T. A. Barron is the award-winning, internationally bestselling author of more than 30 books for children and adults, including The Merlin Saga. All his books have environmental themes. He also loves hiking, camping, and skiing in Colorado with his family.
What motivates you to support conservation and/or Tompkins Conservation in particular?
I support environmental groups because they are great forces for good, healthy, sustainable life on our fragile planet! It’s that simple. Without the dedicated, savvy, hard-working folks at those groups—people who could be making lots more money doing something else, if that was all they cared about—we are lost. With them…we have a genuine chance to save our planet. Our children. Our fellow creatures. And ourselves.
In sum, I support environmental organizations because I can’t give up on this home planet of ours. Yes, it is beleaguered and trashed and attacked on every level. That we know beyond doubt. But it is also full of enduring wonder, beauty, and mystery—a place that nourishes us physically and spiritually every single day.
What environmental groups provide, at the core, is a chance for life on Earth to survive. And something more — a chance for humanity to rise to a higher level. To be inspired to choose long-term wisdom over short-term greed. To be our best selves as stewards of this planet.
No better example exists than Tompkins Conservation. Inspired by a bold, magnificent dream to protect forever the most marvelous wild ecosystems of Patagonia, this organization continues to make enormous progress, helping the people, plants, and creatures of this wondrous region to live in natural harmony. Whenever I feel burdened by the weight of the Earth’s environmental challenges, I think of Tompkins Conservation and my hope is renewed.
Do you address environmental issues when writing for young audiences?
Nature is hugely important in all my books. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I treat the natural world not merely as a setting, a backdrop for my stories—but as a full-blown character. Places are alive, just like you or me. They have moods, histories, and qualities that can be bizarre, humorous, tragic, mysterious, or inspiring. Part of my job as a writer is to make those places so real, so sensuous, so fully alive, that readers want to voyage there again and again. In this way, environmental awareness is woven through all my books.
On top of that, I always weave environmental themes into my books. I truly believe that saving the Earth is about saving our fellow creatures—as well as ourselves. Stories are a wonderful way to convey this idea, sometimes directly and sometimes through metaphors.
My books about the young wizard Merlin — 13 books in all, now translated into more than two dozen languages — are really an extended environmental parable. Merlin (much like the guy who wrote the books) learns all his greatest lessons from nature. His elemental magic comes from listening to the language of rivers and trees, flying as a hawk, and running with the deer.
Here’s an excerpt (from The Fires of Merlin) when he becomes a stag:
“Somehow, in a mysterious way, I was listening not just to sounds, but to the land itself. I could hear, not with my ears but with my bones, the tensing and flexing of the earth under my hooves, the changing flow of the wind, the secret connections among all the creatures who shared these meadows—whether they crawled, slithered, flew, or ran. Not only did I hear them; I celebrated them, for we were bound together as securely as a blade of grass is bound to the soil.”
As a longtime author writing for young people, do you see children’s relationship with the natural world changing?
The most important thing is to convey to our children, through actions as well as words, the interdependence of all living creatures. We all belong to the same family; we are part of the community of species; our fate is connected to the health of our planet.
How do we convey these ideas? Through the stories we share… and the places we share. Sure, there are worrisome examples of young people feeling less connected to nature — but that’s no match for nature’s powers of inspiration.
For example… just take children outside to look at the stars together on a summer night. It’s always a delight to watch kids wake up to the wonder. There is nothing like gazing up at the stars to feel both very small, and very large, at once — to feel humbled by the vast sweep of creation, and, at the same time, to feel enlarged because we are all part of that creation.
Does your interest in Patagonia and the Route of Parks stem from your travels there?
Actually, I felt the allure of Patagonia long before I was ever able to go there. Not from any particular source, but from the name itself — its association with the most wild and wonderful places on Earth. So when I turned 50, I gave myself a special birthday present of a 3-week trip to Patagonia. My wife and I hiked through many unforgettable parts of Chile and Argentina. And I’ve gone back several times since, because the magic of this place only keeps growing.
Now the Route of Parks promises to inspire many others from around the globe to come and experience the treasures of Patagonia. But be warned: No single visit will be enough. You, like me, will come back. And you, like me, will feel deep and enduring gratitude to Tompkins Conservation!