Voices of Nature – Program

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This program is arranged as cyclesthe way Nature does it with water, carbon, sunsets, seasons, dust to dust and phoenixes arising from the ashes.  All of our talks are connected to one another in ways both obvious and subtle.  So rather than sort them by taxonomy, we’ve  grouped them in ways intended to inspire thinking in systems.  We hope you enjoy it all!

Note: Program subject to minor changes.

SATURDAY MORNING – Cycle 1

9:00 –  CONNECTING ALL (!!!) THE DOTS

Life is a grand panorama, and we modern humans play a somewhat panoramic role although we’re dwarfed by the rest of the natural world.  These days we’re daring nature to drive us over the extinction cliff and we’re currently dangling at the end of our rope.  How will we learn from our multiple-species mentors how to behave as if we want to survive?  Hint: All you need is love!

Adam Sacks is the Executive Director of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (and a co-founder), and often contemplates our place – not at the helm – on spaceship Earth.

9:15 – YOUNG PEOPLE’S CHALLENGE – PART I

There has never before been a more challenging future faced by young people, who are increasingly concerned and anxious about what they see coming. Some of today’s teens are fiercely determined to face the challenges head on, not only to avert climate disaster but to preserve biodiversity and the natural world, respect cultures, and help usher in a self-sufficient economics. Zero Hour is a new and prominent group of young people who are working to make it happen!

Nadia Nazar is an animal lover and leader at Zero Hour.

9:35 – A PANORAMA OF BATS

Almost a quarter of all mammal species are bats. Some consume insects, others pollinate a wide range of plants, and some are highly effective seed dispersers in tropical rainforests. In sum, they provide people and the planet with key ecosystem services. But they also face a range of threats—a list that begins with fear and misconception, then scrolls down through habitat loss, disease, climate change, and too many more. The good news is that we have proven conservation solutions for most problems, and scientists are working on a host of innovative responses to some of the more perplexing challenges.

Charles C. Chester teaches global environmental politics at Brandeis University and at the Fletcher School of Tufts University. He serves on the board of Bat Conservation International and is Chair of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Council. 

10:10 – LET MICROBES SPEAK: SYMBIOSIS AND THE LONG HISTORY OF THE BIOSPHERE

Microbes – nearly always in communities and symbiotic partnerships — are responsible for all the necessary systems that sustain life – atmospheric oxygen, photosynthesis, respiration, motility, mutlicellularity and the very ecosystems upon which we depend for survival!

Douglas Zook founded and directs the Global Ecology Education Initiative (GEEI). He is a biologist, naturalist, science educator, and photographic artist.  He was a close colleague of the renowned scientist Lynn Margulis for nearly three decades. and brought the importance of mcirobial ecology to the attention of educators and the public.  

10:40 – BREAK 

10:55 – THE SHARED PASSIONS OF ELEPHANTS, PEOPLE AND OTHERS

Elephants and people share experiences of family, community, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, responses to medications and trans-species therapy.  Amor vincit omnia – does love conquer all?  Well, sometimes perhaps it does.

Gay Bradshaw holds doctorates in psychology and ecology, from which she has a unique perspective to engage in comparative studies – which she does with a passionate and compassionate heart.

11:30 – OUR SECOND BRAIN: THE HUMAN MICROBIOME

The many species of bacteria, optimally established during our trip down the birth canal, affect everything from our immune systems to our moods to our digestive health.  We might say that it’s quite an accomplishment for the trillions of single-celled creatures whose ancestors molded us out of the muck (we’re not sure what the microbes would say in retrospect).

Betsey Dexter Dyer is a professor of biology at Wheaton College and a former student of Lynn Margulis.  Her area of research is microbial evolution, and, as befits a systems thinker, she has engaged in numerous inter-disciplinary collaborations over the years.

12:05 – Q&A AND DISCUSSION

12:30  – LUNCH

SATURDAY AFTERNOON – Cycle 2

1:30 – YOUNG PEOPLE’S CHALLENGE – PART II

For people, fixing the world must come from the heart, and music is the language of the heart. Singing unites us, calms us, teaches us, and inspires us.  A teen songwriter will sing her Two Minutes to Midnight, a song that was adopted by Zero Hour as its official anthem, and explain its roots and importance in her life.

Arielle Martinez Cohen is a 17-year-old singer, songwriter, producer, and activist from Los Angeles, CA. She has been working in the music business since she was nine years old, and is a leading activist with Zero Hour.

1:45 – THE SPIRIT OF LIFE

How do we bring resilience of the heart, love of the living world, and determination to save it into our daily lives?  What journeys can guide us, from permaculture to prayer and everything along the way?

Rev. Dele is a grandmother, author, pastor, permaculturist, radio host, eco-theologist and convenor of many amazing groups of dedicated people to bring peace and abundance to life on Earth.

2:20 – THE INCREDIBLE BRIGHTNESS OF BIRDS

Birds can migrate thousands of miles, some of them even do it solo.  Some use tools, others recognize members of other species and even pass information on to future generations. Way before security cameras, you were being watched by interested eyes in the sky!

David Morimoto is an ecologist, conservation biologist and bird expert who is chair of the Biology Department at Lesley University.  His interests include the unifying principles of complexity science.

2:55 – RECOGNITION AND APPRECIATION

3:10 –  A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF LIFE: SOILS, MICROBES, PLANTS AND INSECTS

The diversity of soil organisms is stunning.  Their interactions among themselves and with plants are at the center of healthy soils. Plants (as with humans and other animals) have associated microbiomes that can stimulate defenses against disease and help with obtaining needed nutrients. Plants also have a variety of ways of responding when being attacked by insects, including signaling beneficial insects the presence of their preferred prey or organisms in which they can inject their eggs and use and utilize for egg incubation. Any playwright would be challenged to match the living drama beneath our feet!

Fred Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. His interests range from soil science to agriculture and food to the environment to the US economy. 

3:45 – BREAK

4:05 – WHO’S IN CHARGE OF LIVING SWARMS?

Ants do it.  Slime molds do it.  Bees do it.  Fish do it.  Birds do it.  Humans do it.  We swarm.  At some point many individuals act as a single organism.  But how?  Who’s in charge?  Wouldn’t you like to know . . .

Simon Garnier is a scientist leading the Swarm Lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He ofttimes contemplates human swarm behavior, especially during gnarly moments on the New Jersey Turnpike.

4:40 – FUNGI: INTELLIGENT STRANDS BENEATH OUR FEET (THE REAL WORLDWIDE WEB) 

Mycorrhizal fungi connect billions of lives in the soil, bring communications and biochemical transformations to those that need it, and keep green plants healthy and abundant.  More abundant than we may have seen for centuries.  What’s the big deal with silly silicon? Nature’s been doing an internet for hundreds of millions of years!

Jim Laurie is Bio4Climate’s staff scientist extraordinaire (and a co-founder), whose experience as a restoration ecologist has informed and brightened our work since the early days.  He is a founding member of the Mycelial Network Fan Club (if there isn’t such an organization yet, there should be).

5:15 – Q&A AND DISCUSSION

6:00 – HAVE A WONDERFUL EVENING!

SUNDAY MORNING – Cycle 3

9:00 – YOUNG PEOPLE’S CHALLENGE – PART III

Arielle Martinez Cohen returns with a song she wrote for this conference, one of hope and regeneration!

9:15 – THE MANY LIVES OF THE CHANGING COYOTE

Relatively little is known about the fascinating coyotes in the east It is a remarkable animal, being one of the only carnivores to actually increase its range and distribution in the past one hundred years.  Coyotes have taken over as top predator in all environments in New England, from wilderness parks to city greenbelts.  Along its migration to the northeast it has become larger, likely the product of hybridization between western coyotes and eastern wolves. Jon’s work celebrates having these animals living among us and makes a passionate plea for their protection

Jon Way’s main interest is the study of predators inhabiting urbanized ecosystems, especially the coyote.  His book is Suburban Howls.

9:50 – RECOGNITION AND APPRECIATION

10:05 – THE RHYTHMS AND SONGS OF BUGS

Millions of years before even birds began to sing, insects were creating a vast emergent music of overlapping, interrelated beats among many species together and alone. We will learn the secret rules crickets use to create vast synchronized chirps, and how seventeen year cicadas figure out how to come out of the ground at the right time. You will hear a water beetle whose song is as loud as whale, and more underwater bug creature sounds that we still don’t know the source of. It is possible humans learned our love of rhythm and dance from the entomological world.

David Rothenberg, author of Bug Music, is distinguished professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  He is a musician and writer known for his many works finding music and beauty in birds, whales, and bugs.

10:40 – LISTENING TO TREES HERE AND GONE

Trees share a wealth of information to the willing listener, well beyond aesthetics, recreation or “natural resource.” They offer details about the connections above and below ground – from birds and insects, to parasites and fungi, to humans who have moved in and among them across generations. They can signal what was, what is now and what might be. And they’re very patient.

B. Lorraine Smith is a writer and sustainability consultant who writes literary non-fiction about humans’ relationships in nature and brings over 15 years’ experience working to shift business towards a regenerative economy.  Her writing and corporate work help her listen to what trees past and present have been quietly signaling to anyone willing to hear, and she provides an imaginative and hopeful vision.

11:15 – BREAK

11:35 – SUPERORGANISMS: THOSE WILY AND WONDROUS SLIME MOLDS

Slime molds aren’t really molds, some of them are multiple amoebas that cohabit within a single cell membrane. They have no brain or nervous system, yet they can perform remarkable feats of decision-making and memory. Enter the life of the slime mold and ask yourself: Am I really that smart?

Heather Barnett is an artist and teacher, frequently working with biological materials.  She has been working with intelligent beings, including slime molds and humans, for years and often marvels at the similarities.

12:10 – A MERRY AND MARVELOUS RAMBLE THROUGH MAMMALIAN LIVES
             (INCLUDING HOMO SAPIENS)

In honor of Liz Thomas’s long and illustrious career, and as the most senior member of our speaker roster, we are pleased to give her a long introduction to her talk, as befits her status as a Most Honorable Mammal. 

Man-eating by lions is common throughout Africa, famously so in some places, but in the 1950s the lions in the interior did not hunt the San people.  At the time the San were pre-contact, and for several reasons I am the only person who seems to have noticed the San/lion relationship.  So it’s tragic that no wildlife biologist got a chance to study this, and by now the lions have a different culture, and have lost the don’t-kill-humans rule. 

Thus I am the only person who has described this interesting lion/human truce, also the only person with a possible explanation, and who am I?  I was a 19 year-old English major when I first knew this, I was only in my twenties the last time I visited the pre-contact San, and now I’m just an old grandmother up in New Hampshire. Nevertheless I published several  papers in scientific journals on this subject, also a long (controversial) article in the New Yorker, and I also mention it in almost every book I write. 

But does every wildlife discovery need a scientist to make it?  Infrasound in land animals—one of the most important discoveries of the 20th Century– was made by the divorced wife of a famous biologist, and who was she?  No PhD, no special training, just a woman with a terrific mind, magnificent powers of observation, and a first-rate method of collecting evidence. (Not that I’m comparing myself to her—the similarity is that neither of us had formal  academic training on the subjects of interest.) 

I will describe the lion/San relationship with  numerous examples of lions not hunting people, also at least one example of a lioness trying successfully to scare me, also a few examples of lion empathy, also of their interest in the goings-on within their territories, including us while camping and —from time to time—the Ju/‘hoansi in their encampments, and also the experience of being hunted by a lioness with a lion waiting in the distance for her success.  This took place in Etosha Park, and the experience proved that lions know that their eyes shine.


Elizabeth Thomas 
has been an anthropologist, ecologist and ethologist for nearly a century.  She is a keen observer and the author of many popular books that bring readers into the lives of the animals she loves.

12:45 – Q&A AND DISCUSSION

1:15 – LUNCH

SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Our Workshops (the Devil’s Workshop is closed for repairs, will re-open whenever, ours are much cooler!)

There will be a board where anyone interested in presenting a workshop pertaining to conference topics may sign up.  Workshops will be an  hour long.  Workshop spaces will be announced at the beginning of the Sunday afternoon session.

Note: The workshops have been a very popular feature of our weekend conferences since the beginning.  Don’t miss them!

2:15 – WORKSHOP NOTES
What’s up and where to go.

2:25 – SESSION ONE

3:30 – SESSION TWO

4:35 – CLOSING SESSION

5:00 – FOND FAREWELLS UNTIL NEXT TIME

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