(This person reached out to me a few weeks ago via email. “Before, climate change was an abstract concept to me,” they wrote. “I knew it was real, but it was somehow ‘out there’ somewhere, out of sight out of mind. Now, I am witnessing the undeniable consequences of it with my own two eyes. It has truly hit home and I am in shock.”
At that time, they were feeling too raw to come to the booth and talk in public, so we made a plan to meet one-on-one. They brought $10.00 to donate to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, and mint from their garden. Here are some of the things we talked about.)
I’ve sort of had some time to calm down since I wrote to you, to go from, “Oh my God,” to, “Well, we’re in this.” My concern always goes back to the animals. They’re innocent and defenseless against all this. I’ve been sorting through things in my mind about how to make sense of it. It’s like a huge tsunami wave—it’s way off in the background, but I can sort of see the crest. But it’s easy to sort of go on with your life, like, “Maybe it won’t happen,” or, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” … It’s just so enormous that it’s hard to get a grip on it—for lots of people, including myself.
What was the first feeling you had when you heard how bad [climate change] is?
Shock. When I was finding out about that, when I realized that, I was sitting in my yard, and there was not a bee and not a butterfly in sight. My husband heard all about it, my friends and my neighbors, Instagram—but that’s just not a tenable solution because you’re just kinda spreading this stuff. I have not accepted it, but I can’t go around alienating people. I’d rather gain their interest … When I first became vegan I was like that. I was like a loaded cannon. I would cry, I would be, “Nobody’s paying attention, nobody cares!” I drove myself crazy for probably two years. I didn’t know how to deal with this, how to see all these animals suffering. Even when we would go to protest in Boston, I couldn’t look at the signs. I guess I was glad we were out there—I’m not sure.
What does it feel like to think about it now?
Painful and scary and sad. But I’m an artist, and I started making paintings about this. I want to use paintings and my blog to start reaching people. They’re mostly about the beautiful side—I did some that were about the tragic side but I don’t think that does much for people. They’re of the world before the Fall, before people started polluting. Holding that image in my mind when I meditate helps me a lot. As I go along, I want to kind of just branch out with it, show the paintings, have people respond to them. It’s a unique way that I can express what’s going on, and I look forward to that. That sounds like something I can do.
How does it feel when you’re painting?
I just feel like the sense—Finally, I can express this. I don’t have to walk around with it stuck in my throat all the time. I feel optimism and excitement. …
What was the moment, for you, with veganism, where you realized that you needed to stop what you were doing and do something else?
I was a vegetarian for fourteen years before I became a vegan. Probably I just started doing my own research. Do you know the artist Sue Coe? I went to an exhibit of her work, and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I don’t know how she’s able to even put those images on paper. It’s just, “Well, there it is, I was there, I’m just painting what I saw, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.” Then I started getting books out of the library—this was before the internet—and I changed my diet. Turning to veganism is a very emotional thing for people. You have to give up not just comfort foods, but emotional foods, the foods that your family had.
So that brings up—what are some things that you might lose because of climate change that are hard to let go of? … Either because you are voluntarily giving them up, or because they’re gone?
I don’t know. We have a very economical car, it’s nine—no, fourteen years old. The only thing I can think of is that we have a very small air conditioner.
I’m also thinking about stuff like—you know, maybe climate change means that you don’t have kids, or that you stop bugging your kids about grandkids. Or maybe it means you can’t live where you live, either because living there takes too much energy or because it’s not safe to live there anymore.
If I knew something I was doing was really harmful, I probably wouldn’t have a problem—not moving, that’s a different story. We don’t even use the air conditioner that much. We have a lot of shade, and there are wetlands behind our house. But I don’t want to stay in a bubble.
Tell me about the wetlands.
I have a studio on the ground floor and the windows look out onto the wetlands. I can see all the little creatures…it’s a complete joy to me. And it’s regulated, so that at least for now, nobody can dredge it and build on it. We and all the neighbors share it.
How else might you help to maintain living creatures, living systems?
I wanted to plant something for bees and butterflies, and I keep reading little articles, but if there’s no bees then what are you attracting? Yes, there may be a few bees, but when I walk around my neighborhood I’ve only see one or two. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved insects—I was gonna be an entomologist—and I would always turn over stones and see all kinds of insects, earthworms, pill bugs… now when I see a rock and I lift it up there’s maybe one kind of teeny tiny microscopic millipede. I sit outside on the concrete slab in front of our house and there’s almost no insects. That’s weird. And I see baby robins in our yard, but when I see the adults hunting for them, what are they finding? Usually I ‘d see them pulling up an earthworm, but the earthworms are probably going the same route.
[IMAGE: Mint leaves and stems in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.]