by Betsy Slosar
A restrictive illness during January and February kept me sidelined. When CCC emails started arriving with plans for this year’s “40 days” project, I realized that my situation presented a unique opportunity and decided to spend my un-invited “down time” catching up on stacks of books and old issues of magazines neglected during the second half of ‘22 – almost all of them climate related. The fact that my colleagues had chosen Currents of Hope as this year’s theme brought joy to my reading.
Following their essays each week has helped me realize that though getting on in years, I still have agency, regardless of my situation. Lynn Beaumont’s early contribution “Enough,” reminded me that I am enough as a member of the Family of Earth who cares deeply about it. With Maxine’s lovely description of Thomas Berry’s “benign mode of presence,” I was reminded that my family has pursued a somewhat (though not perfect) benign lifestyle for more than five decades by buying/finding our needs used – refabricating or refurbishing them with new life – and by recycling and composting our kitchen and garden waste. Gratefully, our grown children have followed suit.
I was involved in a Zoom book group discussing Thomas Berry’s Selected Writings on the Earth Community when the “40 Days” project started. The readings and discussions grounded my understanding of the new creation story based on science yet full of sacred mystery. It starts with the great flaring forth of the Universe bringing about the stars in their galaxies, as well as supernovas, the planets, and the development over millennia of all life on Earth, as well as the kinship of all living beings. In this context, Berry proposes that the transformation taking place on Earth in the current era “is not simply another historical change or cultural modification, but a shift of a geobiological order of magnitude” – an overwhelming challenge, indeed!
Brian Swimme, a specialist in mathematical cosmology and a student of Berry’s, wrote a book entitled The Universe is a Green Dragon that clarified for me Berry’s concept that the human species is the reflection of the Universe on itself in its process of dynamic development. As such, we are gifted with the creative powers of the universe such as imagination and ingenuity to work toward a positive direction for this transition.
As I dove further into the stack of reading opportunities before me, common themes from disparate sources came tumbling into my consciousness. Of course, much of the subject matter was very troubling, putting in concrete terms Berry’s concerns about the destruction of the natural world brought about by the industrial age. Yet there were numerous currents of hope throughout.
The End of Night, a book by Paul Bogard, follows his world-wide travels, exploring the history of light pollution and interviewing astronomers, meteorologists, and star gazers of all sorts about various strategies for correcting the way we humans light the night. A prevalent theme was that the opportunity to experience the night skies with all their awe and wonder is gradually disappearing. It’s estimated that “eight out of ten children born in America today” will never have this experience. Echoing Berry, Paul Bogard mourns the idea that future generations will not be able to “feel their place in the universe” and their human role in it. Yet hope was present here, too, in his conversations with many representatives of International Dark Sky Organizations and local communities working to conserve existing dark sky places and actively promote policies and strategies to reduce light pollution.
More hope was found in unexpected places, among others Yes! magazine, a publication about solving society’s problems with creative, positive solutions. An article describing new strategies bringing success to union organizing among service workers at Amazon and Starbucks recalled Swimm’s words about our creative powers from the universe. Aren’t these the same kind of corporate adversaries that climate activists face? Is that hopeful? Yes! because the same powers of creative thinking and ingenuity are the source of progress in the climate struggle.
A brief article titled, “The Sacred Supply Chain” found in Sojourners, a faith-based publication, references Robin Wall Kimmerer’s explication of the Native peoples’ tradition of an “allegiance to gratitude” recited by school children at the beginning of each day. The children thank Mother Earth for the provision to the community of “every food and water source, through every plant, every creature and even the land itself.” A very “Sacred Supply Chane.” This offers hope that the message of working with our planet rather than against it is reaching ever wider audiences. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Haudenosaunee Nation of North American natives and the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants.
Finally, I’d like to introduce a poem called “Above Ground” found toward the end of the Winter ’22 issue of Sierra Magazine. It’s written by a father about introducing his two young children to a swarm of Cicadoidea. I was so moved by his reverence toward these creatures, who are often considered nothing but a gross annoyance, that I feel compelled to share. It is truly beautiful and brings with it a palpable current of HOPE!
A poem by Clint Smith
For weeks we can’t go outside without the cicada’s
Song wrapping itself around the three of us like a quilt.
The tree in our front yard has become their sanctuary,
a place where they all seem to congregate
and sing their first and final songs.
We get closer, and see the way their exoskeletons
ornament the bark like golden ghosts,
shadows abandoned by their bodies
searching for new life.
One of you is four years old. One of you is two.
The next time the cicadas rise out of the earth
you will be twenty-one and nineteen.
I think of how much might change between these cycles.
How much of our planet will still be intact?
What sort of societies will the cicadas return to
when they next make their way up from the earth?
When they first arrive, you are both frightened
of this new noise that hangs in the air,
of these small orange-and-black-winged bodies
that fall from the sky like new rain.
They don’t bite, I say.
But neither of you believe me.
So I reach out to one of the branches
and allow one of the orange-eyed creatures to climb
onto my finger.
You both watch it roam around my hand
as it becomes familiar with the flesh of my palm,
your eyes widening at the revelation that this infrequent
visitor has no interest in piercing my skin.
And maybe that is enough, because now
you both try to pick up cicadas from the ground
and collect them in buckets as if they are treasure.
And maybe they are.
Maybe treasure is in what dies almost
as quickly as it rises from the earth.
Maybe treasure is anything that reminds you
what a miracle it is to be alive.