My richest moments in life have been the times I’ve spent in Nature: hiking through forests, diving and sailing the oceans, climbing mountains, kayaking rivers, exploring deserts and swimming in lakes. I was raised in the wilds of Alaska, delivered at home by my father, and grew up watching the weasel in the woodpile change color each year, from brown in the summer to white in the winter.
My first love is Nature; without it I am soul-less. That is why I am wretched with grief to the point of despair whenever I let the magnitude of Earth’s condition sink into my heart. Deep in my bones I know much of the natural world inhabiting Mother Earth is dying.
In the ‘80s I was concerned with the acid rains that were pummeling and killing the forests of New England and with the Beluga whales that needed to be disposed of as toxic waste when found dead in the Saint Laurence Seaway. Earth’s problems seemed smaller only 20 years ago, when protecting wetlands and preserving open spaces were the focus of many environmental groups. Now, alarm bells jangle inside my brain as I learn the oceans themselves are becoming acidic with more than 200 dead zones, the Ozone Hole is even larger and polar bears are drowning for lack of ice to climb onto from the warming seas.
My parents had a polar bear skin I would lie on when I was young; the fur was soft with a pale yellow tint. Every Fall they would hunt for a large game animal and take just one, which fed our family of five the entire winter. Every animal part that could be used was. Very little was discarded. Dad taught us to respect the wilderness and wildlife, to pack out what we packed in and to give thanks to the Great Spirit for the sustenance it provided for our survival. These were good lessons to learn and have served me well in life. It is hard for me to comprehend that the animals who sustained us are dying. Imagining a world without polar bears is, for me, incomprehensible.
As I read various articles on global environmental conditions, I cannot help but draw the inescapable conclusion that Earth is going through a cycle of extinction, as it has done a number of times before. The hardest thing to accept is that it is happening in my lifetime, to the things that I love. To witness in my own lifetime so many animals disappearing, the oceans and rivers falling more and more ill, the atmosphere getting thinner, the ozone hole widening – it’s overwhelming and tragic to my heart. My response is grief beyond belief.
But as I’m in the throes of grieving the changes Earth is undergoing, and sobbing like a child lost, alone and with no hope for tomorrow, a quiet voice speaks from the deepest corner of my consciousness and reminds me not to despair for this is part of a Great Cycle. In the core of my being, I know this to be true. There are cycles in time greater than what is measurable in a mere human life.
Birth, living, death, rest, and rebirth – these are the natural cycles of all things, even planets. Nothing lives forever, and nothing is ever destroyed. The first law of thermodynamics plays across my mind: Energy can never be created or destroyed. Things can only change, and nothing ever stays the same. Still, it hurts to see the species suffer and die, to see Earth’s weather in rage, to hear of tragic human loss.
I know that in eons to come, after all I know and love has passed away and Earth has cleansed, a burst of new life will usher forth, and the Great Cycle will once again begin. Nothing may look the same as it looks now, but it will be life, vibrant, pulsing, strong and flourishing. My sadness eases when I think of Earth starting over, fresh and clean. I breathe deeper, my mind relaxes. Through grief I have come full circle, back to the joy of living and loving each moment, in honor of our Mother, planet Earth. A flicker of joy lights my thoughts. And it helps me recommit to celebrating that which I cherish so dearly – all life, my life, and Nature.
Life is short; we must dance and love and play and live to the fullest, while we are here, while we have time. The richness of what we have now must be acknowledged and rejoiced. Just as the old year dies in the shortest day of the Winter, a new sun is born and a new year begins, trumpeting in the Spring of a new generation. So it will be for Earth after this Great Extinction passes. She will be reborn and will thrive abundantly once more.