I awaken at five to a window-framed sky the color of a chalkboard erased. A current of the wild night sifts through the screen, leaving only the finest scent-grains of dampened pine. The stuttering howls of coyotes tear at the dark. Nearby, a bird’s cha CHEE, CHA chee repeats incessantly.
In just a few hours, I will make my way back to the Geography of Hope conference in Point Reyes, where environmentalist writers have gathered this weekend to inspire and inform one another. The panelists are from the pantheon of the preservation movement: Gretel Ehrlich, Kathleen Dean Moore, Robert Hass, Ann Pancake, Rebecca Solnit, and dozens more. I have been awed by the discoveries of writing that moved me to tears. I have been inspired to write with a clearer intent to effect progressive change. I have also felt ashamed for not putting my words to more preventive, restorative, salvaging use long ago.
For most of my life I have cringed and averted my eyes from damage done by humans to our fellow animals, especially through hunting and habitat destruction. Graphics and facts disturb me to the point of sickness, and leave me with the despair of unfixable violence. Yes, I have donated dollars and written occasional letters to save whales and wolves, but in general I have settled for picking up litter and shopping with care, and for aiding individual creatures in my path. What real difference have I made in the problems that trouble me most – all of which center on creatures' suffering? Have I ever believed it was enough to have adopted some dogs, saved a few trees, and helped care for some injured birds? I am 52 years old, and I have been painfully passionate about animals' demise for at least five decades now.
Where have I been all my life?
My shame was deepened yesterday by the indignation of a self-proclaimed “warrior” for The Cause, a fellow attendee who declared she had found us all wanting. “I look around and feel no affinity, no connection to any of you,” she had said peremptorily, the back of her hand flipping toward us in a dismissive wave. I wanted to point out that the topic here was Hope, not War, but I knew that it was the war that had given such hope, and that there were endless battles yet to be fought. The rest of us sat quietly, absorbing her judgment, wondering where we fell short. It was the only negative remark I had heard all day, and that isolation had charged it with extra power.
I get up, restless now with two kinds of inaction, and go to the window that faces the eastern hills. The sky is becoming a swath of bleached gray flannel, the tips of the pines poking through its fraying edge. A crow beats overhead in silhouette, its wings pushing down on the air like a pair of bellows. The bright cha CHEE of the pre-dawn bird has ended suddenly, as if Pan has pressed the snooze button on nature’s alarm. I can no longer hear the coyotes’ wails and barks. The earth’s creatures are changing behaviors in tune with its light, contributing to the movement and sounds of the planet according to its natural order. No words can cause the crow to soar at night, or make coyotes howl throughout the day.
Or make political warriors of introverts. An army relies on its journalists, artists, medics, mechanics, cooks, and photographers, too.
I rest my elbows on the windowsill. A pale peach sunrise burns between the bare lower trunks of the pines. Yesterday’s sunrise was a vibrant chorus of high-volume, oil-based art. Today shows up quietly, as a whisper of watercolor, equally beautiful, and just as much of a gift.