Climate Change Will Affect the Most Vulnerable First; Then It Will Come to All Of Us.

From the book: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben

 

The very same beasts

That now decide

Who should live

and who should die…

We demand that the

world see beyond

SUVs, ACs, their pre-

packaged convenience

Their oil-slicked dreams,

beyond the belief

That tomorrow will

never happen

Let me bring my home to

yours

Let’s watch as Miami,

New York,

Shanghai, Amsterdam,

London

Rio de Janeiro and Osaka

Try to breathe under-

water…

None of us is immune.

Life in all forms demands

The same respect we all

give to money…

So each and every one of

us

Has to decide

If we

Will

Rise

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands & Aka Niviana from Greenland

Each poet faces the end of their way of life as the ice melts.

MASS SHOOTINGS, INHUMANITY AT THE BORDER, & A BURNING PLANET CALL AMERICANS TO STAND UP FOR LIFE

Think higher, feel deeper. Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. Eli Wiesel

 

From Goalcast:

Elie Wiesel was born in Romania, September 30, 1928 – died in New York July 2, 2016- is widely known as an American-Jewish writer, author of 57 books, professor and political activist, and one of the most famous Auschwitz survivors. When he was 15, as the German army occupied Hungary, Elie and his family were placed in one of the confinement ghettos set up in his hometown. Two months later, all Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and most of them were killed soon after arrival. Wiesel and his father were the only ones in the family to be spared, as they were fit for labor. The only thing that kept him going in the concentration camp was knowing that his father was still alive. Sadly, his father was beaten to death shortly before the camp was liberated, and Elie was unable to help him.

The book that made him famous – Night – describes everything he went through, both during his imprisonment in the Nazi camp and after. Recurring topics in Elie Wiesel’s books revolve around how every human value was destroyed in the harsh conditions of the camp, the shame he felt for resenting his father when he was in a helpless state, the disgust for humanity and the “death of God”.

In 1986, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for overcoming the horrible experience at Auschwitz and for sending a message of peace and human dignity. He is also a founding member of the New York Human Rights Foundation.

Wiesel’s thoughts and words came from his experience as a Holocaust survivor and fit the times in which we live in today’s America: a time of a racist president with a White Nationalist’s dark soul whose totality consists of a destructive ego and nefarious impulses.

Wiesel:

And now the boy is turning to me, “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep the memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of our universe.

We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

Trump demonizes decent and courageous people who only seek safety and new lives for themselves and their families but who look different than white men. We know the abuse, terror, cruelty, squalor, and humiliation at our Southern border. People die; the children get traumatized for life. America’s lack of a 21st-century humane border policy is a stain on our nation’s conscience.

Our gun-violence is a national shame. Recent mass murders make us sick. Anyone who believes that Trump’s words do not incite violence is unconscious. Trump’s and Republican reactions to Climate Change threatens the earth. Trump defiles America’s Dream, and Republicans enable him.

I believe the people of the world have been called for a long time to change how we live on our planet and with one another. When we ignore a calling, it comes back again with greater fear, pain, and suffering.

Gregg Levoy wrote in his stellar book, Callings, “Generally people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so, but it’s appalling how high a threshold people have for this quality of pain. Too many of us, it seems, have cultivated the ability to live with the unacceptable.”

Living with the unacceptable can no longer be acceptable.

I’ve written for more than 20 years about indifference being the enemy of renewal and change. If we are indifferent in our local and national elections next year, we might well lose the America we grew up in and sentence our children and grandchildren to lives of despair. People like Trump will always be in our midst; regressive and afraid people like Republicans at all levels of government are not unique.

We the people need to change. The suffering on the horizon if we fail to act far exceeds the angst we will feel when we embark on a new journey. I’ve had many journeys in my life. I understand the fear of beginnings. I would do all those journeys again. I’ve wished for a long time that conscious people would imagine a better future and go forward instead of letting fear stop them. Life could be so much easier.

Do what you can to take power from Trump and Republicans, to create a sustainable planet, to protect our citizens from unnecessary guns, and to again become the country that welcomes immigrants. Then we will make America Great Again.

EXPERIMENTAL LEADERSHIP

Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…. Walt Whitman

 

In his book Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf wrote of England’s George Fox, seventeenth-century founder of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers). Early in his ministry Fox, an earnest seeker of truth, wrote in his journal:

I had forsaken all priests. . . and those called the most experienced people; for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me. . . I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”. . . And this I knew experimentally.

Greenleaf credited Fox’s forty years of extraordinary leadership to the gift of knowing experimentally which led to ethical practice in all areas of his life. Fox’s contributions included a new commercial ethic, equal status of women, education for all, and opposition to slavery 100 years before the American Civil War.

We live in a world of great potential destruction from climate change and other environmental threats. Those of us who think clearly fear the impacts of climate change on our children, grandchildren, and future generations. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass: This consumption of our planet cannot go on much longer. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention. Many suffer climate grief and climate anxiety, and the numbers continue to grow.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. And 134,000,000 for “climate anxiety.” Many Americans are afraid, anxious, and depressed.

Along with Climate Change and other environmental perils, we also live in a world at the start of a transformative creative process in technology that will do much good but also threatens our humanity as machines make more of our decisions for us and remake us to be less human and more soulless.

Venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee said on 60 Minutes that AI will eliminate about 40% of jobs. We fear uncertainty: loss of our jobs, status, control, and income. We question whether we have the skills for what change will require of us—most of us don’t. The most deluded who are in the deepest denial want to go back to a romanticized time in the past when old white men ruled. That won’t happen: The U.S. will become “minority white” in 2045 predicts the U.S. Census Bureau. Perhaps our greatest fear is of life itself.

In addition to these dire dangers and extreme changes in our lives, there is more: A bad man leads our country. The Republican Party, without courage, bows to him in silent acquiescence. Fox News is a delusional propaganda machine that insults our souls. Trump’s devoted followers suffer the false beliefs put out by Fox News, Trump, and his crowd.

We fear the loss of our Democracy and way of life. Nitsuh Abebe wrote in the NY Times Magazine more than two years ago: “We’ve reached a weird, quiet agreement that the most potent force in our politics is, for the moment, a stew of unease, fear, rage, grief, helplessness, and humiliation.”

We fear the impact of so much unavoidable change on our families, health, and even our lives. Life expectancy has decreased for the last three years; the longest sustained decline in a century. Drug overdoses and suicides continue to grow.

“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

American needs to go forward to the future, not backward to a reality that never existed. We need our best people to renew our Democracy. Trump and Republicans in Congress are not our best people. The challenges are too great for small and mediocre people with questionable motives and wrong plans and policies to be in power. America must return to truth, science, education, respect for all, and a new kind of leadership fit for the times.

I believe the aspect of leadership needed most today is the courageous person who lives by ethical values and thinks independently; one who leads experimentally with or without religion. Experimental leaders do not identify with rigid schools of thought or specific groups whose boundaries they will have to defend and whose rules they must follow. They do not blindly follow the scientific method and are not new-age thinkers. They will not conform to religious doctrine, the academic worldview, or the organizational development paradigm.

Experimental leaders are artists. They reject black/white & either/or thinking. They embrace “both/and” thinking as a path to creativity.  Visionaries, they experiment and create new ways to protect and live on our planet. They respect all people and all of nature. They find meaning, direction, and inspiration from their powerful vision, deep ethical foundation, and a profound sense of purpose. They know experimentally what to do and have the courage to follow that course–regardless of what bullies do, say, or think.

We need leaders at all levels who trust themselves and are not afraid to make a decision and don’t worry about lost jobs or elections. Leaders who tell the truth and stand up to racism, bigotry, injustice, mediocrity, and corruption. Leaders who confront lies and stand for truth and integrity, who judge bad behavior, and hold others accountable to live by the shared values that are indispensable in a community.

Greenleaf asked, “Who is the enemy? Who holds back faster movement to a better world? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions?”

It’s not the evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people.

If the world is transformed there will still be evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people. The enemy is indifference. The enemy is those with power and responsibility who lack the courage and conviction to hold others accountable for their behavior. The enemy is the indifference of each of us when we fear to live true to our values and our deepest purpose. No victims of poor leadership; we are its co-creators. More than technical knowledge, we need strong ethical leaders who will raise moral standards in a time when much of leadership is, Greenleaf wrote, “in the hands of the gross, the self-seeking, and the corrupt.”

We need to remove from power, at all levels, the Republicans who lead this decline of America. Their failures model the extremes of either/or thinking. Democrats need to adopt a dynamic vision for the nation that doesn’t mindlessly jump from the extremes of today to their own well-intended either/or extremes. They need to find a both/and middle-ground that will attract the voters needed to win the election. Reassure people, don’t frighten them to re-elect the devil they know.

As I looked at the world in the mid-90s, I decided that the way we live on our planet and the way we lead were wrong. Who to believe? Who to follow? I worked with wise people for two years to create and articulate my vision, values, and purpose. I decided that I would find my own way in life. That led me to leave the corporate world, complete a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change, start to write and consult, and contemplate life on a mountain for a year, and then begin a new life with Melanie, my wife.

It’s been a challenging adventure. I am so happy I went on my inner journey, which continues today.

HEROIC LEADERSHIP

 I alone can fix it.

Donald Trump referring to America’s problems.

 

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, wrote that heroic leaders, once a godsend, are now a public menace. Many of Donald Trump’s followers think of him as a heroic leader—the godsend kind. I don’t think he’s a leader, godsent, or heroic, but he does menace us daily.

Heroic leaders become especially prevalent in times of crisis and transformation when traditional mechanisms for change and conflict resolution struggle under great strain or have broken down: customs; traditions; established authority; and shared vision, values, and purpose. Our president causes great anxiety and conflict and batters our democracy daily. And his disarray adds to the already existing national and global problems and is bad for the health of the American people who he pits against one other.

In his book Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defined leadership as, leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations–the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations–of both leaders and followers.

He wrote: …beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.

MacGregor Burns described a dark side of heroic leadership as a relationship between leader and follower in which followers place great faith, often unfounded, in the heroes ability to overcome obstacles and crises. The followers don’t think for themselves and avoid personal responsibility by projecting their fears, aggression, and aspirations onto the hero as a symbolic solution to the conflict inherent in change. Jessica Flanigan, a philosopher at the Jepson School at the University of Richmond wrote that charismatic or heroic leaders can inspire non-thinking followers to act wrongly for the wrong reasons. Stephen L. Carter wrote in the NY Times that supporters will think the wrong thing is right.

Followers and politicians who deify leaders collude in the heroic leader syndrome. It’s difficult for even normal people, much less Trump–the poster boy for narcissism, to resist being treated as someone special. It feels good to be treated like an all-powerful and perfect man who receives mass support from followers. Trump demands idolization, and his boot-licking supporters feed his ego daily. Their conformity and compliance enable Trump’s immoral behavior and his repulsive personality. By enabling him, they diminish themselves. They lose themselves and by doing so try to escape personal responsibility.

How can a leader who is a hoax surrounded by second rate advisors and lily-livered politicians be effective or make good decisions? The truth-tellers have disappeared from Trump’s Cabinet and White House. Trump lost his humanity somewhere and sometime long ago. He’s not capable of healthy relationships with followers. He’s a figurehead watching Fox News surrounded by toadying underlings. Lots of “executive time” on his calendar gives him time to construct the appearance of competence and contribution while he eats KFC and watches television. Trump tries to appear a “winner” by lying chronically, blaming always, and covering up his messes. And his true-believers fall for it all. Mediocrity is the norm.

Such a sub-optimal operation becomes vulnerable to outside threats: Russia interferes in our elections, and Trump/McConnell block efforts to protect our votes. History will not be kind to the Trump years or those who lost their values and aided and conspired with him.

Trump’s contributions are often illusionary, inflated greatly, with credit for anything good frequently belonging to others and those who preceded him. Some of what he claims as great achievements cause a threat to the country and planet: fossil fuels and climate change.

The belief that he can direct and control global and national forces is delusional. Living systems, in time of great change, are too complex and unmanageable for one leader to bring about superlative performance, much less a bungler.

People who think know that one person cannot rescue us even as we look for heroes in the strangest places. We need value-driven leadership behavior by many at all levels of our nation and political system. Political leaders must first know America’s reality. Trump and those around him live in a false past; they do not live in the reality of America today.

We need, however, more than distributed leadership in our government and organizations. We also need the few extraordinary women and men who go far beyond leadership in their own development. People, who move through the chaos with courage, maintain their ideals, carry our hope, and reflect back to supporters the deep potential within each of us. They are our heroes and heroines.

Often invisible, people with such gifts are the rebels and outliers of the government, organizations, and enterprises. The get marginalized often because they threaten ineffectual leaders. Trump marginalizes people every day. We need these rebels and outliers to be courageous as they stand out from the ordinary and lead our own development.

The leadership Burns described is about whole people in a symbiotic and transforming relationship with one another–leaders and followers. This leadership is about the character: “The intellectual and moral texture into which all our life long we have been weaving up the inward life that is in us” (Oxford dictionary). Leadership is about who we are as men and women.

True leaders strive to live by core values–not what is politically correct, expedient, in their self-interest, or even fair.

Stephen L. Carter said of integrity:

Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

Courage is how we demonstrate our character.

In 2020, we will have one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character. A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values they will not betray, and a purpose greater than her own ego. A visionary, she has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the future of America and the planet. And she has plans for how she will make the vision real–she also tells the truth.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. Had he been a positive person he would have been seen as a clown to laugh at. Instead, a malicious man, he brought to light and gave power to the dark side of America’s history. Not heroic; not a leader. Trump uses presidential power to try to return America to her darkest ways and become the bleak hero of people who do not think for themselves.

We need a president who puts the sustainability of our planet and our democracy ahead of personal greed, selfishness, and addictive lust for power. A president who will evolve our goodness as Americans, restore America as the role model for the nations of the planet and a president who will drain the swamp Trump brought to the White House.

President John Kennedy was to deliver a speech in Austin, TX on the night he was assassinated.

A quote from the speech for our nation’s Senators and Representatives at all levels of government:

Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom. So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.

SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Earth is Not a Platform for Human Life

It Is a Living Being

We’re Not on it But Part of It

Its Health is Our Health.

Thomas Moore

 

In 2001, I was asked to write a letter to my grandkids to be posted on The Grandfather Chronicles website.

An excerpt:

Previous generations leave you the greatest responsibility any generation has inherited from those who came before them. The unintended consequences of the successes of previous generations are devastating to all of nature—including the people of our world. Your job is to save the planet for future generations.

We leave you with the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. We live a philosophy of life that pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats homeless waste filled barges in the ocean.

The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent approach threatened status. Our way of life produces spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. Our beliefs alienate people from themselves, from each other, and from nature. Our mechanistic worldview destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures that lived in sustainable ways. Our thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet that you will try to save.

Fast forward to 2019:

Well, dear grandchildren: Over the past 18 years, we failed to face and confront our many existential threats. America (and many other countries) has regressed: lies, threats, corruption, incompetence, demonization, and blaming the powerless for our many problems dominate the news every day. Our democracy is threatened by an autocrat.

Climate change is here and has taken center stage among all of the threats to the environment. Climate change is settled science: 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that we caused it (and here and here).

Our president denies climate change, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care either. We should not vote for any candidate of either party that does not publically state that climate change is real, that we caused it, and offer a plan for actions to take.  We can argue about when the worst of climate change will be or how bad the loss of life and destruction will be. But anyone who wants to still argue about whether climate change is real or that humans cause it just isn’t thinking straight (See Twilight of American Sanity by Allan Frances, MD.) The attacks on nature accelerate. Everything on the planet is affected because everything is connected and interdependent (See Our Planet on Netflix).

We need new, diverse, and younger leaders at all levels of government in America. Leaders who can articulate an inspiring vision, have the courage to lead, get things done, and never go against America’s or their own deepest values. People outside of government do great work on climate change and other environmental issues that threaten us. But we need a functioning government to provide money and right legislation.

Each year we fail to answer the call to transform how we live on our planet, the more difficult change will be. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention.

We feel sad, scared, and anxious as we see more clearly the realities of climate change. I recall reading a speech by a trusted author in 2001: I felt so shaken by his predictions for the environment that I had to jump in my car and go for a long ride to process my emotions of grief, fear, and anxiety. Not many people talked about how they felt about what was happening to our natural world back then. They are now.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. In 2017 the American Psychological Association found “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” (See David Brooks, An Era Defined by Fear.)

Many who mourn our planet and dread the future have lost hope for a secure life. They are not crazy (See Yuval Harari’s, Homo Deus.)

Misery precedes a new transformative vision that gives people new hope and aliveness.

We’re sealed into climate change that we cannot stop, but we may have time to turn things around before the worst happens. Denying our emotions is the wrong thing to do. Trying to ignore what is happening or hoping for a hero or heroine to rescue us is the wrong thing to do. And, God won’t rescue us.

We need to see reality clearly, deepen and broaden our awareness, reconnect with science, and find our way to the truth in a world of lies. Once we “get it,” we can get engaged, connect to others, connect with nature, and connect with the vision that offers the best chance for a hopeful and secure life ( See Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solution).

The inhabitants of Earth must join together and cooperate to confront our collective future. The United States cannot go it alone: it would be immoral and unsustainable.

Dealing with the massive issues before us requires a deep transformation in how we live on Earth. Our economics have to change dramatically. Our use of fossil fuels has to diminish significantly. We can no longer have unlimited growth, and we must simplify. Our values need to shift: we can no longer give status and respect to those who deny the need for action. They will be the pariahs of the near future. Political conflict is inevitable and will continue to threaten our democracy.

At the same time, the world of work will continue to change dramatically adding more grief, fear, and anxiety to your lives, You will need to see the future of work and learn to adapt to even faster change than before. You will need to learn 21st-century technologies: AI, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. You will have to redefine yourselves routinely to be relevant and have a place in the world of work.

John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal:

If we indoctrinate the young person in an elaborate set of fixed beliefs, we are ensuring his early obsolescence. The alternative is to develop skills, attitudes, habits of mind, and the kinds of knowledge and understanding that will be the instruments of continuous change and growth on the part of the young person…this means more attention to basic principles…. In all subjects, it means teaching habits of mind that will be useful in new situations—curiosity, open-mindedness, objectivity, respect for evidence and the capacity to think critically.”

Chaos offers opportunities and danger. Prepare yourselves to be aware of the dangers but find the opportunities. I believe you can and will rise to the occasion. Other generations have throughout history. It is possible, however improbable, to create a new and better world from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution.

To guide you in life, identify your values, articulate your purpose in life, and create your vision for your lives and for the kind of world you want to live in. This spiritual journey is hard work; most don’t do it. Life will pass them by.

Do what you love in life. Let your values and purpose guide you when chaos surrounds you, when you feel lost, confused, bewildered, and disillusioned. Transform your grief and anxiety into a powerful motivation. Fight for the planet.

You will feel alive if you do.

THE JOURNEY ITSELF WILL CHANGE YOU

Man was born to turn the world into paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness.
Daniel Quinn

Alone on Thanksgiving 2001, I was a solitary figure as I walked north along County Road 23, two miles south of Ridgway, Colorado — the northern entrance to the San Juan Mountains.

The snow-topped San Juan’s rim the Uncompahgre Valley, home of farms, cattle ranches, and magical rainbows each April. Cows and horses dot the fields below. I felt peaceful.

The day awakened brisk and flowed toward me from the mountains to the east. My boots crunched the gravel. The cool air burned my cheeks. The morning sun warmed my skin. Magpies, bluebirds, and blue jays sat on the fence posts and in the trees along the road and dashed and darted about. I could feel the interconnected energy of the life around me—including myself as I too am part of nature.

How long can we live well on this planet when we extinguish 200 species a day to expand economic growth so we can feed, house, and enable the material and emotional addictions of our global over-population? Each day the threats of climate change grow more ominous. Will we change?

Nature has a deep purpose: to sustain the conditions for life—not necessarily human life but the existence of creativity and aliveness. Nature will survive humans; will we endure our own destructive flaws and learn to care for our home on earth instead of constantly diminishing her for more and more stuff and people? If we provoke her too much, she will turn her wrath on us more than she already has. Nature expresses her passions without mercy or sentiment, and she always wins. The longer we wait, the more we and all of nature will suffer.

I paused on my walk and said hello to two favorite young cows–“Brown” and “Tan,” I called them. They ignored me, and I moved on. A dozen deer, ears perked, stood frozen 30 feet away and watched me pass by. The local marmots rested in their homes. I saw no one and, other than the sounds of nature, my boots on gravel, and my breathing, my walk was quiet. I was in a reflective mood.

How can anyone believe they can control nature? I thought about a recent experience: I drove my jeep 12,000 feet above sea level on a narrow path of an old mining road. I was a few miles east of Silverton, 30 miles south of where I lived. A sudden rainstorm began washing the clay beneath my jeep away, and my vehicle began to slide back down the mountain close to a steep ledge. I went with her pull until I saw an opportunity to maneuver out of the slide. Nature reminded me of my powerlessness and humbled me.

I walked to the white house on the curve of the road into Ridgway, drank some water, waved to the barking yellow lab, and turned around for the walk home. In the spring, a couple of hundred skittish elk will graze in the meadows below me. Variety surrounded me on my walk. Diversity promotes adaptation and sustainability. A monoculture foreshadows death.

The return trip climbed uphill from about 7,200 feet. My breath got faster and deeper and my legs felt the strain. I finished my water.

Finally, head down, I trudged up the curved and rutted incline of the long driveway to the A-frame home nestled against the side of the mountain. I lived in the loft. I sat on the picnic table near the back door and under the deck; I was hot and wet with sweat. I breathed heavily. I notice Skeeter and Tate — two cats larger than Noga, my Westie — hunting in the brush. I felt alive.

I muttered an expletive under my breath in acknowledgment of the hard effort. I loved this three-mile walk in nature, which provided a milieu for creative contemplation. I was old enough to find it harder to believe in a loving God as I did as a child. I tried to figure out how I can believe and still see humanity as it is: so often cruel and unjust.

As I caught my breath, I thought back to when my brother Allan and I took a trip to East Africa for 18 days of wildlife photography in Kenya and Tanzania. The animals were excited, spirited, and expressive — they ran, jumped, and played. A Pride of lions slept, sunned themselves, and lounged while mischievous cubs played and irritated their elders who cuffed them gently.

A large group of giraffes loped across the plain. Two cheetahs stalked Thompson gazelles. A soundless leopard carried a young wildebeest into a tree to feast on for the next two or three days. Animals kill for food; not for ego or trophies. Elephants lumbered in front of the gigantic and snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro as filled with excitement, I fumbled with my camera.

I watched the chaos of the annual wildebeest migration as two million grazers followed the rain. I began to sense the deeper order, programmed genetically over thousands of years, of their seemingly insane behavior. Order exists beneath chaos.

As I caught my breath, I decided to go and soak in the hot springs in Ouray — eight miles south at the front door of the San Juan’s. Many years prior, I drove around the mountain curve on highway 550 into Ouray. I saw the steam from the hot springs rising to the mountains. I was drawn to this beautiful place, and I returned several times to drive the old mining roads.

One day my divorce, my mom’s death, and the surprise death of my best friend provided the deep awareness of fragile and temporary life, and I loaded my jeep and drove West to grieve and live out my dream of living a year in the mountains.

The large hot springs pool sits surrounded by mountains and the town of Ouray — a tiny piece of Western history nestled in a bowl at the foot of the San Juan’s. I relaxed in the pool, drank water, and watched rock climbers, mountain goats, small avalanches, and the deer feeding in the adjacent park. Often I sat for hours and thought, other times I read, and I talked with locals and tourists. In the winter, the steam rises from the hot water, and often I can only see a foot or two in front of me. The pool fills with people when it snows, and snow-covered heads appear to float on top of the warm water.

I reflected on my connection with nature while I soaked. I thought about my eight days of whale-watching on a fishing boat out of San Diego:

I sat in a small skiff in the San Ignacio lagoon in the Mexican province of Baja California Sur. The boat bobbed in light waves. I watched as a 40-foot-long, 40-ton great gray whale surfaced beneath the boat and introduced her new child to the boat’s elated observers.

I peered into a large serene eye of the mother and wondered: What is her world like? Her gentle and knowing return of my excited stare linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us — a profound choice: destroy or relate — the essence of competing worldviews in my world.

Mother and child floated with the skiff for a few minutes. The whales allowed the exhilarated humans to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle-covered parent before mother and child submerged and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing skiff, and the whale and her child were one. Nature is a form of love available to each of us. Maybe that moment of intimacy was God

Henry Beston wrote:

For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move furnished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

People, the whales, and the lions are animals. It’s our job to use our gifts to nurture the planet not consume it for things we don’t need.

I feel sorrow for our planet. Nature and America have declined since 2016: under assault by those who feel entitled to destroy our natural world for ego and money; they never get enough.

A few years ago, I stood alone in Canyonlands National Park near Mesa Arch. The sky was dark at 4:30 am. I looked up at the cloudless sky and saw the star-filled cosmos. I felt overwhelmed with awe and humility. Fear too. I felt the pain of my insignificance. The questions and mysteries of life swirled in my mind. I’m not the center of the universe: I am minuscule in my brief moment as a participant in the interconnected natural world. Two hours later, I stood in front of Mesa Arch and watched as the sun rose in the distance.

Daniel Quinn was the author of the quote that is the title of this essay. I hope future generations will be able to have their own journeys into nature. It will change them as it will continue to change me.

Monarch Butterfly: an endangered species.

 

A CARING FRIEND

 To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself. Milton Mayeroff

Eleanor Powers, my friend of 43 years, died on November 25, 2018.

Eleanor wasn’t a wealthy woman, she lived alone in a small home in South Minneapolis. She hadn’t had a career—I don’t know how much she had worked in her life. She suffered from chronic depression, agoraphobia, and horrific pain from arthritis. She didn’t drive and was anxious about leaving her home—but she did when she needed to.

Eleanor stayed up most of every night and watched the cable television shows. She surfed the channels and could not stand Fox News or Donald Trump. I often said to her, “You should quit watching politics on television. Not hearing all the anger would help your depression.”

“No, watching politics is good for me. I can yell at the television,” she replied.

Eleanor was a mother of six children. Bill, her husband, had died 20 some years ago. Eleanor had suffered darkness in her life. I’ll keep the details to myself but suffice to say: Eleanor had more than her share of loss, pain, and suffering. When I talked to her, she would express any angst that she was feeling and then moved on to happier topics.

I met Eleanor at an “Emotions Anonymous” 12-step meeting. I had been in treatment in 1974 and had been sober for a year. I had been going to AA meetings but didn’t feel they were what I wanted. Treatment had awakened me to my inner emotional world and I was fascinated by exploring that terrain. I wanted to go to a group that talked about emotions. EA was perfect for me. I loved the diversity of the group: men, women, all ages, some were alcoholics, others were wives, husbands, or children of alcoholics. Some were depressed, others were grieving the loss of someone or something. What they had in common was pain and suffering they sought relief from.

Eleanor and I talked at that first meeting. She gave me her phone number and said: “call me if you want to talk.”

Well, I wanted to talk. I called Eleanor night after night for weeks, and we talked for a couple of hours each time. I struggled to put my life together in my first year of sobriety, and I was sad, angry, afraid, and anxious about how my life might turn out.

I picked Eleanor up for meetings and took her home afterward. Sometimes we and other group members stopped for coffee. Our telephone calls continued but less frantically. I met Bill and he was supportive and a big help to me. Many times we sat around their table and talked and talked. Eleanor and Bill were twenty-some years older than me and had much life experience, hard-earned wisdom, and knowledge of the Twelve Step philosophy.

I moved in 2000 and spent a year in SW Colorado where I wrote, consulted, and sat in the natural hot springs, and drove the mining roads of the San Juan Mountains. I then moved to Fargo/Moorhead where I met Melanie, my wife. We lived along the Red River of the North. Eleanor and I stayed in touch. In 2009, Melanie and I were flooded out of our home. We moved to Minneapolis, MN: back home for me and a new adventure for Melanie.

I owed Eleanor so much: she had supported me through one of the most challenging times of my life. She was a lifeline to me and gave me so much of herself and helped me establish a strong foundation for my sobriety—now 44 years.

Eleanor didn’t drive, could not afford taxis, and needed help. I began taking her to appointments as did other friends. Each time I picked her up she began a stream-of-consciousness anger dump about the day’s politics. The Trump talk depressed me, but I listened so she could get the emotions out.

She wanted me to come into the examination rooms with her and take notes. More than once, I saw her cry in anguish because of the arthritic pain she suffered. She did everything asked of her by the doctors but nothing seemed to help much. She tried swimming, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Still, she suffered. She never gave up trying to get rid of the pain she felt.

As seven years went by, she had more appointments and needed more help. She went from using a cane to a walker, and finally to a wheelchair. Some of her friends who drove her couldn’t handle the wheelchair so finding rides became more and more difficult.

I worried that Eleanor would fall in her home. I felt she could no longer care for herself. I believed Eleanor should move to an assisted living facility. Assisted living was not in her plans. She was proud of her independence and feared she would be forced to change her lifestyle. Finally, in July of 2018, her children “kidnapped her,” (in her words) and put her in a nursing home (her children did the right thing). She cried as she told me about it.

About six months later she got an infection and died quickly. She was 94 years old.

What drew me to Eleanor and made me feel so responsible to repay her in whatever ways I could?

Eleanor cared and she cared for me at a time I needed someone to support me. Eleanor spent time with me. She listened to me and came to know me: my values, strengths, weaknesses, and my most difficult emotions. She didn’t judge, lecture, or try to fix or control me. She could be blunt. She could be difficult. But she always cared for me, and I could feel her caring.

Eleanor was patient in our relationship. She didn’t push, she allowed me to experience suffering, confusion, uncertainty, and let me flounder until I found my way. She was honest with me and helped me see myself as I was not as I imagined myself to be. I trusted her, and my life came together.

Eleanor Powers lived a caring way of life. I’ll never forget Eleanor and the love she gave me. My life might have turned out much differently without her.

Whenever we said goodbye Eleanor would say, “I love you, Thomas.” “I love you too,” I replied.