Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of Mice and Mountains

Here is my confession: I still look for silver bullets. For all that I have written about the future being better and richer and more varied than anything that has come before, for all that I whisper these hopes to myself in the doubting nights, and preach them to friends on sunny days, I have dark times when I am looking for The Answer to present itself.

Of course this will never come. And, even if it did, I’d be fundamentally unlikely to trust it to be real and comprehensive.

It has been almost a month since I saw the mountain of coal sitting beside the ocean at the Brayton Point Power Station. I’ve been afraid to look up the rate of use per day and calculate how the mass I saw could have shrunk or re-grown in that time. The challenge of how to build a better world than the one that requires us demolish real mountains and make ourselves sick in order to live our daily energy-sucking lives…this has kept me awake some nights and made my days a little sadder now that I have some better grasp on the physical enormity of the problem. It’s terrifying and daunting and now I have tears in my eyes again about this.

Because I do not know what to do, and nothing that I do know how to do is anywhere close to what I would deem “enough.” I don’t know what enough looks like, and I know that even when an action isn’t enough, you have to do it anyway.

I ran away from all this darkness and doubt over the weekend. I went to the mountains, surrounded myself with the crisper air and the colors of sunlight on granite and schist and balsam fir and good people all the rest that I love up there. When I lived in the mountains, when I found my mountain people and we engaged in the common work peculiar to those beautiful hills, one of the best things I learned was how very capable we humans can truly be. An action needs to be done, and there being no one else there to do it, no one to pass the buck to, you quickly learn to jump in with little knowledge and cautious instinct. You have to trust yourself to be able, and to correct any mistakes you make. And to feel no shame in trying and failing, in learning.

When I look to my time in the mountains, there are things that I want to mine, to bring down the trails and into the world as so many treasures. There are the obvious things, that a hotel sleeping 100 people can run off of wind and solar and propane, that we simply do not need so much stuff, that physical labor is not something to avoid, that the best times of life happen when you least expect them, and so on. But, above all that, I would bring down that spirit of willing-to-risk-capability.

If we’re going to escape the nefarious grasp of the Normal—the American unfillable hunger for new and more and bigger and shinier and faster, the race to the top that tramples our hearts and happinesses—then we’re going to need to trust ourselves of being capable of anything and everything beyond that tired way of being.

Specifically, I went to the mountains this last weekend because Madison Springs Hut was celebrating it’s 125th Anniversary. Anyone who has spent an appreciable amount of time in those walls will have many and sweet memories. I love this. But there is a strange dark side up there too—in general the huts, in my experience were lousy with mice. I cannot begin to quantify how many traps I set, how many mouse carcasses I sent flying into the krummholtz. It was disgusting, it was horrid to think of those naked pink feet and tails scrambling over your foodstuffs, it was a stark lesson in mortality and human entitlement to empty their gray-brown bodies from the traps. But it was part and parcel of being there, just another piece of life that needed doing. So, we all did it, and now we know.

When I came home to Cambridge on Sunday night, exhausted body and soul from my time at Madison, the first thing my housemate said was “could you set the mousetraps?”

I do not believe in Destiny, but often, the answers we’re looking for are closer than they seem. I want to bring the willingness to try and fail and learn and become capable out of the mountains. I had not thought that it would be through the mice. But then, if there are no silver bullets, then the multitude of answers and actions we need can and will and do come from anywhere, from everywhere.

My words are braver and stronger than I am—no matter what I say or do, I’m still haunted by all the specters of a changing climate and unhappy people questing for a sick version of Normal that is killing our planet. That’s still a big pile of coal--and it's far from the only one. Neither my blogs nor my mousetraps are evenly matched opponents for such harsh reality. But, one has to start somewhere.

I’m off to check the traps, you come, too?

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