Field Notes From the Real World

Northern lights ofver Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon | Moyan Brenn | CC BY

On the eighth day of our honeymoon, I had an existential crisis. I looked at my wife and said, “I just don’t think I can do this anymore.” Fear darted across her face. She looked worried.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“This just isn’t right. How we are doing this. I’m becoming the person I can’t stand,” I replied. She sighed and sat down beside me.

The existential crisis wasn’t about marriage. Married life was and is great. My wife was and is great. But on the eighth day of our honeymoon, I was struggling. You see, my wife and I were having a wonderful time. We had rented a little car, were zooming around Iceland’s iconic Ring Road, hanging out in hot springs, stuffing our face with langoustine soup, and in general, having a ball. We were also doing the types of things which I abhor. Or at least I thought I did. Which made me feel very conflicted inside. Which takes us back to our argument.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I said. “I can’t pull up to one more beautiful waterfall and snap a selfie and look in the gift shop and then get back in the car and drive to the next one.”

“What’s so wrong with being a tourist?” Caroline asked. “Aren’t you having fun?” She looked at her over-thinking, Debbie-Downer husband sadly.

I stammered for an answer. “Yes! I am having fun! I love it. But I wrote about this kind of crap in the EcoTheo Review and how I resent people who drive up to beautiful scenes but don’t actually enter them or walk more than fifteen feet from their car! I feel dirty! I feel like a hypocrite! I feel like I’m looking at mountain pornography and getting my rocks off looking at something that I have no real relationship with and I feel that this is voyeuristic and wrong or something!”

Caroline looked at me and laughed. “Why don’t you drink a beer and settle down and tomorrow we can actually go hiking?” she said.

This is why I married her. She knows what I need and I followed her advice and began to feel much better. The next day we hiked off the beaten path and forded a stream and I got us lost and dragged her through some thick bushes until we eventually found our car. Things were looking up. The honeymoon was a blast. I got over feeling like a hypocrite and enjoyed myself.

This whole Icelandic anecdote is representative of what I think about a lot these days. Have I sold out? Compromised on my values? Have I given up the good fight? Become another cog in the machine? I’ve got a wife and dog and live in the burbs and work a full week and come home. Most nights we cook dinner and watch West Wing reruns and go to bed and do it again. I haven’t written much about environmental stewardship recently.I haven’t planted a garden. Sometimes I eat conventionally raised meat. I drive my car more than I should. We use the farmer’s market sometimes, but often wind up at Trader Joe’s instead. I kept the window-unit air conditioner blasting all summer long. Global warming is real, but hot Nate is miserable.
The radical conservationist Ed Abbey once said that we should be a “reluctant enthusiast, part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic” when it comes to fighting to keep the world a beautiful place. If I had to give myself a report card, I wouldn’t even qualify for half-hearted, part time, or reluctant these days.

To be truthful, I still care and worry about the environmental crisis. I just stopped acting like it. I haven’t had the energy to be the crusader I should. Or maybe a more honest assessment is that I just haven’t done anything about it when I could.

St. Paul talks about knowing what is right and good and still doing what he hates. He calls that sin. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe there’s no excuse, other than I’ve dropped the ball and should suck it up and do more. Or maybe I am just becoming a suburbanite who drives to sweet views on vacation and doesn’t go off on thousand mile hikes anymore and honestly doesn’t feel that badly about it. Maybe it’s partly because it feels like even if we scream from the mountaintops, nothing is going to change anytime soon anyway.

I know this sounds a bit depressing, but I wanted to be honest. I wanted to send back some field notes from a former zealot living in the real world. I write these thoughts, not because I don’t care, or that we should just naively hope that Donald’s right and climate change is a hoax by China. I mean, I’m sold on environmentalism. I believe we need to change. Trust me. I even helped found this very review. But does being “sold” on the environmental crisis matter?
I think that it is appropriate to acknowledge that even those of us who are “on board,” who are “Believers,” people who really, truly, deeply care about and love Creation, still can’t seem to get it together in their own lives to make a difference in the environmental crisis, let alone change the trajectory of the big machine. I think there are a lot of us well-intentioned, poor on follow through, hypocrites out there. Where does this leave us? What then shall we do? I don’t know.

I don’t know what the answers are. I don’t know if grassroots efforts to “save the earth,” pompous as that sounds, will ever amount to anything. Or if we are better off with a few well-placed people and fingers crossed. Maybe both. Maybe I’m wrong and technology will bail us out. Maybe none of it will be enough. I pray it will.

I had the day off from work today, so I got up early and drove to the nearest trout stream, the Gunpowder. Crisp fall air filled my lungs. Bright orange interspersed with yellows and greens filled the canopy above. My toes got cold in my waiters and gurgling water filled my ears. I got snagged on dead leaves in the water and didn’t see any trout. I didn’t mind. Tonight I’ll grill dinner with my dog and wife. I’ll sit on my back porch and I’ll look out at the sky and I’ll listen for the geese. I’ll be thankful.

And tomorrow I’ll get back to work. It’s about time.

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