Keeping Time


words by willow defebaugh

Photographs by Daniel Shea

Trusting nature’s timing means accepting that life is a constant dance between stability and change. Introducing our latest issue, Atmos Volume 08: Rhythm.

“In the beginning there was rhythm.”

Hans von Bülow

They say timing is everything. The more years that ring my life, the more aware I am of the truth behind these words. It has been five years since we started this magazine, and the issues we have printed in that time have taught us countless lessons about patience and progress, patterns and pagination. There were many moments during the creation of our latest, Atmos Volume 08: Rhythm, in which I felt we had finally found our own rhythm—only to be surprised again.


A rhythm, first and foremost, is a pattern. They are everywhere in nature, as many stories in this issue illuminate. With “Circadian Song,” Kinsale Drake offers an ode to Diné traditions of living in time with the sun. Meanwhile, in “The Butterfly Effect,” Romina Cenisio sheds light on the patterns of the now-endangered monarch butterfly migration. And in “The Changing of the Seasons,” Bill McKibben offers an ode to the seasons that many of us grew up with.


As much as a rhythm holds patterns, it also changes—much like we are watching our world change. In “The Tree Whisperers,” Lynda V. Mapes writes of the timescales of arboreal elders and the knowledge we lose when old growth forests disappear. In “Rare Earth,” Atmos Associate Editor Madeleine Gregory looks at the melting primordial glaciers of Greenland and the complexity left in their wake. Indeed, as Riley Black reminds us in “Borrowed Time,” change is the only constant—both a warning and a cause for hope that we may still change course.


Speaking of constants, in our culture of continuous consumption, what will it take for us to slow down? This is a recurring refrain in this new issue. In “Nature’s Pace,” Rest Is Resistance author Tricia Hersey reflects on the power of ignoring capitalism’s call to create and consume, and in “On the Clock,” Atmos Culture Editor Daphne Chouliaraki Milner uncovers just who pays the price for it. And in “Born Wild,” adrienne maree brown and Prentis Hemphill converse on what it looks like to heal from these systems and to restore our natural rhythms.


In order to hear a rhythm, one must listen for it. What is the climate crisis if not a crisis of listening—to the Earth and those who study it, who know how to speak its language? As such, in “Language of the Spirit,” Atmos Contributing Editor Ruth H. Robertson writes of the wisdom held by Indigenous languages and how a culture’s words carry its essence. And that wisdom is not limited to words, as Climate Director Yessenia Funes signals in “Talking Drums.”


A  number of photo essays in the issue depict how song and dance serve as the heartbeat of so many cultures. In “Raveena’s Awakening,” the titular pop star waxes poetic on the role that nature plays in her work. Meanwhile, in “Making Music in a Warming World,” Whitney Bauck explores how the music industry is responding to our changing environment. And in “Divine Rite,” whirling dervishes of the Sufi tradition demonstrate how movement can be a devotional practice: a way of attuning to the rhythm of the universe.


More and more, I am convinced that our greatest work lies simply in that attunement: our ability to listen for and trust nature’s timing. To know that it really is everything, to both hold the patterns and know that they will evolve. In this way, living a life—much like making a magazine—can feel at times like a symphony, and others, a cacophony. It’s a constant tango between stability and change. We can wrestle with the rhythm, or we can learn to dance with it.

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