How could a person of my generation not be influenced by this movement? Living on the West coast, I could watch the Apollo missions take off on television before getting on the school bus. It was the Space Age, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. History was being made. The mission to land on the moon in 1969 captured my imagination and I followed it as closely as a nine year old could. I had a book full of stickers, a model of the lunar lander, and I could tell you the names of all the astronauts (still can!). I sat in front of the television, transfixed by the voices coming from orbit, and I loved the image of our planet. There it was, the whole thing. Home.
Always curious about the world, I was drawn to the living things around me. My family had animals and what these days would be considered a small homestead. We lived on the cut-over margins of industrial forest land, within sight of three Cascade volcanoes. The turbulence of the 60s–Viet Nam, civil rights, counterculture, and revolution–barely penetrated the rainy low valleys of coastal rivers. We watched it on television and went on with our lives. When I think of childhood, there are memories of thrashing through brush, playing in creeks, family gatherings, books, art stuff, learning from grown-ups.
I can’t remember when I first heard the word “ecology”, but it was sometime around 1970. That image of the earth seared my childish heart, and I knew home was to be treasured and protected. I became a pre-teen activist. I took on a project of writing to major corporations to ask them what they were doing to protect the earth for kids like me. There were ads in National Geographic, and they had mailing addresses in tiny print at the bottom. It was my idea, although Mom must have helped me. Weeks later, manila envelopes appeared in our rural mailbox, full of glossy pamphlets from Caterpillar and Weyerhaeuser. I was thrilled to get replies to my inquiries, but they didn’t answer questions in the detail that I wanted. Years later, I found this stuff in a box of papers and recognized it for the generic propaganda that it was.
I’m not sure, but that seeing that little planet aglow in dark space must have set me on my path. There were other factors too, and for awhile I wanted to be a scientist. Surely the connection I felt with nature would shape my life. And it has. I had my first conservation job at the age of 15, and have spent every summer since 1980 somewhere in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. There’s a lot of rainwater and mosquito spit in my blood, a lot of sweat mixed with rock dust and hemlock needles. My convictions have never wavered–this planet is worth taking care of. Words like “steward” (entrusted to manage affairs not one’s own) and “tend” (watch over, look after) mean something to me. To participate in such tasks are the only way I know to give back to the world which has given me life and the opportunity to wonder and wander and know joy.
The Space Age has passed, and we find ourselves adrift in some other kind of age. Gloom and doom lurks in every sound bite, on every website. Human overpopulation, climate change, extinction of species, scary diseases, scary poisons, scary weapons, genetic tinkering, bizarre techno-fixes, arguing about what is and isn’t true…it’s enough to make a reasonable person pull the covers over her head and stay inside. Yeah, sometimes I feel pretty discouraged.
Inside of me there is still a nine year old who sneaks outside to look up at the night sky to see if Apollo 11 is visible to her eyes. She accompanies me when I squat down to look closely at a bud emerging from trout lilies, when I stick my nose into sun-warmed ponderosa pine bark, when a winter wren erupts into song, when a beetle crawls out from under a dead leaf, when snow falls, when the toe of my boot burrows into mud. As long as there is wonder, there is hope. As long as I have a voice, and hands to write and draw, there is hope. As long as I continue to find kindred spirits to join in voice and journey, there is hope.
Pay attention. Live like life matters. Stay a kid. Go outside every day. Cherish home–it’s such a beautiful blue world.