Dear Earth sample
Gauzy swirls of steam are rising from the mug of hot tea beside me. Every so often the rich scent of sweetpeas curls into my nostrils – the tissue-thin blossoms sit on the windowsill next to my Buddha; purple, cream, and velvet-red. The tall window behind them is filled with a stand of colossal pines. When I duck to the left I see a fat pigeon perched on a bend in the uppermost branch, and behind her the wooded valley veers up towards the sky.
I began writing to the Earth a year ago, when I woke up to the reality of the climate and ecological emergency. I didn’t know what else to do with the feelings that surged through me. These letters are brimming with grief, fury, fear, and heart-bursting gratitude and joy. They describe a new adventure into eco-activism. They acknowledge how it is to be an ordinary, flawed person living in a broken system. They are an invitation to relish the gifts of the world whilst we can – bouquets of glossy elderberries, the music of water, the goldcrest’s bright crown.
Three days ago the Spalte Glacier in the Arctic disintegrated, the latest casualty of our rising global temperatures. I look online and the news is buried under Brexit chaos, US election speculation, and pandemic panic. As a second deadly wave of coronavirus looms, it is harder than ever for us to keep our concentration on the much bigger existential threat just over the horizon.
If we want to preserve human civilization, we need to find a way. It isn’t easy to engage with the scale of the problem facing us. In my conversations with the Earth I swing between the uncomfortable delusion of being her sole savior, and the utter despair of being a flea on the back of a huge beast. I search for the middle way between burnout and inaction, and discover that the most precious things I have to offer are the ones I am most happy to give. You will find consolation here – we are all hypocrites, we are all failing in a multitude of ways, and – what we do does matter.
More than anything, these letters are a call to action. Maybe you worry that it’s too late. Maybe it is. Maybe we are all living on a planetary hospice. Never mind. Do you want to stay inside watching forests burn on television, or do you want to go down singing love songs to the Earth?
Dear Earth, it’s 4am and I’m frightened
The lights are on and I’m sitting up in bed with my laptop. There are three cats on the bed, one of them purring. The temple is quiet.
Earlier this evening twenty of us sat in a circle and explored the facts of your health, beloved Earth. We were asked how long we thought we had before things broke down. Twenty years? More? Less? One person said they had chickens and apple trees, and wondered how it would be to protect their family with a baseball bat.
I move in and out of denial. It can’t be that bad, can it? I don’t live in an apocalyptic film, but in a small wealthy town in a privileged country. It’ll be other people whose countries slide underwater. Other people who push their children into flimsy boats as a desperate last resort. Surely science will save us. Surely our government will save us.
And then I feel the pain of the people who are already suffering, right now. My fellows on sinking islands and in countries without enough food. My animal friends. Plant-life withering and habitats degrading. You, sweet Earth.
Why am I writing to you, when I could be trying to sleep? Because ‘solidarity is the tenderness of the people.’ I am still touched by the compassion of the strangers in the circle, who held the space when I cried, and who cared. I feel tender towards you, dear Earth. I am writing because I have faith in this tenderness. I don’t know if it will save us or not, but I know that I want to live in its warmth.
None of us know how long we have. What can we do in the face of this catastrophe? What can we do in the face of our deep ignorance, selfishness and violence? We can love each other, and we can love you, whilst we’re here.
Thank you, Earth, for holding me as I type, in this small town in a small country, my animals sleeping around me. Thank you for the sweet moments of solidarity that light on me like moths. It’s time to sleep, because tomorrow I have things to do.
Dear Earth, breakfast was astonishing
Just ordinary porridge with cinnamon and toasted sunflower seeds.
Where did you grow my oats, Earth? You grew them in Cherrywood, New Zealand. They ate and drank with their toes from your dark soil, and your brother fed them with light.
Sunflower seeds, cute nuggets of goodness my little dog loves – born on flowers that dare you not to grin.
Cinnamon! The treasure of cassia trees, hiding under the outer bark, peeled off and curling into quills. How did we discover your larder of spices, beloved Earth? Is there more to find?
The stainless steel of my spoon was melted and mixed and poured in Vietnam. Which person did that? Where are they now?
Thank you Earth for ordinary things. The things we sleep on, think with, snuggle under, lick, light and read. The things we gaze at until our whole beings are anointed with balm.
Thank you, gorgeous Earth, for porridge.
Dear Earth, I sobbed as they arrested me
I wasn’t upset about getting a criminal record, the blank hours ahead of me in a cell, standing in court, the fine.
I didn’t feel unsafe. As the police carried me away, they checked four times if they were hurting me, if I was okay.
I wasn’t ashamed, after a lifetime of being a good girl, of not inconveniencing anyone, of doing as I’m told.
I sobbed, beloved Earth, because the grief I felt for you suddenly rose up and crushed me.
I knew that six hundred of us had already been through these cells, and we were hardly appearing on our national television.
I saw the whisper of my voice up against the airplane roar of those who have unimaginable power.
I recognised the system’s denial about the gravity of your prognosis, as I have also lived under a thick protective crust of it for decades.
The grief pushed its way through me, and it left me clean.
I am lucky to be here, dear Earth, as I write with the red biro a smiling officer brought me.
Later they’ll bring me food, and I’ll go home to my extravagant privilege.
Others are failing to coax crops from impoverished soil. Others have had their homes violently flattened. Others are watching the ice caps melt, drip by deathly drip, and they don’t know what to do.
I know what to do.
I vow to witness your vast suffering, darling Earth, and pray for your coast dwellers, your intricate coral reefs and your nightingales.
I vow to meet the razor-sharp violence of others with peace in my heart.
I vow to do what you call me to do.
I am so inadequate, dear Earth, and I contain the same greed, hate and delusion that is strangling you.
I am asking for your forgiveness, with my sobs, and with this red pen.
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