• Living Landscapes
    To rewild the western mind Arita Baaijens looks for ancient narratives that matter in the modern world
  • The Landscape Speaks
    Summer 2016 Arita Baaijens brought together scientists and native inhabitants in the sacred Karakol valley in Siberia. The team surveyed and mapped the seen and unseen qualities and values of the valley
  • The Mountain Speaks
    Winter 2016/17 Arita Baaijens joined a tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea to learn about traditional ways of knowing&understanding nature

Living Landscapes

Thirty years of exploration in wild places taught me that the separation between man and nature is an idea that exists in the western mind only. Nature is not ‘out there’, we are part of it. During my travels I was struck by the intimate way herders and nomadic people relate to the natural environment. Land in those marginal regions has spirit, contains memories and is venerated because she nourishes all living beings. In my part of the world we’ve lost touch with nature. We treat the earth like a warehouse of materials for us to use and enjoy without constraint. To reverse the trend I visit cultures that live closer to nature and look for narratives that contain wisdom that is relevant for the 21st century. Yep, quite a challenge in a hi-tech and data driven era called the Anthropocene, but a cross pollination of traditional knowledge, science and technology can lead to new ideas and innovative solutions. Read more below about the first three projects.

“On the edge of what we know, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.

Carlo Rovelli, physicist

I-The Landscape Speaks

Rivers and mountains sing in the Altai Mountains in the heart of Central Asia. Native inhabitants believe that everything in nature has spirit and is alive. A principal goal of the pilot field study The Landscape Speaks in Siberia (August 2016) is to establish a dialogue between local communities and policy makers about the value and preservation of living landscapes, landscapes that are essential to the survival of the Altai indigenous culture. Summer 2016 the pilot brought together the sciences, traditional knowledge and the arts to document the seen and unseen qualities of the sacred Karakol Valley in the Altai Republic (Siberia). The team collected and mapped information about flora, fauna, places of power, memories, stories and mythology. The maps the team has made are being processed into a multi-layered digital map that will become freely available on this website. You are welcome to read more and check the image gallery for photo’s of the fieldwork week, see next column.
The Landscape Speaks is an initiative of Arita Baaijens in cooperation with Slow Research Lab.

Background The Landscape Speaks
During my many travels and explorations in Siberia the biologist in me wondered: If science rejects the notion of animated nature while inhabitants deeply ascribe special powers to their land, does the rejection underscore the limitations of science or does it imply that people who revere nature and spirits live in a fantasy world?
Guided by the writings of anthropologist Wade Davis I discovered that Science offers one way of knowing the world we live in. Other cultures offer other ways of knowing and so reality can take on many forms. In the epilogue of my book Looking for Paradise (Atlas Contact, 2016) I conclude that, ultimately, it does not matter whether or not nature is animated. What matters is which version of the story we believe in and how our society responds to our belief. A child growing up in a culture that believes that the forest has a self or soul, will grow old together with the forest. A child who looks at the trees as lumber or future firewood, a utilitarian view, will see that forest being cut down during her lifetime.

Initiating the pilot The landscape Speaks is my way of saying Thank You to the Altaian people, who showed me that Land indeed has spirit and that we don’t need dogma’s or hi tech solutions to solve ecological problems. A nature-inclusive Narrative is what it takes. Which is perfectly illustrated by three groundrules that summarize the Altaian worldview: Only do things that have meaning, only take what you need, everything happens in it’s own time.

Discover more about the project, the participants and the outcome in the field report and the image gallery. Available Spring 2017: digital maps, articles in English and Russian, pictures and useful links. A public seminar is in the making.

Thank you – The project could not have happened without the support of many people. A special thanks to Danil Mamyev (founder of Uch Enmek Nature Park, Altai Republic), Bas Pedroli (Alterra, University Wageningen), Wayne Poulsen (consultant cultural projects), Marjolijn Boterenbrood (artist) and Carolyn Strauss (director Slow Research Lab).


Can virtual reality rekindle our inborn love for nature? Arita Baaijens believes so. Mindscapes is a pilot virtual reality film about the Irish landscape as seen through the eyes of two Irish farmers. Producer is We Make VR, a pioneer in the field. Sponsor logistics: Extreme Ireland.

Watch our 1 min clip The making of Mindscapes here. The VR film Mindscapes will be available as a free download soon.

III-The Mountain Speaks

The Mountain Speaks is the third initiative of Living Landscapes. Winter 2016/17 Arita Baaijens joined the Soabesi, a clan of hunters in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Bosavi area, to learn about traditional ways of knowing, experiencing and understanding the natural environment. Mount Bosavi is a volcano considered sacred by the indigenous peoples. Although parts of the Mount Bosavi area are at present officially protected, extracting companies are moving into the area and their activities are a threat to both the natural biodiversity of the land and the diversity of the autonomous indigenous cultures. Arita will spend two months with the Soabesi tribe to observe how the complexity of the volcano’s unique ecosystem has influenced the tribe’s culture and worldview. To observe means to actively use all the senses, not ask too many questions, and to be alert and open minded. What does nature teach the Soabesi? What values do clan-members pass on to their children? How does the environment effect their culture and what can we learn from them?

Read my report about this incredible journey.

Very happy with the support of WINGS WorldQuest for my expedition. “Arita will give voice to the unchartable with her unique method of dissecting and layering all of the critical elements that make up a culture” said Yael Jekogian, Managing Director of WINGS WorldQuest.
Since 2005, more than 50 women have flown the WINGS WorldQuest flag during expeditions in over 35 countries and all of the world’s continents as they pursue groundbreaking discoveries. The WINGS WorldQuest flag is recognized as a symbol of excellence in discovery and knowledge, and certifies the significance of its carrier’s endeavor.

Once in her life a woman ought to concentrate her mind upon the remembered earth.

Scott Momaday (I took the liberty to change the gender)