This afternoon, our nine month old daughter and I watched through the window as three young deer picked their way across our yard, nibbling grass in the places where the recent thaw laid the ground bare of snow. My daughter was enthralled, the frozen teething toy clutched in her hands forgotten as she watched, wide-eyed. My focus flitted back and forth between the visitors outside and my daughter’s stare. I longed to know what she was thinking.
Minutes earlier, we had been out in the yard and the woods at its edge. My little one stopped every few feet to plop down on her bottom and run her hands through dead leaves or pine needles or over rocks. Occasionally, when her excitement peaked, she let out an exclamation – “Oh!”. As I watched her little fingers thread through moss, I again wished I could hear her thoughts.
I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with the outside world. The connection, fundamental to my identity, must have developed at a time beyond the stretches of my memory. All I know is that it has always been the place where I feel most at home and most alive. Wherever I have lived or traveled, I have sought the “wild” spaces, for it is there that I find true calm.
These days, I am blessed to live surrounded by natural beauty. Daily, I find myself pausing in the midst of rushing from here to there because I’ve stumbled across another one of those views that demands attention, no matter how many times I’ve passed it before.
My relationship with the rest of the natural world has shifted, however. It remains my solace, the one place that always reminds me of who I am and the thing that comes closest to whispering about the meaning of life. And yet I know nature is suffering. Along with anyone else who is open to the truth, I feel the shift in the climate and the increasing pace of that shift. And, hard as it might be, I seek to educate myself about climate change and what it means for the future.
Joanna Macy, a great environmental activist and Buddhist, once said: “…there’s absolutely no excuse for making our passionate love for our world dependent on what we think of its degree of health, whether we think it’s going to go on forever. This moment, you’re alive.” I turn to those words with increasing frequency because I feel their resonance. Yes, I love the world, the natural world, passionately. And this, coupled with my deep love for my daughter, makes witnessing the suffering of that world and our role in that suffering, my role in that suffering, incredibly painful.
And yet, it is a pain I should feel. It is a pain I must feel. Those of us who were blessed enough to be raised with that passionate love for the natural world that Macy describes, those of us who appreciate that we are a part of that world and thereby suffer alongside it, those of us who look at the waving pines and feel both delight and a tinge of heartsick, we must allow ourselves to feel that pain alongside our love. We must feel that pain and then we must act.
It’s complicated, to be sure. The truth of that complication pierces me to the bone when I watch my daughter fall in love with the world, as I did at her age. My heart flies out of my chest and I realize it never really belonged there in the first place. It belongs to my daughter, to all my loved ones and, most definitely, to the beautiful wild world. And the truth of the complication is this: I must recognize that I am a part of why the world suffers today and why my child’s future stands on increasingly fragile ground.
The only way I know how to hold that complication is to act. I seek solutions, I advocate on behalf of the Earth, I attempt to honestly evaluate and change my own behaviors, and I hope to inspire others to do the same. And whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed, I bundle up my daughter and get outside, out into the heart of it, into the most beautiful of natural places and connect to the love that started it all in the first place.