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Goodbye, Little Bear

An old woman in a green t-shirt and pants sits in a pasture, toward the right of the frame. Green grass is visible behind her, as is a brown, wooden fence.
Author Ursula K. Le Guin, whose name means “little bear” in Latin, sits on a ranch somewhere in the outdoors she loved so much. Photo: Still from Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a feature documentary by Arwen Curry

Everyone has to find one’s own way to wildness. For some, bird watching takes them there; for others, it’s weekend trips to nature. For me, it was likely a combination of walking the woods of central Mexico, stargazing through the small telescope my mother got for me and my siblings, firefly “hunting” on cold nights, and gathering wild raspberries on family hikes.

…the intricate bark on a pine tree could be just as beautiful as any symphony

All these random, loose experiences eventually settled as memories essential to the formation of my mind, thanks to a person who helped me make sense of the wild world I experienced when I was still a child. A person who allowed me to understand that the intricate bark on a pine tree could be just as beautiful as any symphony and that there is no way for humans to improve what took evolution millions of years to perfect.

That person died on Monday. I never met her; she was always with me. My daughter carries her name.

The little old lady passed away at 88, somewhat tired, no doubt, but surely satisfied after more than half a century of sharing, through her impeccably woven words, the wild side of this world, beginning with the savage creature we all have within.

She knew the water you summon in one place disappears from another place. She knew that the soft, obscure and forgotten names of each plant and each bird —Olneya, Sequoia, Athene, Falco— are more important than the latest cry of fashion. She knew that to create light is to cast a shadow.

Standing behind a fall tree trunk, a gray wolf looks toward the camera.
Ursula K. Le Guin was an advocate for wolves and other wildlife. Photo: Eric Kilby

She did not speak much, but when she did it was passionately and with the accuracy of a hawk: against Trump, against racism, against capitalism, against violence, against war, against… or rather for wolves, for jaguars, for art, for science, for Earth, for equality of gender, race, and class, for the noblest aspects of people: solidarity, empathy, tenacity, patience.

Her books remain very popular, yet, if for some reason, you’ve missed them, run to your nearest bookstore, get your hands on them, treasure them, and pass them on to your children to help them understand and love the desert, the mountains, the “others”: The Word for World is Forest, The Dispossessed, Tehanu, Four Ways to Forgiveness, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Up until her last days, she was a fervent advocate of embracing and comprehending the wild world —dirty, disorderly, dominated by beasts, and shaped by the elements. Now she’s a little more like the wind and a little less like a tree.

Ursula K. Le Guin (Oct. 21, 1929 – Jan. 22, 2018)

“…only in dying life”

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