Listen, as spring begins to rise through February, pushing up the first buds of the osoberry bush.
It snowed last night, but this morning a sun-struck oak on Bald Hill is raining jingle-bells of ice. They chime as they fall through ferns.
The first of the swallows have returned to Harkens Lake. On out-stretched wings, they fall through rising columns of air and ride their momentum back into the sky.
Over by Mulkey Creek, children call out to their friends. They have found a plodding newt – this astonishing creature that has somehow descended from the sea of the stars.
From the top of Fitton Green, white mist flares up from every valley as the vague hills range away, fold after fading fold, toward the fog that is the sea.
The okalee of a redwing blackbird rises with the quiet voices of people passing each other on the wetland trail. “Morning,” they say. Not good morning. Morning, because on the trail beside the willows, it goes without saying that the morning is good.
Our “work is loving the world,” the poet Mary Oliver wrote, “which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished, which is mostly rejoicing, which is gratitude.” This is surely true. But it is, just as surely, not enough.
Even as we are glad for the morning sun, the shadow of human aggression falls over the land, even our beautiful, beloved, enlightened town, where developers continue to bulldoze meadows for oversized houses, ancient Douglas-firs fall in the spinning teeth of giant felling machines, and poisons drip from the insatiable maw of a dump.
No one wants to say this, but it must be said.
No one wants to hear this, but it must be heard.
We, like all the world, are descending through the Sixth Extinction, as the forces of radical extraction rapidly approach the ferocity of the asteroid that took out three-quarters of Earth’s species.
Already, in the past fifty years, in our lifetimes, on our watch, the world has lost 60% of its mammals.
The total population of North American songbirds, wrens and robins, has been cut by a third.
Half of grassland birds have been lost, gone with the meadows and the prairies. When have you last heard a meadowlark sing?
Three-quarters of many migrating shorebirds – gone from the starving, souring sea.
As their habitats disappear, the wild things disappear too. No, that’s not true. Habitats don’t disappear. They are destroyed. The creatures don’t disappear. They suffer and die. Die so quietly, we hardly know they are gone.
So tell me — now, in a time of reckoning, on a planet that is crying out to us in the languages of fire and storm, on a planet where so much beautiful life waits to be saved and there is no time to waste, what is the work of loving the world?
Listen to the slick of shovels as students plant Willamette valley daisies. Listen to the young people in the tribal hall, as they lean over a map and sketch plans for the future. Listen as a little girl laughs at the sudden squawk of a great blue heron. Listen to fire crackling across the prairie under the great oaks.
Although young love begins with rejoicing and gratitude, it matures into the steady, moral resolve to care for the lovely, reeling places, to defend them from destruction, and set them free to thrive.
So this is our work, as brothers and sisters to all the world, as members of this growing community of caring: In every way we know how, with everything we’ve got, we protect, restore, grow, connect, preserve, respect — we learn again to live in harmony with — the land.
In our lifetimes, on our watch, camas will grow again, frogs will find their voices, bluebirds will feed their nestlings, and our children – our despairing children – will lift their faces to the oaks and find that enduring strength.