Terrain.org Essay Wins 2023 John Burroughs Nature Essay Award


Terrain.org Essay Wins 2023 John Burroughs Nature Essay Award

“The 17th Day” by Christina Rivera, which was published on January 1, 2022 in Terrain.org, has been selected as the 2023 John Burroughs Nature Essay Award, the highest annual honor for a creative nonfiction essay on place, science, and the environment.

Judges from the John Burroughs Association have selected Christina Rivera’s important, imperative “The 17th Day” as its annual John Burroughs Nature Essay Award Previously, the essay was featured as a Pocket Pick of the Day and showcased in The Sunday Long Read.

The John Burroughs Nature Essay Award, which is given annually for a published nature essay of outstanding natural history writing that presents vivid, first-hand, scientifically accurate accounts of aspects of nature, began in 1994. The John Burroughs Medal, given to the author of a distinguished nature book, has been awarded since 1926.

Rivera and the essay will be celebrated at the John Burroughs Association Literary Awards Luncheon in New York City on April 3, 2023.

From the Judges

In “The 17th Day,” Christina Rivera adroitly twines the story of Tahlequah, the female orca who in 2018 swam a thousand miles lifting and pushing her dead female calf, with Rivera’s personal saga of illness and miscarriage resulting from heavy metals and industrial chemicals in her body. Southern Resident orcas in the waters off Washington and British Columbia, of which Tahlequah is part, are afflicted with similar toxins; nearly 70 percent of pregnant orcas lose their calves before birth or shortly after. Rivera, a mother of two, is forced to live with the agonizing possibility that both she and Tahlequah poisoned their breastfed offspring.

Embarked on a years-long journey of detoxification, Rivera hones her fears and sorrow into frank and passionately lively prose free of rant or self-pity, her factual assertions rooted in science and medicine. She takes heart and hope in the whales themselves, whose “snappy clicks and bright whistles” she hears in her kitchen from a microphone submerged offshore. Tahlequah gave birth to a new calf recently, and the very next day, in a rare mass gathering, all 73 members of the Southern Resident orcas swirled, breached, and slapped tails, bringing tears to the eyes of observers. Sixty years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Christina Rivera re-sounds the alarm.

About Christina Rivera

Christina RiveraChristina Rivera is a divemaster and author from Colorado whose childhood was bordered by the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean. She credits the fragmentation of her writing to her two young children and catches her breath from parenthood in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and amidst the charred red rocks of the Moab desert. Her essays have been published in Orion, The Kenyon Review, Terrain.org, Catapult, and Bat City Review, among others. She is the recipient of artist grants and residencies from Millay Arts, Wellstone, and Craigartan. Rivera’s debut book of essays My Oceans was selected as a finalist for the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, longlisted for the Graywolf Prize in 2022, and is forthcoming from Curbstone Books, an imprint of Northwestern University Press, in the spring of 2025. You can find and follow her on Instagram (and other social platforms) @seekingsol.

Header photo—J22 Oreo, J46 Star, J35 Tahlequah, and J36 Alki porpoising down Haro Strait from Turn Point towards the west side of San Juan, September 5, 2021—by Elizabeth Sawyer.