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The collection tracks one man through significant encounters with the natural world, around the globe. An Ethiopian lake, an Australian rainforest, an American desert, an English beach: the stage keeps changing, but the intent stays the same. A poet enters a deep dialogue with birds, animals, people, plants, seas, and all the forces that threaten and churn this mix of life.
James Thornton is a poet, environmental lawyer, founder of Client Earth and a zen priest. Waymarks sits alongside classics of metaphysical writing in which poets bare their soul. Teachings from great figures along the way permeate the collection: a West Coast poet, a Japanese Zen Master, a spiritual leader, and the Dalai Lama.
Here, listen to James talk to Rosie Boycott about his environmentalist work at an event celebrating the UK release of Waymarks.
James has spoken before about being an angry child. During his upbringing, the dangers of climate change were becoming clear and it sparked his frustration. He recalls that on the very first Earth Day, while his high school peers marched, he stubbornly stayed inside and studied. While marching has its place in environmentalist activism, he believed the best way he could help at that time was studying. With education, he sought a tool that was hard and sharp: knowledge and the law.
His frustration comes from the natural world being a place of wonder and safety for James. The fact that this space, Mother Nature, was not safe herself, made James ferociously angry as a starting place. He tells some tales from his early childhood. James was a collector of insects, leaves, and critters. He was a breeder of black widows. He had a marvellous teacher who worked at the natural history museum of New York called Alice Grey. She gave him a black racer snake that he took home. His mother latter told of the snake escaping into their home! James believes that this fascination with the natural world is common in all dedicated environmentalists.
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