Alejandro Frid, A World for My Daughter

Definitely one of the most salutary books I've read in some time, Alejandro Frid's new Caitlin Press volume A World for My Daughter has the intriguing subtitle An Ecologist's Search for Optimism. Marketing's needs means that titles and subtitles generally aren't to be trusted, but not this time: Frid's chapters are addressed to his young daughter, and his overall focus is on how his work as an ecologist both puts him on a trendline toward depression and despair, and puts him in the way of reasons for optimism and joy.

Frid's book takes the form of letters to his daughter Twyla Bella, currently 11 years old, though the letters are written with a voice and complexity that's pitched to her slightly older self rather than her present self. A very bright young teenager could make excellent sense of the book, certainly, but this isn't a book for children so much as a book for parents which models an ecologically thoughtful relationship with one's own child.

Frid's ecological encounters have led not only to the cataloguing and hypotheses of a scientist, but to the synthesizing worldview of an engaged thinker. In 2012 Frid was among many arrested in Vancouver for blockading coal trains, and in 2014 for protesting pipeline expansion. His scientific experience has imposed a moral obligation on him, an obligation intensified by his role as father.

Deer in South America, caribou in the Northwest Territories, glass sponges near Vancouver, kelp forests off Haida Gwaii, Frid's career as an independent ecologist has offered encounters with innumerable species in remarkable places. We dive with Frid amongst rockfish, and we hike cliffs with him to count Dall's sheep. We hunt and fish and paddle with him.

We're even there when he leaves his 7-year-old daughter on a small island in Haida Gwaii for the day, alone except for her 9-year-old friend, because everyone on board ship needs to participate in the day's data collection. Later that day, we watch proudly with him through binoculars as the children find shelter in a storm, and we reflect on what this means:
My responsibility is to hand down to you the stories and tools that will allow you to deal with a rapidly changing world and do what you can to steer that new world towards a path of greater resilience. (p.72)
When young Twyla Bella finds her own shelter, while Frid himself is working on a population survey out of fear of eventual extinction, we see broader reasons for optimism. She has some of the tools, in other words, and she's resilient in the way that so many children are, the way that a whole world needs to become resilient.

And so there are all kinds of reasons that different readers should appreciate this book. I was insufferable reading A World for My Daughter, even if I restrained myself from reading it aloud to everyone around me the whole time. If a copy isn't under every Christmas tree this year, I'll be very disappointed in all of you.

(Presumably I should be reading David Boyd's Optimistic Environmentalist as well, to see how an environmental lawyer manages to find hope in times like these? But these days, I'd rather think about materialities than about policy. Soon, perhaps!)


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