The Alder Grove

"In my sleep thought that I was standing in an alder grove of the straightest and fairest trees which the heart of man could think of or imagine."

An open letter to Richard Dawkins


How could I even begin to put into words what a huge part of my life you have been. There are people who enter your life in ways that you don't even realize it until you are confronted with a moment in time. A moment when you have to conceive of them no longer being there. Your recent health scare was one of those moments for me.

I did a blog post a few weeks ago about my rather long road to finally being able to admit...out being an atheist. While the majority of Canada may be on its way to being more secular, in smaller cities, especially those with an older population, there is definitely still a strong religious presence that is not open to other viewpoints. I've been in the odd verbal scuffle with more than one young earth creationist on my way home on transit about science vs religion. It is not a comfortable place to admit to atheism but with the courage that you and Dr. Krauss have shown over the last few years, I finally decided to start off 2016 on a more positive and honest note. And to "hell" with anyone who doesn't like it. :)

Although we've never met, I feel as though we have. With all the times I've heard you speak and all of the writings of yours that I've read, it seems like there are very few areas of my life where there is not a piece of advice lurking in my mind that you have given to me. You have taught me so much over the years about so many things and touched the core of my life so much that I doubt I would be who I am today, if you had not been a part of my life. And whilst we do not *always* agree, that doesn't matter. There is no one on earth that you can agree with all of the time, that does not lessen the effect they have upon you and should not change the feelings that you have for another. You are still my most valued teacher for whom I have the highest respect. Even on those nights when I have issues falling asleep, I turn out the lights, pull out one of your audio books and listen to your wonderfully calm yet animated voice telling me the best kind of bedtime story - one that's real.

The highlights of my morning, for ages now, has been to read your Twitter feed. There is always some gem of wisdom on evolution, current events, politics with a smattering of physics and genetics in there as well. Plus the occasional argument with someone who has made an ignorant comment is quite a fun sort of entertainment from time to time. You are the one that opened up this huge world of science to me. You made evolution and biology make sense through your writing. I had never had any interest in science when I was in school but if I had at any point had a teacher as passionate, concise and interesting as you I think I would have been interested in it much earlier in my life. Looking back, if there had been someone who had influenced that side of my education, I think I might have gone into geology or botany of some kind. I've always had a strange affinity for rocks ever since I was little. I used to think, if that rock could speak to you, what marvelous stories it could tell you about the world. After all, it might have been deposited in this spot from thousands of kilometers away by a glacier way back in the past! But my geology currently stops at collecting interesting rocks and my botany, at my gardening.

But I digress. Nothing unusual for me. You are not just the one that taught me about evolution in way that made it interesting and accessible. You introduced me to how enjoyable it could be to learn about something new. And every time I read your words, or hear you speak I always learn something new. Plus you introduced me to this whole wonderful world of scientific knowledge. I found Neil deGrasse Tyson through you who opened up the universe to me. I also found Lawrence Krauss through you who has become another of my favourite authors and speakers. His passion and breadth of knowledge in his field has actually made *physics* exciting to me! Never in my life did I think someone would get me to a stage in my life where I'd be excited that a group of physicists were holding a press conference to confirm detecting something that's been worked on for the last 100 years. But there I was, tucked into a corner at work with my tablet, listening to the scientists at LIGO talking about gravitational waves. And the fact that the two of you are friends and made that delightful movie together makes me incredibly happy. But I doubt any of that would have resonated with me the way that it did, without you.

Something I regret, is to never having written a letter like this to Christopher Hitchens. It just never seemed possible that we would lose his voice so soon and it's easy to live in that state of denial (religious people do it all the time after all). And frankly, it doesn't seem like he could possibly be gone, after all this time. When you vanished from Twitter a few days back, I had a bad feeling. As the silent days grew longer I knew that something was wrong. There were a couple of infrequent posts so I knew that the worst had not happened...but I still knew something was wrong. Then I woke up at 3am the other morning, checked online and heard the news. I was not at all prepared to be confronted with a moment like this and lay awake most of the remainder of the morning. It was so reassuring to hear your voice today, to know that you are reasonably well under the circumstances and on the mend. Though I don't imagine it is an easy one by the sounds of it. Once again your words touch me right to the core as you can make me laugh and cry all in a matter of moments. From talking about the evolution that led to the creation of the human hand, to your current struggles and then hearing your doctor tell YOU to stay away from controversy. To say that I was moved by your words is an understatement.

In the end, I suppose what I want to say is...thank you. Thank you for being a voice of reason and of wisdom in a slightly irrational world. Thank you for being a pillar of light, strength and inspiration in an occasionally bleak and oppressive world. Thank you for being a passionate advocate for science literacy...thank you for everything that you have taught me throughout my life.

Please, be well Professor Dawkins. No matter what people say, you have an impact - a positive one. Never forget that you have changed lives and we need you around as long as we possibly can.

All of my love,

Leanne in Ontario, Canada