So how do you turn people’s love towards a way forward that really works in creating solutions and not simply rebuilding? How do you turn people’s love of their families and homes towards the biosphere and all its diverse inhabitants?
Perhaps you do it through innovative activism that captures the imagination and reinvigorates love.
There were lilacs blooming in my dooryard. But they are browning now, and they are almost gone; they were very early lilacs. It is strange to see them at the end of their lives now, since, usually, they are my markers of my birthday – late April, the time of spring coming back, the time of the thaw, the time when everything feels like home again, like live grass and new birds. I’ve chosen houses based on whether there were lilacs there. I’ve stayed in this house, as I wrangle with the bank over possible foreclosure, sometimes only with the hope of seeing another bloom of those trees from the windows of my own office.
A few days ago the image of a green ribbon came across my facebook news feed. The text went like this:
The pink ribbons have always bugged me…the idea of putting the energy and effort of well-meaning citizens behind “the search for a cure for cancer” just irritates me, because let’s face it, we know what causes cancer, and therefore we can do better than cure it, we can prevent it! Maybe not 100%, but we can take it back to the modest rates that previous generations of human beings enjoyed…If you really want to make a difference in the war against cancer, forget about those ridiculous pink ribbons. Use the power of your wallet and your ballot to insist that the government step up and do its job in regulating the industrial agriculture sector. It makes sense that people are focusing on ribbons in the wake of all the controversy about the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood.
The trip to see the bats didn’t go exactly as I’d planned it. To start, there was a bee sting at the first cave we went to, and my son and I sat in the parking lot with an ice pack on his arm until he was calm enough to go and join the tour. Then there was the fact that the place – a commercially run cave in Southern Indiana – wasn’t exactly what my son had in mind when I told him we’d be going spelunking, raised as he’d been on hours and hours of Planet Earth. Even when he was four, a cave with electric lights and paved walkways was so much less exciting than the footage of secret underground passages, squeezes, and glowing rooms of crystal from those documentaries. There was no comparison and he knew it.
Yesterday the planet lost a great champion: Wangari Maathai, hummingbird and planter of trees. The video clip below is what I think of when I hear her name. [youtube: video=”IGMW6YWjMxw”]
I love the way she tells the story there, of the hummingbird fighting the forest fire while the rest of the forest creatures look on and do nothing. That hummingbird carries water, and won’t stop even though the odds aren’t in its favor. It is hope, it is the thing with feathers.
When it is winter in Chicago – as it will be again after the long and perfect fall is finally over and gone – I know that I will crave that best of all Chicago winter moments: when I pull back the heavy doors of the Garfield Park Conservatory’s main entrance, pay my donation, give my zip code to the desk clerk for her records, and open the interior doors that lead into the soaring space of the Palm House. There, in a hot and sultry instant, my dried-out lungs fill with green, delicious green, and some part of my hibernating spirit picks up again where it left off, in a conversation with plants. I will need that place. I will be sitting in my radiator-heated apartment, I will be looking at my pretend, eco-friendly fire, I will be eating too much in the way of baked goods, and I will need to walk in the half-sunlight of a mid-winter, mid-western day, where the reflected light from the palm trees coats the sallow of my skin. I will need to feel lit – not full of the vitamin D of a real summer sky, not able to pick fruit off the trees as if it were really the tropics, but soothed in some unaccountable way, and made better. I am not wealthy, and so, finding the time and money and the costly leisure to make a trip out of the city during the winter as friends of mine do is not within my reach. You have to leave town in February, they say, how else can you make it through?
I have just come home from an island. It is small and magical, and set 12 nautical miles out into the Atlantic, and I have been returning there in the summers since I was a teenager. I have been drunk on its landscape since I first set foot there, seasick and naive, and trailed behind my parents through the cathedral woods and stumbled onto a marsh awash in wild iris that I followed to the shore. I was hooked then. I was in sway to the place.
This weekend I ate lunch with a woman who grew up in Joplin, Missouri. It was not yet a week since the tornadoes, which we had not met to discuss. We wanted to talk about other things, and we spoke for two hours about what we’d meant to say to each other: about being our fathers’ daughters, navigating the tricky terrain of dating art-making men, the ways that we make things ourselves, stage fright and good music. But the thing that we couldn’t avoid in our talk was her news of home. Her sister had called crying the day before.
It is a cold spring here in Chicago, all rain and anticipation, and, like everyone in the city, I am still pretending that eventually things will change, that if we hope hard enough, and have enough faith, the world will warm up and bloom. Our good intentions haven’t brought it yet. But, I’ve lived here for sixteen years of cold springs. And, as you might notice from that history, I am happy here among my neighbors waiting for flowers — partly because I adore people of good intentions who believe fervently that they are capable of making the world a better place. I love the Shakers, whom my father revered.