Margaret Renkl | You’re Pointing Your Camera the Wrong Way – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — Not quite halfway through the new season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” a young woman, Portia, breaks into tears at breakfast. She is staying at a luxury resort in Sicily as the personal assistant of one of the wealthy guests. While her tablemate, a true vacationer, takes smiling selfies with the shining Ionian Sea in the background, Portia glances across the terrace at her despairing employer. “Is everything boring?” she asks, her voice quivering.

Portia’s problem is only partly the obscene wealth to which she exists in permanent adjacency. As her breakfast companion’s cheerful self-portraits suggest, she is at also odds with her era: “I just feel like there must’ve been a time when the world had more, you know? Like mystery or something,” she says. “And now you come somewhere like this, and it’s beautiful, and you take a picture, and then you realize that everybody’s taking that exact same picture from that exact same spot and you’ve just made some redundant content for stupid Instagram.”

This is the cry of anyone in Portia’s generation who is paying attention. It should be the cry of everybody else, too. With the advent of the self-facing camera, the human world turned in fundamental ways.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” the great documentary photographer Dorothea Lange often said. That was surely true of Ms. Lange, whose iconic photographs of Depression-era migrants and urban bread lines captured the beauty as well as the profound anguish of the period.”

Margaret Renkl | The Unexpected Gift of Dead Plants – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — The winter storm that swept in just before Christmas, moving from the West Coast to the East, was a slow-motion devastation. For a week, it was all meteorologists could talk about — temperatures dropping tens of degrees in a matter of minutes, motorists stranded, flights canceled, power disrupted across the land.

It was 52 degrees here the day the front was due, but the birds were already making their cold-weather plans. The dominant bluebird down at our end of the neighborhood spent much of it sitting on top of the sunny nest box in our front yard. He wasn’t laying claim to the box for nesting season, which is still months away, but for shelter. On bitter nights, whole families of bluebirds will crowd in to escape a storm.”

Margaret Renkl | How to Give Thanks in a Screwed-Up World – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — My father always had a ready answer to the question that greases the gears of human discourse. Whenever anyone he didn’t know particularly well — a neighbor or a sales clerk or someone at church — would ask, “How are you, Mr. Renkl?” my father didn’t say, “Just fine, thank you.” His answer was always “Fantastic!” Later, when he was dying, it was the answer he gave even to family members checking in. Right up to his death, he was always faaaantastic.

Even before he got sick, this answer was an inexplicable exaggeration. Money was always short in our house, and Mom struggled intermittently with depression, but you would not have known any of that from the way my father greeted others, always with an unexpectedly cheery answer to the throwaway question people asked out of nothing but common courtesy.

I think about my father every day, but I’ve been thinking about him more than usual lately. Not only because Thanksgiving is coming on, that time when the ache of my missing elders is especially acute, but because I am trying to remind myself how to see the world as my father saw it.”

” . . . . .  I can’t force polluting nations to work together to hold climate change to planet-surviving levels. I can’t force Congress to work together for solutions to the economic inequities and information silos that separate us. But I can pull out my mother’s recipe box and make a Thanksgiving feast. I can remember the loved ones who once shared this table and fill their seats with people whose loved ones are distant or otherwise missing. And I can be grateful for every single fantastic moment we have together.

A hard frost finally came to my garden last week, and the zinnias are gone now, along with all the butterflies. I am sorry to see them go, and I am trying not to interrogate my own gratitude for the days they had here. I tell myself it is not wrong to exult in the beauties that remain. I remind myself of the testimony of my father’s whole life, of the truth he taught me — that loss and love will always belong to each other, that sorrow has always been joy’s quiet twin.” -30-

Margaret Renkl | What Has Happened to My Country? – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — There I was, snug in my own bed in the middle of the night, turning to sleep on my side, when wham! the room slid sideways. Then it took off, spinning and spinning as though a sadistic carnival barker had flipped a switch and pushed the speed to max.

Reader, I will spare you the details except to say that I have lately learned how delicate an instrument is the human ear, how many ways there are to disrupt its functions. As when, say, a lump of wax detaches itself from the ear canal through an exactly wrong combination of angles and gravity, lodges itself in the eardrum, and transforms the human vestibular system into a Tilt-a-Whirl. For days I lay in bed, trying not to move my head and reciting to myself lines from “The Second Coming,” a poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

At the otolaryngologist’s office, the source of my torture finally emerged after half an hour of patient manipulations by a doctor wielding tiny power tools. In the newly stationary room, I looked at it, amazed. How fragile the human body is that it can be thrown into chaos by something so small!

The same can be said for the body politic. Right-wing politicians and media outlets have turned American democracy upside down through nothing more than a lie. They put forth Supreme Court candidates who assure Congress that they respect legal precedent but who vote to overturn Roe v. Wade the instant they have a majority on the court. They endorse political candidates who openly state that they will accept only poll results leading to their own election.”

Margaret Renkl | Why We Should All Be Chasing Acorns – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“Here is the sound in our family room on a windy day in October: BAM-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. All the windy day long, it’s BAM-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. When the barrage began a couple of weeks ago, our dog thought we were under attack. He ran between the storm door and the window, back and forth, back and forth, looking for intruders and barking his head off.

What he’s hearing are acorns dropping from the white oak tree on the other side of our house. The acorns hit the roof, bounce down the slope, crash into the metal gutter and then drop to the deck. I race outside as soon as I hear one hit, trying to beat the squirrels and the chipmunks to the oak tree’s bounty. It’s unseemly for a grown woman to be racing chipmunks for chipmunk food, but I’m collecting acorns for a good reason.

As Douglas W. Tallamy explains in his splendid 2021 book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” oaks are keystone plants, the central life form upon which so many other species in the ecosystem depend. Hundreds of insects and caterpillars feed on oak leaves, and those insects in turn feed birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other insects. In fall and winter, acorns feed many of them all over again. Because so many predators eat the creatures that eat the acorns, a good year for oaks is a good year for everybody. “No other tree genus supports so much life,” Dr. Tallamy notes.”

Margaret Renkl | How I Fell In Love With Loretta Lynn – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — I didn’t learn to love Loretta Lynn the way most children who grew up in Alabama in the 1960s and ’70s did. My parents never listened to Grand Ole Opry broadcasts on Saturday nights. They’d courted to big band music in their youth, so they kept the radio tuned to the oldies station.

It’s not like I didn’t know who Loretta Lynn was. I’d heard her songs on other people’s radios all my life but paid them no mind.

Then I went off to faraway Philadelphia for graduate school and started tuning the radio in my apartment to the country station, just to hear the sound of my own people. My roommate would walk in, hear country music and ask, “Why are you punishing me?” I wasn’t punishing her. I was falling in love. Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash, The Judds — they all made me feel as if home wasn’t really a thousand miles away.”

Margaret Renkl | At Summer’s End, a Moment of Wild Surprise – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — Then, just like that, the light changed, taking on the autumnal slant that turns dust motes into flecks of fire and deepens the color of songbirds’ feathers, so bright and new now after the August molt. Suddenly it is fall, whatever the temperature might suggest.

There are two ways of marking the change of seasons. Meteorological fall begins on the first day of September. Astronomical fall begins with the autumnal equinox, which this year occurs on Thursday. The disparity between the dates is owing to the specialties involved: Astronomers account for the changing seasons by observing the earth’s tilt, while meteorologists, it probably goes without saying, divide the seasons according to the weather. For meteorologists, summer is comprised of June, July and August, the three hottest months of the year.”

Margaret Renkle | J. Lo and Liz Cheney and Us – The New York Times

“. . . .  A symbol works to telegraph meaning only if everyone agrees on what its meaning is, and I don’t think everyone agrees on anything these days. Maybe it’s always been that way. Human beings are complicated creatures, incapable of being summarized by a single position or reduced to a single idea.

Consider the example of Liz Cheney, a married woman who uses her maiden name and who plays a powerful role in public life. From these facts alone, she looks every bit like a feminist, but she is also a deeply conservative lawmaker who cheered the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ms. Cheney’s political positions are anathema to me, but during the Jan. 6 hearings she has nevertheless become my hero, defying a party that no longer upholds her conservative values — or, frankly, any values at all.

In systematically uncovering Mr. Trump’s elaborate efforts to subvert an election he knew he had lost, Ms. Cheney put her entire professional life on the line. She has been stripped of her leadership position, and she will most likely lose her seat to a primary challenger — merely for defending American democracy and the rule of law at a time when her Republican colleagues are working to subvert both. Reviled by liberals and shunned by conservatives, she carries on anyway. “I believe this is the most important thing I’ve ever done professionally,” she told The Times’s Peter Baker, “and maybe the most important thing I ever do.”

It is not a coincidence that most of the Jan. 6 rioters were men, and it is not a coincidence that the women who testified in the Jan. 6 hearings have come in for far more right-wing media calumny than the men who testified. Online it’s even worse: These women are enduring savage attacks from men who take profound delight in attacking women, even those who share their politics.

It’s entirely possible to argue that Ms. Cheney and the young White House staff members are only reaping what they have sowed. Their party transparently works to limit female autonomy. Women who support that party shouldn’t be surprised when it unleashes a pack of trolls to frighten them into silence if they step out of line.

The truth is that nobody, right or left, should be subjected to such treatment. More to the point, these women deserve our admiration, and not just because it takes so much more courage for a woman to stand up for truth than it takes for a man to do the same. They deserve our thanks because they might well end up being the force that saves American democracy. This is, in fact, the most important thing Ms. Cheney has ever done.

 Margaret Renkle | Dear Liberals: Come On Down! – The New York Times


Dear Liberals,

I greet you from the Medieval stronghold of the American South, where things are every bit as bad as you’ve heard. They may be worse.

Red-state legislators have perfected the art of voter suppression, which you probably know. They have also gerrymandered the South’s blue cities into political irrelevance, which you may not. These cities serve as their states’ economic engines: According to Mark Muro, the policy director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Project, the counties Joe Biden won in 2020 account for 71 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. A bunch of those counties are in red states, and they are growing.

Come help us grow. The new gerrymandered district lines are based on current data. With your help, we can outwit craven G.O.P. calculations about where residents reliably vote Republican. Once you’re here, you can help us register voters in disenfranchised communities, too, and drive them to the polls on Election Day.”

Margaret Renkl | Monarch Butterflies Are In Decline. I Wanted to Help. – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — After all my blue false indigo was killed by a late frost, I went down to the garden center at the farmer’s market looking for more. Blue false indigo is a host plant of the clouded sulphur butterfly, and clouded sulphurs are the most reliable guests in my pollinator patch. I would hate to be caught short-handed when they returned in all their yellow glory. There have been so few butterflies lately.

Naturally I had to walk around the rest of the garden center, too, looking for other perennials that feed native pollinators, but the only ones on offer that day were flowers I already have in abundance. When I came upon a few pots of swamp milkweed tucked into a corner, I turned to leave. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch butterfly, but I have plenty of milkweed.

As I was turning, something striped caught my eye. I looked closer. Monarch caterpillars were munching away on the leaves.

Reader, I screamed.”