Can I bore you with another epic love affair?
I have fallen in love with Nature and intend to grow with it until death – and beyond. This is an Environmental Justice that is not at all fair or dispassionate. It is rather the opposite. It is a righteous sensibility, a championing of something I highly and intimately respect.
It started with admiration and wonder, as if worshiping my adolescent crush from afar. I saw my first Rocky Mountain while on vacation when I was ten years old and living in Illinois. I felt emotions bigger than all outdoors welling up in my small breast and had no idea how to respond except by singing John Denver songs lustily by heart at the top of my lungs. It was a hormonal, corporeal, visceral attraction. I felt my own biology resonating with Earth but had no idea how to develop a relationship with it. So, I did what any lovestruck Midwestern pre-teen would do: I started inventing ways to rendezvous with it in a haphazard way. I played in the woods across the street every day. I started an Ecology Club in 6th grade, which meant that I stayed after school to pick up trash in the schoolyard. (No one joined me.) I kept up with Girl Scouts so that I could go camping and hiking. Gradually, I felt more connected and responsible in the relationship. When we moved to California, I had the opportunity to take it to the next level. I explored coastline, redwood forests, Sierra mountaintops and Joshua tree deserts. And I experienced betrayal and heartbreak for the first time. I visited my college of choice in Southern California in March. Palm trees lined the streets of town, and the view of snow-capped Mt. Baldy from campus was clear and inviting. But when I moved into the dorm in late August, there was a brown haze in the air and Mt. Baldy was a shadow. Looking straight up into the sky, the blue color I expected looked more like the rinse water from a dirty paint brush. I was deeply sickened – homesick, heartsick, and ashamed. The betrayal was against Nature, but Nature never betrayed me. When my husband was dying and my four teenagers were exhibiting traumatized responses in almost every manifestation of self-abuse, I would walk to the prairie near my house for sanctuary. From the moment I stepped off the sidewalk and onto the path, I could feel healing in process. Touching Earth with my feet, breathing the scent of flowers and rain and decaying leaves, listening deeply to the song of birds and wind, I knew that every manner of thing was in a state of change and that it was ultimately okay. How I knew that, I was not able to articulate. I just kept coming back, arriving in tears and leaving in peace, righted.
This sense called Justice lies in the valley between Love and Suffering. Its orientation is in the shadow of those monumental feelings. I love Nature. I feel her suffering. I want to protect my Beloved’s health. I want to preserve her dignity, to fight for her autonomy and to respect her individuality. At the same time, human interference is the biggest factor in Nature’s distress. How can I care for my Beloved and do no harm? This is the question lovers ask when they’ve been together for a while.
“Do no harm.” It is a koan, an impossible concept that plunges me into a metaphysical dilemma. How can I treat Nature justly? I delicately explore our relationship; I imagine the poetry of our situation; I try to love and defend her. Eventually, I will simply allow her to do as she will and absorb me. This, I suppose, will usher in our eternal peace together.
The love affair metaphor engages my emotions and focuses on my experience. But Nature is a cosmic Beloved beyond my comprehension. It is mystery and reality and demands my humility. My perspective is challenged in every moment, and this is good for me. More important, this is Good. It is the Truth.
© Priscilla Galasso