In the fall of 2021, Professor Diane Moore is teaching a seminar that works in tandem with Terry Tempest Williams’ “Weather Reports” conversation series, picking up the ideas put forth in each week’s conversation in a more academic setting.
Conversations have ranged from Alaskan Indigenous relationships with land and caribou, to fire in the American West, to grief’s role in the existential conversations brought about in the current moment.
In the middle of October, Maya Pace and Owen Yager, both first-year master of theological studies degree candidates currently in Professor Moore’s course, spoke about the class and the conversation series, and how the two work in tandem to bring up deeply important conversations for both Owen and Maya’s work.
Owen Yager: Maya, could you start by sharing a little bit about who you are and how these classes are playing into your first semester at HDS?
Maya Pace: Thank you for inviting me to this conversation. I am from Northern California, specifically Boonville and Sebastopol. I decided to come to HDS because I spent the past few years working in community development and place-making work. I was excited to deepen my own moral and spiritual framework, but also to think about the role of faith as an animating force in calling us to be the people that we want to be and the communities that we want to be, especially as we face some of the biggest existential crises of our time, like climate change. I'm super excited to be engaging in this conversation, and also really grateful to be in a class like Weather Reports, which feels very aligned with my original intention for school.
OY: Could you describe the classes in the seminar?
MP: It's funny because I've had to do this with various people in my life, and I feel like my description always changes slightly, which might be part of the point about language and climate change in general. But Weather Reports, the lecture series, has Terry Tempest Williams interviewing people at the forefront of building a sustainable and resilient future, from multiple points entry—such as indigenous sovereignty and fire stewardship. One thing that strikes me about the conversations is that they're very relational, very rooted in mutual learning and trust building.
The class is building on that lecture series to think about what we do with that information, how we as humans and students think about navigating through climate despair ourselves, and what it can look like to activate those around us in service of a more vibrant and resilient future.
I think of the lecture series as kind of a way to expand the aperture of my brain to consider how I can more fully engage with this topic, and the class as a way of digging into that expansion and making sense of it together.
OY: I love the way you put words to their twin relationship and how they build off each other. I don't know if this is a simple question, and I don't know if I would have a simple answer to this, but do you have a favorite conversation of the ones we've seen so far?
MP: I'm pretty bad at picking favorites. I think that I am taking very different things from each of them, which I'm grateful for. One of the things that has been resonating in my mind over and over again since hearing it is when, during “The Climate of Sacred Land Protection,” Terry thanked Bernadette Demientieff for her work advocating for the Gwich’in people and Bernadette said, "Don't thank me, I don't have a choice."
I've been thinking about this idea of choice and what it means to be able to choose to engage in this work and whether there actually is a choice if the outcome of climate change impacts all of us, or whether it is chosen ignorance instead. Each speaker really struck me in different ways but I'm holding that call that Bernadette offered.
OY: That all absolutely resonates. As a third part to your experience, you've also been going to the open Fire Salons that Terry's been running on Tuesday nights, the day after the conversation series. What have those conversations been like?
MP: To me, a lot of how we navigate through this time is about having resilient community and engaging in rigorous relationship together. The Fire Salons offer that opportunity to build conversation and relationship together, much like what our classes do but in a non-academic setting, with a mix of people, some of whom are not in the class.
It has been so meaningful to sit together around our little fire here at HDS and, in a very unstructured way, just talk about what's coming up for us as we engage with this material. It's very informal in the sense that there's no set agenda. The conversations have been incredibly wide-ranging, but we are starting to build and coalesce as a little community that feels committed to one another and to this work beyond the 10-week series of Weather Reports. I'm so grateful to everyone for showing up each week and engaging vulnerably and with real human authenticity together.
OY: We're halfway through the term, and I was hoping to take our conversation to reflect a little bit about the class as well as the series. I'd say that it's been maybe the most electric class I've ever had, where it feels like everybody's bouncing off each other. Do you feel the same sense of electricity in that class, and if so, what do you think catalyzes that?
MP: I think a huge reason why we are able to have such rich discussion is because of the array of backgrounds that people bring into the space, which is something that Professor Moore cultivated when she chose the class participants. That said, I think that's often the case in classrooms, but we aren't often invited to actually speak to our experiences in a very personal, embodied way.
I think one of the things that makes the room so electric to me is that we are making meaning together. When we speak, the invitation is not to already have a fully formed opinion that we are advocating for, it's really to pose a thought and share one's own perspective, and then say, “Help me make sense of this. What do we do with this content?” This is a different way of engaging than we're expected to do in many other academic spaces.
We've created an environment in which we're invited to share from our experience rather than from this cerebral, dissociative place that academia often expects of us. I think that combination of diversity of background and the structure of the class itself allows us to build a kind of “shimmer,” which is a word that we’ve used to describe that class.
OY: To that point of stepping away from the norms we find in the rest of our academic circles, it's worth noting that the for the class’s weekly work, there are opportunities for artistic projects. For the final project, Professor Moore wants it to have an outward-facing, public-facing element in whatever it is. I think that’s really the only parameter. There's a lot of room for creativity. That's something that I find really inspiring—that as members of this forward-looking community that we're talking about, we’re encouraged to come at these conversations with this really creative tack and to transcend the limits of academic discourse and this ivory tower that we're in.
Taking this back to you, how do you think this experience is changing the way that you're going through the next year and a half of your time at HDS? I realize that we're still pretty young in the process of this class and of the conversation series, but are you already finding that you're imagining a future with work or with academia differently because of this conversation series, or is it more subtle change?
MP: That's a good question. I don't know that I have a great response to that yet, but I can feel something changing, which I think is part of the beauty of the class and community.
When I came to HDS, I was excited to engage in conversations around topics such as climate change, because I think climate change is perhaps one of the most intersectional and also one of biggest challenges we face. But I don't think considerations of grief and despair were really a part of how I understood my forthcoming academic trajectory. Holding space for grief is now on my mind a lot more.
And I think this class is humbling in the sense that I have so much more to learn—both abstractly and also very tactically—about what it means to engage in in climate activism and climate justice work. Also, it's teaching me so much about the kind of generational patience that is required for this type of future building, learning from people like Bernadette Demientieff or brontë velez and Morgan Curtis.
I want to direct my academic journey towards classes that are honing my ability to hold people amidst despair and finding ways to move through that. And to find opportunities, either in or outside of an academic sense, to cultivate communities of real action and care together. I knew coming in that I wanted to find people that share a similar sense of urgency about this work. And now that we're sharing space together, the “shimmer” that is present feels validating. That's a big question, but those are some initial thoughts. I'm curious to hear your response, too.
OY: I don't think I have an answer either, and one of the first things you said is that you didn't have an answer yet. That returns to this idea that we were talking about earlier—the experience of this term, with all this work that we as a community are doing, offers a way to approach questions we don't have answers to and reflect on them together, which I think is lovely.
I would argue that you put forward a very eloquent answer there. I think this has been really a reminder of how many communities are involved in this sort of climate crisis.
I come from a very specific cultural tradition of recreational and partially extractive interface with environment. It's a place where you go and hike, and where you go and farm sometimes. But that's very much my cultural tradition—White, Protestant, frontier—of engaging with wilderness.
In all of the resources that we've been presented with and speaking about, there have been so many different communities—intersectional farmers, Indigenous folks trying to work with and grapple with questions of land use and land ownership and land extraction—that already have been tied into these narratives. I've just been humbled and inspired and a little bit daunted by how many people are involved in these conversations and how many people I'm really going to have to work to tie-in and make meaningful connection with.
Going forward, it's really a reminder of the importance of building out a toolkit to engage properly with those communities and to get them to really buy into a mission that I don't know if I have properly defined. I don't know if anyone has properly defined it yet, but a mission to create a healthy world in the Anthropocene.
MP: There's something that was implicit in what you were saying that I really resonate with, which was what Professor Moore asked us with her original question of, “Who are you accountable to?” Who are the people that you have access to that you’d like to invite to this conversation? I've really been sitting with that question because I don't have a super clear answer. I have a vague answer to that question, and it’s something that I've thought about in my past research and community work, but it's tricky. Who are my people that I can call into this, and also learn from and with?
One of the cool things about the class is that we all have different people that we're accountable to, and we get to come together, to your point, and engage in conversation across our communities to say, “How do we go towards our future together?”
OY: I think it's also important to step back sometimes and think about the ways in which my four classes this term, including one on animal ethics, and the sixteen classes that I'll take by the time I graduate, color each other. It's really powerful to think about the ways in which we’re cross-pollinating across these classes and are drawing ideas and communities from one into the other. It's so fun.
You were saying a lot of powerful things about grief, and that's something that Morgan and brontë were talking about last week a lot. Bernadette as well.
MP: I think that's why it's at top of mind for me, hearing their conversation.
OY: But in the face of so much grief and anguish and pain and fear, I think there's also so much hope in this class, in the communities that are coming out of this class, in the conversation series, which I think is magical. That we're able to find that, sort of create that, and articulate that together, I love that.
MP: Totally agree. It's beautiful. I’m feeling like I am in it with many other people, which has always been true but sometimes it's hard to feel. It gives me so much fuel and hope, and solace. One of the things we were talking about at Fire Salon recently is that grief cannot be metabolized alone. brontë and Morgan alluded to that, too. It makes it easier to bear when you do it together.
It’s just great to have the opportunity to reflect on it. And I'm holding what you said about cross-pollination. I see a lot of intersections with other classes, and I'm excited to also try to bring in some of the learnings from this class, both how we can build more human academic spaces in a very intellectual environment, and also how we can lean on each other through it all.