Alan with tree in Alaska
Alan Weisman poses with a tree during a reporting trip to Alaska. He has been grounded in western Massachusetts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homelands co-founder Alan Weisman takes writer Raffi Khatchadourian for a virtual walk in the woods near his home in western Massachusetts for a “Talk of the Town” piece in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker.

In “After COVID-19, Will Nature Take Over?”, Alan contemplates the meaning of the great slowdown in economic (and polluting) activity brought by the pandemic. His bestselling 2007 book, The World Without Us, describes the ways in which nature would recover if human beings suddenly disappeared from the planet. Readers have been returning to the book looking for lessons.

“I don’t think nature is avenging itself,” Alan tells Khatchadourian. “We are having an impact in ways that we can’t predict, because there are so many variables in the ecosystem, but until something happens we just keep forging ahead in a bubble of denial.”

Read the article here.

Stay-at-home measures and school closings mean families and children are stuck at home, looking for ways to stay both active and calm in the midst of uncertainty. In this audio story, Homelands producer Ruxandra Guidi and her seven-year-old daughter, Mila, find calm in a new kind of ritual, one rooted in everyday gratitude and signs of spring in the desert Southwest.

Listen to the piece over at BorderLore. You can hear more of Mila’s meditations on the website of Fonografia Collective, a collaborative project of Ruxandra and her husband (and Mila’s father) Bear Guerra.

Photo by Bear Guerra.

Manila, Philippines. Photo by Alan Weisman.

In his his bestselling 2007 book The World Without Us, Homelands senior producer Alan Weisman imagined a planet where all the human beings had suddenly disappeared. How would natural systems respond? How long would it take for Earth to recover?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, his phone has been ringing off the hook. People want to know what The World Without Us can teach us about the current moment.

In an essay in the Boston Globe Magazine (full text here) marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, he argues that the lessons of the crisis have little to do with a post-human world. The heart of the problem is the subject of his subsequent book, Countdown: that human beings have grown too numerous and too destructive for a planet with finite resources.

“[A]s we salvage our wrecked economies, let’s discard the notion that growth equals health. Endless economic growth clearly isn’t possible on a planet that doesn’t grow — look where it’s gotten us…. Real health means fewer of us crowding and infecting each other, clear skies and water, ample room to breathe, and thriving wildlife: not for sale, but in its element, where it’s thrilling to see, and where it can keep its microbes and viruses to itself.”

Also, in case you missed the announcement, Slate named The World Without Us one of the top 50 nonfiction books of the last 25 years.

Homelands producer Bear Guerra remembers looking at the sky as a child and feeling a strange mixture of “awe, fear, and hope.” In a 40-image photo essay for Emergence Magazine, he embraces all three of those sensations, exploring what darkness means not just for himself, but for humanity and the planet.

“The images in this series are evidence of an intimate personal journey, as I contemplate our light-polluted world and seek to reconnect with the night; as I ponder how the technology to which we are now tethered is affecting me and those closest to me; as I wonder how I can guide my own child to embrace the night and understand that without darkness we are not just incomplete … we fail to dream.”

You can see the images here.

In an op-ed in The Guardian, senior producer Sandy Tolan decries the decision of Wisconsin’s supreme court to hold the state’s April 7 primary election as scheduled despite the rising risk of Covid-19 and the governor’s order to postpone the vote. But he says the court is not the only political player putting Wisconsinites’ lives at risk.

Read the article here.

Border patrol truck through fence

The United States immigration system wasn’t always so punitive or so cruel, observes Ruxandra Guidi in an analysis for High Country News. Drawing on her years of reporting on the U.S.-Mexico border and interviews with immigration experts, she traces the ways in which the very act of migration has become criminalized.

“U.S. authorities haven’t always viewed migration through a criminal lens. Yet the Trump administration has not only done so, it has chosen to apply deterrence theory to an extreme degree. Whether a person is an undocumented migrant, or a child seeking to reunite with her parents, or an asylum seeker with credible persecution claims makes no difference to our current administration, which considers them all ‘illegal.’”

You can read the essay here.

Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra.

On January 13, reporters at the Chicago Tribune were offered buyouts. For many, the signal was clear: the Tribune, one of America’s proudest and most essential news organizations, was about to be hollowed out, as other regional papers around the country have been.

Our dear friend Gary Marx, an extraordinary investigative reporter there, decided not to take the threat lying down. He and his colleague David Jackson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on January 19 decrying the predatory tactics of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has sucked much of the life out of The Denver Post, The Mercury News, and other newspapers.

The fund holds 32 percent of the Tribune’s shares, making it the company’s largest single shareholder.

Gary and David called for a “civic-minded local owner or group of owners” to step in and save the Tribune. Strong local newspapers, they wrote, are “vital to their communities and American democracy.”

On January 25, Gary took his case to NPR, where he spoke with Weekend Edition host (and proud Chicagoan) Scott Simon. Anticipated cuts “would be absolutely devastating,” he said. “[W]e’re not just part of the community. We’re helping create this community.”

Bear Guerra in Mexico
Bear Guerra on assignment for High Country News near Agua Prieta, Mexico, in 2019. Photo by May Kapoor.

We are pleased to announce that Roberto (Bear) Guerra has been named photo editor of High Country News.

Bear is an award-winning documentary photographer and photojournalist whose work addresses globalization, development, and social and environmental justice. He is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and lives with his wife, fellow Homelander Ruxandra Guidi, and their daughter in Tucson, Arizona.

He will be starting his new job in January, and is eager to connect and collaborate with documentary and reportage photographers living and working in the American West. If you fit that description, you can contact him via Instagram.

Based in Colorado, High Country News is an independent nonprofit media organization that covers the American West. Its mission is “to inform and inspire people – through in-depth journalism – to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.” It produces a magazine, website, special reports, and books on topics including climate, public lands, indigenous affairs, water, and immigration.