Age Of Water Podcast: Nina Reads from “The Overstory”

AoW Logo-smallWe are now living in the Age of Water. Water is the new “gold”, with individuals, corporations and countries positioning themselves around this precious resource. Water is changing everything. The Age of Water Podcast covers anything of interest from breaking environmental news to evergreen material. This also includes human interest stories, readings of eco-literature, discussion of film and other media productions of interest.

In this episode of Age of Water, Nina reads from the eco-fiction book “Overstory” by Richard Powers, an exploration of the relationship of trees and humanity…

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At the heart of Richard Powers’s The Overstory are the pivotal lives of two women, botanist Patricia Westerford and college student Olivia Vandergriff. Both will inspire a movement against the destruction of forests.

theoverstoryPatricia Westerford—whose work resembles that of Diana Beresford-Kroeger (author of The Global Forest) and UBC’s Suzanne Simard—is a shy introvert who discovers that trees communicate, learn, trade goods and services, and have intelligence. When she shares her discovery, she is ridiculed by her peers and loses her position.  But, just as with Lynn Margulis and her theory of endosymbiosis, Westerford is finally validated. She is the archetypal ‘mother tree’, the metaphoric Tachigali versicolor, who ultimately brings the tangle of narratives together through meaning. Westerford writes in her book The Secret Forest:

“There are no individuals in a forest, no separable events. The bird and the branch it sits on are a joint thing. A third or more of the food a big tree makes may go to feed other organisms. Even different kinds of trees form partnerships. Cut down a birch, and a nearby Douglas fir may suffer…Fungi mine stone to supply their trees with minerals. They hunt springtails, which they feed to their hosts. Trees, for their part, store extra sugar in their fungi’s synapses, to dole out to the sick and shaded and wounded. A forest takes care of itself, even as it builds the local climate it needs to survive…A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it.”

Olivia Vandergriff miraculously survives an electrocution to become an ecowarrior after she begins to hear the voices of the trees. She rallies others to embrace the urgency of activism in fighting the destruction of California’s redwoods and even camps in the canopy of one of the trees to deter the logging. When the ancient tree she has unsuccessfully protected is felled, the sound is “like an artillery shell hitting a cathedral.” Vandergriff weeps for this magnificent thousand-year old tree. So do I. Perhaps the real heroes of this novel are the ancient trees.

EcologyOfStoryIn his review of Overstory in The Guardian, Banjamin Markovits wrote, “ There is something exhilarating…in reading a novel whose context is wider than human life. Like Moby-DickThe Overstory leaves you with a slightly adjusted frame of reference… And I found, while reading, that some of what was happening to his characters passed into my conscience, like alcohol into the bloodstream, and left a feeling behind of grief or guilt, even after I put it down.”

I further explore the use of metaphor and other storytelling devices used by Richard Powers in his strongly symbolic novel in my writing guidebook “Ecology of Story: World as Character.”

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwas released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Nina Talks Water at Word Up in Barrie

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Unity Market & Cafe outside patio

Every month on the second Thursday, Word Up in Barrie hosts readings by writers, poets, and spoken word artists. From pros to amateurs, and all genres of writing, Word Up’s open mic has welcomed writers of all genres, from amateurs to winners of the Governor General’s Award.

The volunteer run group holds its reading night at the artisanal Unity Market and Café, on Toronto Street, just a walk away from Barrie’s charming downtown core and harbor on Lake Simcoe. Apart from its famous “scuffins” (an amalgam of muffin and scone, generously filled with savory goodness), the market is a gestalt meeting place for creativity, holding events almost daily.

I heartily accepted when Linda Laforge invited me to speak about my last project to those in attendance last Thursday. My latest book is Water Is…, a non-fiction work that took me three years to write and the culmination of a career and life with water.

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Shane making a tea

I talked about how the book came about—linking it to how I came about—and the process of research and writing—which morphed into something beyond what I had initially conceived. The book in some ways wrote itself, telling me to go here and there; gathering friends and colleagues to me—some from far away—to provide important information I needed to put into the book.

I ended my talk with a description of the Watermark Project, a Lake Ontario Water Keepers initiative to give narrative to our connections with water—exactly what I’d intended with Water Is…

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Barrie harbor front

What followed was an open mic that resonated with water connections from a short story about death to learning how to heal with water. Damian Lopes, Barrie’s Poet Laureate, delivered a compelling poem on Canadian sociopolitics.

The open mic closed with Shane Dennis’s freestyle oration—a spontaneous stream-of-consciousness flow of powerful imagery that both summarized the night’s readings and set it aflame and into flight.

Damian Lopes won the raffle for a free Water Is… book. And I sold a few books to a few hydrophiles. A wonderful evening!

Thanks, Linda, Aaron, Bruce and Shane!

 

For more about my book Water Is… and about water see TheMeaningOfWater.com.

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Nina at Word Up-Barrie