January 5, 2012 —
Count me among the odd for (at least) two reasons. First, I like winter. I like the cold and the snow and the way the trees sparkle with ice like stars in the night sky. I like the briskness and the brilliance of it.
Second, I like reading books that would send shivers down other people’s spines. Not horror stories, but nonfiction that delineates with excruciating details all the ways in which our planet is doomed. Books so upsetting that I can sometimes read only a few pages of agonizing truths before I have to run for cover in more pleasant pursuits like poetry or a walk in the woods.
People often ask me why I torture myself, and honestly, I don’t think of it as torture. I want to know what life on our planet is facing. The challenge is assimilating what I know about the world while maintaining a positive attitude about my place in it.
I used to wake up every morning with a sense of dread. I used to walk on the Tusten Mountain trail, or paddle down the river, or walk in the game lands, my favorite place on earth, and all I could see were gas wells and polluted air and water. “It’s so beautiful,” I’d think and, immediately filled with sadness and panic, I’d add, “They’re going to ruin it. Like they’ve ruined the rest of the world.”
It took me a few years to figure out that while I was fabricating a future reality, I was missing the present moment. Being overwhelmed with negativity didn’t help me or the world. Even though it seems as if we have very little power in either the political or corporate arena, and our collective problems appear to be insurmountable, I now listen to an inner command to do what I can do without any attachment to the outcome of my actions.
Hence, my decisions to make the changes I wrote about in my last column. Recycling, reusing, being a vegetarian and replacing fluorescents with CFLs may not alter the devastation of the planet or stop global warming, but I have to do these things. Whatever the result of my choices, my actions are consistent with living what I consider a moral life.
Now I wake up with gratitude for life and for the opportunity to savor what’s left of the world. The title of Terry Tempest Williams’ book, “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” is a practice. The other day as I walked down my road, an eagle flew overhead and bluebirds flitted through the trees, filling me with a sense of wonder and appreciation.
So I suggest you enjoy the winter. After a brisk outing, curl up in front of the fire with an edifying book. I highly recommend “The View from Lazy Point,” by Carl Safina. The author does a masterful job of alternating grim passages that detail what we’ve done to our miraculous world with uplifting passages that describe the beautiful realities he observes from his cabin on the north shore of Long Island.