Dirt, destruction, and the allure of becoming a monk

by Kitty Drake in January 2020
Art & designPhotographyTravel

Emergence is a magazine about ecology: the relationship of different organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. This sounds a little forbidding, but the best stories here are intimate. Emergence opens with an essay, ‘From Dirt’, by Camille T. Dungy, that moves, elegantly, between the planting of beans in her garden, to the story of Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home, where archeologists have discovered caches of food that give insight into the diet of the enslaved men and women who lived there. Dungy recounts being asked how she could fancy herself an environmental writer, when she wrote about African American history: “For a breath or two, I was speechless. I’m not sure I understand how it would be possible to talk about history without taking into account the environment out of which that history springs.”

That connection — between the environment and the history that springs from it — is central to this issue, Emergence’s first print edition. It is perhaps most strikingly expressed in a series of images by Edward Burtynsky, from the Anthropocene Project, which investigates human influence on the state, and the future of the Earth. Aerial images of mines in New Mexico, Arizona and Germany are huge and strangely flesh-coloured. They record destruction but they are so beautiful the viewer experiences that destruction as an aesthetic thrill.

There is also a piece by Fred Bahnson, about following the pilgrimage Christian mystic Thomas Merton made to rural America. If you have ever had even the flickering of a desire to pack everything in and forge a new life as a Trappist monk, this piece is for you.

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