Rejoicing with Nature In Our Own Backyards with Margaret Renkl

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This program may stir up many memories of encounters with the wild neighbors in your own backyard. Renkl suggests stepping out of our small world of computer screens, smart phones, and TVs to step into the larger natural world, which is everywhere, just outside our front door. She helps us to see its delights more clearly. She says, “I'm not trying to position myself as an environmental writer who is a true expert in the field, I'm just a person who sits on the back steps, or looks out the window, or walks in the park. I don't have any special expertise. All I can tell you is what I've observed myself in my own little half acre on which I’ve lived for 28 years.” Renkl encourages us to support groups like the National Wildlife Foundation and to sign petitions that favor a healthier environment. However, her most inspiring advice is to go out and make for yourself an “untidy” garden that will nurture your soul and the natural world. She encourages us to fall in love with the natural companions in our lives: the spiders, the hummingbirds, the coyotes, the butterflies, rabbits, crickets, raccoons, and so many other species who are living right beside us. When we fall in love with them, we can't help but want to save them. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms) 


Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear weekly. She has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards for her writing. She is the founding editor of Chapter 16, a daily literary publication of Humanities Tennessee. A graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina, she now lives in Nashville. 

Margaret Renkl is the author of: 

  • Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (Milkweed Editions 2019)
  • Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South. (Milkweed Editions 2021)
  • The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year (Spiegel and Grau 2023) 

To learn more about the work of Margaret Renkl go to

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • What is the “birding tradition” of spotting the first bird of the new year will set the tone for the year
  • What was Justine’s encounter with crows on her vision quest in the desert
  • How, as children, Renkl and her brother were delighted with playing unsupervised all day in nature
  • How we become imprinted by the landscapes in which we were raised
  • How she and her brother, as children, learned, by close observation, the amazing transformation of a tadpole becoming a frog
  • How amphibians are an indicator species that report on the health of our environment
  • What is the shocking and dramatic drop in modern butterfly numbers
  • What is meant by the “shifting baseline” as experienced by different generations of people
  • What is the advantage for backyard species to live in an “untidy” garden
  • Why Renkl is a participant in registering her property as a certified pollinator and wildlife habitat
  • What are some suggestions to create, with neighbors, a corridor that invites a natural environment for all kinds of wildlife to thrive
  • What was Renkl’s relationship with a web-building spider that shared her desk
  • Justine’s realization that even a tiny spider has consciousness
  • What is Renkl’s process in being a writer
  • What does brain research reveal about the benefits of walking 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 6/19/2023   Program Number: 3794

Music Playlist

From Album:  Canyon Lullaby
Artist: Paul Winter

Opening Essay: 04 Canyon Chaconne
Music Break 1: 12 Waltz of the Ravens
Music Break 2: 14 Dreamcatcher
Music Break 3: 21 Canyon Chaconne (reprise)