You Can’t Not Look
Earth is out of balance. This week, you can see it plainly through the eyes of photographers and the hearts of writers.
I hardly ever quote the Bible in this column. But there’s an Old Testament passage that’s hard to avoid given the stories I’ve been editing this week.
It comes from the fifth chapter of an Old Testament book, Jeremiah:
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear.”
Scholars agree that Jeremiah was written at least 2,500 years ago—long before human folly began to knock our planet’s climate out of balance. But they say Jeremiah was a prophet, and he was darn sure prophetic about the climate. For nearly fifty years, climate scientists have produced research to warn us Earth’s temperature was rising. Many people did not see the truth in their data. They had ears, but didn’t hear.
But now, in the twenty-first century, if you have eyes, you can see it. And you can see it right here in the South. That’s what this weekend’s issue of Salvation South is all about.
We begin with the work of Benjamin Dimmitt, a photographer who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Back in the late 1970s, he started paddling the lush, tropical, and gorgeous network of creeks and swamps near the little town of Chasshowitzka, in the Big Bend north of Tampa. That hidden world felt like a wonderland to him. But in the decades since, Benjamin has watched climate change wreck paradise. Later this month, UGA Press will release a book, An Unflinching Look, that sums up the greatest project of Benjamin’s life—photographs that starkly illustrate the decline of a natural Southern wonder.
I first heard of Benjamin’s project this summer, from my friend (and essential Southern photographer) Andrew Feiler, and no more than a week later, I got an email from Janisse Ray, who has long been the most important nature writer in our region. Janisse told me she had been teaching a workshop for writers who wanted to tell their own experiences of climate change—how they had watched the world get different right where they lived and worked. She asked if Salvation South would consider publishing their essays. So today, we bring you “flash essays”—less than one printed page—from twenty-six writers across our region, attesting to what they’ve witnessed and how they feel about it.
It was one of those weeks when you ask yourself if that coincidence was really a coincidence. Right away, I knew we should pair their work and give you a week of stories that would allow you to see and feel how climate change has come home to us in the South. And to consider what each of us can still do about it.
It is not too late.
We round out our week with the final stop on our Southern reader’s/music nerd’s/playgoer’s/arts patron’s travelogue for 2023. Our culture warrior, Rob Rushin-Knopf has taken you to visit the home places of authors Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and William Faulkner, playwright Tennessee Williams, musician Elvis Presley (truthfully, that name needs no modifier), and finally, this week, the shrine to art and weird Southern cosmology, Pasaquan.
Be good to each other. Be good to this planet we walk on.
Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.