for ClimateCultures: “What Man Has Wrought”, a seven-panel installation using styrofoam with melted wax, acrylics and a heat gun to reflect a world we risk if we fail to make restoring our Earth our shared priority; and Our Changing Planet: a video presentation of his artworks with his own narration, offering educators and advocates one example of personally communicating the science of climate change through a creative medium.

Drawing on Water

Artist James Aldridge gives a short video tour of his recent Drawing on Water exhibition. This brought together artworks that emerged out of the Queer River arts-based research project he set up in 2020, using an audiovisual installation and his ‘Walking Pages’ to look at his individual, embodied relationship with a range of local wetlands.


“What I have come to realise is that being Queer is not about being defined by others as Other, but refusing to be colonised or domesticated. It is about being yourself in spite of the restrictions you may face, a self that you discover through relationship with others. In this way I see it as closely related to (Re)wilding, whereby if the right conditions are put in place, the land begins to heal itself, bringing health to it and to us.’’ – James Aldridge, A Queer Path to Wellbeing (ClimateCultures, July 2020).

James Aldridge is a visual artist working with people and places, whose individual and participatory practices generate practice-led research into the value of artful, embodied and place-based learning.

 

Queer River uses walking, talking and making with rivers and their human and non-human communities, to research what a Queer perspective on rivers and other wetlands can offer us in this time of climate and biodiversity crisis.

Rather than seeking to capture Queer River in its entirety, Drawing on Water looked more closely at my own individual, embodied relationship with a range of wetlands with a particular focus on the Salisbury and Bristol Avons.

Drawing on Water gathered together artwork I made on walks, at home, or in the studio. Drawings included those I made using inks from plant materials that I gathered along the Salisbury Avon (e.g. Alder cones, Dock seeds and Elder berries). Others explored bodily health and pollution, or began to look at neurodivergent experiences of place.

For the audiovisual installation, I collaged together imagery from chalk streams and chalk downland, with footage recorded both above and below the water’s surface, whilst Walking Pages hanging from the gallery walls recorded my sensory experience of each place.

Drawing on Water


Notes

The Drawing on Water exhibition was held at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, in the summer of 2023. You can see the short film James made about the exhibition above, and discover more at his Queer River project site and his artist’s website – as well as in the posts he has written for the ClimateCultures blog: A Queer Path to Wellbeing and Queer River and Engagements with Ecologies of Place.

Picked Up the First Pieces

Artist and writer Ursula Troche showcases a video using washed-up discarded fishing rope, recovered and stitched together, to explore the growing threat of ‘ghost gear’ and the haunting of our seas by plastic waste. Picked Up the First Pieces has become the start of a series of video works using imagination to tell plastic stories.


A surreal theme emerged, as the ghost gear seemed to take on a life of their own: they acquired new characters in their ‘second life’ outside of the ocean, and the backyard behind my house — in which I filmed the first and the middle scenes — began to suggest a good stage for them, before being stitched into new works (their third lives).

Ursula Troche is a visual artist and writer working with space and place and moving between work, text and locations to explore hybrid and ‘intertidal’ spaces and interrogating edges.

 

My ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ project coalesced from my ongoing work with plastic waste, from stitching up plastic packaging, to my performance art show ‘Reverse Osmosis’, to collecting pieces of washed-up fishing rope from my local beach and up and down the coastline.

The title seemed perfect to refer to both the act of ‘litter picking’ as well as to contributing to restore our ecosystem to a better state in the light of our climate crisis. Discarded fishing rope from the sea is called ‘ghost gear’ — an amazing name that says many things: how it keeps on ghost fishing, and how it haunts them and us: the ghosts of our throw-away society, the ghosts of a kind of colonialism, hinting at the vastness of hidden practices, leaving one to speculate what caused them. Every item of ghost gear washed up will be there, ‘up for grabs’ only for the duration of a low tide, so it is important to grab it right there and then. Looking out for them, picking them up, washing them, then stitching them up into artworks began a process of immersive work. I wanted to show this and so made this video, Picked Up the First Pieces.

The film’s title ‘First Pieces’, was to hint at this being a kind of ‘first episode’ of the overall project. There is more I want to say, and so I am planning to make more ‘episodes’ of this my ‘ghost series’.

A surreal theme emerged, as the ghost gear seemed to take on a life of their own: they acquired new characters in their ‘second life’ outside of the ocean, and the backyard behind my house — in which I filmed the first and the middle scenes — began to suggest a good stage for them, before being stitched into new works (their third lives). I didn’t stitch up all of them though: their life in the backyard stage prompted imagination, thinking, theorizing and stories about them, and so my performance piece ‘Fishghost’ emerged.

Another theme in the film, and in my work, is the railway: it runs all along the coast, and so I reach my destinations with it — an ideal coastal line, and essential because I don’t drive. So, like me, the ghost gear comes on the train.

Once, I found a very large bottle, and I filmed it as it was ‘travelling in the train’. I also had footage of a plastic bag and ball. The International Day Against the Plastic Bag was happening the following week, and so it presented the perfect day to launch this next film. It’s a little-known International Day, but I knew it from the previous year, and so I could highlight the day with the film as well.

Filming on the beach and on the railway on the one hand, and the creation of more and more objects stitched up from plastic waste on the other, led to more video-making. The first series I made for children was made with two of my smiley characters made from plastic packaging travelling with me on the train. I wanted to give my coastline a fictitious name, and the title ‘By the Beeby Sea’ emerged.

All of my films are environmental in some way, even if comical, they advocate train travel for example. And even my so-called ‘Road Movie’ is a kind of anti-road movie, where the road disappears in the end (maybe that’s wishful thinking but it’s actually happening in the film….).


You can find more of Ursula’s new video pieces — including Road Movie and By the Beeby Sea — at her YouTube Channel. And there is more to explore at her websites, ColourCirclesite and Ursula Troche art thought poems photos being. The latter includes Ursula’s PUTPie newsletter, which features more on the Pick Up the Pieces project.

For more information, please get in touch: ursulatroche[at]yahoo.co.uk

Stormy Weather

Ecological artist Laura Donkers shares Stormy Weather, a short film that conveys collective collusion in climate change through a combination of verbal message, moving film image, and soundscapes of storm, bird song and dance music that pulls the viewer into the personal and collective experience of Cyclone Gabrielle in Aotearoa New Zealand in February 2023.



Stormy Weather (MP4 4:07min) is a film poem conveying the domestic experience of an extreme weather event on 14th February 2023, as Cyclone Gabrielle tracked across North Island, New Zealand. A pause to reflect on human behaviour and our interactions with nature and weather at a time of climate change.

Laura Donkers is an ecological artist and researcher connecting people with ecology through community projects and outdoor art workshops to inform more creative and sustainable ways to live.

 

After enduring Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, which was classed as an extreme weather event in Aotearoa New Zealand, I wanted to create a short film that subtly conveys the theme of collective collusion on climate change. But rather than a climate-disaster thriller, my short film would offer a sensitive portrayal of the impact that an extreme weather event has on everyday lives by combining filming of the actual storm with recordings of public warnings by politicians and subsequent citizen testimony recounting the impact of landslides and flooding.

I created Stormy Weather to be a film [as] poem to express both my personal encounter with the cyclone and as collective experience via the harrowing public testimony that emerged in newsreels after the event. The film poem genre combines three main elements: a verbal message, the moving film image, and a soundscape of diegetic sounds, such as the storm, bird song and dance music, which pull the viewer into the world of the video. This approach presents a compelling illusion to trigger personal associations in the viewer towards their own thought processes and experiences. But rather than imagined, the imagery, sound and text relate to a real, recent happening that further resonates with the audience’s own lived experience.

In the opening scene we can hear the voice of the NZ Prime Minister responding to reporters’ questions about extreme weather events and climate change. A recording of the 1933 sentimental love song ‘Stormy Weather’ (written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler) begins to play. Reflected in the darkening windows via shadowy rhythmic movements and silhouetted figures, we witness a couple dancing. At first, their swaying movements are matched by the fern trees outside. As the storm activity builds the trees’ animation becomes more extreme and acoustic tension rises in the audio recording. The dance sequence ends, and the music continues but gets drowned out by the storm’s growing intensity.

At the start, the closed windows shut out the weather, nature and climate change. Yet, the illuminated darkness forces us to observe the wildness taking place outside while the shadows and reflections of the interior action show in some way the bizarre continuation of everyday lives in the face of such powerful forces: a subtle dig at our lack of willingness to face up to climate reality (dancing while the land is sliding).

The sound makes the drama and violence of the storm hit home, which helps us consider the noises we ‘drown out’ with the ones we create for ourselves. By decreasing the volume of the news reports the usual anthropocentric hierarchy is reordered with human voices assigned the ambient sound role to subtly shift the focus onto nature’s sounds.

Eventually, the storm ends, and morning arrives. The sound track transitions into a cacophony of cicada and bird calls. We see that the house is still standing, and the sun is shining. The windows are open, causing the fern trees to occupy the liminal space between house and environment. Peace has returned. Yet in the background we hear a report that others have not been so fortunate: the reporter states that 35,000 residents have been displaced as a result of unprecedented rainfall causing widespread flooding and landslips.

With the windows open a threshold is created that accommodates our appreciation and desire for nature but only in certain conditions. Here the sounds and images provide space for reflection in contrast to the earlier dramatic scenes. Yet the gentleness of these lies in stark contrast to the horror expressed in the selected texts that appear randomly across the screen. The final extract stays with the viewer as the film ends.

Stormy Weather brings a different perspective to discussions around climate change towards a more truthful and helpful direction through its use of a domestic setting and domestic actions which contrast with the world ‘outside’. It reflects back to us some of our behaviours and interactions with nature and climate in a way that makes us pause, think and create space for conversation.

This film poem presents Cyclone Gabrielle as a transformative phenomenon that changes how the climate crisis is viewed by the people directly affected, as well as those looking on. Its domestic proximity evokes a state of suspense that develops into an awesome (and for some) life-changing experience, revealing a world where climate change is acknowledged as present and real, thus concentrating our attention and altering our perceptions towards behaviour change. A pivotal ‘happening’ that will alter the destiny of our current situation.


You can find Laura’s film here on her website, with more of her work. Laura has written two posts for ClimateCultures about her work with the embodied knowledge of communities: Eco-social Art — Engaging Climate Literacy and ‘What You Need Will Come to You’.

Mapping Vulnerability – Finding a Visual Voice

“The installations highlight our preoccupation with physical boundaries but also consider thresholds of thought and the necessity for a shared sense of purpose.”

Six artworks from multi-media artist Jacqui Jones utilise maps to provide a visual voice and fire the imagination on the fragile equilbrium of our social and ecological systems and themes of sustainability and regeneration. 

I was searching for a medium that would expand the vision of environmental, humanitarian and climate concerns at both a local and world wide level, something relatable that would show the vulnerability of the world and its inhabitants. Maps provided that visual voice, articulating not only the here and now but a wish for a longer future.

Jacqui Jones is a multi-media artist immersed in current social, political and scientific thinking, whose work encourages thought, conversation and action, focusing on the climate crisis and single-use plastics.

 

How do we open up hearts and minds to complex environmental issues? The enormity of the challenges can seem so difficult to analyse and understand. Contemporary art is one of the avenues that can fire the imagination and renew the conversation, illustrating ideas, impacts and implications.

For over 10 years I have produced artwork that prompts discussions about the world’s fragile equilibrium, broadening perspectives and horizons. Working conceptually using sustainable and repurposed materials I create works in many mediums including film, sculpture, installation and photography.

In June 2022 I exhibited a series of six works utilising maps. The artworks were the result of two years of research and experimentation not only with the materials but also working over time with the unique features of the redundant factory in which they were to be set.

I was searching for a medium that would expand the vision of environmental, humanitarian and climate concerns at both a local and worldwide level, something relatable that would show the vulnerability of the world and its inhabitants. Maps provided that visual voice, articulating not only the here and now but a wish for a longer future.

The final works expanded on themes of sustainability and regeneration. Considering subjects such as water ecology (Reconnection), urban construction (Urban Sprawl), deforestation (Forest), re-wilding (Valuing the Wild), rising sea levels (Tipping Point) and areas of conflict (War-torn).

The installations, shown below (click on each image for the full-size view), are imbued with a melancholic beauty and a compelling desolation. Each is inextricably linked with architecture and atmosphere of the building. They highlight our preoccupation with physical boundaries but also consider thresholds of thought and the necessity for a shared sense of purpose.


Jacqui’s six artworks were exhibited as part of Resonance, June 2nd – 12th 2022, at the Old Shoe Factory, St Mary’s Works, Norwich, England. You can explore more of Jacqui’s work at her website.

Pole to Pole

“Unaware of last night’s events, the next day our friends resume their journey. Once again, the powerful ocean currents drag them ever southwards…”

In Alan Hesse‘s comic book, Pole to Pole, Captain Polo leaves his disrupted Arctic home, seeking better hunting grounds. Unbeknown to him, he has onboard a mysterious stowaway with his own agenda.

Pole to Pole


Alan Hesse is an author-illustrator, educator and conservation biologist inspired by nature’s majesty and fragility and the need to protect it and who believes that education should be fun.

Pole to Pole is Book 4 in my series of graphic novels about climate change, but it can be read as a stand-alone book as well. In Pole to Pole, Captain Polo the climate change bear (main character) once again leaves his ecologically and climatically disrupted Arctic home in search of better hunting grounds. Unbeknown to him, he has on board his trusty little sailing boat a mysterious stowaway with his own agenda, and before he knows it Captain Polo finds himself on another rollicking adventure in which he unwillingly travels far to the south, visiting different locations and meeting all sorts of colourful characters.

Through each encounter, Captain Polo sheds light on different, sometimes little-known aspects of climate change effects and also solutions. Thus we learn about the effects of permafrost melt in Siberia, how warming temperatures are undermining the Sámi reindeer people and the Christmas tourist industry in Finland, and what the mysterious scientists locked into Iceland’s Hellisheidi Carbon Fixing Plant are all about. Captain Polo has an opportunity to explain the difference between climate and weather to a refreshingly open-minded climate denier he meets in Ireland, and he later gets interviewed by a climate-conscious reporter on Senegalese national television.

Polo’s final encounter is with multi-billionaire oilman and arch-villain Tex Greedyman, a meeting that quickly turns sour as our hero shares his views on fossil fuels and renewable energy in his characteristically blunt manner, a conversation that lands him trussed up in the hold of Greedyman’s luxury yacht, destined to be sold to a circus at their next port of call…

The idea behind all of my Captain Polo books is to deliver factual, up to date key information on climate change effects and solutions around the world in a novel, engaging format that draws upon the elements of fiction and storytelling to facilitate understanding as well as provide pure entertainment. The result is my 4-book series of Captain Polo’s adventures, non-fiction graphic novels targeting 9-12-year-old kids but actually also enjoyable and informative for adults. I decided to write graphic novels about this topic when I realized, about four years ago, that I actually knew very little about climate change. The news at the time was largely confusing, and certainly overwhelming. I decided that the best way for me to gain a clear understanding of different aspects of climate change, and crucially also help others to do likewise — especially children — was to create a graphic novel about it.

Climate change has become a multi-faceted topic that touches upon all sectors of society, industry and even culture. I dedicate my series of graphic novels to gradually explore these aspects, overturning one rock at a time to uncover the basic facts, in the hope of helping my readers increase their environmental and climate awareness, understanding of key terms and concepts, and above all feel a little more empowered on how to deal with it all. As such all the Captain Polo books hold positive messages, actionable, concrete tips on how we can all make a difference to protect and restore our natural environment.

Pole to Pole will be available in print and ebook. It will also be available in black and white, as a paperback colouring book. This is an experiment and will have a separate listing (which I haven’t set up yet); I’ve never done anything like that before and I’ve never seen a colouring comic book, but given the detailed images and the textual / non-fiction content (the same as in the regular book) I am betting that colouring in this comic book may well have as much educational impact as reading it, if not more!


Pole to Pole is available now on preorder and will be released on February 27th, International Polar Bear Day. 

Carbon Choices

“Even where I live in Scotland, I am aware of the changing climate around me.”

In Carbon Choices, Neil Kitching moves beyond our frustration with the lack of action to tackle climate change and nature loss over the past 30 years to set out the practical ways that governments, businesses and individuals can change now.

“Coming from Scotland, host of the global 2021 climate conference, Carbon Choices tells the most remarkable story on planet Earth. How one group of sociable animals came to emit 40 billion tonnes (40,000,000,000) of an invisible gas each year, changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans, and steadily destroying the environment and life support systems that we depend on. We have unwittingly driven the world into a climate and wildlife crisis by the endless extraction of raw materials and our excessive consumption – primarily by wealthier people and countries.”

Neil KitchingNeil Kitching is a geographer and energy specialist who has witnessed climate change’s creeping effects and whose book Carbon Choices addresses common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.

I wrote Carbon Choices from a frustration that I had known about the devastating impact of climate change for 30 years but failed to see sufficient action by politicians and others to tackle it. So many people were not taught about climate change at school, nor about the loss of biodiversity. In my own small way, I hope to change attitudes and bring about the changes that are required.

Even where I live in Scotland, I am aware of the changing climate around me. There is less snow, and when it does fall it doesn’t lie for long. There is more winter rainfall and more torrential rain in the summer months. I witnessed the big damaging flood in Perth in 1993. There are also more landslips blocking railway lines and roads. In the UK this is all an inconvenience; in developing countries, particularly those that are already semi-arid, these changes can be catastrophic for people and wildlife.

Originally I thought I would write a book when I retire. But it gradually dawned on me that this might be too late. The announcement of the global climate conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in November 2021 spurred me into action and I wrote Carbon Choices in six months whilst holding down a full-time job. The words literally poured out of my head.

This popular science book will fill any gaps in your understanding of climate change and nature loss. It lays out the solutions, including a green action plan for government, businesses and individuals. It will motivate you to change your behaviour and maybe inspire you to campaign to change business activity and government policy.


Carbon Choices is available to buy on Amazon, or you can order a signed copy from the authorThere is further information at the Carbon Choices site. 

You can follow Neil on Twitter @carbonchoicesuk

The Wizard of O2

“Now you must be careful. The Wicked Weather of the West is a cunning shapeshifter.”

Quentin D. Young‘s comic-book, The Wizard of O2 re-imagines the classic tale to bring us back to the Land of Oz for a 21st-century adventure in science and magic, creating space for humor and hope in the face of climate catastrophe.


Scarecrow: “Now you must be careful. The Wicked Weather of the West is a cunning shapeshifter. For me, she came in the form of a drought. Dried out the crops and put me out of a job!”

Lion: “For me, she was a fiery heatwave that killed the little animals. All the yummy ones too. Now I’m a starving performer, and Scarecrow uses the money to buy cat food!”

Dolores: “What about Tin Man? Where’s he?”

Quentin Young is a writer, climate communicator and emerging comic creator working creatively as a storyteller with the aim of reaching mainstream audiences on the issue of climate change.

What if Dorothy’s twister was a wormhole, and the Land of Oz was another planet? What would ‘Planet Oz’ be like today? And why on earth is it running out of oxygen?

These are some of the what-if questions I worked with when I wrote The Wizard of O2, a re-imagining of the classic tale that brings kids and grown-ups back to the Land of Oz for a 21st-century adventure in science and magic.

As with any retelling, I needed a reason to revisit the Land of Oz (other than my own fandom since discovering Judy Garland’s 1939 movie as a kid): Why tell the tale again, and why do it now? L. Frank Baum’s original novel was published back in 1900 and, more than a century later, the book has entered the public domain. The world has also changed a great deal. I realized the time was right to not only revisit the material but to do it through an environmental lens that would make the story even more pertinent in our current, climate-changed times.

Because I come from a screenwriting background, the project began as a screenplay for an animated short film, which I wrote ‘on spec’ to later pitch to film studios and production companies. I envisioned a charming animation with cute and colorful artwork worthy of a Pixar movie, and the climate narrative behind it would function by, first, connecting with audiences through an affectionate parody of Baum’s much-loved work. If the aim of the project is to get mainstream audiences thinking about something as depressing and anxiety-inducing as global warming, I wanted to make it easy for them to go there. I wanted to engage them on the issue by making it familiar, entertaining and, yes, ‘fun’.

On discovering the prohibitive cost of making an animation and the scarcity of producers willing to back an animated short, I opted to adapt my Oz satire into a comic book first. A comic was something I could manage myself while remaining in the pop-cultural category of mediums, which also includes television shows and video games. This was a parameter I had set for the project because, given the climate cause, I wanted the story to have ‘reach’. The visual medium of comics would also convey a brand of charm and whimsy that I thought was crucial to this project.

As many have said, climate stories don’t all need to be apocalyptic dystopias filled with doom and gloom. There’s a place for dark and gritty perspectives and, indeed, there are many climate storytellers producing valuable work in this space. But there’s also a place for whimsy, humor and hope, even in the face of climate catastrophe. Taking the lighter approach can actually help mainstream audiences, which includes both children and adults, to connect with an otherwise depressing subject. So, with the Oz story as my vehicle, I embraced comedy and eccentricity as a route into the hearts and minds of my readers.

My hope for The Wizard of O2 is that it reaches many people as a form of popular entertainment and, thereby, brings the climate cause to a new and wider audience. The comic is now published under my imprint, Truth/Dare Media: We’re a publishing startup that focuses on telling important stories through comics, audiobooks and other popular mediums. And our mission is simple: To help save the world through pop culture. If you enjoy our book and agree that it contributes toward this cause, please help us spread the word!


The Wizard of O2 is a single-issue comic book of 32 color pages. It is written and lettered by Quentin D. Young, an emerging comic creator and a represented script writer whose screenplays have been accepted for submission by leading Hollywood companies including Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Studios (formerly Fox), and Participant Media. The artwork is by Jean Lins, a comic book artist whose previous works include Dandara and Tales of Griot: The Mirror of Truth.

The Wizard of O2 is published as an indie comic by Truth/Dare Media (January 2021). It is currently available as a digital comic and can be purchased directly from the publisher, or through major online bookstores including Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Google Play. It has also been released on Comixology, an Amazon platform dedicated to digital comics and the world’s largest comic readership. The price is $2.99 or £2.49, though this may vary slightly between outlets.

Living with Trees

“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land.”

Robin Walter’s new book, Living with Trees, traces our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we’ve lost, celebrating our remaining ancient woodland and trees, and calling for a wooded future.


“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land. Some of these forests are hard-working and productive, other forests might emerge from the return of wild nature and native trees; others might be small community woods gently managed for wildlife and people; each wood will make our land that bit more resilient to a turbulent world. Are we just dreaming? Is this sort of joined-up thinking possible?”

Robin Walter is a  forester and writer of nonfiction and poetic work on trees and the changes needed in the British landscape to deal with climate and ecological emergencies.

The impulse to write Living with Trees came in 2010 when the government tried to sell off the Forestry Commission forests, only to be met with determined resistance from people keen to hang on to ‘their’ woods. This passionate display of interest in our woods prompted the environmental charity Common Ground to explore this new upsurge of concern. So they invited me to revise their 1989 book In A Nutshell and we set to work visiting woodland initiatives around the country. In particular we sought out community projects with social and environmental agendas, such as mental health, education and conservation. This seemed an important aspect of woodland ‘ownership’ which the government had neglected, at their peril. The charity changed hands and work resumed in 2017 amidst a rising interest in trees and our natural world, aided by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series.

The book is ambitious in scope — tracing our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we have lost, celebrating what jewels remain (in the form of ancient woodland and ancient trees), and imagining a future with more trees in our lives. We also consider a wide range of tree presence, from the trees in gardens and parks, to the trees in streets and towns, to the woodlands and plantations in the countryside. Throughout this exploration we find a strong bond between people and trees, passionate, caring and heart-felt. The book considers how we can use this affinity with trees as a portal to a closer relationship with the natural world, reclaiming our rightful place within it.


Living With Trees by Robin Walter is published by Little Toller Books and is also available from his website. Robin is giving illustrated talks on the book, online for now but in person later in the year.

Fifty Words for Snow

“The snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas…”

Nancy Campbell‘s new book, Fifty Words for Snow, reflects on snow’s role in cultures around the world and the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity in a rapidly changing world.


Yuki-onna – snow woman (Japanese: 雪女)

Taoist philosophy suggests that when there’s an abundance of any natural matter, a life will come forth from it: the river will create its own fish when the water is deep enough and the forest will produce birds when the trees are dense enough. And so it follows that that a woman may be generated in the heart of a snowdrift.

Nancy Campbell is a writer and book artist interested in polar regions and water conservation, winning the Royal Geographical Society’s 2020 Ness Award for her research with Arctic and Scandinavian museums.

A few winters ago I rented a former Salvation Army meeting house in the north of Iceland for a few months. Since the snows of Siglufjörður don’t usually melt until April, I soon learned how the inhabitants of this small fishing town distinguish themselves from their neighbours in Ólafsfjörður, another small fishing town beyond the mountains. Folk in Ólafsfjörður do not clear the snow from the paths leading to their homes. In Siglufjörður the sweeping of snow is a social duty. I lived alone, and it was some distance from my front door to the road; the snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas — it wanted me to do some physical labour. In his poem ‘Digging’, Seamus Heaney describes how his trade differs from that of his ancestors: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them,’ he writes, using instead a ‘squat pen’. Now I had to put down my pen and borrow a shovel from my elderly neighbour Kristján. Then, of course, I cleared his path too.

Fifty Words for Snow is a journey to discover snow in cultures around the world through different languages. The climate is a prism through which to view the human world — just as language can be. Inevitably, a book about climate also looks forward, considering what we miss, as every winter many countries see fewer snowflakes, and some years now, none at all. Just as the ecosystem is changing, so are the languages that describe it and the way they are understood. When I began to learn Greenlandic in 2010 I discovered the fallacy of the many ‘Eskimo words for snow’, a popular concept that was dismissed by linguists in the 1980s. More pertinently, that same year Greenlandic was added to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. While many of the languages in this book, such as Spanish and Urdu, can be heard spoken around the globe, others, such as the Inupiaq dialect of Wales, Alaska, are remembered mainly by elders in relatively small communities.

I started to write this book in September 2019 amid debates about Brexit and the climate crisis, while attending Fridays for Future marches in Germany. I finished it six months later, a week before gathering with other masked and silent Black Lives Matter protestors in the UK. The process of tracing a single theme across many languages new to me seemed a powerful way to overcome the borders that were going up around the world. Ironically, one of the first entries I researched concerned the photograph of boys in a snowball fight taken by Robert Capa in war-torn Hankou (modern-day Wuhan) in 1938. Within weeks, the location had become infamous for the outbreak of COVID-19. Even under lockdown in a pandemic, it was still possible to voyage around the world through dictionaries.

A snow crystal is part of the endless cycle of the water molecule: from its six-cornered solid state it becomes liquid and then gas, and thus a snowflake that falls on the glaciers of the Rwenzori peaks in Africa might melt and evaporate and later freeze again and fall in the apple orchards of Kashmir, and melt again and fall fifty times and more. Just so, a single unit of meaning — one word for snow — offers an approach to new places, a clear path of understanding to travel forwards along.


Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell is published by Elliott & Thompson (November 2020), richly illustrated with William Bentley’s early photographs of snow crystals. It is available from Hive or from your favourite independent bookshop

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