B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1987
Florence studied botany and ecology at Evergreen, and has gone on to a long career as a rare plant botanist, working in the field all over the West. She has also been studying Buddhism and Zen for 25 years, and is a Soto Zen priest. These two passions came together in 2006, when she began writing essays about spirituality and the environment. Her essays have been published in a number of national magazines, including Tricycle, Nature Conservancy, Terrain, and Turning Wheel. She is also a blogger (see website). She co-edited and contributed to Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing. She is hard at work on a second book, a compilation of Zen koans and stories about women across 25 centuries, with commentaries by contemporary women teachers.
Latest Publication Title
Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental and Place-Based Writing, University of Utah Press, 2009
Articles about Buddhist practice and conservation in Tricycle Magazine, Turning Wheel, Inquiring Mind, The Nature Conservancy and Terrain.org
From Seeds, an essay in Wildbranch:
Now, as the scope and speed of climate change becomes clearer, I realize that those many rare plants that I’ve worked to so hard to protect, that are known only from a single place or a handful of places….they’re not likely to make it through this change. Unlike animals, or more widespread plants, they have nowhere to go, and no way of moving north or up as the land dries and warms. They’ll wink out, one by one, except for the little packets of seeds resting in their dark wombs in the seed-banks of the world, or a few carefully tended plants in some botanical garden, placeholders for once-wild species, like portraits on a wall. I’ve spent half a lifetime dedicated to the protection of what may be gone by the time I die. I found new species that may gone in my lifetime. How do I go forward, knowing this? I stand in the offices of the Berry Botanic Garden with my packets of precious seeds, the genetic legacy of Umtanum wild buckwheat in my hands. I’m talking with my friend Ed Guerrant, the conservation director, and listening to the birdsong in the graceful gardens out the window, when I notice a seed conservation newsletter on his desk. On the cover are a series of oval photographs, old brown portraits of nine men and women, each solemnly posed. When Ed is called out of the office for a moment, I pick up the newsletter. The photographs are of nine caretakers of the great seed-bank of Leningrad. Before the beginning of World War II, a place deep in the heart of Leningrad housed what was then the world’s largest collection of plant seeds and tubers – more than 200,000 different species and varieties, including thousands of varieties of cultivated food plants. During the war, Hitler’s army besieged the city for nearly nine hundred days. By the end of the siege, one and a half million people had died, almost all from exposure and starvation. The scientists who maintained the seed-bank could have eaten what was stored there, and survived. Instead, mindful of the heritage in their hands, knowing what it would mean to the world if these unique species and cultivars died out, they hid them and cared for them as the famine deepened. Nine scientists died of starvation before the siege ended. The collection survived, and is still one of the most important seed collections in the world. This story has stayed with me as a talisman, a koan, a resonant mystery. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about humanity, but what is this? Who were Alexander Stchukin, Liliya Rodina, and their colleagues, who died rather than consume their gifts for the future? There’s something in this for me, some way of holding the despair. I turn it and turn it in my mind.
How did Evergreen help you in your career?
Evergreen gave me the confidence to believe that I could learn - and do - anything if I set my mind to it. I will also be eternally grateful to the late Al Wiedemann, founding faculty member, botanist and kind mentor.