The following is part of a series of reflections CEC’s CEO Sigrid Wright has been sending to our leadership team in recent weeks about the current state of the world. As we navigate the entangled crises of a global pandemic, structural racism, a deeply flawed economic system and the climate emergency, we’re offering these reflections more broadly (including some curated poems) in case they help with processing emotions too monumental to express.
At one point this weekend, my husband and I found ourselves escaping weeks of homebound life to hike a long stretch of property owned by some friends. Their property abuts the Los Padres National Forest and Ventana Wilderness, and in giving us guidance to a particular oak grove they wanted us to check out, their directions indicated that we should look for a meadow of lupine and an unusually large cypress tree.
While we found plenty of lupine, we must have breezed right past this majestic tree, hiking on and on for miles, dropping over 1,200 feet in elevation – happy, footsore, sunburned and vaguely lost. For several hours we debated (in that way that married couples do) whether the cypress tree was behind us, in front of us, or on another trail entirely.
This got me thinking about my conversation in April with CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld – a thoroughly enjoyable 30-minute discussion as part of CEC’s Earth Day Live Festival. Jared is an avid hiker, having accomplished large stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail and other major routes. In a wide-ranging discussion, we talked about the important lessons of getting lost, and how, just before fully admitting one’s lostness, humans often try to “bend the map” to conform to where we want to be rather than where we actually are.
After months of pandemic-induced disruption at so many levels, I find it liberating to realize that the times we are in may just be demanding that we let go of where we wish we were, set a new course, and burn our old maps for fuel.
Lastly, getting back to poems – I’m sharing one of my all-time favorites and a personal guidepost, To Be of Use by Marge Piercy. This one is dedicated to the Earth Day production team, who took this to heart in pulling our community together with a virtual event to honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, even though we all had to stay home.
To Be of Use | Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
More of My Reflections.
- The Right to Breathe – And as George Floyd’s breath was crushed from him, any remaining pretext that the current social and economic code merits an obligation to play by its distorted rules was, in my mind, extinguished
- The Long Emergency – The societal bonfires of the past decades – human health, economic, social, racial, political, environmental – have now unarguably grown into one large Complex Fire and are forcing us to seriously assess the sanity of returning to “normal.”
- Navigating by New Constellations – Lately, with our collective navigational instruments on the blink, dials spinning uselessly, I awake from sleep and find myself curled into the shape of a question mark, as if to reflect back all the unknowns of this time.