Part XX. Authors Who Tackle Climate Change in Fiction–John KixMiller & Team (Protectors of the Wood Novel Adventure Series)
Several months ago I became enamored by a multi-media project posted in the Ecology in Literature & the Arts Google Community–Protectors of the Wood. John KixMiller, the author of the series, works with a team of artists and musicians who beautifully capture the novels with artistic illustrations and supplement the novels with a podcast for each episode. The current podcast, on May 7, introduces the team.
From the website: The Protectors of the Wood Adventure Novel Series is the fully illustrated story of a group of misfit teenagers who save the world from climate change. Book #1, Phoebe Comes Home, begins as Phoebe arrives back in Middletown after a year away at college. That night she dreams that a strange green man comes out of a thunderstorm to her window and says, “Everything is at stake!” The following day, she discovers shocking changes taking place in her familiar childhood home. An immense corporation already owns many local businesses and is buying up property at an alarming rate. The local minister preaches a sermon about climate change and an angry crowd walks out in protest. And a valuable gem called Dreamstone is attracting extraordinary interest and many unanswered questions. Phoebe sets out to make new friends and save the world she knew and loved as a child.
The team includes author John KixMiller; illustrators Carlos Uribe, Lawrence Tate, and Gideon Chase; designers and producers Gabriela Baez, Olivia Rosane, Tamara Kachelmeier, and Lawrence Tate. Not pictured: Carlos Uribe and Gideon Chase.
I had a chance to talk at length with John. I was interested in how this project came about and wanted to learn more about the team that produced it: from the musicians to the writers and artists. The following section summarizes my questions and gives answers from the team.
Chat with John KixMiller
The Background of the Protectors of the Wood
In 1988, my nearly 5 year old daughter and I invented a game with just about anything we could find from her toy box that could help create an imaginary town and forest, and people who lived there. Gradually this game became a story, and we began telling an episode each night. After a few months, at my wife’s great suggestion, we began taping the episodes. But we decided that we would have to start again at the beginning. The story already existed, and we were trying to recall it, not in the exact words used before, but in an ideal form, what we really wanted to say. It was a joint project, something we did together, trying to recall a magical moment.
During this time I was shocked by the environmental crisis of the ozone hole in the earth’s atmosphere caused by the CFC chemicals used in many common products and appliances. Emergency efforts led to a global agreement that began to resolve this problem, but for me the shock of this learning experience only grew more profound. I could see beyond any doubt that our civilization was capable of accidentally destroying nature as we know it. Memories of my father telling me in the early 70s that greenhouse effect was real, and even earlier memories of bringing a blanket to elementary school so that my classmates and I could sleep in the school basement in case of nuclear war – all these astonishing revelations made it clear that our civilization needs major redirection. Humans must become stewards of our planet and all life, handing on this precious gift to the children and life forms of the future.
These themes rose up in the background of our bedtime stories. Many months went by. And then my children grew up, climate change became a growing menace, and my job working with young people in a New York City school occupied an enormous share of my time. In 2002 my daughter prepared to leave for college. She handed me a shoebox containing about thirty ninety-minute tapes of what we then called the Middletown Story. I began to transcribe it. By about 2006, I realized that I wanted to focus more on the teenagers in the story, but still include the pre-school characters. I began to dream of creating a book series that could exist for the teenagers and young adults that I knew, and for all those facing a confusing, frightening future. I began to write songs into the story, in the same way that we wrote songs into plays at work.
As a part of my job as a community center director, we created three large performances each year. One of the features of our school building was a six hundred-seat auditorium. We sometimes wrote original musicals complete with songs and stories. In teen center a few of us began to teach guitar. Some of our members formed a band. We also created a soccer league, and regular children’s activities in our local community garden.
I enrolled in Farm School NYC to learn more about agriculture and creating gardening activities for all ages. Farm School offered me an internship at Taqwa Community Farm, run by the outstanding founder and teacher, Abu Talib. There I met Ceci Charles-King, who took an interest in the book series and joined our team as an editor. She shared her experiences in agriculture, advocacy, global politics, and cultural traditions. Taqwa Community Farm was a model of neighborhood community building and generosity, where we were encouraged to experiment with composting, seed-saving, winter gardening with a hoop house, and growing plants shared from many different cultures.
Meanwhile my son used his design skills and computer knowledge to turn the Middletown Stories into home made publications. My son’s roommate, Gideon Chase, began to create illustrations. My close friend Carlos Uribe, who worked nearby running art activities for children, began the first of a long series of illustrations that is still going full speed today. One feature of the plot was a charitable foundation called the Protectors of the Wood. This complex organization had a secret identity as a league of allies formed to save the world from climate change and species extinction. The teenagers created their own group, the Junior Protectors of the Wood. This aspect of the story became so important that I changed the name of the book series from the Middletown Story to the Protectors of the Wood.
The Plot, the Characters, and How Teens Save the World
The plot of the Protectors of the Wood book series begins in a traditional American small town, and over time expands to include the entire globe. In fact, even the small town itself turns out to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-cultural. Book #1 (Phoebe Comes Home) opens with seventeen-year old Phoebe Hood arriving back home in Middletown after dropping out of college. A severe knee injury has ended her ambitions as a soccer player, and her life has lost a sense of purpose and direction. On falling asleep, she dreams that a strange green man comes to her window and tells her, “Everything is at stake!”
The following day she discovers that shocking changes are taking place in her familiar childhood home. An immense corporation led by Milton Morphy already owns many local businesses, and is buying up property at an alarming rate. When the local minister preaches a sermon about climate change, an angry crowd walks out in protest. And a valuable gem called dreamstone is attracting extraordinary interest and many unanswered questions.
Phoebe sets out to make new friends and save the world she knew and loved as a child. But her parents have sold the family business – a toy store – and moved to a greenhouse on the edge of the vast forest preserve. Phoebe realizes that they actually spend most of their time in the forest itself, working on a mysterious gardening project.
In trying to understand this new situation she stumbles onto a great secret: Large and very rare dreamstone crystals can inspire visions that help guide people through the crises and turning points of their lives. She begins to see that these struggles in Middletown are the key to a global conflict, and the future of life on earth is at stake.
Phoebe learns that her new friend Abby possesses important secrets and is hunted ruthlessly by her enemies. Phoebe’s father begs her to help protect Abby from the dangers surrounding her. With the help of Reverend Tuck, Phoebe begins to understand Abby’s mission, and organizes a group of friends to join them. Through working at the toy store, organizing a soccer league, and helping her friends form a band and give concerts at the local coffee shop, Phoebe’s circle of friends expands rapidly. They create a new sense of community that pushes back against the efforts of Milton Morphy and his corporate empire to dominate the town, take over the forest preserve, and control the source of dreamstone. At the end of Book #2 (Phoebe Breaks Through) Abby’s mission leads to a dangerous climax in an abandoned house on the outside of town.
In Book #3 (The Ghost Girl) Abby becomes the central character of the book series. She succeeds in getting a job as the church gardener, and is allowed to live rent-free in the small, neglected churchyard cottage. Reverend Tuck builds an alliance with a church in Rivergate, a town located on an island in the nearby wetland preserve, a town where Abby spent the first ten years of her life. Abby’s parents move back to Rivergate after a fire destroys their small home in the trailer park. Abby takes a boat ride into the wetland preserve, and has an emotional reunion with her childhood friends and mentors.
Most prominent among them is Sonny Walker, the mayor of Rivergate and the owner of a small farm on the plateau in the center of Rivergate Island. In a late-night conversation Sonny helps Abby recall the Young Warriors’ Club, a story told in Sunday school years earllier by Sonny’s father. The children had all identified with characters in the story, and Abby’s character was named the Ghost Girl. Over the course of her discussion with Sonny, Abby realizes that she is combining her Rivergate childhood friends – the young warriors – with her Middletown friends, all into a new group she calls the Junior Protectors of the Wood. Sonny arranges a meeting between Abby and his son Junior Walker, who was also a member of the Young Warriors’ Club, though somewhat older than the others. The following is a part of their conversation.
Abby’s Discussion With Junior Walker
From Book 3, The Ghost Girl
“I see you have a plan,” Abby said, “almost like a military campaign. Suddenly I’m a part of it, but I don’t see all the pieces. Sonny acts like I’m supposed to know everything, but I don’t. I mean, I know a lot of details, but I’m having trouble with the big picture. How would you describe our major goal?”
“It’s a long story,” Junior replied, “but I’m going to simplify it. You know as well as I do that Rivergate and Hidden Valley have a different way of life in many ways than the world around us. It almost seems like a freakish accident, but there it is. It’s undeniable. For a long time – at least two hundred years – it seemed that the world of powerful organizations gathering the earth’s resources to amass huge fortunes was the way of the future. We appeared to be a poor and oppressed relic of the past. But, as time went on, the picture changed. And now, with every passing year, we are more and more convinced we have a gift that the world needs, a bridge over the raging sea. The dark side of the pillaging of the earth has come to haunt us all, rich and poor, in every part of the world.”
Abby was about to speak, but Junior raised his hand. “Okay, you know all that. But you aren’t thinking about the implications of it. Let me spell them out. We know the legend of the Good Road and the Bad Road from my grandfather’s story, told ten years ago. The Good Road was neglected, and has to be rediscovered and built again. Much of the world is on the Bad Road, and people are starting to panic. Many deny it all, which only makes them more frightened and desperate. Our job is to expand the Good Road so that more people can walk it. And – all over the world – more and more people are struggling to walk the Good Road, but we haven’t reached any critical mass yet. That’s because those who profit from the Bad Road have enormous power and try to hide and destroy the Good Road. So, if we show ourselves too openly, we risk getting stepped on. We risk getting wiped out. So we have to grow quietly, establishing ourselves in a significant way before we get too much attention.”
“Okay, I follow you. That’s one of my problems, understanding what has to be expanded and what has to be hidden.”
“Right. You will be in touch with many people, and have a central role as events start moving. So I’m going to outline what I call the key building blocks. The first one you already understand better than I do. It’s the ancient art of seed saving, developing varieties of trees and plants adapted to the local climate that grow in harmony together, and feed people and provide energy and materials for each particular area. We’ve made fabulous progress here, becoming stewards of the forest and thriving on its benefits, drawing in the local farms, spreading the best varieties of seeds. And we’ve done this while eliminating fossil fuels completely.
“An essential part of our way is the art of composting and building fertile soil. No long-term agriculture is possible without it. It’s as important as saving the best seeds. Most people know this, or at least are beginning to understand. But the necessity of anaerobic composting, the making of biogas from organic materials, is not as well known. A few industries have made progress with cow manure and even general organic waste. Biogas can be produced from many different organic materials, either on a large or small scale. Anyone with organic materials can create fossil-fuel-free energy. Biogas can replace gasoline, heating oil, or natural gas. Whatever natural gas or propane does, biogas can do, like heat houses, run cars and boats, and cook food, all with the technology already in use. Engines, furnaces, stoves, and generators can all run on biogas, a carbon neutral fuel. And remember, landfilled organic material is smothered under damp layers of waste, and begins to decompose without oxygen and give off biogas into the atmosphere, where it becomes a climate change polluter worse that carbon dioxide. It’s an immediate necessity that we stop landfilling organic material, and use it to make biogas that we can use as a carbon neutral fuel. Are you with me so far?”
“Yes, Jeremy and I were talking about it.”
“There’s an incredible amount of organic waste produced by our civilization, but not remotely enough to produce all the energy we need. We’re counting on solar and wind to replace fossil fuels for electricity production, and perhaps cars will run on electricity soon. But there’s still a need for biogas for stoves, energy in isolated rural areas, and as a bridge form of energy to help as wind and solar expand. We’re doing it in Rivergate, Half Moon, and even Evansville already. It’s a touchy issue because all those who make money from fossil fuels and their distribution view us as a threat, and actively want our efforts to fail. And there’s another danger: We don’t want crops for energy to replace forests or crops for food. But biogas from organic waste and fast growing grasses on soil too poor for food can replace a good percentage of fracking. And if you add the expansion of wind and solar, fracking will be eliminated altogether.”
Abby nodded. “I get it.”
“Okay. We’ve made progress on that essential building block. But, as you know, because we’re connected to the Parks Department and thus under the authority of a state government closely allied to the fossil fuel industry, our operation is too fragile to expose to a wider public. That situation is very unstable, and could change at any time. Publicity has to wait for the right moment, a moment that is somehow favorable for what we’re doing. Can you handle that?”
Junior waited for Abby to respond, but she had no idea what to say.
“We’ll get back to that problem in a minute. But first let me cover the third building block, the most dangerous and unpredictable of all. And that is dreamstone.” He looked at Abby for a moment to see if she would talk about this strange subject.
“You want to discuss how much its worth?” she asked. “Or the visions of Sophia? Or angels sent by God to help us poor humans in the mess we’ve made?”
Junior gave a broad smile. “Okay, I know you’re no stranger to this mystery. Even as a child you seemed to experience more of it than others.”
“I’m just trying to get a map of the universe like anyone else. It’s not easy.”
“That’s for sure. Let’s just agree that there are powers that speak to us in dreams and other ways. We’ve all experienced this, and we know that dreamstone increases that ability for certain people. You understand better than I do. And you’re better at hiding and privacy than I am. You should be telling me about these things.”
“Go on, just keep going,” Abby begged him. “I so rarely get anyone’s view of this!”
“All we know leads us to believe that the hour of change has come. Our main task right now is to unite with others to preserve the richness and beauty of the world for the lives to come. The earth is now under the stewardship of humans, who must work with the powers that be to maintain it in trust for the billions of years and life forms ahead of us. Many people are led astray and think this world is not worth preserving. They think it’s okay for humans to destroy life for some short-term benefits. Many think the apocalypse is coming from God anyway, and the destruction of the world is a thing to be hoped for, even accomplished on purpose. In the middle of this spiritual conflict, dreamstone is a wild card. We must protect it.”
Junior looked off into space. The shadows of the blinds shifted throughout the room. He looked up at Abby and said, “Now follow my thinking here. We have an identity, a crucial form of leadership. We are optimists. We believe God intends us to become protectors, guardians of the earth, angels in training. We believe that people can grow and help all life flourish for a future wonderful beyond anything we can imagine. This is our goal, our mission.”
“I hear you,” Abby said. “But… this sounds like a plan to save the world! You want this new model, the Good Road, to be influential around the globe. Isn’t that totally far fetched, even grandiose?”
“Just remember one thing,” Junior replied. “We are not alone. There are many doing the same thing, quietly and invisibly building the Good Road, hoping to link up with others before they get stomped out. One of our most important strategies is to form alliances with many, many others.”
Junior paused for emphasis and pointed at Abby. “This is partly your job,” he declared. “Something for you and your friends.”
“We’re just a few kids!” cried Abby in exasperation.
“Now don’t get frustrated. I’ll just give you an example. Let’s say you start with your church activities. Save Reverend Tuck from defeat. Work with Sara. Go to Evansville and get political. Help the band expand their audience. Lead your group to do all of these things. Encourage your friends.”
“I get that so far. But that’s all local.”
“Nothing wrong with local. We love local. But keep listening. You help Amy in secret. Link up with her professor and the U.N. climate change panel. That is definitely global. And even though our project, the Protectors of the Wood, is just a few people in a small town and a swamp of no account, it is a part of Teresa’s baby, the Guardians of the Earth. That is a huge monster of a not-for-profit organization, holding nature preserves, agricultural forests, and thousands of conservation projects world wide. The time will come when we all have to work as one. Right now there are disagreements and quarrels. A way must be found through those problems.”
“I understand none of that,” Abby told him.
“That’s all right. It doesn’t affect you – as yet. But it’s there. The wide world and its complications are all around us. Remember my grandfather’s retelling of the legend of the young warriors. That’s the blueprint.”
“Sonny was just reminding me.”
“This is all part of that story. It’s a bridge to cross, the dangerous beginning of the Good Road. And remember, we must not underestimate the mystery of fate.”
The Plot Continues
As a part of her reunion with her parents, Abby’s father gives her a carved staff, a family heirloom called the mapstick. It becomes her responsibility to understand the significance of the carving and the staff’s mysterious power to communicate and glow in the dark. She returns to Middletown with a new sense of purpose, only to walk into the middle of a political crisis that forces her to flee into the forest to the hidden home of her godmother and aunt, the notorious old woman named Wendy. Abby believes she has failed in all her efforts, but Wendy leads her underground to a visionary experience in an ancient cavern used since prehistoric times.
After returning to Middletown again, Abby’s friend Sara – a journalism intern with a major newspaper – interviews her as a part of a series of stories that have spread over the Half Moon Valley. The text of the interview is as follows.
Sara’s Interview With Abby
From Book 4, Abby and Wendy
“Today we have the wonderful good fortune to interview Abby Chapman in her cottage on the grounds of the Middletown United Church. Many of you have been following this story in Middletown over the past few weeks, and know the incidents and unusual conflicts that have received attention in the public eye. Today Abby invited us here to present her own thoughts on these recent events. Abby, thank you very much for the invitation.”
“It’s my pleasure, Sara. I’m glad to be able to be here and talk about the questions people may have.”
“We understand that you just returned to the church yesterday. Many of our readers saw the photos of you fleeing down Bridge Avenue in a hailstorm last Sunday, the day of the trustee election. Can you tell us why you escaped from town and went into hiding over these last five days?”
“I’ll just say straight out that I was scared, frightened for my life.” Abby paused, organized her thoughts, and went on: “Many of you will remember that I was interviewed at the gate of this churchyard just about four weeks ago, after I was attacked by a mob with torches at an abandoned house at the edge of the forest. And I’ve been followed constantly by private investigators over the past few weeks. I’m not ashamed to admit that this has been an agonizing experience.”
“Thank you for being so frank with us!” Sara exclaimed. “Some of these problems have been covered by this newspaper, and we welcome any comments you may have.”
Abby was unsure where to begin, and Sara suggested, “Perhaps you can shed light on why these incidents have occurred. The public wonders what this violence is all about, and why it is aimed at you, and how it relates to this church.”
“You may recall,” Abby replied, “that this mob violence occurred – on both occasions – during strange and severe, even life-threatening storms, the kind of storms we rarely see. The first storm led to dangerous flooding all along the river valley, as well as traffic accidents that made transportation impossible. The second storm occurred during the vote for trustee here at the church, and made it very difficult for anyone to leave. People could not go home. It’s understandable that these situations could cause fear and anger.”
“Yes,” agreed Sara. “Very understandable. But – and feel free not to answer if you wish – why do you think the violence was aimed at you?” Sara was nervous. Abby turned away from the camera and gave her a wink, as if to say, “It’s okay, I was looking for that.”
“I think there are a few reasons,” Abby answered. “I’m not sure I can explain them very well, and I don’t mean to say I’m certain of anyone’s motivations, but I will offer some possibilities that come to mind.”
“Please, take all the time you want.” Sara’s eyes were wide open with excitement.
“It was… oh, at least eight weeks ago that our church trustees submitted a proposal about climate change to the congregation for a vote. It was approved, but had no real consequences except to bring the conflict out in the open. The proposal declared the destruction of species and the environment to be a sin, and made support for the diversity of life and the health of our planet a special mission for our congregation. I was very moved by Reverend Tuck’s sermon on the subject, as were many of my friends, and we wanted to find a way to make this mission real, to actually do something to show that it mattered. But we could see that the congregation, and indeed our whole country, is deeply divided over this crisis. And it is a real crisis. Our civilization has built up wealth and power through fossil fuel technology, and now we will have to do without it, or destroy ourselves. All those who have amassed fortunes and conveniences and jobs and power through these fuels may have reasons to attack those who try to bring on change. This problem applies to almost everything we do. Heating our homes, driving cars, using plastics and fertilizers… It just goes on and on.”
“But how is this an issue for the church?” Sara asked. “Why did Reverend Tuck get involved?”
“It’s all about children and the future, and whether the earth is a basically good gift of God or not. Reverend Tuck mentioned that the sun will support life on earth for maybe four or five billion more years. That’s four or five billion! I did the math. That’s about a hundred thousand times longer than humans have existed so far. Should we call supporting and preserving that future a sacred responsibility? Is it something we need to take seriously? Do we care about the future of our children, animals, trees… because it’s all up for grabs. And children are not stupid. They know the adults are making terrible mistakes. A four year old child asked me the other day, “Will there be a war?” A war could end it all. Children know that when we’re talking about war or climate change, we’re talking about their future, and whether they will have a future.”
“So what have you, your friends, or Reverend Tuck done about this?”
“Well, one important thing, at least so far as the church is concerned, is to take a close look at the gender problem. It affects not just our day-to-day relationships and social order, but also our beliefs, our view of the universe. Climate change is a spiritual problem, and won’t be solved without spiritual change. That may sound weird, but if you think about it you’ll see that the good guys – the trinity – are mostly up in heaven, and the bad guys, Satan and the crew of devils, are on planet earth, down here with hell and suffering of all kinds. It is important to remember that the earth is usually thought of as female, as Mother Earth. And in the world-view of many religions today, the earth is fated to be destroyed for being bad. The good humans will go to heaven and the bad humans will somehow remain underground and suffer for eternity. Many people retain this world view even if they no longer practice their religion.”
Abby drank some water. She had found something to say and decided to let it all out.
“In most communities and nations, the earth is not considered holy. People may try to argue the point, and of course there are significant exceptions, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s take a close look at the way we treat Mother Earth, and all the life that lives through her nourishment and protection. It’s not a pretty sight. Perhaps most people do not believe, or do not care, that it is a sin for us to destroy the future of life. It’s also quite possible that a majority of people do care, but are powerless to act, because the wealthy who control the economy are not willing to allow change. That is a remarkable fact if you think about it. And it doesn’t have to be that way. From a spiritual point of view, as Reverend Tuck has pointed out, we see the earth declared good and holy in many scriptures. In the Bible we even have a holy female – really a divine woman – caring about the earth, but we never mention her.”
“I’m afraid,” – Sara was struggling with this conversation – “I’m afraid many of us are not familiar with what you’re referring to.”
“In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom, often called Sophia, is definitely a female, and is presented as a spirit on earth, calling on humans to care for life and it’s future. Let me see if I can remember the exact words. It goes something like this.”
Abby stood up and raised her voice. “Wisdom is calling out as she stands by the crossroads and on every hill. She stands by the city gate where everyone enters, and she shouts, ‘I am calling out to each one of you!”
Abby looked at the camera, and said, “I should tell you how Wisdom introduces herself. She describes her history and motivations. ‘I was there,’ she says, ‘when the Lord put the heavens in place. I was there when he laid the foundations to support the earth. I was right beside the Lord, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day and I was pleased with the world and pleased with it’s people.’”
Abby took a deep breath. “Do you see? The heavens and the earth are both holy. The Father in heaven and Mother Earth are a part of one holy creation. And Wisdom is a divine woman – mother and daughter – doing all she can to make life on earth prosper. Do you see? This is family history, the divine family history. And later on the Bible says, ‘For God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ Do you see? The world is holy, is loved by God. Mother earth is sacred.”
Abby looked at the camera and raised her voice. “There are at least four billion years for our children and all life to explore and evolve and grow up to unite heaven and earth. This is a way we can look at the universe. Our modern society has lost its way, has taken devastating wrong turns. Our spiritual traditions need to help with the rescue. Young people want to know: What kind of world are they inheriting? Are we destroying the world God has given us? Or can we grow up to our responsibility to pass along God’s gift to the life of the future. Some of you may wonder why our church is so crowded. Why do more people come every week? Because this is the vision we are presenting.”
Abby stopped, as if she had finished. But Sara was not satisfied. “Please, just a little more,” Sara urged her. “Where is this leading? How does it connect with Middletown and your life?”
Abby rose for another glass of water and returned. “You know,” she said, “we may have to split this interview in two, because there’s so much to say, and it’s kind of complicated, not the way people are used to thinking.”
“We’re more than willing. But please, our readers want to know a little bit about you.”
“Okay, I’ll try. You know, I grew up in Rivergate. I’ve lived in the forest. I have skills as a gardener, and some skills with plants and medicines. You could say I’m bicultural, and see things from a different perspective than many people. And for a while I used to live in the abandoned house on the outside of town. Some people got the idea that I’m a witch, and had the power to bring these storms to punish the people of Middletown. On both occasions that I discussed earlier, I’m sure the attacks on me had to do with a fear that I am to blame for storms and strange weather. I know this sounds unbelievable, but look at the history of our country, and our fear of people who are different, and you will see that it’s happened many times before. Men are often afraid of the power of women. Climate change is scary. Deep down inside we are terrified. Life as we know it may end. It can be convenient to deny that this is so, and then… when it becomes true, blame it on people like me.”
“But you’re a normal girl!” cried Sara. “You’re living here at the church. This is so outrageous…”
“I’m bicultural. My beliefs and vision of life are not simple. And I am determined to stand up for the billions of years of life ahead. My friends and I are trying to create a hopeful path through this scary transition to the life to come, not on another planet or somewhere in the sky, but here on earth. Humans have the power to destroy life, so we must join with God and Nature and Wisdom to support the life to come.”
Sara waited for a moment. Abby said, “I want to thank you and all your readers and listeners for the chance to speak.”
Sara looked at the camera and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, all of you out there watching and listening to us, let me thank Abby Chapman for giving us her time and thoughts today. And let me announce that this is… to be continued. Episode 1. A story we’ve just begun. Thank you so much for listening, reading, or watching us. We hope to see you soon.”
Artist Carlos Uribe
Carlos Uribe is one of our original partners, a friend and prolific artist who has helped shape this project from the beginning. At the moment he is sending his illustrations from California. Since he can’t join our Protectors of the Wood team podcast, he has written the following for this interview.
Prior to my career in youth services and community development, I worked as a theatre technician for many small Bay Area avant-guard companies. The high point of all this activity was a 4-year stint with a traveling circus where the lessons of collaboration, extended family, group dynamics, and love of shared creative effort were firmly entrenched in my personal ethos. Years later I can attribute my artistic process to my involvement in projects involving large numbers of participants.
I entered the youth development field as a program director for a Teen Project in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Later on I worked in a local Boys’ and Girls’ Club and three different youth rehabilitation homes. The Juvenile Detention Center and I created a community art studio in the rural north that served local Native and Latino communities. The transformation of taking my own art process and sharing it with others was a watershed experience. It reinforced how powerful and necessary the creative experience can be for youth and communities.
When I moved back to NYC I was fortunate enough to find work as an art specialist with the Center for Family Life, a social service organization using the arts to build stronger and more versatile communities. John Kixmiller and I formed a close friendship working at CFL, and even as I moved on to work elsewhere we always shared a common interest in art and its transformational abilities. Most recently I am part of an art program (the Gloster Arts Project) that provides an immersive arts program to youth in rural Mississippi.
Somewhere in all of this John started writing his adventure series and asked me to collaborate as an illustrator. He got me to dig out my art school skills and training and create work that is very different from my work as a silkscreen artist. It was an awkward start, but I stayed with it and have drawn more pictures than I can keep track of. The process includes discussions and analysis of the characters in order for both of us to create a unified story, and move forward confident that this process is vital and unique. The drawings I make are what I call graphite paintings due to the detail and work that goes into each one.
Feedback We Have Received So Far
Almost all of us working with the Protectors of the Wood have backgrounds in careers other than writing, literature, or publishing. Our project includes a band (with two CDs, Spoken Word… Unplugged! and Dreams We Dream). We’ve created a website with a podcast, an episode blog, music, and over a hundred drawings in our illustration gallery. We’ve recorded a discussion with our team members as a podcast to accompany this interview. All who are interested in the Protectors of the Wood as a group project can find the podcast through a link from dragonfly.eco or on our website.
In 2014, early versions of the first two books of the series were finished. Each contained a wide variety of illustrations by Carlos Uribe and my son’s friend Gideon Chase. Lawrence Tate, an artist and friend of all of us, began to draw illustrations and helped us finish Book 2 and expanded his role dramatically in Book 3. Tom E. Morgan (the producer of The Protectors of the Wood Band) realized that we had enough illustrations to create an episode series on Facebook. With the illustrations and long narratives allowed by Facebook, we began publishing Book 1 as a series of weekly episodes. Over the past three years this series has found a global audience of 81,000 followers, and is now part way through Book 4. Ninety percent of this audience is between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four. Ten countries have at least a hundred or more followers. I realized that the idea of “a group of teenagers who save the world from climate change” does appeal over many cultures. Through years of comments I am convinced that many followers adopt the weekly episode format as an end in itself, like a weekly adventure story on television. It still amazes me that modern technology allows us to publish a book this way. We also have had success with performances of book-reading and music in coffee shops, restaurants, churches, and schoolyards. At these gatherings we are able to sell books, CDs, and posters.
But the goal of finding visibility in the book world has been difficult. During many long months spent in rewriting and reorganizing Books 1&2, and looking for access to global book distribution, three years went by. Our friend and multi-talented organizer, Tamara Kachelmeier, found the publication and distribution platform Ingram Spark, and – with Lawrence Tate – mastered the skills necessary to use it. Recently a friend of hers, Olivia Rosane, has joined with Ceci Charles-King and Tom E. Morgan to edit and publicize the book series. Olivia sends us her thoughts from London.
Publicist and Editor Olivia Rosane
I grew up in rural Vermont with no TV. My only entertainment was being read to by my parents (or, later, reading to myself) and running around in the ever-changing woods. This early experience gave me a life-long love of nature and stories.
As I have grown up and become aware of all the ways in which human activity is threatening the natural world, stories are the best way I can think of to respond. Climate change requires we tell a new story about ourselves and the planet, one in which the purpose of life isn’t individual success at the expense of other lives, but fulfilling community with human and non-human life forms.
As a Master’s student in Art and Politics last year, I created a multi-media project envisioning a community of climate refugees finding ways to survive in a future London altered by extreme weather and sea level rise. The project was both a warning of what could happen if we don’t change our ways and an example of the kind of community that might help us change.
When Tamara asked me to get involved with Protectors of the Wood, I was instantly engaged. The Protectors of the Wood team and series tells exactly the kind of story we need right now, the story of everyday people coming together to use the skills they have to protect the earth and create a positive alternative to our corporate, winner-takes-all culture.
So far, I have helped get the series into local bookstores in Seattle and Vermont, and have just completed edits on Book 3, which will launch this September.
Plans for the Future
Our book series and our characters have a long way to go before their task is finished. Book 3, The Ghost Girl, is coming out in about three months. Book 4 is half-written, and books 5 and 6 are in the planning stage. Probably a book 7 will be necessary to finish the series. We want to thank dragonfly.eco for giving us a chance to give readers a brief picture of the characters, the plot, and where the book series is going. We’ll do our best to stay in touch with everyone interested in our project, and announce our book launch and other events to come.
Hopefully – with good fortune and the help of many – we can make the book series available to a wide circle of people from all cultures.