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A Gorgeous Fall Day
And I feel guilty for it....
I'm up well before sunrise and it is a beautiful, clear-sky morning outside and 45°. I pause at the sliding glass door near the kitchen for several moments to look at the waning crescent moon, bright in the sky and surrounded by stars and a couple glowing, magnificent planets. What a universe! I tell myself again how I need to spend more time out in the darkness, under the moon, to learn the stars and the constellations. I want a telescope so that I can see better. It is a part of our world that amazes me every time I take the time to look, and my opportunities to learn are fading.
I'm feeling some survivor's guilt for how fortunate I've been these last few months. Yes, COVID has impacted my life but it has been more inconvenience than hardship. No one I know or love has taken ill with it, let alone died. My day-to-day life has been little impacted. I have the luxury of having multiple places I can get out to where other people are so unlikely to pass that I don't even think about bringing a mask with me when I visit them. I don't even mind wearing a mask when it’s necessary and would happily employ one for the rest of my life to avoid not only pandemic illness but also just common colds, which I despise.
The complaints I have are are so negligible that I would be an asshole to even bring them up.
The gorgeous clear morning sky is another opportunity to feel both grateful and guilty. For all the trepidation I feel going into summer every year for more than the last decade or so, so far this year, and last, we have been fortunate not to suffer too much locally. We have recently had a handful of smoky days, and those were merely an inconvenience wind-carried in from where real suffering is happening. This morning, if I choose, I can wrap up my writing and head to any number of spots where I can enjoy the crisp, clean air, wild free-flowing water, and magnificent sky that Montana is famous for.
I reiterate my gratitude for how good my fortune has been.
I recognize being a tiny piece of a larger world that I am deeply connected to. So many people are suffering right now for so many reasons. Storms. Pandemic. Fires raging in places I've been, places I love. The epidemic of poverty, which amplifies every other problem immeasurably. I wonder how I can sit here fat and happy and reveling in all my good fortune, most of which comes entirely from winning the cosmic lottery that saw me born where I was and looking like a white guy, and keep a blind eye on my own culpability for what is happening?
I saw a post someone shared on Twitter yesterday. Barack Obama shared pictures from San Francisco, with its red and smoky skies, and wrote, "The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it—because it does."
The person sharing the post was responding by saying, "Fuck you, you had eight years to do something about it and didn't, so shut the fuck up."
Beyond being an excellent example of the kind of civility Twitter is famous for, the comment remains 100% true. There has been zero federal leadership related to climate change in this country, ever. Sure, some token appeasement here and there, but were we really any better off as 2016 ended than we were when 2009 began? No. Probably worse off.
But what if there was federal leadership? What would it even look like? At this point we are looking at some pretty austere measures if we even want to slow down this climate calamity, let alone turn it around, aren't we? And if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything at all, it's that as soon as government at any level starts recommending citizens do anything they really don't want to, or are in any way inconvenienced by, there are huge swaths of the population who will simply refuse. Hell, there are already internet loudmouths suggesting the fires turning the West Coast into ash are the work of Antifa and #BLM arsonists—or even Proud Boys!—all of which is utter nonsense. I had someone in a comment earlier this week suggest that homes weren't being taken out by fires—because of trees still standing in their vicinity—but by energy rays from space. Now I'm open-minded to plenty of weird stuff—Bigfoot, UFOs, weird psychic connections, etc.—but I don't think there is anyone blasting trophy homes from beyond the atmosphere.
This is why my survivor's guilt manifests in times like these, because whenever a global crisis, or multiple all at once, raises its head, I am reminded how culpable I also am. No less so, frankly, than the whackadoos are. How every choice I make fuels climate change and snuffs out plant and animal and insect species at an exponential rate. How, despite knowing better, I continue to live the life I do. I sit here considering a drive to exercise my recreational privilege someplace beautiful. Contemplate where I might travel to when "things are back to normal." Everything, everything, everything.
I don't know what to do. I used to fly all of the time for work but I quit when I just couldn’t live with myself for it anymore, especially when the industries I was working in are the worst contributors to all of our environmental problems. I would give up daily driving if I could afford to live closer to where work, groceries, and services are. I'd ride a bike back and forth from Missoula—about a twenty-five mile round trip for me—if I didn't know the law of averages would ultimately catch up to me and I'd end up ground to pieces under the wheels of some dipshit driving his (it's almost always a dude) over-sized pickup well over the speed limit while looking at his phone on my windy country road.
I consider and evaluate every choice, or try to. I'm willing to make sacrifices. But everyone has to, otherwise what is the point? We all need to start demanding some accountability, and it starts with ourselves.
Here is a great overview from Jon Allsop at the Columbia Journalism Review about the fires, climate, media coverage and what gets it, and disconnects between. It's worth a read and has great links ... including to the latest fantastic piece from my pal Annie!
Personal tidbit: I have a review up at the Missoulian for the new new memoir by Jon Tester. I managed to take a shot at our current president without ever dirtying up the piece by including his name and that makes me happy. A couple changes I wish I'd made before submitting it, but I can live with that. Check it out HERE if you like.
Another personal tidbit: this coming Monday through Friday I'll be reading a poem-a-day on Montana (and Spokane!) Public Radio at 9am as part of their Poetry Moment program. They'll appear online afterward as well HERE, eventually. Give it a listen if you care about that kind of thing. I did my best at the time, but ooof. I’ve been doing a lot of this kind of thing, between Zoom presentations and stuff, which means a lot of sitting in my room alone talking into a microphone without any interaction coming back, which is really friggin’ weird to do.
One final personal tidbit: Looks like my Becoming Little Shell book won’t be out until spring of 2022, the result mostly of COVID having its way with publishing schedules. I’m fine with that. I hope we have a handle on COVID by then because I don’t want to have to promote it via Zoom because I hate it. And if COVID is still a thing that far down the road, there will be bigger problems distracting me from having a tantrum related to the foisting of another unnecessary friggin’ book on the world.
That’s all for now. Please be safe, grateful, and kind. We are all in this together.