After watching the recent film Avatar, I was inspired to write about the people in my life who have inspired and taught me, and numerous others, about the powers of nature and healing and communication. My real-life avatars. Each with an urgent message. This is the story of one of them.
I first noticed Henry Fair at the local farmer’s market with canvas bags overflowing with green kale and leeks. His huge laugh drew my attention, and then our mutual friend Tom said, “Heather, you two are like peas in a pod!” I laughed and joined the circle of conversation. Henry had just launched into an explanation of the damage that pig farms are wreaking on the ecosystem. He was saying something like,
“In the United States, hogs produce more than 119 million tons of waste a year, which then goes into a lagoon (spread out with his slight S. Carolina drawl) with feces, bacteria and things like pesticides and hormones the pigs were fed, and then make their way eventually into the groundwater and more.”
And I was intrigued (who wouldn’t be?). He went on to talk about renewable resources and we eventually argued about whether or not environmentalists should eat meat, even if grass-fed and organic. [for more on the factory hog farm issue see Discover article featuring Henry's photos and information]
I’m so timid in public about issues that get people riled up, and this guy was obviously not timid, and spoke with a tone of authority and genuine passion in a manner that captivated everyone around him. Including me. I asked him if I could interview him for my blog. I sensed he had lots and lots more to say. (little did I know!) I met him the next day for at his South Salem address, and as I drove past the sign for the Wolf Conservation Center, and through the gates, came upon a carcass of freshly killed deer at the side of the driveway. I persevered, though wondered what in the world I was getting myself into. [I later learned that the town drops off roadkill for the wolves that are housed there in a remarkable preserve. I would also soon learn that Henry is the founder of the Wolf Conversation Center, the preeminent facility in the eastern United States for the captive breeding and pre-release of endangered wolf species]
As I walked past rows of neatly stacked firewood surrounding the deck, the sun was setting. I stopped at the glass doors as I heard the wolves begin to howl. Awed by the unfamiliar sound that I had so often read about, or heard on movies, I was quiet as I stepped into the world of J Henry Fair, my soon-to-be close friend and respected comrade-in-arms.
Henry Fair is a renowned eco-photojournalist known for his incredible eye for visual beauty in the midst of destruction. He is most well-known
for his aerial photography of industrial contamination sites which have been written about in magazines like National Geographic and Discover and are used by the leading environmental advocacy groups around the world. Check out his stunning and thought-provoking project, IndustrialScars.com. In his artist statement he writes:
My work is a response to my vision of society. I see our culture as being addicted to petroleum and the unsustainable consumption of other natural resources, which seems to portend a future of scarcity. My vision is of a different possibility, arrived at through careful husbandry of resources and adjustment of our desires and consumption patterns toward a future of health and plenty….At first, I photographed “ugly” things; which is, in essence, throwing the issue in people’s faces. Over time, I began to photograph all these things with an eye to making them both beautiful and frightening simultaneously, a seemingly irreconcilable mission, but actually quite achievable given the subject matter.
I never finished that interview. We simply talked and shared stories and have never stopped. Henry lives in constant state of questioning: how things can be done more efficiently, with less environmental impact, and more ease. And he is constantly looking for more ways to spread the message that our consumption-based habits need to change. NOW. At lunch this past week, we joked about his bowl of wine corks. “I’m going to think of something to use them for,” he says. I suggested he make them into recycled rolling foot massagers. He doesn’t allow me to do dishes because he has a particular way of cleaning them, that saves the most water. Nothing is wasted. There is a compost bucket near the sink. Water from the shower is caught in a bucket as the shower warms, and saved for flushing the toilet. He plans on installing a simpler way of managing that at some point. Every light that can be turned out or dimmed, is. He has figured out how to maximize the mileage of his original model Prius, which he only drives when he can’t walk, bike or use the commuter bus or avoid a trip altogther. He specifically chose to live near public transportation. He says that when you’ve seen what he’s seen around the world, the intense destruction and scars on the earth, you never again consume resources without thought. Question everything. I ask him what his dream is, how he plans on getting people to understand. He replies, “I don’t care about understanding. I want F**ing behaviour change.” He laughs dryly.
Back to that first time at Henry’s house, we went into the preserve where the Wolf Center’s ambassador wolves are. Henry fed Apache some raw meat and supplements through the fence. As I stood there dusk settled in, and he said to wait. Apache began a low, then high plaintive, chilling and awing howl, and slowly I heard answers from the wild packs around the preserve. Apache listened for the answers, then looked in my eyes and I realized I was in the presence of two avatars–Apache and Henry Fair.
On January 1, 2010, Henry started Twitter tag, #365ways2savetheplanet, which is a label that people can use to search twitter. People make up these labels and many of them catch on. Let’s help this one catch on! Every day he writes a short (less than 140 chrctrs) Tweet and sends it out to the Twitterverse in hopes it will get retweeted and serve to remind people of small changes they can make now. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenryfair. Here are some examples:
- Jan3: Buy in bulk. Plastic packaging uses oil to make and is one of the largest landfill items.
- Jan6: Don’t print that document. Read it on the computer. If you MUST print, use scrap or recycled paper!
- Jan11: Tell a friend. If ur living responsibly & making Earth-friendly decisions, spread the word. Be the change!
- Jan16: Just say NO 2 bottled water! Tap H2O all the way, filter if necessary, always drink from glass cup/bottle/etc.
- Jan25: Install an On-Demand water heater. A helpful site for additional info: http://tiny.cc/H2O
- Jan26: This goes w/o saying – #Recycle. Everything. If it’s not recyclable, don’t buy it. Easier said than done.
You can also find Henry on IndustrialScars.com
And on his blog: SoapBoxHenry
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