Today, KNAU brings you a special installment of our environmental series, Earth Notes...an interview with long-time editor, Peter Friederici. He's stepping down from the position after 15 years to take on a new role at Northern Arizona University as the director of the Master of Arts and Sustainable Communities Program. Peter spoke with Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris about editing hundreds of Earth Notes on the history and bounty of the Colorado Plateau.
GF: I can’t believe Earth Notes is 15 years old!
PF: It seems like a long time ago to me, too. Just going back over the list of all the stories we’ve done, it’s incredible to me.
GF: 700-some stories?
PF: That’s right, yes.
GF: Peter, what is the storytelling concept behind Earth Notes?
PF: I would say the number one storytelling concept that underlies the whole thing is a regional identity. This is the Colorado Plateau. We’re telling stories about the Colorado Plateau. It’s a region that has very little to do with the political boundaries that are on the map because we’re dealing with several states and a whole lot of Native American nations, and, of course, an amazingly diverse array of communities – human communities and ecological communities within that. So, that’s really been the number one idea – to explore this amazing place that we’re lucky enough to call home. And then what the people who started the program were really thinking at the beginning was let’s look at this amazing area through three lenses: the first, biological, just what happens with life here, then a cultural lens and then also a physical lens just because the land itself is so interesting here.
GF: I imagine it’s probably pretty hard with 700 stories looking through those 3 lenses to pick a few of your favorites, but I’d love to hear with this body of work what some of your favorite Earth Notes have been over the years.
PF: It’s really difficult to choose. I’ve loved some of the scripts that really examine interesting connections between people and place, like Diane Hope wrote one about the history of barbed wire and how barbed wire actually shaped the land and made a difference to ecological and human communities. Rose Houk, one of our longstanding contributors did one on repeat photography and how we can better understand the plateau by going back and looking at archival photos to see what things were like. I have really loved some of the ones that are kind of in the category that we might call natural history, just interesting creatures that live here, like the Grasshopper Mouse which David Lukas wrote about.
GF: I don’t remember that one.
PF: It’s a tiny mouse that shrieks at night and turns out to be a really savage predator, and we should be glad they’re not 6’ long! Rachel Turreal who’s written for us from Durango from the realm I think we used to call “home economics”. And some of those have been really wonderful, like she wrote one about her experiments in trying to make syrup from Box Elder trees which are related to Maples. So I have loved stories like that, that really have some interesting twist on how people interact with the place.
GF: I love our Earth Notes meetings where we just sit around the table and brainstorm, and I am always amazed at the list, the long list of story ideas, that you and Rose bring in. Where do they come from? Do you dream them, read them, hear stories…where do you get so many ideas? It is abundant after all these years I’m amazed that we can still come up with all these fresh ideas.
PF: You know, in thinking about those 700 stories I’m reminded of times sometimes before those meetings when I kind of stress out, like, well…we’ve probably told all the stories we can about this place. What else can we do? And that’s a stressful time. But when we get to the meeting, you’re right – there are endless ideas. Quite a few of them come from the writers. Some of them come from listeners who email me or talk to a writer or I just hear about these ideas. And some come just from paying attention and looking around town, looking around this region we live in and wondering about it.
GF: Well, I personally believe that you have definitely left your mark on the storytelling record of the Southwest, and it’s been a privilege and a pleasure working with you all these years, Peter.
PF: It’s been great to be here. It’s really been a wonderful experience.