Matt Miles

Independent Writer and Journalist

United States

Writer, essayist, and journalist covering topics such as humanity and the natural world, climate breakdown, social and environmental/ecological justice, technology and complexity, permaculture, sustainable agriculture, low technology, and general science.


Ecological Justice and the Natural World

The Gyre
Wants and Needs

"A history culminating with the global embrace of extractivism has pushed our planet toward a tipping point from which its natural systems may not recover. Yet at the same moment, many are waking up to the ‘hidden truth of the world,’ that we have the power to change arbitrarily established institutions and ways of being."

The Gyre
Thinking of a Place

Sometimes it’s the vagaries of the journey—the strange spark of a random encounter, a shining and unbidden moment of epiphany—that prove more evocative in their remembering than the destination itself.

Dark Mountain Issue 19
The Burial of the Dead

The landscape around a vast and hulking industrial plant is strewn with bodies lying on the earth that would receive them too soon. Others, still living, clutch their throats and chests in agony as their breath leaves them. When it is all over, there will be thousands of corpses.

The Gyre
An Age of Anxiety, Haunted by History

In the dog days of last summer, as Marjorie Greene Taylor and QAnon occupied the national headlines, it began to occur to me that many of my fellow Americans had quite literally gone insane. I wrote an essay on it, framing the phenomenon as a second, shadow pandemic afflicting the mental health of many in the US, and especially in rural, conservative areas like the place where I live. Here’s the gist of what I wrote.

The Gyre
A History of Risky Behavior

It’s a gray and slightly chilly day in September 2020 and risk is very much on my mind at the moment. I’m climbing with my friend Jan and his daughter Annamaria at Linville Gorge. It’s my first time climbing here and I’m about halfway up a route that is—even for me, someone who hasn’t climbed much recently—very easy.

The Gyre
Vision, Time, Light and Space

As February passes into March, the cold nights of winter begin to warm a little and the balance of darkness moves toward light. My eyes that have grown tired of the brown monochrome that is the daytime landscape here begin to thirst for green. But if there’s any consolation to those frigid nights, it’s the clarity, depth, and stillness of the sky, lately made even stiller by the decreased air traffic of these pandemic times.

The Gyre
Cultivating Reciprocity

They call all experience of the senses mystic, when the experience is considered / So an apple becomes mystic when I taste in it / the summer and the snows, the wild welter of earth / and the insistence of the sun - from "Mystic," D. H.

The Gyre
For the Trees

It hit me with the force of an ocean wave-the sudden scent of the giant sequoias drifting through the golden-green light of morning in the forest understory. It was my first trip to Yosemite and my friend Carlos and I had come here to climb: sight of the world famous cliffs of 'The Valley'-El Capitan, Half Dome, The Sentinel, Cathedral-awaited us later in the day.

The Gyre
Après nous, le déluge

Dim memories of a watery world haunt our human consciousness. As if to hearken back to a time before our evolutionary ancestors made landfall, many of the world's creation myths tell of a terrestrial world brought into being out of the formless cosmic void of primordial waters.

The Gyre
Past, present and future

January, the month named for the two-faced Roman god of gates and transitions, has been for me a time for musings on past, present and future. At New Year's, we customarily look back on the past and plan for the future.

Dark Mountain Issue 17

Actions and futures that were once unthinkable – because they were too wonderful or too horrible – are suddenly possible. – Thomas Homer-Dixon The first time they appeared, I thought I was dreaming. Flitting about the vegetable garden and alighting atop the fence posts were a pair of the most strikingly blue birds I’d ever seen. Their colour was so deep it seemed almost purple, and against the leafy verdure of the garden, their feathers seemed iridescent, lit from inside. They...

Modern Farmer
The Merry Green Monk of Mayberry Spirits

Talking to Vann McCoy, you'd never guess he spent 25 years as a Cistercian monk. McCoy's ebullient personality seems a far cry from popular ideas about monastic life-vows of silence, solemnity, other-worldliness. Considering the topic of our conversation-distilling liquor-the connection begins to make sense, however.

Hakai Magazine
A Parasitic Bacterium Saps Energy from Corals

Coral reefs have come under siege in recent decades. A variety of threats from acidification and bleaching to pollution and overfishing contribute to a worsening outlook. Now, a new study reveals yet another overlooked threat: a surprisingly common bacterial parasite.

Earth Island Journal
Small is Beautiful

SCOTT JOHNSON LIKES TO DO THINGS THE HARD WAY. Or so it might seem to the casual observer walking past the Low Technology Institute on this sunny afternoon in the historic village of Cooksville, Wisconsin. While we talk, he is mowing the front lawn with a scythe, circling a square, working from the outside in.

Modern Farmer
The Benefits of Bacteria in Organic Apples

We've all been told that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." But new research underscores the truth behind this old proverb-especially if it's an organic apple. What's more, the source of some health benefits seen with organics may come as a surprise.

Dark Mountain Online
Where the Trees Used to Be - Dark Mountain

It's an early morning in the spring, an hour or so after sunrise, and I'm standing at a scenic overlook just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, a couple miles south of the Virginia line. My eyes sweep across this familiar vista suffused in the green-golden glow of sunlight spilling over the sinuous horizon to the east.

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
A Matter of Time

What were you doing 11 years ago? Do you remember? I remember very well what I was doing in spring of 2008-looking for a new job. I was looking for a new job because it had become clear to me then that the job I had would be gone by the end of the year.

Dark Mountain Issue 15
What The Work Is For

At 6:30 every morning it begins. I log on and start working through the queue that, until a certain point in the morning, grows faster than I can process it. My task is to quickly copy edit, categorize, rank and post news items and stories relating to scientific developments to a website. The stories come in from everywhere: Singapore and Sweden; Austria and Australia; Brazil, South Africa, Russia, China, and just about everywhere in between.

Minding Nature -- The Center for Humans & Nature

It’s very early in the morning, right around the summer solstice of 2011, and we’re three hours north of Salt Lake City, in the high desert of southeastern Idaho. The further we go, the darker it becomes, and colder. Crossing through the fringes of basin-and-range country, the temperature drops into the fifties. By now, Tasha and I are far from the metal halide lamps of the interstate as we follow the back roads across miles and miles of open country, on our way to do some climbing at City of...

Dark Mountain Online
Mycelial Connections

My entre into the world of mushrooms – not counting a few odd attempts at foraging in my old suburban neighbourhood – came mainly through cultivating shiitake mushrooms on my farm. Shiitake mushrooms grow on a variety of hardwoods, though oak is one of the best species to grow these beautiful and delicious mushrooms on. In my current locale, oak logs are easy to come by since the small-scale timber operations in the area are mainly interested in the larger trunk wood, often leaving the...

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
The Great Return

It is a beautiful, sunny day not long before the summer solstice and I am hiking once again in the mountains near my home in western North Carolina. For weeks before this, the late spring sky has been overcast, or it has rained - seemingly non-stop in dismal and uncharacteristic bouts of oppressively tropical humidity followed by sudden and torrential...

Dark Mountain Issue 11
Indicator Species

The Anthropocene – a neologism advanced by some for the new geologic age the planet has now entered, owing to the wild success the human species has enjoyed up until the present, and at the expense of most other species – is synonymous with The Sixth Great Extinction. The impetus of either phrase suggests the dominance of humanity to the detriment of non-human lifeforms, and this is certainly true.

Dark Mountain Online
Paranoid Android

I started thinking about writing this piece earlier in the day, while I was at work. It's night now and my workday is done. I work from home, sitting in front of a computer most of the time, 40 hours a week. My job involves creating websites that show a user how to perform maintenance on complex machines.

Dark Mountain Issue 8
Weak Links

Just 200 miles east of where I live, a 3.8 megaton hydrogen bomb impacted the earth at 700 miles-per-hour when the B-52 bomber that was carrying it disintegrated in mid-air. If not for a single arming switch – the other five safety switches apparently failed – the bomb would have killed everything in a 17-mile radius.

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
In Pursuit of Beauty - Garrison Institute

By Matt Miles In recent months, perhaps because of the ugliness circulating throughout the national and international public spheres, beauty and its pursuit have become a subject of contemplation for me. Beyond something that is pleasing to the human senses, what constitutes beauty?

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
Returning to the Garden

The rich, brown-black soil crumbles in my fingers, cool and just slightly moist as I rake my hands through a garden bed that will soon be planted with carrots. It's a mild day in mid-March and the sun is shining, warming the back of my neck and the surface of the soil while I pick out the last remnants of...

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
On the Virtues of Traveling by Foot

The German filmmaker Werner Herzog once declared "tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue." He should know, having once walked all the way from Munich to Paris. His larger point here refers to the authenticity and primacy of physically experiencing and interacting with a place, in contrast to more passive and modern modes of travel.

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
Seen and Unseen

By Matt Miles For weeks before the event, some friends and I started preparing for the the Great American Eclipse of 2017. There were 25 of us, all of whom would watch together from a hay field next to a vineyard.

Garrison Institute - Lineages Column
Choosing Less

The phrase "voluntary simplicity" has, to my ears anyway, a quasi-paradoxical ring to it, not unlike "waking dream." It accrues meaning by pointing to the implicit assumption in its antithesis: That we are by default, if not involuntarily, immersed in a world that tends toward complexity and confusion.

Science Writing
Toxic neighborhoods and social mobility

How much does growing up in a healthy and cohesive community, or lack thereof, contribute to later long-term economic and social success in adulthood? Quite a lot, it would seem. Two Harvard sociologists, Robert Manduca and ...
Green water supplies and global limits

Access to dwindling freshwater supplies is one of the defining issues of our time as global populations expand amidst a changing climate. Water access and limitations and related issues are rightly considered a possible flashpoint ...
Carbon, climate, and North America's oldest boreal trees

In an age of unprecedented high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, the question of whether or not plants and trees can utilize excess carbon through photosynthesis is one of paramount importance. Researchers have observed ...
Afromontane forests and climate change

In the world of paleoecology, little has been known about the historical record of ecosystems in the West African highlands, especially with regard to glacial cycles amidst a shifting climate and their effects on species ...

Is that really a neglected disease?

Dangerous infectious diseases such as AIDS/HIV, Zika, Ebola and influenza frequently make headlines, and it seems as if there is no end of media attention and research interest focused on them. Conversely, diseases like leishmaniasis, ...

A new approach to old questions surrounding the Second Plague

When many moderns think of the plague, the uproarious "Bring Out Your Dead" skit by Monty Python probably comes to mind. But in medieval Europe, the Second Plague Pandemic was no laughing matter: it was a particularly deadly ...

Taking lithium-ion batteries to new extremes

Just like Goldilocks and her proverbial porridge, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) perform best when the temperature range is just right-that is, neither too hot nor too cold. But this is a huge limiting factor when it comes ...

Building a better brain-computer interface

Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, represent relatively recent advances in neurotechnology that allow computer systems to interact directly with human or animal brains. This technology is particularly promising for use in ...
What's behind the color and pattern of bird feathers?

While it may be true, as the old adage goes, that 'birds of a feather flock together,' what is less certain is how the feathers on those birds come to have their distinct patterns and colorations. Current data suggest that ...

White matter repair and traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., contributing to about 30 percent of all injury deaths, according to the CDC. TBI causes damage to both white and gray matter in the brain, ...