Even Mother Nature doesn’t have a magic wand

Dear President Biden,

It’s not much and I’m definitely not proud of what it says about my past reading habits, but the last several weeks I’ve been making myself open and read all the climate change/environmental disaster articles I come across instead of blazing through the headline and scrolling past. Some days there’s not a whole lot in either the WP or the HP about global warming or the other horrors we’ve visited on the earth. Other days there’s a massive number of such articles and I feel completely wrung out after doing what is now my due diligence in reading them and not looking away.

This morning there’s a trio of stories about sea life, and death – West Coast temperatures so hot that shellfish are being cooked in the ocean (the headlines dramatically state that they are being “cooked alive,” which sounds horrible but which is what we humans purposely do to them all the time), former pet goldfish released into lakes that have grown into giant weird-ass versions of themselves and have totally messed up the ecosystems of those lakes, and the red tide on steroids off the coast of Florida that’s fueled by nitrogen fertilizer and is killing untold thousands of fish, dolphins, and sea turtles. Yesterday’s stories centered on the deadly high temperatures up and down the West Coast and the Western interior and how the heat domes driving the temperatures are bigger and taller than any that have been measured before. Plus the wildfires. Plus the pictures of all manner of things burning up as a result of said wildfires.

It’s a lot. Those things aren’t directly happening to me and it still feels like a lot – and not in an abstract “ it’s a lot” sort of way. No, my livelihood and way of life aren’t currently threatened by massive fish die-offs in St. Petersburg, FL and my house isn’t in harm’s way, at risk of being consumed by wildfire or the foundation crumbling because rising sea waters are threatening it. But every day I’m watching the vegetation around here crisping up and the crows panting and I feel increasingly helpless and increasingly angry about how we’ve been brainwashed to believe it’s a good thing that we have easy access to endless supplies of cheap crap.

OMG – like Robin Wall Kimmerer (and maybe a lot of other people) said in Braiding Sweetgrass, “everybody lives downstream.” If we ignore that fact or try to willful ignorance our way right past it, we might buy some time in the somewhat less anxious zone, but this shit is going to catch up with every one of us. I’m in the process of making a print using this phrase (Wall Kimmerer’s publisher very kindly gave me permission) and because my technique is pretty painstaking and the piece is taking me a long time, I’ve already had a very long time sitting with this reality and I’ve got many more days to go. I did mess up and accidentally printed background stream-color over part of the “I” in “LIVES” but unlike when tons of nitrogen fertilizer are “accidentally” dumped in waterways, this mistake is not only not a big deal, but it’s sort of, kind of fixable.

I don’t know whether the print will end up working aesthetically, but I arranged the words vertically as follows:

EVERY
BODY
LIVES
DOWN
STREAM

because it feels more impactful to parse the phrase out this way – especially the “EVERY” and the “BODY,” as in ‘every single body on the planet lives downstream from every other single body on the planet.’

If only we could get this through our heads, and through our hearts.

May we all be safe from humankind.
May we be willing to deal with our real reality, whether we are currently directly impacted or not.
May we muster the strength to stop doing what we need to stop doing.
May we accept that even Mother Nature doesn’t have a magic wand.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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