Every month we'll highlight a reader in the Great Lakes Bay region and learn more about them, their work, and their reading life.
April is the month we celebrate Earth Day so we are highlighting nature and featuring books about the glorious planet we inhabit. We're fortunate to hear from nature lover and avid reader, Greg Yankee of Midland. Greg lead the conservation efforts at Little Forks Conservancy for four and a half years and recently took on a new role back near his home in southern Michigan.
Greg Yankee and his wife, Tara Clifford, after a hike in Hartwick Pines.
How has reading played a role in your personal/professional life?
I am in the category of people for whom it would be difficult to imagine a personal or professional life without reading! I was raised by and with readers. I don't think a week has gone by in the last few decades without talking books with my parents or siblings and my book buying habits were part of a "if you love me, you need to love this, too" conversation with my wife before we got married. I'm only slightly kidding. Professionally, my training is as a lawyer and even though I do not actively practice, those years of refining textual analysis and comprehension serve me to this day!
What book changed your perspective or surprised you?
Too many to list! Broadly
speaking, I think the effort to
make behavioral economics
more accessible to non-academ-
ics has been so wonderful. I'm
not sure how someone could
read Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman and not
have their perspective changed.
But I could say the same for
books by James Baldwin, Toni
Morrison, Michelle Alexander,
and many others. As for fiction,
my hope every time I pick up a
novel is to have my perspective
changed on something, even if
it is just the way a situation or person can be described or a sentence can be structured.
What nature-related read had the biggest impact on you and why?
Again, too many to list! The poetry of Robinson Jeffers, the essays of Wendell Berry and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the scholarship of Dorceta Taylor have all been very influential for me.
What is your favorite activity to do when in nature?
Walk, think, talk with a friend or loved one.
Why do you feel conserving nature is important?
Beyond the rather basic point of needing clean air, water, and food to sustain life, I think the great Michigan-based nature writer Jerry Dennis put it nicely: "Nature helps us recognize our lives for what they are: small and temporary. That's good. It's a good place to start. We're small, but not insignificant. We're temporary, but we have enough time."
What is the most enlightening book you've read - any topic?
One way to interpret this question would be to think about which book I've returned to the most or find myself applying lessons from the most regularly. If that's the standard, then likely "The Bhagavad Gita."
What outdoor space in Michigan and/or beyond inspires you the most?
I'm trying to actively retrain myself around the importance of valuing nature everywhere - not viewing it as some place you have to go to, because that's what allows us to pollute a place, right? As Wendell Berry put it, there are no unsacred places, there are only sacred places and desecrated places. So, truly, I am trying to have the answer be the next park I spend time in, whether a neighborhood pocket park or a National Park.
What nature-related organizations in the GLB region should people know about and consider supporting?
The Great Lakes Bay region is fortunate to have three nationally accredited conservation organizations:
really effective regional collaborative called the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network.
When is your favorite time/place to read? Why?
No particular time, just whenever the windows present themselves, whether five minutes or several hours. As for place, I do a lot of reading in a rocking chair that my grandparents gave my parents to help them with their four kids under 6 years old at the time.
Toughest part about advocating for the environment?
The sense that it is a "we can deal with it later" issue or a luxury item when compared to other causes can be tough. We need talented, passionate, effective people working across the board and advocating for all causes that contribute to individual and collective well-being.
What are you looking forward to in your new role?
I'm looking forward to continuing my work in the environmental and nature-based fields, particularly because it will be in the region where I grew up. I'm thrilled to be working on the arts & culture grantmaking for the Community Foundation, which will allow me to learn so much about what is happening in that sphere.
Greg was the Executive Director of the Little Forks Conservancy in Midland. This spring he took a new role as the Senior Program Officer for the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.