Poet Wells (The Fix) focuses this dense and eclectic survey on “relatively ordinary people” who, in the face of climate change, believe in creating a better future. Aiming to add hope to conversations often filled with doom, Wells takes readers on a tour of individuals focused on connecting with—and restoring—nature. In the Oregon woods, she meets “the Portuguese Sherlock Holmes,” a man “rumored to be one of the best trackers alive” and whose abilities hinge on a deep knowledge of ecosystems. Matthew Trumm, meanwhile, had his life upended by 2018’s Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., which Wells describes in shocking and vivid detail. Trumm, along with John D. Liu, a land restoration expert and documentarian, founded the Camp Fire Restoration Project in 2019. The people profiled come across as optimistic and resilient, and so too does the author. Her descriptions of climate change captures the harsh reality of devastation, and her musings often lean poetic (“I’m fond of the idea of being ‘of Rubble’.... I like how ‘rubble’ echoes ‘rabble,’ the disorderly mob of the ordinary”). Still, her curiosity keeps things moving: “What legacy will we choose to leave behind,” she wonders. Climate-minded readers should take note of this roving account of perseverance. (July)
An Observer Best Book of the Summer
“Believers . . . grapples with the question of how to go forward in the shadow of endings not only our own, but the endings of species and ecosystems, of cultures and of language . . . The question is not of what we face but how we can face it bravely and creatively.”
Lydia Millet, Los Angeles Times
“Wells offers no pat prescriptions for nurturing 'lived relationships with water and plants and soil'only an ardent hope that humans will persist in 'fighting and reconciling and reaching across the divide of mutual misapprehension' to save their world. An urgent message gently conveyed.”
“Wells takes heart in the human tendency to tell and make sense of our lives through storytelling… Although she preserves a sense of hope for a better world, this blend of reportage, history, philosophy, and memoir is no rosy prescriptive narrative. Rather, Wells notes, ‘there is a surplus of terror and delusion in the ether, but spare few visions of how you and I, relatively ordinary people, might live otherwise. I believe the future of the world depends on those visions.’”
Lauren LeBlanc, Observer
“[An] effective blend of reportage and memoir… The resulting chronicle of environmental crises and the often radical actions some are taking to combat them is freshly informative and thought-provoking.”
Colleen Mondor, Library Journal
“Wells’s prose, rooted in her poetry, gives her a unique advantage when writing about living through this unstable moment in history.”
Andru Okun, High Country News
“Shocking and vivid… [Wells’s] descriptions of climate change capture the harsh reality of devastation… Climate-minded readers should take note of this roving account of perseverance.”
“We are living in an extreme moment, and one where it’s very hard to know what effective action looks like against crises of a scale we’ve not before encountered. These accounts of people trying to grapple with that reality are sometimes inspiring and often cautionary, and always a spur to thinking about how the rest of us might accomplish the most we can.”
Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“Believers is meticulously researched and reasoned and lays out a vast and sophisticated vision like no other writer since Charles Bowden. If some measure of a book’s importance is the noise it makes when it falls in the forest, this project reminds me of The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison, for the conversations that will surely follow. An essential document of our time.”
Charles D’Ambrosio, author of Loitering
“Everyone who lives on this earth needs to read this book. Lisa Wells is whip-smart and insightful, taking us along on her quest to find another way to be. We grow with her, immersed in the poignant, hopeful, and heartbreaking stories of people she meets as she attempts to answer what has been her life’s refrain: How shall we live?”
Tessa Fontaine, author of The Electric Woman
“This adventurous and outlandish book asks us to imagine a relationship to the land that precedes human memory, an act that requires us to shed our idealism in favor of a more radical leap of faith. In that wild leap it arrives, miraculously, a few steps down the path to wisdom.”
Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter
“Lisa Wells’s writing is brilliant; her conclusions are profound. If you can take only one book with you while wading through the wreckage of the Anthropocene, this is the one.”
Kate Lebo, author of The Book of Difficult Fruit
In this combination of memoir and investigative journalism, Wells (The Fix) asks the question: Given that climate change is pushing us toward ecological catastrophe and potential societal and economic collapse, how should we live? How can we work toward a sustainable world? She spends time with several people and groups who are attempting to address the myriad issues of climate change. One group, led by a woman who lived off-grid for decades, is planting edible wildflowers on non-agricultural land (both public and private), in an attempt to restore the vast tracts of flowers that were used as food by Indigenous peoples in North America. Another group, Christians based in Taos, have committed to living in community and simplicity. One man, an expert tracker, teaches others to track by reconnecting with the natural world. Several groups of restoration specialists are overcoming desertification, wildfire damage, and the ravages of erosion and deforestation by successfully reclaiming such land to grasslands and forests. In addition to each of their stories, Wells also tells of her own and her friends' activism as teenagers and young adults in Portland, OR. VERDICT This impassioned plea and call to action will spark the interest of anyone who cares for our environment.—Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL
Seeking new ways to live on Earth.
Reflecting on the fragile state of the environment, poet and essayist Wells melds memoir, history, psychology, and philosophy as she recounts her ongoing struggle to define her role as “an average, well-meaning person who daily participates—however grudgingly—in a system that is bringing the planet she loves to the brink of destruction.” With a growing desire to learn about ways “in which human beings not only thrive but also repair damage and even increase the biodiversity and beauty of the planet,” the author traveled around the country to find people—including eccentric activists, urban gadflies, botanists, and Native Americans—who have devoted themselves to honoring the Earth. In Oregon, she met the irascible Finisia Medrano and her queer band of Prairie Faeries, who range around fields and woods, living on and replenishing wild plants. In New Mexico, Wells lived among the “earth-honoring” Taos Initiative for Life Together, who work to transition from the fossil fuel economy by growing their own food, sourcing their own water, and bartering services within the community in order to generate no waste and repair the local ecosystem. During her visit to the Simple Way intentional community outside of Philadelphia, the author discovered “a multiracial group of radical disciples who’d fixed up several blocks of foreclosed and condemned houses” and set up a farm in an effort to heal a broken urban neighborhood. At the Tactical Tracking Intensive school, Wells learned that tracking humans and animals creates an intimate knowledge of the environment. “If you were estranged from your own ecosystem,” she writes, “tracking was a refreshingly straightforward practice for overcoming that estrangement.” Wells offers no pat prescriptions for nurturing “lived relationships with water and plants and soil”—only an ardent hope that humans will persist in “fighting and reconciling and reaching across the divide of mutual misapprehension” to save their world.
An urgent message gently conveyed.