From a letter to a friend who just joined Extinction Rebellion and is suffering full-blown climate grief.

Cup Flower or Silphium perfoliatum in my garden this morning

Yes, the grief at what is happening to the beautiful living earth is hard to bear. Actually, the only thing that has really helped me is to be able to say with all my heart to the swallows, the lichens, the sweat bees, ‘I’m doing what I can. I will do what I can.’ Not perfectly, of course, but that doesn’t matter, I think, beside an unconditional willingness. The grief becomes fuel. What I do won’t be enough but I think, together, we can. And I’m free to use all of me to do my bit — my imagination; stubbornness; intelligence; way with words; years working blue collar jobs; experience of recovery from addiction, abuse; sadness; silliness; pleasure in gaining competence. All of it. I remember 30 years ago listening to the writer Dorothy Allison speak and thinking, ‘she’s lined up with herself.’ I wasn’t, and I wanted that and now I have it. Because I’ll do what I can for what I love most deeply which is this natural world. Will I give up steak right away? Will I never get on a plane again? Will I stop driving 168 km round trip to work at Tangled Garden? No, not yet anyway, but I’ll make changes personally and, more importantly, I’ll fight for government level changes.

I think a couple of years ago I talked with you about the grief of losing the refuge of wildness, how I used to go to the big wild to relinquish the burden of my own significance. To delight in being a speck. Only then I began to realize we specks are destroying the wild. It felt hard to lose that sense of a place where my actions didn’t matter. But then one day it occurred to me that no indigenous culture ever says, our actions don’t matter. Those cultures always teach the importance of behaving properly, of respect and ceremony, of acknowledging both that we are a small part of the whole and that all our words and actions make a difference. It was a western fantasy, that untouched and untouchable, that virgin wildness. We’ve always been part of the whole. We’ve always been responsible.

That whole is complex and powerful and vulnerable and capable of healing in ways we don’t know about. Which is where the most cheering book I know about comes in, the Isabella Tree ‘Wilding’ book I told you about. I look for information about resiliency. Marine areas that have been truly protected. Women in Ghana replanting traditional tree crops. I don’t watch TV. I don’t watch horrible clips of wildlife fleeing fires. I turn my mind to what we can do here. How to take the amazing UN goals for sustainable development and biodiversity and start making them come true a little, here. Because I really do not believe that late stage extraction capitalism is anything but a cancer. I don’t believe the ‘wealth’ it creates makes people as happy as living within the ecological boundaries of the planet could. Pretty much everything will have to change for us to turn things around. But that doesn’t seem so bad. All around me in rural Nova Scotia I see people who are only one generation from subsistence farming. They have a knowledge about community and looking after each other that I lack. I, on the other hand, know about things they (mostly) don’t, like what it’s like to grow up queer, what a civil war in Africa looks like, what the anonymous author of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ had to say about imperfection.

Where am I going with that?? Possibilities of communities that combine old and new, I suppose. I’ve been talking with my local county councillor, getting his support for Annapolis County council declaring a Climate Emergency and then doing something about it. There are 6 come-from-away councillors and 5 born around here. John, my councillor, was born in Kingsport, graduated high school and worked on the railroads his whole life. He thinks the born-heres will vote with him to support the motion but was feeling only 6 or 7 of us in his district of 1800 really cared about the issue. Another XR member supplied me with some good quotes and he sent them out to constituents from 14 to 87. To his surprise he got an earful of support for doing something now.

So I do have hope. It seems arrogant not to. And sort of pointless. Not that one can control the feelings of sorrow — or should. But it feels better to act. You are not alone. We are not alone.

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