Friday, August 30, 2013

Gordon Haber, Grace Paley, and Satyagraha.

I hold in my hands an advance copy of Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal. It feels good to have this tangible evidence of the last few years' of work, feels good to have it be more than words in my head, images on my computer screen. It's here, it's real. Velveteen rabbit come to life.

It’s a different kind of book for me: on it, I’m listed as co-author with Dr. Gordon Haber, a wolf biologist who died four years ago on a research flight. This book was not something I had been looking to do. It simply arrived, a project that needed doing, one that no one else was willing or able to tackle.

At first I resisted it, having plenty of my own projects clamoring for precious writing time. But I wanted this book to exist. I wanted Gordon's forty-three years worth of insights to not disappear, but to reach a greater audience. Because I knew that his insights into wolves need to be heard, now more than ever.
Gordon Haber was a scientist, absolutely grounded in hard fact. But he was one who never lost his initial sense of wonder for the subject of his studies: the lives of wild wolves. Having an undergraduate degree in the sciences myself, having worked with scientists as a research assistant and then as a writer, I’ve met all too few scientists who have retained the wonder that first propelled them into their chosen work.

This blog’s link name, “artandnatureand,” points to what happens when art and nature combine – what grows from that. For me and many of those whose work is featured here, this combination often leads to direct activism. Consider Rika Mouw, James Balog, and Mimi White. It's that famous line many attribute to Lenin: “What then shall we do?”

Among Wolves describes a mirror equation: science and nature and – activism. Gordon Haber is best known for his tireless, fearless advocacy on behalf of wolves. Every single bit of his advocacy is grounded firmly in the results of his research, and yet it took that untrammeled wonder, that unbridled passion, to give him the fearlessness to stand up, again and again and again, for what he knew to be true.

It’s so easy to let fear shut us down and close us off from our own unique source of expression, insight, passion. It’s so hard to stay open and fearless, so hard to resist the pressure to be silent and conform. I’ve often thought of each person as a piece in a giant world puzzle: just think what would happen if each of us stayed true to our unique shape, and expressed that unique self into the puzzle we call life.

So I’m always filled with gratitude for those who express what Mahatma Gandhi called satygraha: standing truth to power. I’m grateful for scientists and artists, people in any walk of life, who stand for the truth. It reminds me of something Grace Paley once said when asked if writers had a moral obligation:

“Oh, I think all human beings do. So if all human beings have it, then writers have some, too. I mean, why should they get off the hook? Whatever your calling is, whether it’s as a plumber or an artist, you have to make sure there’s a little more justice in the world when you leave it than when you found it. Most writers do that naturally, see that more lives are illuminated, try to understand what is not understood and see what hasn’t been seen. “


  1. Writers, artists-- hold such beautiful ability to affect change through their truth. Very good post and congratulations on the book.

  2. I look forward to holding this book in my hands too and reading it!
    Funny, I'd never noticed the second "and" in "artandnatureAND" - until you mentioned it. I think that is where I live - in the "and" that is always defining itself.

  3. I've just ordered mine! Congratulations, and love from the Mitten State.

  4. This is a fascinating work and I also love the pictures. I wish I'd seen them when Gordon was alive. Wish I'd known more about Gordon as a person then. We only knew each other through the editing process, which somehow was not conducive to camaraderie. Congratulations on offering an important biographical work to the light - as the struggle to create a genuinely humane and enlightened society continues.