Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating Life in a Time of Extinction

Something big happened for me. I’ve been producing event conversations for The New School at Commonweal for about a decade now…conversations about nature, culture, and inner life. We moved to virtual webinars during COVID, like everyone else, and it created an opportunity for me to tenatively step in front of the zoom camera, with the amazing writer Kathleen Dean Moore and an incredible man named Hank Lentfer, who lives in Alaska and crawls around the forest recording songs and sounds.

This interview was tenuous for me. I’m used to writing words for people to read LATER, and I was nervous. But it turned out ok.

The subject of conversation is—in turns—joyful, tearful, and grim. But that is the world we live in right now. We talked about the many species of animals and birds that are forever gone from our world, and those whose species are dwindling. We talked about the joy of what is left: the Dawn Chorus of birds, the whales sounds, the wolf howls. We talked about how to hold all of the grief along with all of the beauty. If you feel drawn, please watch.

“We live on this music box, and as the world turns, the sun starts the music; it plucks the keys, and starts the world singing….and there’s this whole ordering of birds that call out. It’s wonderful…to hear the birds in their order, including the robin. You wonder: why are they singing? What are they doing? I think what the robin is saying is: “I am strong. I am alive. I have lived through this night and I have emerged full-throated from my dark shelter, with energy and joy to spare.” And that brings me the greatest happiness, to hear that very common little guy, that robin.”—Kathleen Dean Moore (from this interview)

More about the conversation:

How can we attune ourselves to the music that surrounds us? How can we bear the sorrow of its silencing? Join author Kathleen Dean Moore and Naturalist Hank Lentfer in virtual conversation with TNS Host Kyra Epstein to celebrate the earth’s wild music and creatures.

We hear about Kathleen’s new book—Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World (Counterpoint Press). We hear animal recordings from Hank and learn about how he has crafted a life listening to nature’s music. We watch two “tiny concerts,” videos inspired by Kathleen’s book and put together by the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University.

Kathleen Dean Moore is a writer, moral philosopher, and environmental thought-leader devoted to the defense of the lovely, reeling world. As a writer, Kathleen first came to public attention with award-winning books of essays that celebrate and explore the wet, wild world of rivers, islands, and tidal shores – Riverwalking, Holdfast, Pine Island Paradox, and Wild Comfort. Her first climate ethics book, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril (co-edited with Michael P. Nelson, foreword by Desmond Tutu) gathered testimony from the world’s moral leaders about humanity’s obligation to the future. In 2016, Moore published Great Tide Rising: Finding Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change, and a novel, Piano Tide, that Bill McKibben described as “savagely funny and deeply insightful.” Moore’s essays have appeared in magazines such as High Country News, Orion, Discover, Audubon, Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, and the New York Times Magazine. Find out more about Kathleen on her website: riverwalking.com.

Hank Lentfer is a sound recordist, naturalist, and writer (Faith of Cranes, Raven’s Witness) who lives in Gustavus, Alaska. He and his friend Richard Nelson created a sound library for Glacier Bay National Park, recording sounds from wrens to whales. Spring mornings he’ll likely be out recording the dawn chorus of songbirds. Fall afternoons he’s likely to be digging spuds or hunting deer. And during winter, when morning and afternoon get really close together and the animals aren’t making too much noise and the weather is lousy, he sometimes writes. Lentfer is also a woodworker specializing in coffins and urns for any of his neighbors who (sadly) have need for one. In his spare time, he works for the Nature Conservancy managing a nature preserve. Find out more about Hank here: humansandnature.org/hank-lentfer.

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