I have so much to be thankful for this year. The brother of one of my closest friends was struck by a hit and run driver at 50 mph while riding a bike, and miraculously he was not killed. Faced with severe back injury, the prognosis, if he lived beyond the first 24 hours, was that he would be a quadriplegic, and yet, a week ago, three months after the accident, he walked out of the doors of the rehab hospital, completely unassisted, to a car which took him home. He is not mended, not the singing, dancing mailman that everyone in town loved, but he is so far beyond where anyone ever could have expected him to be, that nobody now dares say where his recovery will plateau.
I have a cousin who, at 50, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia this past year. Again, it is tragic how fate can swoop down and suddenly strike someone with a life threatening disease, and yet, the hand of God is perhaps more powerful than that of fate and, in this case, a non-family bone marrow donor was found and my cousin is on the road to recovery.
I am well, my family is well, and almost all those I know continue to do well and prosper.
I have had an amazing year of hiking. I have made great friends, introduced countless numbers to some of the places I love and the trails that always show me something new, always make me smile, no matter how many times I hike them. When I joined the Pemi Valley Search and Rescue Team this summer, I met an amazing group of volunteers and I feel richer from getting to know them. Every call I respond to, working side by side with these unselfish, always giving folks, has made me a better person. It has been an incredible spring, summer and fall.
With all these good thing happening in my life, with so much to be thankful for, one would think that I sleep well at night, and yet, I do not.
I was at a panel discussion a few months back and I heard a quote that got me thinking. “Understanding nature is not only more complex than we think- it is more complex than we can think”. What does this say about stewardship of this planet? What does this say about our stewardship of this planet?
This last year has exposed to us all, some ugly truths about attitudes that are gaining prevalence today. When I was a child in middle school in the early 70s, there was a huge cultural focus on what we, as a society, were doing to the environment. These were the days when we were learning the effects of DDT on the egg shells of our national symbol, the bald eagle. These were the days of television public service announcements denouncing the effect of pollution on our world. Who, of my generation, does not remember the “Crying Indian” television commercials? We even had an ecology flag that one might see flying here or there from time to time. It had what some believed was the Greek letter theta, but in truth, it was originally the lower case e for ecology and o for organism, superimposed on one another. It was a popularized belief that the visual similarity to the letter theta was no accident since the theta symbol is associated with the Greek word for death, thanatos, which is what the effect of the human species was said to be on the environment and the atmosphere of the earth.
Intentional or not, pollution, ecology, conservation and stewardship for the world in which we lived, was front and center for all of my youth. I was nursed on this belief of social responsibility for the environment for forty years and I grew up believing in those ideals. I won an award in Boy Scouts for outstanding service to conservation. I have volunteered to clean and restore areas that had been damage by human pollution, carelessness and overuse. I have restored woodland habitat and replanted trees. I have worked on coastal erosion projects and done my part to reverse and undo the pollution we humans have left like footprints in our wake. I have not been alone; I am no hero. There was a huge growing tide of people who believed as I did. Maybe we all came of age together, maybe there was something else that bound us all together, but we cared about the world in which we lived and, more importantly, the world we were leaving behind. We felt as though we had a responsibility to future generations. Let’s face it, nobody would ever have bought the original Honda Insight, if they did not care deeply about the environment. We were everywhere and we were growing in number every year. We were a force to be reckoned with, and we all cared, damn it, every last one of us. We wanted to leave the world a better, cleaner, more natural place than we found it. Legacy was important to us all.
This, my friends, is what keeps me up in the middle of the night some nights. Despite this last year being a great year for my family and me, despite personally prospering, this last year has been a terrible year for that legacy. I feel as though all I have believed in for the last forty years, all the conservation work I have done, and those of my ilk have done, has been torn out from under us in a single year of incredible setbacks. This administration has made it clear that the environment, the world in which we live, is not something to be cared for and cherished, but instead it is something to be used and depleted for our own personal wealth, comfort or prosperity. But make no mistake, I do not blame the administration alone; our president (yes I say our, because we collectively elected him) has only tapped into sentiment that has been ripe for a while; a new ethos of “me first”, of “take and don’t worry about leaving for others”.
I walk to work daily, and almost daily I see children on the sidewalk playing. Often these kids are eating or drinking something and when they are done, the containers or wrappers go right to the ground. I look to their parents, who are sometimes sitting right there on the steps nearby, for their outrage, and instead I see trash blowing about them that indicates they do just the same. Is this the new norm? I often feel like that crying Indian myself. What has become of us?
I was talking to someone tonight and while she expressed the same frustration, she said what I hear all too often these days, “What can I do? As one person, what can I really do to effect a change?” We can all do something, even little things matter. We owe it to ourselves to learn what is really happening all around us, and what we can do to slow the train wreck coming, to help where we can. More importantly, we owe it to our children to teach them what our parents taught us about preservation, conservation, and social responsibility.
This winter I have promised myself to show a number of films in my home, open to anyone that wishes to attend, that hopefully will help to spread the word of what is happening and what can be done. Even many of you, my friends, do not realize how perilous our tenancy on this planet is right now. This is just one more small way that I can help, and I would encourage you all to share in these films with me and then to help spread the word. You don't have to come to my screenings, you don't have to do screenings of your own, but do something; there are so many things we all can do, we all must do, and we have to do them now or it may be too late.
I have a lot to be thankful for this year, but most of all, I am thankful that I am not alone. I am thankful that it is not too late, that there is still a chance we can save this planet, that we can save our very species. I am thankful that there is still a huge population of people that can think beyond their own needs, that still care, that still believe we have a social responsibility to leave the world a better place, and still want to help, and I know that most of you out there can count yourselves among them. I am thankful for all of you.