by Lyndsey Graves
I like these State Forest trails. They’re ATV paths that tend to end abruptly, dumping you off in some clearing or other, no lofty views or rivers to follow. Truly unspectacular, but that’s probably why I’ve never seen another human here. I like to be here just to be here, no agenda or expectations, wandering with the trees. This is no wilderness; it’s a highly cultivated small forest, but the trees don’t know.
I am in an ecology class this fall where we all sit around bemoaning the evils of Monsanto and McDonald’s and other corporations that wield more power than many governments. Then we go back to our normal lives. We try to remember to turn off our lights and take our reusable coffee mugs around. I’m writing this post in a McDonald’s...
I want to tread lightly on the earth, but I am a blunderer, even when there aren’t sticks and rocks under foot. Birds wing away, squawking in protest at my clumsy, crunchy footfalls. I can’t pretend I don’t impact this place simply by walking in it, never mind the earth by living in it. I want to live simply, but it seems life complicates itself. I want to nestle thankfully into one spot and live, but I am a twenty-something nomad among millions.
Human has always been this strange, naked-vulnerable, clever animal tromping about. We survive by controlling, or at least outwitting, our environment. We like that control and especially, in our oh-so-scientific age, we like cause and effect. We think we’ll measure and discover the causes of the world’s economic crisis, or the rising cost of energy, or the poverty of the global south, or the destruction of natural resources, and then we’ll be able to fix it all. We talk about needing more fuel-efficient cars to fix the atmosphere or better farming methods to fix famine. Some of us talk about the evils of capitalism and corrupt governments and globalization and bad city planning and those rich people.
Some days I am angry at the world about it all. I’m angry that my life depends on patterns of wastefulness and consumption and the oppression of others. I’m ready to become a revolutionary, maybe find some way to bring down the whole system; Fight Club made it look so easy, you know.
And yet, as much as these systems do need to be reworked, it’s just a little too easy to simply sit around being angry, or even to go to protests and write blog posts. It’s easy to do those things because I can argue for the validity of my point of view and measure my progress or lack thereof; it’s easy to do those things, even if, or especially if, they seem overambitious, because as long as I’m blaming historical events or economic forces or specific, egregiously bad people, I don’t actually have to confront human sin. Condemning capitalism is easier than recognizing that it’s just the latest vehicle for human greed and domination. Hating on Enron is easier than meditating on the opportunism, pride, and deception we’re all likely to participate in. Blaming “rich people” is convenient when they’re all just a little richer than me.
Call me names if you want, but I believe the planet is in deep trouble as a direct result of the extreme overconsumption of developed nations. But I don’t believe that the Kyoto Protocol, public service ads about turning off the water while you brush your teeth, or any amount of foreign aid are going to fix it. They might make us feel good, especially if we’ve decided to be “progressive” Christians and are scrambling to distinguish ourselves from those other Christians; but in reality, we’re tilting at windmills as long as we’re unwilling to face the real, looming issue: human greed and the apathetic inertia of comfort. The worst thing about it is, once we get down to that level, there’s really very little difference between us and other Christians, or even Rupert Murdoch himself. Once we start tracing out the effects of our own purchases and choices and attitudes, it is all of our guilt, and we have to start all these icky old conversations about sin all over again…
I’m having a minor crisis about all this, about my life and whether I’ll ever live as simply as I want to and what I’m supposed to do to help the world and whether I’m really still trapped by the whole system if I’m not living off the grid eating only seasonal local organic foods and riding only a bicycle. I’m standing in one of these clearings, begging the trees to teach me to be like them - simple-beautiful, bending and creaking in the wind with a wisdom-worn elegance, birds living in their branches. They remind me of their wounds and how they heal themselves with grace and patience.
I plop down in the tall grass to pray amidst orange-brown leaves. Will the earth heal herself when we finally leave her be? Or have my leaf-crunching steps already scarred her? I sit here worrying about this for a good ten minutes, wrapped in my own thoughts and anxieties and, too, my enjoyment of the autumn day.
A dragonfly catches my eye, and I follow her down to the damp decaying dirt, watching her gossamer wings and shining body glisten there. There is a whole world here in the lowest six inches of the meadow, I notice, and looking about I see I’ve been conversing with a woolly caterpillar, not a foot away from me, this whole time. Perhaps, he seems to say, this, for now, is enough. Perhaps we can both belong in the forest. There is yet more to all this than you can know. Also, the winter to come will be long and cold.
I don’t know why he should know all this. But then again, I don’t know why he shouldn’t.
lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological
Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty
and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know
if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest.
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