A Katydid Sings at the Window
The polar bears are drowning in the Arctic.
That one sentence, which I read several weeks ago, was powerful enough to stop me in my tracks. As if I had received a punch in the solar plexus, I've been holding my breath ever since. Those lovely, goofy, huge yellow-white bears -- the object of such fun in calendars and such fascination in zoos -- are drowning because the ice floes are too far apart or too insubstantial for them to find a place to rest and eat.
This is no joke, no exaggeration. And the grief this fact produces in my heart is beyond words.
On the news a few days ago, I heard that the number of “dead zones” in the world’s oceans have increased by a third in just two years, threatening fish stocks and the people who depend on them. Fertilizers, sewage, fossil fuel burning and other pollutants have led to a doubling in the number of oxygen-deficient coastal areas every decade since the 1960s.
I'm taking this very personally. I don't have to live next to them to know that these are MY oceans.
I was upstairs in my bedroom the other day and I heard the persistent chirrrring of an insect inside the house. Going downstairs to investigate, I peered around canisters, lifted curtains and peeked in cabinets until I finally found her -- a bright green katydid, Katy-doing her little heart out behind the blind in my kitchen window. Every time I got within a few feet of her, she'd stop singing, so it was very difficult to pinpoint the source of the racket.
When I finally did find her, to my enormous surprise, I began to weep -- great wracking sobs that had both dogs circling and peering up at me with concern. She looked so innocent and so all alone, hidden away there on my window, trying passionately to attract a pal from a place of complete impossibilty. And my very first thought, the one that gut-punched me again, was, "When will it be the last katydid that we're hearing?"
The rush of tears was just the teeniest, tiniest nano-fraction of the outrage and helplessness and fear and frustration and grief, grief, grief, grief, grief that I carry unremittingly these days. I want to -- to paraphrase Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction -- get all Old Testament about it. I'm feeling the need to wail and gnash my teeth and rend my clothing and loudly proclaim, all of which make it challenging on a day-to-day basis to conduct busines as usual.
I have always been so connected with the physical world that I feel some days I could walk out my front door and just disappear into a tree or a field or a bird in flight. For many years, I have been aware that what separates me from this perfect universe is just a millimeter thin layer of skin -- and that's no separation at all, since it's made up of precisely the same stuff as whatever is on the other side of it.
We all are this connected, most of us just manage to get through our days and nights being unaware of that truth.
And given how bad the news is these days, my temptation is to foster that separation. It's certainly more comfortable that way. It's easier on the spirit somehow to believe that the number of miles I drive my car and the number of lightbulbs I leave burning and the amount of heavily fertlized produce I consume have nothing to do with the phytoplankton blooming everywhere our rivers dump into the sea or the numbers of species that are disappearing forever from the planet-formerly-known-as-our-garden. I would so much like to believe that my life is unrelated to the fissures forming so rapidly in the arctic ice pack that even the most rational of scientists is reaching for the panic button.
If only I could be that unconscious. I want to be ignorant and blissful. Dammit.
But I also can't think of one thing I can do personally that will amount to a hill of beans in the face of the maelstrom of consequences that's gathering power just beyond the reach of our imaginations. I can recycle, I can drive my little hybrid car, I can turn off lights and try to wean myself completely away from conspicuous consumption. But I think Lester Brown, one of the finest minds on the planet, is right: For us to turn this catastrophe around is going to require a mobilization the likes of which we humans have never known.
The cooperation, drive, sense of purpose, coordination, grit, determination, sense of sacrifice and sheer united will that our country manifested during World War II is just a drop in the bucket compared to what it is going to take of all the people of the world in the next decade to keep this cataclysm at bay.
I wish I thought in my heart of hearts that that previous sentence were hyperbole. I don't. It actually might not be strong enough.
So, consider me -- my spirit, my heart, my passion for this earth -- as one of those canaries in the coal mine, beating our wings against the cage, trying with all our fragile might to sound the alarm. How many piles of canary carcasses will it take to turn this juggernaut around?
We must stop our own destructive behavior now. Right now. There are books, websites and resources available all over the place to provide the tools. The steps to take are no secret. We have to do what we can do and we, individually, have to do it now.
But most of all, we have to insist that our leadership at all levels be focused on this transformation. We cannot permit ourselves the comfort of swallowing any more evasions, lies, nostrums, equivocations, stalling tactics or claims that taking action will wreck the economy. If there's no ecology, there's no economy. Period. No planet, no profits. End of story.
Now then, one of my friends is ever quick to remind me that the planet doesn't need saving. The planet will be here long after every human being has drawn her or his last gasp. This is true. I would, however, like for the planet to continue to support life in recognizable forms and, being somewhat species-centric, I would like for those life forms to include human beings.
The benefit is that we actually will see new economies bloom and unimagined solutions crop up as soon as we turn our imaginations that direction instead of denying how dire things really are, or trying to milk the technologies of the past for every drop we can squeeze out of them. The faster we move, the faster we see an amazing new future unfold.
If it takes the grassroots dragging the powerful along, let's get cracking. We can move and shake from the bottom up just as well as from the top down. Isn't that all that has ever really created lasting change?
I come at my relationship with nature from my faith tradition. I believe the whole shebang -- the planet, the universe, the canopy of the heavens, the soil beneath our feet and every infinitesimal, wriggling, squirming life form anywhere in all the universes -- is the work of a creative force so magnificent not one word of our sacred texts has even begun to describe it. And I believe that we, we human beings, are accountable to this creative force for the life and the intelligence we share with it, and the hands and voices we've been given to do its work.
I want to be able to open myself up to my conscience and my consciousness -- my connection to the creative force -- and not turn away in grief and revulsion at the destruction that occurred on my watch. In truth and in metaphor, I want to be able to stand before my beloved Creator and not shrink away in shame. I want us all to live as though the future depended on us, and I want us to do it now.
In the name of the polar bear, and the katydid and the fishes great and small, amen and wow and hallelujah.