Before/After

Tuesday, January 19th 2021.

I start to write this blog post on the day before the inauguration of a new president of the United States. And because writing takes time, I finish it after.  

It is gray and cold outside. Without the sun, the snow is drab, the swallow houses look totally abandoned for good, not just shut up for the winter. Time seems to stand still.   

I just added a little prayer that the transfer of power will actually happen tomorrow, as there are those who clearly would not have it so.

I am acutely fixated on Before and After. In terms of the Earth, holding us in the precious, thin, skim of life on her surface, the threat from the United States of America during the last four years has been like no other that I have known. During the Before, the emergence of new understandings of what is actually happening in the climate crisis and of what needs to be done in response, is halted, like a border fence stops immigrants, or unexpected medical bills stop dreams, or a hurricane or a fire consume where you live.

Actually – it is worse than that. In many cases the gains made over the previous decades have been pushed back. Regulations abandoned, experts ignored, and political consensus forgotten.

There are times when I would think that it can’t get any worse.  And then another sacred part of my caring is attacked: a precious and sacred national monument; a wildly successful environmental law; a regulation that prevented fossil fuel companies from totally exploiting the earth while exposing people to toxic waste and fumes, or spoiled water or desecrated lands.  

My jaw drops.  It does get worse.

It is now at the point where all I can do is pray that savvy environmental justice non-profits will appeal to the courts, career staff will create administrative road blocks to slow things down, and millions of people – led predominately by the youth, will shout and march and strike, insisting on change.

Before is a nightmare for any of us who care for the earth and who believe in justice for those people not responsible for, and unable to respond to, the deteriorating threats to their health and well-being.

The long nightmare means despair and frustration and, in some cases, an abandonment of hope.  

And then – from left field– a virus to make the whole situation that much worse. 

This is the Before.  

As I look forward toward the “After” I have wildly hopeful, totally unrealistic dreams. On the first day, “they” say we will start the road back into the Paris Climate agreement, the Keystone XL pipeline permit will be rescinded, and methane emissions will be regulated. President-Elect Biden has already assembled a measured, but experienced environmental team. Legislative support should be there for him.

I know After will not completely erase Before. But the sun will come up tomorrow, the stars will emerge over the Adirondacks, and if we are lucky, we might even see them….

Thursday, January 21, 2021

After a day spent just immersing ourselves in the inauguration process and accompanied celebration, I awake this morning beginning to really accept what it means for the nightmare to be over.

Yesterday – in the evening – all the reversals I enumerated were done by executive action. It should not be this easy, I tell myself – that “proclamations” from one person in one outrageously powerful position can make or break the future of millions of people, species, land, water and air.  But for the moment, that seems to be necessary, to jump start the future, because, as Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman said so incredibly eloquently: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.”

I am amazed at the ebullience I feel this morning, even as the first full day After is gray and cold outside. 

It is the way I feel when the first tree swallow soars in and curls itself around our farmhouse in the spring. They arrive in the gray, beige-dusted hues of late March, harbingers of warmer temperatures and blooming colors. My soul lifts and glorifies the imminent arrival of a new season.

After time can trick us into thinking that all is done, that spring has arrived, that a new team is on the case. But time marches forward and After becomes Before… something else.

Maybe what needs to happen is that we pause resolutely in the Right Now and be brave enough to answer Gorman’s call to be the light.

The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
If only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.

There is a great deal of work to do.  

But – oh, mercy, mercy – it surely feels good to be in this day!

Liver Lobes and Earth Day

The white snow covering has given way to hues of burnt umber/ beige of crushed, flattened leaves, still with ample moisture underneath evidenced by the gentle squish as my boots tramp on the woods trail. To one side, a middle-aged maple hugs the ground, the large exposed roots creating small sheltered gaps between them.   I gently push aside the leaves, and find our first serious harbinger of spring: hepatica.

This year, the search tasook on a greater urgency.  I needed this sign of spring to counter the images of 18-wheeler freezer storage containers lined up for corpses, and the faces of exhausted medical personnel, tears brimming in their eyes.

At times, I feel overwhelmed by guilt – that I have these options to look for signs of spring in the woods behind our farm.  That I do not want for food, for money, for a strong supportive community. But I recall a sentence in a recent reflection by a priest friend, that “love doesn’t keep a score of grief and hardship, so much as it assumes that all hardship is held in Creator Spirit’s embrace.”

Is that too pat a thought, I wonder, too easy for a person of faith to take off the shelf to appease a heart grieving at the inequities that this damn pandemic has blasted with neon lights across the world? Perhaps. But without it, I know I would just melt into tears of utter frustration and anger and sadness.

So, knowing that Love is alongside, embracing me and others, I go looking for signs of spring.

What a strong feeling of security there is, knowing that I will find hepatica every spring. Somewhere – underneath this tree or that, eventually – the little curled up buds will be pushing upward alongside the lobed leaves. Hepatica: from the Greek for liver referring to the lobed leaves. Ancients hoped the shape of that leaf signified its power to cure liver ailments. Since the 15th century the “Doctrine of Signatures” held that the shape of a plant indicated its curative use for humans, sort of a hint from a deity that perhaps regretted the diseases that pervaded the world.

Wafhat mind-blowing anthropocentrism. Still, the reliable appearance of hepatica cures me, at least for the moment, of the overwhelming insecurity of not knowing what the crisis will bring next week. Or next month, or a year from now.

On my walk, I searched for something that I knew from previous years would be there. And it was.

The reassurance was palpable to my soul.

Not all predictably recurring events sooth the soul.  Last week was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I shake my head. There is no such palpable reassurance when the human species concentrates just one day a year to foster harmony with the planet on which it lives. School children and elected officials planting trees, pronouncements from politicians and pulpits, editorials about how Earth Is Important.  As far as I am concerned, as long as there is an Earth Day – we are in deep trouble. Notwithstanding the laudable, revolutionary and largely successful protections passed in the early years of our caring for the earth, we are in deep trouble as a species.  Many of last week’s dozens upon dozens of recollections and commentaries and lamentations on the state of the planet concluded, rightly in my opinion, that the only way to save the world from this pandemic is to double-down on addressing the climate crisis. As Swedish activist Greta Thunberg remarked on a recent Zoom call with fellow activists and supporters… “every crisis needs to be treated like a crisis.”

I have this outrageous hope that after Covid-19 we will not need another celebration of Earth Day.  Because during this in limbo time, this pandemic spring of 2020, people will make it a habit to live differently, love differently, share differently for the sake of us all, and for the sake of the earth that needs more than an anniversary.

They say hope springs eternal.

Yes.

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