Every good story needs hope.
That’s what an editor once told me when I asked how to broach a somber and potentially depressing article I was working on. "Find the hope."
Dark green stories — inside baseball for environmental pieces that are serious, are scary, and can make you feel sad — sometimes only offer readers a sort of conscious-tithing solace in having taken the effort to read them. Infusing a little hope can make hard truths go down easier.
Journalist Jon Mooallem, 34, doesn’t manufacture a bright side; his lovely, lucid prose reveals that perhaps grasping for a silver lining is intrinsic to being human. Mooallem’s debut book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, came out this May. It's the latest and longest in Mooallem’s oeuvre of wildlife reportage that’s revelatory about the human condition. See “Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?” in the New York Times Magazine and “The Last Buffalo Hunt” in Slate for a sense.
Wild Ones could have been very dark green. Mooallem investigates the plights of the polar bear, the Lange’s metalmark butterfly, and the whooping crane — all endangered — as well as the humans working to save them. Many anecdotes are heartbreaking. A pilot with the whooping crane conservation group Operation Migration admits he has wished he didn’t have his daughter, disillusionment with the world's trajectory weighing on him.
Mooallem’s daughter Isla, around age 2 as he worked on the book, actually inspired her dad's interest in the state of the animals printed all over her pajamas. She often accompanied Mooallem during his reporting, swaddled or strapped to him on buggy rides to spot polar bears in Alaska or hikes to net butterflies in a sand dune. Her presence sweetens and saddens a bleak portrait of our scrambling to preserve what's left of nature.
“I don’t have a totally sunny outlook on these things,” Mooallem told me during a recent interview. “As a parent, I worry about what the world’s gonna be like. That’s why I started this book. I actually thought it would be really kinda cool and important. I’d like my daughter to see some of these species that may not be around.”