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.”

Margaret Renkl | We Need to Stay Heartbroken About School Shootings – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — I wish I could report that shock was my first reaction to the news from Uvalde, but it was not shock. My first reaction to the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers was grief — terrible, garment-rending grief — followed by something dangerously close to resignation. Here we go again. And again and again. When you know something unbearable will happen, and then it happens, grief and resignation sit together in the same pew.

My own children are long past school age, but I am the wife of a teacher, the mother of a teacher, the sister of two teachers. Many of my dearest friends are teachers. The ever-present threat of this carnage is terrifying, and it is personal.

So it is for all of us, even if we aren’t the ones making lesson plans or packing school lunchboxes. We were all once vulnerable children, entirely dependent on adults to protect us. Keeping children safe is the most fundamental obligation we have as a culture.

But too many of our leaders no longer accept the responsibility of protecting innocents. The elected Republicans who bitterly fight all sensible gun laws also fight access to affordable health care, including treatment for mental illness. And they keep getting away with their inaction because they are so adept at preying on our most primitive fears, using them to divide us from one another.”

Margaret Renkl | In the Culture Wars, Teachers Are Under Attack – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — My grandmother was still a teenager when she started her teaching career. She went to college for a year and then taught for a year to save money for tuition. After another year of college and another year of teaching, she married my grandfather. The wedding, everyone assumed, marked the end of her career. She was 21 years old.

Down here we call someone like my grandmother a natural-born teacher. She loved her job. The family desperately needed her income, too, but the country was in a Great Depression by then, and there weren’t enough jobs to go around. Women in her Lower Alabama school district — as in many others around the country — weren’t allowed to work for pay once they married.

As discriminatory policies so often do, this one backfired. There weren’t enough licensed teachers to staff the schools, especially in deeply rural areas. From time to time, the superintendent would beg my grandmother to come back and finish out the school year for a teacher who was leaving, and my grandmother always did. When her youngest child was old enough for school, she was offered a permanent job teaching in the two-room schoolhouse in her tiny farming community. Years later, she went back to college to finish her four-year degree. She finally retired from teaching in 1970, more than 40 years after she taught her first class.”

Margaret Renkl | Wondering How to Help Stop Climate Change? Do Less. – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — When I mention the new meadow I am cultivating where our front yard used to be, my adult children roll their eyes. The word “meadow” conjures the mental image of a sunny field of blooming wildflowers, but this one is a work in progress. A dream more than an actuality.

The new meadow where our front yard used to be is mainly white clover, chickweed and grass gone to seed, though there are also patches of low-growing violets, which I love, and creeping Charlie, which I do not. (An invasive species, creeping Charlie is the bane of the natural yard.) But already there are also some lovely clumps of fleabane — small daisylike flowers on knee-high stems — that look very much like the romantic fields brought to mind by the word “meadow.” Soon there will be other flowers, too. Perhaps not this year but certainly the next, and there will be even more the year after that.

This is not a statement of faith but of fact. Every year we let more patches of our yard go wild, and every year more flowers appear in the uncut areas. First came pokeweed and butterweed in the backyard, then white snakeroot and Carolina elephant’s foot in the side yard. Last year we had frost asters for the first time.

May is Garden for Wildlife Month, according to the National Wildlife Federation, but gardening doesn’t necessarily mean planting. It can also mean giving the volunteer flowers a permanent home. Because where there are wildflowers, there will be insects. And where there are insects, there will be birds and bats and tree frogs and many other creatures who rely on the protein insects provide.”

“. . . For years, we mowed it all into a conventional yard after spring’s first wild profusion of flowers was over. Then I read Douglas W. Tallamy’s 2007 book “Bringing Nature Home” and learned how much more we could be doing beyond tolerating moles and keeping the yard poison-free. We started planting native trees, flowers and shrubs, too, understanding that native wildlife needs native plants to eat. We started letting leaves and deadwood lie to feed and shelter insects. And we let the unused parts of the yard grow up.”

Margaret Renkl | On an Endangered River, Another Toxic Disaster Is Waiting to Happen – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — Almost four years ago, spurred by my decades-long fascination with Homer’s story of the lotus-eaters, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Alabama to see American lotuses in full bloom. Jimbo Meador, our guide, was happy to take us on his boat to see the extravagant flowers.

A certified master naturalist, he was also happy to take birders to see the more than 300 species of birds that have been identified in that magnificent delta and to talk with history buffs about the original peoples who lived in the area or the fort where the last major battle of the Civil War was fought or the spot in the river where a ghost fleet of World War II Liberty ships was once anchored. Mr. Meador has spent his whole life talking about the crucial role the Mobile-Tensaw Delta plays in the human and ecological life of the region.

The biologist E.O. Wilson called this delta “arguably the biologically richest place” Americans have.”

Margaret Renkl | What American Mothers Really Need – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — I’ve been watching anti-abortion bills sweep the red states this season, and it occurs to me that the week of Mother’s Day might be a good time for a red-state mother like me to weigh in. I fervently support a woman’s right to choose, but I still spend a lot of time thinking about how Republican legislators could achieve their real goal without also trying to undo settled legal precedent.

First, a reminder: Women ended unwanted pregnancies long before Roe v. Wade made abortion safe and legal in the United States, and women will continue to do so even if Roe is overturned. During the 1950s and ’60s, before reliable birth control became widely available, between 200,000 and 1.2 million women illegally ended unwanted pregnancies in the United States each year.

To make a real difference in the abortion rate, birth control needs to be affordable and easy to obtain. Instead, our legislators consistently fight to protect employers and insurance companies that want to opt out of paying for birth control in health care plans. Comprehensive sex-education courses significantly reduce adolescent pregnancies, but red-state legislatures favor abstinence-only sex ed, which has no effect on teenage pregnancy rates. Some of these legislators it seems, don’t understand the difference between birth control and abortion in the first place.”

Margaret Renkl | The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Gives Me Hope for the Environment – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — Once upon a time, deep in the upland pine forests and hardwood bottomlands of the American South, a magnificent bird dwelt high in the treetops. The ivory-billed woodpecker was a denizen of old-growth forests, but by the end of the 19th century, vast stands of old-growth Southern forest were already gone. A confirmed sighting of the Lord God Bird hasn’t been recorded since 1944.

Reports of the elusive ivory-bill surface from time to time anyway. In 2004, a sighting in Arkansas inspired a frenzy among birders, but an exhaustive search by teams from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology turned up no definitive evidence of survivors. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct.

Now Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, believes his team of researchers has found the bird living in the marshes of Louisiana. Using drones and mounted trail cameras, they have amassed both images and recordings of the birds, in addition to more than a dozen observations by the skilled researchers themselves. Comparing the markings, morphology, and foraging behavior of the birds they observed with those in historic photographs and videos, the researchers concluded that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct after all. “Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest an increasingly hopeful future for the ivory-billed woodpecker,” they write.”

David Lindsay. Thank you Margaret Renkl. Here is one of many good comments:

Al M
Norfolk Va6h ago

Hope is dangerous when it provides delusions that things aren’t really as bad as the actually are. Every reproducible measurement shows how desperate things are for our fragile biosphere and especially for the future of larger species like humans. We need major changes in how we live and we need global cooperation to save ourselves. Instead the world is moving toward division and war which will only exacerbate our demise.

The daily spin of political scandal and the needless carnal horror of our wars are unknown in the vinegar language of ants.

The fish whisper only of the disappeared and growing zones unbreathably dense.

The crows carry on their guttural gossip and raucous debates.

The trees meditate in hushed tones on the the taste and feel of wind soil and sun.

The squirrels continue their chattering play.

As we supposedly sentient apes revel in our superiority, knowingly consuming ourselves to extinction.

The seagulls laugh at our folly.

1 Reply38 Recommended

Margaret Renkl | Books About Death and Grief Can Bring Hope – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — I was 10 when “Brian’s Song” aired in 1971 as an ABC Movie of the Week. It is the story of the abiding friendship that grew as Brian Piccolo, who was white, and Gale Sayers, who was Black, competed for playing time as N.F.L. rookies with the Chicago Bears. It’s also the story of Piccolo’s death of cancer at 26. I was a girl in Birmingham, Ala., then “the most segregated city in America,” when “Brian’s Song” reminded this country that race was not an insurmountable barrier to love.

Of course I read “I Am Third,” the 1970 memoir by Gale Sayers from which the film was adapted, as soon as I could get my hands on it. When the bookmobile librarian suggested that I might also like “Death Be Not Proud,” John Gunther’s heart-wrenching account of his 17-year-old son’s death from a brain tumor, I devoured it too.

I was not a child obsessed with death; I simply wanted to understand how the world works. My friend Mary Laura Philpott read the same kinds of books as a child, and for the same reason.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Margaret, for your work and this beautiful essay. I quibble with your opening, “Reading stories is a gentle way for a child to encounter the hardest truth that shadows mortal life: There are no happy endings.” While there are no fairy tale, happily ever after endings,
I think I know a few individuals who faced off with death with dignity and courage, and left the world a much better place than they found it, and left their children with the tools to succeed, as well a having modelled a productive, cheerful, and generous life.
As one Christian elder once said, we all face our own crucifixion to some degree at the end of our lives. While death is inconvenient, and at times horrible and dreadful, it is part of the deal, and can be part of a successful, productive and meaningful life of service.
David also writes at InconvenientNews.net

Margaret Renkl | The Boring Bill in Tennessee That Everyone Should Be Watching – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — When a new energy infrastructure bill was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this month, people could be forgiven for paying little attention. Compared to the legislature’s recent follies — an abortion bill that would out-Texas Texas, or a book-banning bill that would override the recommendations of school librarians, or a handgun bill that would let 18-year-olds carry a gun without a permit — an energy-infrastructure bill seems like a big yawn.

Thing is, almost nothing undertaken by the Tennessee General Assembly can be safely overlooked. That boring energy infrastructure bill, which passed the Tennessee Senate last Thursday, would let the state override local laws blocking fossil-fuel projects in their communities. In other words, if this bill becomes law, the state could allow an oil company to run a pipeline through a city over the objections of the city itself.

This may seem like a picayune matter with no relevance outside the state of Tennessee, but it’s exactly the kind of bill that ought to attract national attention — not because it’s happening in Tennessee but because it’s happening, or is poised to happen, in red-state legislatures across the country, according to the Climate Reality Project. Republicans are using rising gas prices as an opportunity to give the fossil-fuel industry whatever it wants in their states, even when their own cities have been trying to protect the environment and their people from that very industry.

Legislative pre-emption is part of a political ground war down here. These routine bills rarely rise to the level of national attention, but their presence explains as much about our national politics — and about what shapes our national elections — as any newly restrictive abortion law or newly lax gun bill does.”

Margaret Renkl | It’s Possible to Learn the Right Thing From the Wrong Person – The New York Times

“In 1980, my senior year of high school, I sat in an auditorium watching “A Man for All Seasons.” The film, based on Robert Bolt’s play of the same title, won the 1967 Academy Award for best picture, as well as five other Oscars. It was also one of the formative artistic experiences of my life.

“When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his hands, like water,” Sir Thomas More tells his daughter in the film. “And if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” In a dark room in Alabama, 4,000 miles and half a millennium distant from Tudor England, those words burned into me. In a few months, I would be leaving home for the first time. Already I wondered who I would be after I did.

In my dorm room that fall, I kept a postcard replica of a portrait of More by Hans Holbein the Younger. I love that painting still. Of all the glorious art that New York City spreads out like an endless banquet of beauty and provocation, it’s always the one I visit first. Holbein’s portrait tugs at something in me so deeply attached it feels integral. A singular, irreplaceable organ. A self.

Nearly 500 years after he painted his haunting portrait of More, Holbein is having a moment. A retrospective at the Morgan Library & Museum has inspired rapturous reviews. “A flabbergasting talent,” wrote Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. “A mastery of optics and color theory and classical history,” Jason Farago noted in a review for The Times. “Daring on an intimate scale,” Jenny Uglow wrote in The New York Review of Books.”