I’m always anxious about the climate, always. I’m working on not getting anxious about it because it doesn’t do any good. My anxieties hit me typically if I wake up at three in the morning. If I catch a whiff of them, I just get going–not just climate, general ecological catastrophe. You forget about it enough and then it’s like, Oh damn it, I forgot about that.
The next night, W woke at 3:17, right on schedule. She got up quietly, shifting her weight away from the center of the mattress first so as not to wake her husband when she stood.
She wheeled out her bike and thought, as always, about leaving her blinker and helmet and reflective vest at home, leaving it up to fate or chance. As in the past, it wasn’t the thought of her daughter or her husband or her dogs or her garden that drew her hands to the buckles and straps. She just didn’t want to hurry up the process. The East Bay Bike Path curled out in front of her and even over the wind from her motion, she could hear the sound of the night woods.
A few people were already there when she got to the gravel beach in Barrington, and more arrived as she helped them light the fire. Its smoke wove into the smells of rotting algae and cooling bike sweat. Each of them said the name of something they were preparing to grieve for, something vulnerable to saline intrusion or shrinking ranges or the loss of its food plant, and the others around the fire repeated it after them, their voices swelling. W’s list was so long, and so many things on it were more essential to living, but, “The cool morning,” W said. “Every cool morning I wonder if it’s the last cool morning.” Her phrase echoed in several timbres: the cool morning, the cool morning. Anything can sound mournful if many voices say it in unison enough times.
As their vigil ended and their face of the earth turned out of its own shadow, others began in the country and the world: vigils for women with environmental cancers in Gary and Lima, for the corpses of salmon in the Nooksack River and the conifers their eventual absence would starve of fertilizer and the Nooksack people whose pride and history and survival were bound up with the salmon run, for children downwind of Fukushima whose spirits were cramped and contorted because they could not go outside. W thought of them while she was biking home, rinsing off, easing back into bed so that her daughter would find her when she came in for a morning curl-up.
People who went to vigils in the night brought their memories with them into the mornings. They behaved differently at work and with their relatives. They eased off on certain demands and made others more vehemently. Some of them were caught whispering ‘devotchka moya’ to the bees in the flowerpots on Nevksy Prospekt. Some of them were caught disabling coal-mining equipment in New South Wales. And in states and countries with many vigils, policies and practices began to change. It happened slowly–not fast enough to save some tracts of old-growth forest before they tipped into stumps and drought, not fast enough to allow the babies born that year or the following year to live asthma-free. There was always more to mourn for, more to rage about, more to resist. There was always more to praise, more to tend carefully, more to embrace.