Why Storytelling Will Save Wildlife


Great Blue Heron covered in oil from the Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Great Blue Heron covered in oil from the Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Photo/David Kenyon
The definition of an epiphany (or one definition) is “a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something”.  How I love a good epiphany.  Mine usually begin like this, “Oh my gosh, I am right and you are wrong!”  Being from the Midwest this epiphany may occur silently while I smile pleasantly at you (we are so very polite here).  But, I digress.

More often than not, really momentous epiphanies surface from great storytelling.  To be on the receiving end of a great story is to experience a revelatory moment in the midst of hearing, seeing or reading about something or someone who moves you, sparks your imagination, makes you laugh out loud or even scares the bleep out of you.

Storytelling is a“golden ticket” that makes you go from sitting to standing, from scarcity to abundance, from fear to courage.  You get up, metaphorically or physically, and you take yourself somewhere new and better.

NWF Storytelling Initiative

In the New Year, National Wildlife Federation is embarking on a storytelling initiative, the brainchild of NWF staffer Carla Brown who is leading this effort and to which I’m thrilled to be a devoted storytelling groupie.   We’ve just begun and what I see are endless prairies, mountains and rivers of amazing people who for one reason or another, have privileged the National Wildlife Federation with sharing in their expression of love for wildlife and the natural world.  In my nearly 20 years at NWF, this new adventure in storytelling is the most inspiring thing I’ve been a part of.

And while the world often pushes us to tell stories of only larger than life characters and tragic events; if you’re like me you crave stories of authenticity, of people like yourself, of small gestures that add up to something bigger or simply make life more fulfilling.

“It’s the worst of bad manners – and self protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society – to ridicule the small gesture.  These earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead, searching out redemption where we can find it: recycling or carpooling or growing a garden or saving a species or something.  Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial.  Ultimately, they will, or won’t, add up to having been the thing that mattered.”

Barbara Kingsolver

The Power of Storytelling

One personal golden ticket moment for me that came from storytelling was a paragraph in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  If you haven’t read this story, the Kingsolver family spent a year off the food grid, growing their own vegetables and fruit, raising their own animals, making all their food.  For most of the book I was inspired and salivating (see the book’s recipes!) and quite honestly, a little intimidated.  It is unlikely I will personally raise the turkey that I later eat on Thanksgiving.

But Barbara Kingsolver’s story and what said towards the end of her book about stepwise changes adding up the thing that mattered, made me get up and re-establish my garden (something I’d stopped doing for a few years), made me pay attention to the praying mantis on my fence, made me feel proud of feeding my family from the garden.

Through a small gesture I reminded myself that spending more of my daily life outdoors brings nothing less than welcome stillness to my often bustling soul.  That’s the golden ticket of storytelling and the power within, and that’s what drives me in this new effort – because if we do this storytelling initiative well – it will produce “golden tickets”, and I can’t think of anything we all deserve more.