As we slog through the perpetual wars of our time, the challenges we face with climate change, and the widespread gap between the haves and the have-nots, we yearn for those creative souls who can lift our spirits with stirring and hopeful images of the future. Thank goodness for Diane Ackerman. In her distinctive and many-splendored books she has celebrated the senses, revealed the joys of being an "earth ecstatic," charted the natural history of love, opened our eyes to the mysteries and beauties of the dawn, delineated the multidimensional wonders of play, and written with authority about bats, penguins, crocodiles, and whales. She has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to receiving many awards and recognition for her work.
In her 24th book, this inimitable writer takes us on an exciting, philosophical, and thought-provoking tour of our time as human beings deal with the challenges of environment, ecology, technology, cities, climate, geology, animals, genetics, and much more. She writes with buoyancy:"I'm all for renaming our era the Anthropocene — a legitimate golden spike based on the fossil record — because it highlights the enormity of our impact on the world. We are dreamsmiths and wonder-workers. What a marvel we've become, a species with planetwide powers and breathtaking gifts. That's a feat to recognize and celebrate. It should fill us with pride and astonishment. The name also tells us we are acting on a long, long geological scale. I hope that awareness prompts us to think carefully about our history, our future, the fleeting time we spend on Earth, what we may leave in trust to our children (a full pantry, fresh drinking water, clean air), and how we wish to be remembered."
We are familiar with and ashamed of the many ways in which we have dominated, manipulated, plundered, and violated the natural world and her creatures. Ackerman is saddened by these scary botches and nightmares but, at the same time, she is optimistic about such things as ocean gardening, regenerative medicine, 3D printers, floating schools, an Interspecies Internet, preserving seed diversity, green architecture, experiments in the gene pool, expanding the human lifespan, the wide-spread use of robots in all aspects of our lives, and the adventures of mega-cities.
For Ackerman, wonder is a major spiritual practice that can energize and revitalize us in the present moment. It's what is needed when so many people are depressed about the future or for generations to come. Wonder engenders worship and pulsates in prayer. It reminds us that the world is moving toward us with a flood of epiphanies. Ackerman concludes with a hopeful redefining of what it means to be human:
"These days, startling though the thought is, we control our own legacy. We're not passive, we're not helpless. We're earth-movers. We can become Earth-restorers and Earth-guardians. We still have time and talent, and we have a great many choices. As I said at the beginning of this mental caravan, our mistakes are legion, but our imagination is immeasurable."