It’s said that the secret to happiness is to appreciate those things for which you are grateful.
My list of joy-inducing subjects is not short. Yet opposing forces—those topics that bring fear, anger, and disappointment—are almost always in the foreground.
Homo sapiens evolved on the savanna of Africa—a vast, nearly treeless plain. To better scan the horizon for predators and other threats, we stood upright. We began walking on our two back feet, a habit that freed our hands for other uses. The rest is anthropological history.
Part of our freakishly large brain is still back there on the savanna, ever scanning the edges of consciousness for threats. It’s instinct that causes us to look for things to fear. And to keep looking for them—when your number-one problem is solved, number two gets a promotion.
The TV, the laptop, the print media—all spew news about politics, world events, and climate change. Helpless to make any difference, I become trapped in the stranglehold of outrage. I ask myself: How did this maniac become our president? And why? When is the nightmare presidency going to end? And how? Are white men so racist, so angered by a liberal, intellectual, African-American president that they prefer a narcissistic idiot?
We nullify historical fact when we believe anything other than the truth about the United States: it was created by rich white men for rich white men. They will not easily loosen their grip on the money and power to which they feel entitled. Now we see who they really are and what they are willing to do.
A handful of the richest and most powerful white men built their empire on fossil fuels. They pay politicians to allow them ever-more plundering. They create advertising, publish reports, and state facts that are all bogus, falsehoods to allow them greater wealth. These are the “climate-change deniers.”
Back to the African savanna and planet Earth’s one constant: change. At this time in our planet’s 4.6 billion-year history, Earth’s systems are balanced just so, providing abundant oxygen, lots of fresh water, seas of grass, herds of beasts—the environment that is just right for Homo sapiens.
If we had behaved like every other species, we would leave only our biological footprint when our time was up. But our prideful species considers Earth its very own playground. We have hastened critical and irreversible changes to Earth’s systems. Climate change is the only reality that really matters. We will be the first species to cause its own extinction.
Some do what they think will slow the changes. Many of us have recycled for decades. Nations band together to half-heartedly limit carbon production. Leaders tell their citizens they are making a difference. Yet we gleefully ignore the obvious. The explosion of human population in the last 2000 years is the single greatest contributor to climate change.
Meanwhile, baby creation continues merrily on. We cheer when friends, relatives, celebrities reproduce. Everyone (except me) loves babies, right? Why? Because they bring us joy? Do we love babies because of their emotional effects on us? Is the Cult of Baby based in narcissism? I think so. I wonder why people continue to reproduce, causing ever-more stress on the environment that was so perfect for us. Why do we whistle in the dark?
With intention I set aside the pernicious thought-trains of rage and outrage, of incredulity, of anger and fear of every stripe.
I woke on this Christmas Day to a fresh dusting of snow, which signals serious bird-feeding season. I filled the feeders and drank coffee at my picture window overlooking the crowd that immediately gathered. I spotted a pair of birds I had never seen before. I read about them and thought how lucky I am to live mid-Continent, where non-native birds in migration often land. I hoped the foxes, coyotes, and deer that venture close when the summer cottages are vacant become neighbors again this winter.
With wonder, I read from cover to cover a photo book about birds a friend authored and sent as a gift. Again, I thought it odd that even though a Great Lake is not 30 yards away, I never see water birds in my yard.
I thought about the glorious August and September just passed. Ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzed back and forth in my backyard, stopping to sip at the fuschia monarda I planted for them. Turkeys sauntered back and forth in the front yard, pecking at seed and nestling in the native grasses I encourage for them. On one side, the smallest of Great Lakes native birds; on the other, the largest.
In the middle, an aging woman who uses a big Homo sapiens brain to create an oasis welcoming visitors from other species as she drifts peacefully in the bright warm sunshine, the only roar in her ears that of Lake Michigan.
Elizabeth G Fagan is a writer and artist who resides in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She’s endured the curse of being a writer since attending a private arts high school in Connecticut, where the bad habit was encouraged. She also became a photographer at that high school. She spent all the time she could in the school’s darkroom, creating black and white images from film. Alas, a second bad habit acquired. Fagan is passionate about the natural world and its creatures.
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