10 years ago, I was 28 and about to start treatment for a leishmaniasis infection that I’d brought back from my fieldwork in Peru, for my undergraduate thesis.
I had a bunch of intentions to go into tropical ecology, because #worldtravel, right? And had newly reunited with my ex-girlfriend, again, because that was a good idea.
I hadn’t heard of permaculture, had considered ecological restoration, was in love with ecology and systems and the blossoming fertility of interconnected ideas and interwoven concepts that effervesced in my head. I wanted to be a field ecologist more than anything else, especially, increasingly, one that studied infectious diseases.
I hadn’t had an abortion and miscarriages, or, for that matter, a child. I had travelled abroad to one other continent; I knew I wanted to do a PhD and fully intended to do one of those fast-track ones where you skip the MSc stage and go straight from BSc to PhD, because I knew I could. I didn’t know where I wanted to go but I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Fast forward a decade and two and half years in Europe, several relationships and additional locations, one marriage, one baby, some farming, Africa, and a handful of half-started applications, two completed, and one accepted, I’m in a PhD program. Against the world of what needs to be done twenty years ago to get us on track to adapt to, counter, fix climate change, it seems way too little, much too late. Now with a daughter bouncing on my lap as we watch Corporation – that 20-year old documentary – the imperative is even greater. She may be one of the last generations of humanity. Ever. On Earth, at least; I’m sure the Musks and Bushes and Bezos of the world will have other options; I’m not so interested (at least for now, I don’t think). I really love what we had going here; I look outside and I can’t fathom why we, as a society, could possibly have thought this – the freeways, the Dennys and drive-throughs, chainlink, monocrops, dirt and garbage and waste – was more valuable than the oak woodlands, muddy estuaries and their noisy flocks, singing cottonwoods, the deep grasses and clear streams, that were here before. What on Earth possessed anyone ever to lay that under, except that they had no idea? The poverty of the trade-off is difficult to grasp; the magnitude of loss that generations to come will never know, staggering.
I watched a flock of birds today while at the window holding my daughter. “Look at all the birds!” I exclaimed, pointing them out to her. (At 4 months, I’m not that optimistic she could see them, but she feigned interest in the end of my finger, at least). And then I caught myself: what a small and straggling flock this must be compared to what once was. They were cedar waxwings, wheeling and turning against the morning sun in a cold, gusting breeze. Their little flock smeared across the sky, regathered, and disappeared into the shaggy mane of a tall palm. Those palms, planted to make the place look tropical, don’t belong; but gone are the oaks and pines and cottonwoods that did. But unless you know, you wouldn’t know to look: for the few native trees left in old neighbourhoods, compared to the proliferation of palms of every sort, ornamental trees, flowering varietals of fruit trees.
Unless we teach her, she won’t know. She will see the little flock, and think it large, and fail to miss the absence of all the birds that were there before. She’ll think this sucks, that it was better in her parents’ generation, and maybe she’ll blame us, too: I wouldn’t hold it against her.
Each generation has no idea the magnitude of what we lose each year; I can only hope we work more fervently simply on the remembrance and belief in what once was here.