It was cloudy on Monday morning and I knew the sunrise would probably not be remarkable, but I headed to the river anyway. I needed to escape. To get out of my own head and the swirling negativity of recent days. To retreat to “the peace of wild things” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it. I’m struggling to make sense of so much these days.
As expected, at the river there is no sign of a glorious sunrise, but the fish leap in silver flashes, and currents lead the moored boats in a lazy waltz, swirling and spinning them in the early morning light. I revel in the reflection of autumn leaves on the water, the pillowing stripes of clouds, and the varied bird calls. My eyes follow the purposeful flight of a circling bald eagle over the fall foliage. I watch it land, grasp something on the other bank, and take off again with mighty wingstrokes. The tension slowly eases from my shoulders. I breathe deeply and relax. Nature’s balm is immediate and immense.
After a moment, I see a flash of large wings and a great blue heron appears, flying low over the water. I walk quickly, following it’s trajectory, hoping it’s landing in a nearby inlet. When my progress is stopped by shoreline and rocky water, the heron is nowhere in sight. Ah, well. I’m still so pleased to have seen it, even briefly.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy something white in a nearby bush. What’s that? A bird? I edge closer. No, not a bird, but a discarded tissue caught in a bush, and beneath it an empty plastic baggy and a small cardboard container with a cracked plastic lid. Under a nearby shrub is a discarded paper cup. My shoulders tense again.
Later in the day, when I’m running, I see bottles, cans, wrappers, etc. littering the road. Sadly, this is nothing new, but the turmoil of recent days intensifies the impact. Who are these people who so casually throw their debris into the world? I remember the crying Indian ad of my childhood and want to weep. What is wrong with people? How do we build relationships or work through conflicts when there are such fundamental differences in outlooks and behaviors? I can’t relate to treating the world as my garbage bag or people as my punching bags. How do we find common ground and work through problems when discourse has disintegrated to ranting and raving and making death threats? And this is across the political spectrum. How do we navigate complicated issues when people cheer for threats and intimidation and think that mockery and rudeness is equivalent to plain speaking? Who think nothing of pumping waste into our waterways and disregard the environment in search of an economic windfall? How do we start meaningful conversations when everyone is yelling at each other and calling each other names?
A month or two ago, my husband and I were talking with a friend of his who’s a veteran. We were lamenting the agenda of hate and division fostered and nurtured by the current administration. After a bit, his friend sighed deeply and said, “I guess America just doesn’t mean what I thought it did.” Those words have haunted me.
How do I get past the anger that I’m feeling? I vote. I march. I call my public representatives. It feels like such a small push back against a huge tide. I fear for our country while simultaneously feeling alienated by many of its citizens and entertaining thoughts of leaving it. What does America stand for these days?
I’m so sickened by the events of recent days (months…years…)–by the political circus, by the lack of empathy, by the tone of discourse, by the appalling lack of integrity, and then, on top of that, by a recent suicide in our area and the fallout from that–for her family, her students, the children who found her body.
There’s such ugliness in our world, yet there’s such beauty, too. There’s pain and sorrow and joy and triumph. I’m struggling to make sense of it all. I’m so thankful I can retreat to the river and seek ease in nature’s bounty. Yet, how long will nature be able to bounce back from our casual abuse? Even as I seek solace there, I find trouble and worry.
For now, I’ll keep going down to the river. I’ll take my pictures and lose myself in the wonderful wild. While I’m there, I’ll rejoice in the water, the birds, the seasonal shapes and colors. Some mornings will offer glorious sunrises and some cloudy skies and more subtle rewards. And I’m sure there will be more trash. I suppose, whenever I see it, I’ll just keep picking it up. It’s one thing I know I can do.