Watershed: Attending to Body and Earth in Distress by Ranae Lenor Hanson

University of Minnesota Press, 2021 | Paperback: $19.95

Reviewer by Heidi Newbauer

The body is one. Writer, educator, and climate activist Ranae Lenor Hanson takes us with her as her body experiences its own crisis, type 1 diabetes, while weaving us through the climate changes she has seen since her childhood in the Minnesota woods. All the while, she connects us to other parts of the world through climate refugee stories: gently moving, compassionate.

Interwoven into these narratives of her life, she invites us to further nourish our ecosystems individually and collectively through poetic, meditative breaks from each chapter. These meditations teach us how to breathe again. They teach us how parts become whole, how wisdom carries us and heals, and how the simple things are the bigger things. She tells us, “Listen with a welcoming face so you come to know your neighbors” and “get to know a tree. Over time. Personally.”

Hanson’s experience with her type 1 diabetes parallels the breaking down of the world she sees around her, and how the diabetes epidemic has broken down generations who have struggled for traditions, lost in war and commercialism. She writes, “in some communities, more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native adults have type 2 diabetes. Why? Traditional lifestyles for those communities rely upon identification with the land and its inhabitants and upon the hunting and gathering of food” and “increasing evidence shows that endocrine disrupting chemicals may well be precipitating the development of diabetes.” The grief is unavoidable, she tells us. It is to be felt.

Even in this breaking down, she reminds us of the true cycles of healing and how hope is light and water a life force across the world. Hanson’s poetic weavings of stories and meditation give us a window into the power of our relationships. She shows us how gentle—and knowing—our individual and collective bodies truly are.  

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