Real ground

An Offering of Hope, Connection, and Community

When Ursula LeGuin received the National Book Award in 2014, she said, “I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.”

The global pandemic and shutdown that commenced in March 2020 wasn’t what she had in mind that day.  Nevertheless, our societies were stricken with fear, and we all needed real grounds for hope, and images and inspirations for a larger reality.

Like so many others, we at the Natural History Institute pondered how to be of use in this extraordinary time.  The Institute’s work has always focused on fostering connection—between people, and between people and the living Earth.  We are blessed to serve as a hub for a broad-based community of naturalists, writers, artists, educators, and thinkers engaged in this shared work.  Thus, we chose to mobilize this resource of inspiration and insight, as we all grappled with fundamental questions of new relationship with the world and each other.  This fit with an explicit part of the Institute’s mission: “to promote the health and well-being of humans and rest of the natural world.”

In April 2020, we initiated an open journal of field notes, images, and ideas from the places we all found ourselves hunkered down. We invited both writings and visual imagery that engaged with these three broad realms:


Bearing witness matters.

  • What do you see outside your window?
  • In what form is nature presenting itself to you?


There is reciprocity between healing ourselves and healing the world.

  • Where do you currently find beauty?
  • How are you coping with the overarching sense of uncertainty?


If we pay attention, this pandemic can reveal what sort of world we want to live in.

  • What, if anything, prompts you to feel genuine hope?
  • Do you have any new clarity on what sort of post-virus world we could/should create?

We ultimately published online more than thirty contributions, from around the world, including perspectives from remote wildlands and great urban centers. 

As the world hobbles back toward normality, we have decided to close down this feature.  But we encourage you to check out the wonderful words and images that emerged from this project, all of which will remain archived on our website.

We thank all the authors and artists who contributed (they retain full copyright to their work).  We would also like to acknowledge the essential contribution of Assistant Editor Anna Nellis Smith.