“Beyond the Sky and the Earth”

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Nine days until I leave the U.S.

I just finished Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, a memoir by Jamie Zeppa. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in really learning what Bhutan is like. The book is romantic without romanticizing, and gorgeously written.

Zeppa decided to leave her life in Canada, including her boyfriend and a possible PhD degree, to teach English in Bhutan for two years. The amount that she learned in the tiny Himalayan country, and the ways that her experience truly altered the course of her life, are staggering.

Her descriptions of the landscape capture the mystery of the place but are not overdone, and her focus on small moments are what sets this travel story apart from others.

Through her descriptions of the altitude (“I begin to feel pale and stretched and thin”), trekking (“I cannot walk another step but I do and I do and I do. I hate walking, I tell myself, and I don’t care if we can see the entire world from up there, it’s not worth it.”), getting ready to meet the king (“Teachers are shouting contradictory orders at the students who are rushing to and fro, colliding into each other in a farcical attempt to obey each new command. All students line up on the playing field! All students return to your hostels! All students assemble in the dining hall!”), and the color green (“lime, olive, pea, apple, grass, pine, moss, malachite, emerald”), Zeppa immerses the reader in Bhutan, and it is magic.

Before I read Zeppa’s memoir, I was equal amounts overwhelmed, excited, and just plain nervous about living in Bhutan for four months. Now I can say that I am simply excited (and maybe just a little overwhelmed by the amount of packing I have to do).

Sherubtse College in Kanglung, where Jamie Zeppa taught English

Sherubtse College in Kanglung, where Jamie Zeppa taught English.

Zeppa’s experience changed the course of her life, and when her two years of teaching came to an end, she didn’t want to go home. Will that happen to me? I guess we’ll see… (just kidding, Danny and family)


“The air becomes suddenly cooler, and I look up: ahead, without a prologue of knolls or hills, the mountains rise straight up. I feel a familiar surge of happiness. I am back home.”

Book Review: The Green Boat

The Green Boat, by environmentalist and psychologist Mary Pipher, is a meditation on activism and political engagement, climate change, trauma, burnout, and hope and healing. In my opinion, environmental activists do not acknowledge the very real possibility of burnout and the emotional consequences of our work often enough. As Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist and poet, said“Do you think we can keep doing this without paying a price?”

In Pipher’s words: “The Green Boat posits a trauma to transcendence cycle that begins with awareness and leads first to resilient coping and then in many people to what I call a transcendent response.” She details her personal journey through this cycle, finally finding healing and community in a local Nebraskan group that is fighting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Pipher ultimately posits that to heal the planet we must heal ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our emotions. The inner and outer worlds are interwoven, and without sanity within, we cannot hope for the sanity to deal with climate chaos, species extinction, environmental degradation, systemic injustice, economic inequality, corporate control, immigrants’ rights, endless war and propaganda…

Environmental and climate psychology are important emerging fields. If you’re feeling out of control and overloaded with terrible news, I’d recommend picking up The Green Boat. At the very least, you will know you are not alone in your worries about the fate of the world.

Book Review: Jaguar

Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the World’s First Jaguar Preserve (1986/2000), written by zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, is a classic in the field of wildlife conservation. It follows Dr. Rabinowitz’s journey to the jungles of Belize in the late 1970s to study the most elusive and revered cat in the Western Hemisphere: the jaguar.

Jaguar provides the only first-hand account of a scientist’s interactions with jaguars in the wild, and it chronicles them in detail. The book also beautifully weaves in Dr. Rabinowitz’s human relationships in Belize, with local loggers, Maya, and Belizean government officials, police, and citizens. It chronicles Dr. Rabinowitz’s personal journey, alongside his professional one.

As a young boy growing up in New York City, Dr. Rabinowitz suffered from a severe stutter. He basically could not speak to other people, including his own family. The only place he could express his feelings was in his closet, where he was kept company by small pets: lizards, iguanas, snakes. Although Dr. Rabinowitz could hardly speak to other people, he could, like many people who stutter, speak confidently to animals. And, joined together as creatures who were voiceless in the human world, young Alan made his pets a promise. He promised that, if he ever found his voice, he would speak on behalf of his pets, on behalf of all animals, who still did not have a voice. And he followed through on that promise in a big way.

Dr. Rabinowitz, with the help of a speech clinic at the State University of New York, eventually did find his voice, and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1981 with an M.S. in Zoology and a PhD in Wildlife Ecology. He worked at the Wildlife Conservation Society as the Executive Director of the Science and Exploration Division for nearly 30 years, and he is currently the CEO of Panthera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the world’s wild cat species.

Through Jaguar, Dr. Rabinowitz’s first book, one may briefly inhabit the exhilarating, dangerous, sad, complex, and gritty world of wildlife conservation. Every chapter is thrilling, with tragic stories of snakebites and hilarious accounts of misadventures with Maya Indians in dense jungle. I highly recommend this book. While most of us do not spend our days saving wild cats in the jungles of Belize, this book allows us to fantasize about what we might have done in another life.

Book Review: The Monkey Wrench Gang

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The Monkey Wrench Gang, originally published in 1975, is Edward Abbey’s seminal book on wilderness preservation and eco-sabotage in the American Southwest. The book follows the lives and exploits of four characters – Doc Sarvis, “Seldom Seen” Smith, Bonnie Abbzug, and George Hayduke.

This unlikely quartet – a surgeon, a Mormon, a woman from the Bronx, and a Vietnam veteran – finds each other on the banks of the Colorado River, and quickly begins to plot the protect wild places that are “…so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Their ultimate goal is to blow up the (in)famous Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-tall monstrosity spanning the Colorado River in northern Arizona. The dam created Lake Powell, the second-largest artificial lake in America, which stretches from Arizona into Utah.

In their quest to save the American West from “a planetary industrialism growing like a cancer,” they encounter the Green River of Utah, pipelines, oil rigs, Caterpillar tractors, dynamite, and, ultimately, a incredible chase through the desert, away from the industrialism that they are fighting against.

This book, which inspired a movement, should be read by every person who calls him or herself an environmentalist. The environmental and climate movements must rethink our politics, and what we are willing to fight for and to sacrifice. The Monkey Wrench Gang is about heroism and a reckless, thrilling disregard for politeness and many of the other traps that environmentalists have fallen into. It is refreshing and a true adventure – one that, I hope, this movement can still learn from and even embrace.