The next sense – the emotional impact of climate change

Twilight cover take us away, we’re only here for a day – Younger Brother

We often hear about people with S.A.D, which is Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s another concoction of the medical profession to make us think something is wrong with us, so we will go running to our doctors to get a pill for what ails us.

We are natural beings, floating in space on an organic ship. And, when we have cataclysmic changes like we’re having now, we’re bound to feel them in every layer of our being. It’s not just about long rainy seasons and grey days anymore; we are digging ourselves out of mountains of snow and using the dog’s water to keep the lavender alive.

I feel like I’ve been on a verge of a “thing” lately waiting for the rain to come in California. I’ve been poised on some theoretical cliff, waiting for the grass to grow again, the birds to be alright, and the flowers to shine. It’s a melancholy that bears no relief. I am outside, wavering between pockets of cool and then the unnatural feeling that the earth is being microwaved.

In the article “The Hidden Mental Health Impacts of Climate Change,” Marlene Cimons writes about a recent Lancet report:

The report, which was published Tuesday by the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, said that victims of natural disasters often suffer elevated levels of anxiety, depression and PTSD, as well as “a distressing sense of loss, known as solastalgia, that people experience when their land is damaged and they lose amenity and opportunity.’’ Moreover, “these effects will fall disproportionately on those who are already vulnerable, especially for indigenous peoples and those living in low resource settings,’’ the authors wrote. These effects not only include the emotional reaction to physical illness and destruction of property, but involuntary “displacement” that forces people to move elsewhere in order to survive.

The Lancet report said that experts already have identified such reactions in people who have experienced floods, and even among those suffering from slow-developing events, such as prolonged droughts. The report noted that emotional impacts include chronic distress and even increased incidence of suicide. “Even in high-income regions where the humanitarian crisis might be less, the impact on the local economy, damaged homes and economic losses may persist for years after,’’ the Lancet report said.

But even if the rain comes we’re spiraling toward something so different now, none of us can predict the future. Migrations are thrown off, sea creatures are hurling themselves onto beaches, and only those who think, but aren’t really in tune, are exclaiming “what a gorgeous day.”

Watching

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”  – Dr. Seuss

My mind has been unfocused, scattered, assaulted. I’ve been spending way too much time looking into the mirrors and minds of others and less into my own. I won’t even give it a name, it doesn’t deserve it. Turn it off.

I read somewhere or someone told me (does it really matter?) that the problems of the world take a focused mind, an attention to one thing at a time, a meditative finger on what you love most.

That attention may be uncomfortable, like a staring match, and you may blink or laugh, and look away. You might not like what or who looks back at you, or what you see.

But you have to come back to it, because it’s beautiful, that tree, that creature standing before you. Like a Raven’s voice, the natural world is complex and deserves observation.

Responsibility

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. Do you read my posts? If you do, let me know. You see, writers need readers. Though we should just move forward without any recognition, it’s the evidence that we make impact that compels us to continue to add value.

I’ve been thinking about responsibility of late. Do you take your responsibility seriously? I try to.

I recently signed up for a nature writing class. After a hiatus from the natural world and the wildlife rescue (long story about politics and animals – another post), I was asked by the instructor of my new class to choose a place that I can observe for 30 minutes several times a week and write about it. Simple enough. I chose a place near my new house in San Bruno, but I won’t be able to get to it until Tuesday.

So, in my post food/liquor/holiday exhaustion I decided to observe the sky from the couch in my living room. I was distracting my husband with conversation so he wouldn’t watch the TV, and as we chatted I watched the sky outside our sliding glass door. I watched the sky from 4 pm until about 5:30 pm and I was blessed. It started out blue, then turned orange, then gray, then gray and red, then orange and gray. It said to me, “look at me, here is pure nature in the clouds, where have you been?” And I said “thank you, I am grateful.” It was a small natural diversion, but I realized how wonderful my life could be if I could just take that time each day to watch the sky change. It’s so simple, why do I ignore it?

OK, but we were talking about responsibility. And my communion with the sky has something to do with this.

Responsibility is about gratefulness. Here I am – I’m a Silicon Valley slave, I’m married, and I have 7 charges:

  • Gracie the parakeet
  • Kiseki and Milagro the parakeets
  • Buddy the cockatiel
  • Willie the cockatiel
  • Beetlejuice the cockatiel
  • Eric the Betta

Yes, they are pets, but on many levels they are wild. And when I get stressed and I focus on unnatural things I’m reminded that they need me, that “You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery. So, when I begin to experience ego, or this clinging to self, I prefer to focus my love and devotion to the animals I have chosen to tame. They are not here for our entertainment, they are here to live out their lives in the context of ours. And the better we can understand their needs without our selfishness coming first will only make us better people.

I have seen my birds look out the window, longingly, and today I understood their longing. Their longing to sit in a tree, watch the sky and the clouds change, and be grateful.

I am so sorry for my absence. I hope you have missed me — I have missed you.

Quiet

Tree

Nighttime falls around me. I hear the hum of life, quiet grinding of little birds, the sighing of air, a lazy passage to the stars among the haze. I take myself to a tiny, overrun garden somewhere, somewhere where I can lay on my back, hear and feel the critters around me. Phoebe, phoebe…the hoo-hoo of the dove, the chirp of a passing house finch. To smell the earth, not again but anew. Is that jasmine, geranium, the lilacs whose silky feel I’ve forgotten, do I remember their soft, fragrant blooms on my face. Just pass the garden is a dirt road, where pomegranate trees live guarded in a neighbor’s yard. A mile-long fence of blackberry bushes beckon me. Honeysuckles are suckled by purple fingers. Freckled cheeks, bleeding and dirty but happy knees, sun-bleached gaze.

I am everywhere and here. I emerge from a shallow forest and onto a white beach to see a sweet blue lake. The sun heals, and I feel myself sleeping and being absorbed into the sand. I anticipate the small breeze that sings over me, and then welcome the heat again. I meditate on the joyful sounds from the water, the wind through my ears, the hot sand burning the tips of my toes.

I fall into night and into the safety of tree limbs…good night.

Not so silent spring

The last few months have been hard for me and my little family here in California. But, throughout our little trials there has been some growth, some rebirth, some change. At least there was some forward motion, that’s always good.

We lost our little cockatiel, Mr. Charms, on Feb. 22nd. He was 27 years old and had an inoperable tumor on his esophagus. Putting him to sleep was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was crying so hard as we petted him and talked to him that I thought I was going to leave my head. Maybe I did a little. I didn’t like the way they put him to sleep before they euthanized him, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. It’s how it’s done. Wild animals don’t always get the same caring, humane treatment when we euthanize them, but I believe that’s beginning to change, at least in the wild circles in which I socialize. They had to stick his tiny little head in a chamber where they administered the gas drug, and he went to sleep right away.

So much has gone through my head these last few months. I have many ruminations, all of which come and go as I’m walking out in the hills, pondering the tiny little moths, the way the wind moves the grass, the wildflowers that have no name to me; just that-neat-purple-one, that bush-of-yellow-ones, that white one up on the hill that is so full and beautiful but is too far away to get a close look. You can only look longingly or fleetingly, like at the mockingbird that sings to you from among the oak, or at the cicada (or was that a cricket?) camouflaged against a nameless tree.

cicada.jpg

I’ve mostly been a bit beaten down, and trying to get my head clear again. I’ve had two or three bouts of the flu/cold nonsense over the last 6 months, I almost wacked off the tip of my finger on a stainless steel trashcan (it’s almost healed), and then, to top it all off, I had a stint in the emergency room just a few days ago for what is probably peptic ulcers. I’m trying to have a sense of humor about all of this, I really am. But this is the glorious thing about it all…

I’ve learned to slow down. Did you know that it takes the same amount of time to get up, shower, eat breakfast, feed your critters, etc. at a slow pace as it does if you go about it in a harried, quite unfashionable way? I’m thinking I might even take up reading the Wall Street Journal, I have so much leisure time in the morning.

The other thing that I’ve enjoyed in my sick/healing time at home is observing what critters I can from my little apartment porch. There’s the resident Anna’s Hummingbird at my feeder, the occasional house finch and phoebe, and then there are the crows. I just happened to be lucky enough, on two occasions, to see two or three crows defending their nests and young. Now, I actually didn’t see their nests or their young from my vantage point, but I knew what was going on because of their <call>. It’s a frantic call, and fast flying comes soon after. One crow starts flying frantically to the west, CAW-CAW-CAW. Then, I see another one coming in from the south, CAW-CAW-CAW. Then I see it, actually I see them, a Hawk and a Raven, being dive-bombed by the crows. They looked to be more concerned about the Raven, each taking their turn flying straight up and then diving at the Raven. The Raven was obviously flying away, it had either been dissuaded by the murder of crows or had already got what it came for. What a glorious thing to see, a little glimpse of a small war close to home.

It’s been a not so silent spring. I think throughout this all I’ve emerged a bit of a victor. It’s like nature said, take time to look at me, where’s the fire? Nature healed me, and I hope it continues to be my personal shaman.

Gifts

I have a gift. I don’t know who or what gave it to me, but sometimes I use it to help myself or help others.

I have an acquaintance in my speech club, a wonderfully adorable man named Robbie. The other day Robbie gave me a present from his hometown of Montego Bay, Jamaica. He gave me a wooden statue of some birds. I don’t know what kind of birds they were. The “leg” on each bird was a single peg, and each leg fit into a hole in a little tree. I liked this gift very much.

Now, you see, I asked Robbie to bring me back a bird-like something from Jamaica when he went. I even offered to pay him, but he refused, which I thought was really sweet. In any case, it got me to thinking about gifts.

One of the saddest things I remembered about volunteering at the Wildlife Rescue is that I was often reminded that humans used to take gifts from animals that weren’t offered. Still do. In short, even though we can doesn’t mean we should.

For example, late in the 19th century the plumes of Snowy Egrets were used to adorn ladies hats. As a result, the birds were hunted until they were nearly extinct.

Anyway, I started thinking about the gifts that animals – human, avian, mammal, and so on – give without inflicting harm on another living being.
Just today, a friend of mine came by. We chatted for an hour, had a little tea, and then she left. It was lovely. I don’t get enough of that in my life, and I can’t tell you how beautiful that short visit was. This friend is so kind, so sweet, and I felt incredibly grateful that she took time out of her day to spend some time with me.

Other human gifts include, but are not limited to:

– strong, sincere hugs, noses touching and an intentional, sweet, glittering gaze

– sincere praise, even when one is too tired to muster a sound

– giggle, snort, need I say more

– making music, making love

Gifts from animals that are offered:

– a sweet song in the morning

– a sideways, inquisitive, meaningful gaze

– a sincere desire to live life on their own terms

– truly untold beauty, as in the delicate white feathers of a snowy egret