“as the brick of the afternoon stores the rose heat of the journey” is the opening line of Gareth Evan’s poem that opens John Berger’s vital book Hold Everything Dear.
My head changed the words to rose heat for the journey, a small change, really, just one letter more and a bit of reshuffling, and there we are. I think of this when I see leaves soaking in sunlight, when I see logging trucks on my New England highways, when I put wood into fires, when I absorb and absorb and absorb the particular golden light of sunset, when I try to hold onto fierce peace of wild things, when I reach down within the best of myself to do good work in the world, to stretch my hands out like tree branches and become awake and aware and alive in the world.
The certain knowledge that people who live in the same neighborhoods as me, who shop at the same grocery stores, walk the same streets and pause to look up at the same shrieking seagulls and sunlight on the water…that these nearby strangers are having their doors knocked on by the government, that the phrase “show me your papers” isn’t reserved for Nazis in movies anymore, all of this is calling up on all the wells of rose heat I’ve ever stored for any journey. It’s stored up and spilling over—and some days starting to leach away—because I do not know the right outlet for all the love and concern I feel for all this beautiful world.
A student told me the other day that he had been seeing a lot of bald eagles around the college. Maybe, he said, it’s just the same one over and over again, but it’s still pretty amazing to see. I agreed, took heart at the wide-eyed wonder of someone even just a decade younger than me, and thought about how close bald eagles and other birds came to extinction before DDT was banned, before the EPA was formed, and how much love of the world is in real danger. When I lived in Montana and was hiking with a friend, a bald eagle swooped low over our heads and my friend said, sweetly, “Thanks, Rachel Carson!”—almost the way another set of believers would thank something more divine than human for the same gift of wonder.
As an environmentalist, as a human, as a Feminist, as a woman, as an American, as all of the ists and ans that I am, I feel as if I am trying at once to stand my ground, but that ground is being eroded on all sides. I know how the system is supposed to work—and I call my Members of Congress regularly, I attend neighborhood resistance meetings, I work at a college with a refreshingly honest dedication to sustainability—but I still feel beset on all sides and cannot help but see that the system is either broken or atrophied.
At my job, we’ve been discussing the opportunities for increasing the solar capacity of the college, in pursuit of our goal of carbon neutrality. The trouble—aside from the particulars of finding appropriate roof space or expanding a ground array—is that power storage technology is not yet advanced enough to meet what can be produced. On top of the storage, there is an inherent transmission loss of about 5% between production and use.
These all the same problems of storing and carrying rose heat for the journey.
I am at a loss for how to transmit my love and fear into power and change. The infrastructure of democracy seems in disrepair or decay or simply unable to handle the loads we require of it. We must reawaken it even as we seek to rebuild it, put new and different flesh on its bones. As much as I want to stand and speak and write and vote and donate and do all that I feel called to in the service of what I love and long to protect, I feel sometimes like I’m standing on the seashore and the tide is dragging the sand out from under my feet.
The truth with that, though, is if you stand long enough the sand holds your feet and ankles fast. And the tide always returns.
This is when it starts to get hard. The first month of euphoric disbelief and galvanized activism for a just America, that was a special time. Now, nearly two months into the buffeting winds of Muslim bans and abhorrent Cabinet picks and healthcare evaporating for our elders and empty promises of jobs and undeniable ties to a notably violent regime and the re-normalizing and re-institutionalizing of racism that had almost started to poke out into the sunlight and be rectified…now is when the journey really begins. And we must carry our rose heat forward in whatever forms and vessels we each can. It may be pussy hats, it may be daily calls to Members of Congress, it may be entering local politics, it may be opening up our spare rooms as safe havens, it may be increased mindfulness and a falling in love anew with the world so that we recall the value of what we protect, it may be and must be whatever each person has time for, now that the blush and fury of the first romance with activism has worn off with time, and the recognition of how much work this truly entails.
We are all vessels of power.