by Donna Mulvenna
October 23, 2018
That storytelling is one of humans’ most fundamental communication methods, and our brains are wired for story was clear as far back as the Ice Age when paintings and engravings were etched on European cave walls.
‘Giving voice to those who need to be understood and nurtured by human beings.’
These ancestors used story as a pathway into the mysterious world of Earth, plants and animals, and the spiritual realm to promote responsibility, appreciation, and empathy, giving voice to those who need to be understood and nurtured by human beings. But why do this? And how can we make use of it?
The simple answer to why is: Cause and effect. And complexity.
Cause and effect, from birth, is how we think and process the information in our world. We think in narratives when we leave home for work, plot our short-term goals, or buy our groceries constantly telling ourselves, ‘If this happens, then this will happen, and I will feel like this.’
When we stand in the supermarket aisle deciding which drink to buy, the narrative for a health conscious person might be, ‘If I buy a drink full of sugar, I’ll feel great for half an hour, then slump right when the boss wants me to give that presentation. It’s frustrating I can’t drink whatever I want.’ Or, for the environmentally conscious shopper the inner narrative is possibly, ‘If I buy this drink in a plastic bottle, the cap ring might strangle a growing baby bird. The bottle might be swallowed by a whale.’ The two stories act as both the vehicle and a reservoir for our experience. The outcome is not preordained, but the choice we make.
Because our experiences take place in a complex environment, one that is increasingly fraught with environmental concerns—preserving marine life, slowing global warming, understanding animal culture, and considering our rightful place in the natural world. Stories help our brains make meaning of life, and help us make sound choices.
For instance, we might feel disillusioned with our modern life, until we read the story of a woman who travelled to the Amazon rainforest to create a simple life. She had never stretched herself so far before, but her heart urged her to go. Challenged and tested, she believed nature assaulted her from every corner, until she stood upon a mountain and gazed over the rainforest.
‘When I peered over the precipice, my eyes widened even more than my mouth, straining to take in all they could of this new realm. From my great vantage point, I looked down on a world of trees, the tallest form of life on earth, and their crowns a continuous rolling green ocean. I couldn’t remember ever seeing anything more beautiful, more enchanting, and more intricate. Like the king of the castle, I felt untouchable. I slipped closer to the edge. Emotion welled inside me, and I wanted to cry. … Air surged against my chest like a wave at a levee bank. With my arms spread wide I embraced the universe, every known and unknown part of it. … I’d never felt more alive.’
Or, we might wonder why people make choices we don’t agree with and we read of a young man who went hunting wolves. ‘We reached the old wolf in time to watch the fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.’
Stories such as these show nature is not distant from us. It is close and personal, just outside our door if we choose to see it. It is also immense and important, and its protection is connected to the welfare of our souls.
‘Story evolves through the ages.’
Fictional or nonfictional, realistic or embellished—asking the spirit world to bring success when hunting a Higgs Bison, or combating the dark powers of a Lord threatening to take over and destroy Middle Earth—stories that evolve through the ages embed into our culture and form a blueprint for how we live our lives.
‘Stories are the legacy of people who draw strength from body, mind, emotion, and spirit, and who wished to pass their wisdom and knowledge to a new generation.’
The Ice Age blueprint may have been about how to hunt to feed the tribe, but our parents’ standard blueprint more likely emphasised the importance of getting a good job, marrying, and starting a family. Both stories are the legacy of people who draw strength from body, mind, emotion, and spirit, and who wished to pass their wisdom and knowledge to a new generation. In these tenuous times, when the survival of Earth and humankind is being pushed to the brink of existence, we need stories about insight, courage, and hope. These qualities, found in narratives from the past, help us reclaim and implant ancient wisdom, and in modern story, navigate us towards a better future.
Structuring story into our lives unites our subconscious being—our thoughts and memories, with our conscious self—our learned behaviour patterns, an essential step towards healing ourselves and each other, and restoring our relationship with Earth.
Structuring story into people’s lives is the seminal purpose of publishing houses such as Stormbird Press, whose mission it is to deliver stories of a certain kind—those which defend nature and empower communities to protect what remains wild in the world. Fiction or nonfiction, and regardless of genre, Stormbird Press publications are based on observations and experience, profound insight, and wisdom built over generations, that offers readers a deeper understanding of our planet, and empower them to make informed decisions.
 Mulvenna, D. 2018. Happiness is Green. Stormbird Press, Parndana
 Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology. Number 238, Library of America Series.