This Earth Day I met with a small but fierce group of women writers determined to use our words to defend and protect our Mother Earth.
The grief and love that poured from us was as palpable as the tears and laughter we inspired in each other.
I read some of the scenes from the Childhood section of my memoir, revealing how I was “a strange child,” who was much more comfortable out in the forests and fields than with other human beings. Together we wrote about the natural places or non-human friends who inspired us and kept us company in childhood.
One woman wrote about a beloved cat companion, who, she found out later in life, had been taken from her by her parents and dumped out of a car miles from home. The grief and love that came welling up out of her, decades after this loss and betrayal, had all of us in tears.
Others wrote about remarkable trees who stood sentinel over their childhood homes, and how, all these years later, they can still tap into the solid power and majesty of those childhood tree friends.
Later, led by my friend Jana Laiz, we wrote letters to Mother Earth. This was mine (unedited, just as it came flowing out of my pen into my workshop notebook):
“Mother, I am so sorry that we have been so destructive to you. I am so sorry that we are such a cruel, savage and thoughtless species. I often wonder how a species that can build soaring temples, write magnificent symphonies and fantastically sophisticated computer code—a species that can love with such devotion—can also be capable of such wanton, cruel torture and devastation of the natural world and our fellow species, the plants, animals, insects, birds and fish.
“We could be so much finer than we are. That old story of the Garden of Eden got it right. We were fallen and unworthy—but not because Eve desired a bite of apple, but because we did not know how to live peacefully there with the trees and the snakes and all.
“I wish the Judeo-Christian myth included better instructions on what to do once we were out on our own in the so-called wilderness. The Native Americans got good instructions. The Buddhists understood. But the Europeans, my tribe—we were told “be fruitful and multiply and subdue the Earth and her creatures.” That is what we have done, and as a result we are now 9 billion humans on this planet, close to wiping out the other species and undoing the ecological life support on which all of us depend.
“I know you wished us to prosper, Mother, as you do all your children. But I wouldn’t hold it against you now if you decided that you’d had enough of us humans. I think we’ve had our chance; we’ve blown it; and it’s time for some tough love.
“Time for us to own up to the consequences of our actions. Time for you to push the reset button, perhaps, and start the process of creation anew.”
Viewed soberly, it’s hard to deny that we may very well be living in the end times for the human civilizations that began some 5,000 years ago when Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, and cut down the cedar forest to make his city.
It’s also hard to argue that the end of our destructive era is a bad thing.
On an Earth Day that also featured the biggest Marches for Science ever assembled on the planet, it behooves us to acknowledge that Science has been a mixed blessing for the Earth community.
Of course, in so many ways, science, technology and engineering have been amazing boons for humanity. Who wouldn’t be grateful for medical advances that enable us to live longer and better? Who wouldn’t admire the technological prowess that enables us to communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the world, and to fly there and talk in person if we so desire? Of course, we all love the conveniences of modern engineering: water systems, cars and roads, houses that can be heated with a flick of switch in the winter, and cooled just as easily in the summer.
The benefits of science are too numerous to list. And yet, I have to ask: what price have we paid for all these modern conveniences? What price will our children and grandchildren still be paying, far into the future?
I was really grateful to see the wonderful statement by indigenous scientists, including the ever-inspiring Robin Wall Kimmerer, pushing us to remember that “Indigenous science provides a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm by which we understand the natural world and our relation to it. Embedded in cultural frameworks of respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reverence for the earth, Indigenous science lies within a worldview where knowledge is coupled to responsibility and human activity is aligned with ecological principles and natural law, rather than against them.
“We need both ways of knowing,” the statement proclaims—indigenous and western—“if we are to advance knowledge and sustainability.”
This is truly the challenge of our time. Can we wed the simple and uncomplicated love for the natural world that we experienced as children with the ecological sophistication of indigenous science and the technological brilliance of western science?
Can we ensure that new generations of children will get their heads of out of their screens long enough to experience the wonder and magic of face time with the natural world?
Will we all—old and young, indigenous and settler, science geeks and nature buffs—join forces in the common goal of protecting and nurturing our common home, our Mother Earth?
We can—we must—and we will!