Degree Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2020

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts

Department

English

Major

Creative Writing and Environment

First Advisor

Debra Marquart

Abstract

Our Mortal World, a collection of essays, is the story of the species and ecological processes I've come in contact with as a naturalist and student of the more-than-human world. The Anthropocene, the Sixth Extinction, the Climate Crisis, Defaunation: all names for our increasingly changed and changing planet. The secret I've learned? We don't have to travel to tropical rainforests or coral reefs to see extinctions, biotic invasions, and species transformations—these things can be seen in the average American's backyard.

The inciting event, when I realized I needed to dedicate my life to communicating the enormous transformations I've witnessed, was the mass death of bats due to White-Nose Syndrome around my hometown—bats I had developed an intimate connection with. It was also a time where I learned to read geologic layers to discover the stories of the past, stories which hold vital relevance to modern change. I visit other witnessings in this essay collection as well: the invasion of quagga and zebra mussels into the Great Lakes and the loss of the Midwest's native mussels; how scientific training can both facilitate and inhibit care for the natural world; how our paths cross with other beings from tiny insects to enormous whales; how our actions interact with landscapes to create communal worlds and connect separated periods of time; how scientists, conservationists, artists, and educators work to save and understand other species and communities; and the delicacy, beauty, and deep connections which remain to us.

The essays of Our Mortal World inevitably deal with my own personal story, which I've woven into the larger ecological one. I've gone through loss, fought my loneliness through training as a scientist, transitioned from science to science communication in the role of naturalist, made connections, parented a young child, and practiced art, all amidst a background of tremendous change. I aim to show not only my own story but the fact that our human lives—with all their loves and losses, births and deaths, connections and isolations, joys, miseries, and surprises—are entangled with the nonhuman.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31274/etd-20200624-228

Copyright Owner

Keygan Summer Sands

Language

en

File Format

application/pdf

File Size

207 pages

Available for download on Monday, June 01, 2026

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