Perched Hope

As I started my jog down the road, I thought I heard a meadow lark. Wishing, hoping, I glanced over to the one remaining apple tree in the center of the field, where, in the past, right at the tippy top of its artistically gnarled and twisted self, the meadow lark would perch.

He was not there. Far too early.  I knew that, but I was SO ready for warmth and wishing for spring.

Our wishes often outpace reality, but maybe Grace puts wishes in our hearts to sustain hope.

If wishes were birds, nightingale songs would drown out the sounds of air raid sirens and mortar shell explosions throughout Ukraine. If wishes were wheat and sunflower seeds, the fields of Ukraine would shine yellow under blue skies, instead of the gray, black and ash white of burned-out military vehicles and abandoned bodies.

The ubiquitous colors of the flag we now see so often haunts me with its symbolism for the beautiful, bountiful, peaceful land before the carnage.  What does it say about a people that decide to put the colors of their landscape on their flag?  I am convinced the spectacular resistance to aggression that we have seen is for more than self-determination.  It is a visceral commitment to something even more than family, culture, language:  it is to the land itself which, alongside the atrocities to the people, suffers being brutally violated.

I knew very little about Ukraine before the war.  The internet taught me about the swath of the Carpathian Mountains that stretch across the far west corner, home to wolves and bear and lynx, and the huge protected area of virgin steppe (grassland) with herds of multiple hooved animals grazing, including the Przhewalski horses restored from near extinction. It taught me that conservation organizations in Ukraine have now switched to preservation of people.  Tragically – the land and the other-than-human species of animals and plants will have to wait.  Now, there will simply have to be prayers for their resilience.

The internet taught me about how this “bread basket of Europe” is relied on even more by Africa for wheat. Europe might be feeling supply crunches for croissants and strudels; people in Africa may starve.  The discussions about reliance on oil far overshadows this discussion about the poor of the world, and once again, the brutal inequities of supply chain distresses are revealed.    

Let them eat cake. Fossil fuels run our lives….

I ask myself why, every time I think about Ukraine, I am almost fixated on the yellow wheat fields and the blue sky. It is probably because my mind simply cannot deal with the reality of the other images.   Wishes seem so timid and ridiculously ineffectual in face of the reality. Prayers – for me, are stronger, have more agency.  And, of course, we are all called to send money or show our support in whatever way we can.  

I can do these things.

But also, the fact that Ukraine came into my mind as I looked eagerly at the top of the apple tree for the meadow lark seems important, a moment of grace.  As if my gentle wish for something happy and lovely and healing – for the sight of the lark will be healing when it comes – is an offer to the Ukrainian people of a bit of hope –right at the tippy top of the artistically gnarled and twisted apple tree.



It has been almost a year since I started “blogging”, a word that sounds just a little too much like “slogging” when I think about it.   Which is, of course, sometimes the way a writer feels facing the blank screen: all set up for erudition or lyricism, but with a brain refusing to embrace either, much less both.   To those who “Follow” me on this website, and enjoy my words, I apologize for my scarcity of posts.   To others, who would just as soon not have many messages in this all-too-much-screen-time year, you’re welcome.

This is what I am seeing  – a year on…

Remember the liver-lobed hepatica? (April 30th, 2020) Here they are again, emerging from under the snow – although not-quite-yet-in-bloom.

Like our lives.

Our lives are not quite in bloom either, as we begin to emerge from our household bubbles or pods, unsure of our safety and the safety of those we love.  Translating and individualizing CDC guidelines is a challenge, particularly when you need to respect differences in interpretation, trying hard not to fight with the very people you love the most and wish to hug again.  

The pre-occupation is sometimes exhausting. And yet, here I am, so blessed to be in a small, safe household in a small, safe town on the edge of a huge state park.  Complaining seems incredibly callous and selfish.

Instead, we spend time watching the bluebirds checking out those boxes that looked so deserted just two months ago (January 19, 2021). The males are first at the home-hunting game; the arrival of the females ups the ante for them. We hear their chortling, quiet songs in the relative silence of the late winter soundscape. There is a bit of desperation as the males flitter from the top of one birdhouse to another. This one?  Or, how about this one? When they actually go so far as to duck inside to check out the interior, we are thrilled.

Maybe it is we who are more desperate. But now, little bit by little bit, as we check out what is coming out of the new administration, we are offered strands of hope. 

With regard to environmental concerns, unlike during the Trump years, we agree with almost all of the policy decisions of the new administration.  Not all, but most. There is a wonderful feeling: an adult is at the helm, surrounded by experts who are listened to. Science and compassion are back in style and “climate change”is no longer barred from the lexicon of government. Indeed, every piece of legislation that is emerging from the White House these days has at least some items explicitly addressing the climate emergency. The passage of some of these comprehensive moves, entirely necessary as part of our efforts to save the planet, may require significant slogging on the part of the administration.  But the thrill of knowing that someone among The Powers That Be really and truly gets it gives us hope.  

And so, as the blessed spring progresses, (and as put off finishing this post), sunny days warm the air, bringing on more birds – phoebes and swallows alongside the bluebirds, enticing the yellow patches of daffodils from the brown network of last year’s dead grass, and warming my face as I turn sunward, I thank all of them individually – the birds, flowers, sun, and, because it works for me, the Maker of all this beauty.  


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.