What Does Love Look Like?

By Susan Meeker-Lowry

My earliest memories, dating back to when I was a toddler, took place outdoors, mostly in the woods, often next to a stream or river so crystal clear every rock and pebble were visible. I even remember drinking from these waters with my father’s blessing.

My whole family went camping quite frequently, at various campgrounds in the White Mountains, and one of my chores was to scrub the dishes clean, using no soap just sand and water. I had my own little “pup” tent and loved listening to my parents, and sometimes their friends, talking and laughing around the campfire, drinking a beer or two, while I gradually fell asleep.

During the day we’d visit waterfalls, look for rock caves, or simply walk in the woods. Always we took a picnic. I was never bored. Even at home my favorite thing to do was go “down back” to the brook where I’d go rock skipping or look for wildflowers, or venture into more unknown territory to explore. My parents never thought to worry that I’d get lost or hurt myself, probably because my father had taught me so well. I knew how to tell which rocks would be especially slippery, how to pay attention to where I was going and where I’d been so I’d know how to get back, and I wasn’t afraid of wild animals because, as Daddy said, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

So, these experiences kind of determined that when I grew up I’d not only continue to love the woods, but become an environmental activist. I didn’t chain myself to old growth or monkey-wrench bulldozers (though I wanted to once I learned about the clear-cutting in the Old Growth forests out West), but I did organize and spoke at conferences, wrote books, newsletters and articles, created and worked on various projects opposing the expansion of Hydro-Quebec and other mega, corporate projects, worked on fundraising for nonprofits, including my own, while raising three boys as a single mother. I did this for 20 plus years. And for most of that time, I felt I was having a positive impact. Finally, toward the end of that period, I realized that, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite my best efforts and despite how much any success I had may have fed my ego, an honest look around revealed that the Earth was worse off than when I started, that corporations had amassed way more money and power than anyone had dreamed possible, that fiddling with policies and regulations even with the best of intentions made no difference. Speaking truth to power didn’t seem to impact power one iota.

Around this time, so-called environmentalists decided that the most important thing we could do was to change our consumption. Not just to simplify, but to buy “green” because it was good for the planet and would help ensure “sustainability.” Now sustainability is a loaded word and its meaning varies depending on who you talk to. For me, sustainability has more to do with ecological realities. In other words, it’s important for lots of reasons that the diverse ecosystems of the planet, from the smallest tidal pool to the atmosphere and beyond, be treated and cared for in such a way that they can heal from our abuses and become more diverse, more alive than they are now (because they are so depleted and degraded thanks to our thoughtless human activities).

But for most people these days, including many environmentalists, it simply means fiddling with our buying habits without changing our lifestyle expectations. (We can save the planet and still have it all!) There used to be something about future generations in there but it must have gotten lost because climate change and the many forms of ecological devastation our industrial culture requires — green or not — are quickly depleting the planet. What future, you may ask?

So what is an environmentalist to do? We’ve been sold out, played out, backed into a corporate-controlled corner, led to believe that the best we can do is reduce, reuse, recycle and keep our fingers crossed. And/or pray depending on what you believe. I’ve always believed that love is the most powerful force in the universe. It’s what my grandmother taught me and it’s held the test of time in my life. What about you? What does love look like to you? To me, love is that clear stream I drank out of as a child; it’s the bear scratches in the stand of beech trees my father took me to; it’s my first visit to the Old Growth redwoods, and the truly ancient one that spoke to me; it’s my son getting married to the love of his life next to the ocean; it’s the smile on my little granddaughter’s face as she digs in the garden to find an earthworm; it’s the scream of delight as my grandson stands under a waterfall at Diana’s Bath. I want what I love to continue long after I’m gone, long after my grandchildren are gone. But that is not to be. That clear brook is no longer safe to drink, the beech grove is a housing development, the bears considered “nuisances.” “Sustainability” did not save them, nor did “buying green.”

How can we save and protect what we love when it appears that we don’t have the power to do so? Key word: “appears.” Because we do have the power, it’s just a matter of our willingness to take extreme risks. And they will have to be extreme, otherwise it won’t work. I’m not sure how that will translate in practice, but it’s time to sit together and begin the conversation, to support one another as we stretch our imaginations and our wings, to step up for what we love before it is too late.

A final thought: “Sometimes you jump off the cliff first, and build your wings on the way down,” — Annie Dillard.

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