I went for a hike today. Through the redwoods, past bright green ferns and over streams that are – wonderfully – full of more water than I’ve ever seen, I moved with a pervasive sense of awe. I am keenly aware of the wonder that exists in this natural world, the perfection, mystery and magic, and I am endlessly grateful to be able to experience it.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with nature. Being outside is grounding for me, but is also inspiring and soothing in equal measure. Though I now live in a corner of the United States where it is easy to wander smack into the natural world, I’ve appreciated it in all the places I’ve lived; Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and DC all hold many natural secrets of their own.
This afternoon, though, I found myself less absorbed in the experience of hiking than I usually am; instead, I found myself contemplating the consequences of the upcoming presidential inauguration.
Since the election, I’ve been feeling – to put it mildly – a little off kilter. I’ve been reading various news sources, staying in touch with my elected officials, and listening to podcasts when I go for a run or drive to work, trying to educate myself and take action on a number of issues. The other day, I finished an episode of The Ezra Klein Show that featured Elizabeth Kolbert, and I’ve been turning it around in my mind since then. The show – intelligent and nuanced – and its guest helped me think about some aspects of climate change in a different way.
Today, walking among these giant trees, I reflected on the show, and on my responsibility to the planet. One aspect of my life that causes me heartache precisely because I know it isn’t ecologically friendly stands out: traveling is my favorite thing and yet I know that it harms the Earth. Every time I step on a flight – whether it’s an annual international journey, a flight over the Pacific to Hawaii, or one of probably eight domestic round trips a year – I both embrace a side of myself that makes me feel whole and simultaneously contribute to the destruction of our planet.
I think of this when I drive to work too, passing redwoods and the ocean, grabbing glimpses of hawks and – occasionally – the spout of a whale. My love of the environment runs deep; I’ve never had to cultivate that or teach myself to embrace it. Yet with every mile in my car, I do some harm.
This has been on my mind for a long time. Yet in this new era, where it seems that our national policies will position us to backtrack the ways we’ve found to lessen our impact on the planet, I am feeling increased urgency around holding myself accountable to living my life in a responsible way. It’s something I try to do daily – I don’t eat meat, for example, and take such steps as carrying reusable cups and silverware with me rather than opting for disposable – but I know it’s something I can improve upon. Travel seems like something I have to consider in a different way. I don’t yet know what that means, as bidding a permanent farewell to my love of exploration seems unfathomable, but it’s weighing on me, and I’m trying to figure it out. If you have suggestions, please let me know.
In the meantime, I’ll continue learning, continue opening my eyes more fully and reflecting upon my own actions with more intention. Standing next to the bark of trees that have seen so much, I know I can no longer ignore the reality that something has to change. For me, as always, that change has to begin in the only place it can: in my habits, in my actions, in my life.