I realized recently that when I was a child, I was a thinker. I was also a worrier. Actually I was really just a plain old “scardy cat”. I was afraid of the musty cellar of our old farmhouse. I was afraid of the cool path that led behind the out-buildings and barn and overlooked the creek and valley behind our home. I was afraid that the creek might one day flood and enter into our house. I was afraid of the dark, actually I still am. I was obsessed with the fear that the neighbors afghan hounds who frequently barked at me when I rode my bike would get loose and come after me. I was afraid I’d contract tetanus after stepping on a rusty nail. I imagined my jaw joints locking and suddenly becoming unable to speak. I was afraid of snakes and other crawly things. I could be playing happily, in the middle of the sunny garden and begin thinking a thought that made me dash to the house and to the safety of my mother or brother or whomever was closest. One of the thoughts that frightened me most was the enormity of the world and the fact that the earth is just a speck in an enormous universe.
My parents had come from far corners of the earth. My father had come from Holland which I associated with tulips, windmills and Hans Brinker. I understood that there were countries around the Netherlands like Germany, France and Belgium, each of whom had their own language and culture. My mother had come from Indonesia which I knew was more remote. I associated it with tigers, exotic reptiles and endless jungles so dense that the sun could barely penetrate the vegetation. I knew that between me and Indonesia there were other countries I knew nothing about, with people who had various belief systems and skin colors. I knew that we were separated by mountains and deserts and vast, deep seas. It was the limitlessness of it all that frightened me. It was the understanding that the sea seemed so bottomless that if I dove into its surface I would run out of air before I could reach the sea floor. It was the idea that I could enter into a jungle and encounter life that I could never imagine existed and be lost forever. It made me feel tiny and insignificant. It offered me the realization that my little life in rural Lawrence, Kansas was really inconsequential in the balance of life.
I suppose it’s safe to say that I am still a thinker and the thoughts that I had as a child have evolved but still cause me fear. Today I still think about the vastness of the ocean except now I think about the plastic bottles and caps that wash ashore. I think about the birds and water fowl that will ingest the garbage. I think about the plastic mess that has encroached on their surroundings. I think about those once abundant tigers hunting stealthily in the jungles so far away and the fact that those tigers are now so few that we can count them. I think about the magnificent and intelligent elephants that have been slaughtered for their ivory. I think about the imbalance of the delicate aquatic environment caused by the dumping of toxic chemicals and other garbage into the seas. I think about the nuclear waste that has been stored in barrels and buried deep below the earth’s surface for future generations to deal with, if there will be future generations to deal with it. I think about the earth’s riches that are harvested to sustain our addiction for “more and more”. I think about droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, sinkholes, tornadoes and quirky weather. I think about the epidemic of rape and violence against women. I think about inequality, racism and ethnic cleansing and I think about war and the way that it is justified. I think about children who are exploited. I think about the world illustrated in the movie Mad Max and I find that my thoughts still frighten me.
Early in the morning of March 24th I looked out of my window at nearly 7 inches (17.78 cm) of snow on the ground. Normally during this time of year we might see green grass and even some flowers. I’ve been annoying my husband with talk about the year without summer. This was a year in 1815 in which Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia erupted. It was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. It created a phenomenon known as a volcanic winter. A volcanic winter in my limited perception, is a reduction in temperature caused by the presence of elements like ash and sulfuric acid in the atmosphere. The year 1816 was also known as the Poverty Year. Because of the eruption of Mount Tambora the prior year, the global temperature decreased which resulted in what was called a “agricultural disaster” and thus a major food shortage across the northern hemisphere. Clearly Mt. Tambora’s eruption had nothing to do with CO2 emissions nor was it the result of an environment taxed by human demand for Mother Earth’s natural resources. Mount Tambora’s fury erupted due to pressure built from the molten magma collecting under the earth’s surface. As a mother, I am very familiar with that sensation. I can’t help but wonder if given the demands made of her and the lack of reverence given to her, our mother earth isn’t getting just a little bit pissed off.
I do give reverence to human ingenuity. I am completely awe struck by the miraculousness of technology and the way that it enhances life. I live a life in which my mobile phone and computer have become an extension of me. I might live well without my car for a day or two but on day three I would definitely begin to feel handicapped. However, on those occasions when I find myself in nature and can pretend for a few minutes that I am far civilization, I realize that the earth is truly perfect without people.
My son Eli has a soccer friend who lives on a tidy, little farm tucked into the countryside nearby. His friend’s parents have regular day jobs but manage to also have dogs, horses, a cat, guineafowl, a pair of turkey and about 20 chickens. It isn’t unusual to find the boy’s mother, Sheriee, sitting on the ground holding a chicken in her lap, simply stroking the birds feathers or quietly speaking to it. On a couple of occasions when I’ve picked Eli up from playing, Sheriee will hand me a precious box of her cage free eggs. On the following mornings Eli will ask me to forgo the homogenous white eggs from the Styrofoam package and cook “Sheriee’s “eggs. As I cook, he picks up each precious egg and admires their various colors and sizes and I recognize that he is thinking about their origin, that sweet little farm and the tenderness that Sheriee exhibits to the animals that she raises.
I think that it is possible that the one single thing that can be done to save humankind, our environment, animal life and the earth that sustains us is really pretty clear cut. I think that it is just reverence. We have to take the time to marvel at the simple miraculousness with which we live. We have to learn to respect the tiniest and seemingly insignificant aspects of what is truly a perfect world. We have to respect our earth mother before our demands and negligence simply kills her.