Editor’s Letter from Issue 07: Sanctuaries

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Sanctuary is a beautiful word. With its long vowels and cadenced syllables, it sounds like a bird call — just as ornithologists liken the Eastern Towhee’s call to Drink your tea! Drink your tea!, I can hear the towhee’s cousin singing Sank-shoo-air-ee! Sank-shoo-air-ee!This, perhaps, is beside the point, but there’s certainly something sacred to be celebrated in the natural world.

My sanctuary is my backyard, which overlooks a ravine supplied with water from the city’s stormwater runoff system. From there, I can see a tiny eco- and highway system at work: squirrels jumping from tree to tree, then onto the roof, with groundhogs scouting the forest floor for stray acorns, hoping to plump up before fall’s first frost. This space is sacred to me because it is quiet and still and alive, shared by the neighborhood yet somehow mine.

When we asked our staff the first thing that came to mind when they heard the word sanctuary, a few thought of birds (go figure) and a few thought of sanctuary cities. This issue offers commentary on neither of these topics, but it does focus on the sacred, the meaningful, the near-and-dear. From Soren Larsen and Jay T. Johnson’s essay on the history and activism of the Wakarusa Wetlands (p. 86) to Natalie O’Neal’s piece on her father’s “dying” church community in central Arkansas (p. 68), Issue 07 doesn’t shy away from examining and interrogating spaces with meanings that extend beyond their borders.

With this issue, we encourage you to think about what sanctuary means to you in the same way that our authors do. In her photo essay, Kelsey Putnam urges us to fight for the modern-day sanctuaries of public lands (p. 34), while Kathryn Nuernberger offers a bracing creative essay on homeland and the people and things that came before (p. 59). Flip back a few pages, and take in the gentle beauty of frost flowers in Dan Holtmeyer’s piece in our “Here” section (p. 30).

As you’ve come to expect from The New Territory, Issue 07 is pretty diverse. But that very diversity speaks to a larger idea about sanctuaries: that they ought to be seen as diffuse, unconstrained spaces, not simply stained glass chapels, gilded temples and fenced-in parcels of land set aside for non-industrial use. Just as William Cronon urges us to view nature as unbounded in his essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” so too should we conceptualize sanctuaries. Can’t a sanctuary also be stark, un-beautiful, ragged? Aren’t the most sacred things to us often flawed and imperfect? In my backyard ravine, plastic bottles and grocery bags line the bed of the creek — not ideal, sure, but workable, in progress, hopeful. A sanctuary in its own right.

Subscribe to The New Territory,  Purchase Issue 07 here, or pre-order issue 08 here.

Sara Maillacheruvu, Executive Editor for The New Territory

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