A perspective on the environment and lifestyle habits at 50
Everything I learned in Ecology and Evolution thirty years ago at Colby College was true, but I still went on and lived selfishly for love, family and the comforts of lifestyle. Now, I am realizing how drastically we must change to protect people and planet. No one wants to believe it’s wrong to keep having as many kids as you want, yet the Earth’s carrying capacity is close to being reached. This means that we have overpopulation on our planet, and no real method to stop people from continuing to have as many kids as they want. The only way to convince people to live with less and change their behaviors is for them to see the effects of climate change and believe that it’s better to care for our planet than watch all species become extinct. Each child born today faces the reality that it’s going to be a very different future with constant threat of disaster and communities suffering from losses due to shifting weather patterns humans caused. This is only going to get worse, and we were warned, but chose to keep living with the luxuries of modern society. I married my college sweetheart and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. I worked in the tech industry. I eventually had twins and drove my car to Tahoe for family ski trips. Even though I ate organic food and gave money back to organic farms, recycled, taught my sons about beach plastic and environmental issues, how to use public transportation, bike to school and after school activities, my son still wanted a license and a car when he turned eighteen even if he didn’t really need it. Our desires for modern convieniences, personal independence, and nostalgia for the past often keep us from truly acting the way we need to in order to prevent further disaster.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons why most people need cars and trucks. We’ve created the perfect impossible situation that can only be fixed by changing technology and the laws, and by the government enforcing the change from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that relies on renewable resources. We all know this is not that simple to do and many still resist purchasing clean and new tech based on financial reasons. Poverty or moderate income prevent many from having the ability to change. Even if they want a Tesla truck, they couldn’t afford it and it’s not available to them. The charging stations are not existent. There are no affordable electric rental cars or enough charging stations in most places in the world. It’s coming, car companies are making more solar electric cars, but we have lost so much already. The very real truth that it might be too late to save many species and prevent loss of life is overwhelmingly depressing, especially if you are someone who studied this thirty years ago in school and now are watching it happen right before your eyes.
It snowed twice the last week in this commuter town to NYC. Two good sized storms, but it’s almost melted now. I started to make a snow sculpture outside today and gave up when the second piece I attached melted and fell off. Two years ago, when I visited my parents, I wondered why kids didn’t make snowmen any more in the local yards. I pulled out the old photos of me and my brother and the neighborhood kids, building snow forts and crawling inside. These caves would last for weeks if not months. The snow so deep, it piled up over the fences and cars and stayed for months. We skated on the ponds all winter. The ponds don’t freeze anymore. We are now lucky if there is snow at Christmas in Connecticut, NY and other parts of New England. For those of us who remember what a true winter was like, this new version of winter hurts. It’s almost as bad as missing my sons. Missing the love of my life. Now, I’m missing the way of life as we have known it. Climate reality is devastating.
I spent the last three months in Maui, where I moved to start a new life after a terrible escape from domestic abuse. From 2015 to 2020, I tried, with out success, to find full-time work and housing in San Francisco to get away from my past in Marin County. My son’s father made it so difficult for me or my parents to even speak to my sons. None of us at fault. It was all his plan, from the moment he decided not to pay any custody for two years to the smaller things that made it hard for us to contact my sons, like turning off the long-distance phone line so my sons couldn’t call my parents even if they wanted to. He photographed my licence plates, screaming in front of my sons and me that he feared I would “steal the boys”. Nothing went smoothly. I was forced to live in my car just so I could be close enough to see my sons every other weekend. None of my female friends with kids would take me in and all of them said, “Why don’t you just go back East and live with your parents?” None of them understand what it feels like to have to leave your own children 3,000 miles away and lose the connection you have with them. It rips your heart from your chest and forces you to keep moving no matter how much pain you are feeling. Anger builds up. It’s almost impossible to love again. The abuse was not your fault, but you are the one now forced into poverty. Writing helped me. Music helped me. Learning guitar helped me. Maui helped me.
I made a plan to attend Maui College for Sustainability, applied, was accepted, and moved in November of 2020. I sold my car to alleviate the remaining 8k of car payments, and packed up my bike and just enough to solo camp around the island before the Spring semester started. I swam every day. I biked around the island, carrying my guitar on my back. I wrote songs. I foraged all kinds of fruit I’d never eaten before, some that was literally lying on the side of the road as I biked by, including a giant pomelo, guava, mangoes and oranges. I baked banana bread with local Maui bananas, turmeric and ginger and made cocoa nibs. I met local residents, from farmers to goverment workers. The restuarants, cafes and grocery stores were thriving, but many shops suffered due to sixty percent less tourism than before Covid. Some of the locals I met had money and were building new homes, or retiring and able to afford housing. Others were artists who were unable to pay their rent due to loss of livelihood. With less people able to afford luxuries and art, they couldn’t pay their bills or rent and were now in debt. Musicians couldn’t play at local venues because of Covid.
Maui is not an easy place to move to and find work, unless you are young and willing to take any job that has an opening. I applied for hundreds of jobs before I arrived. I continued to apply for jobs online in California, Maui and remote every day. I earned more badges with Salesforce’s Trailhead online training program, including their Design for Sustainability Trail, and reached double Ranger rank. I was close to becoming a substitute teacher when I had to leave temporarily. My family was not willing to support me there with out a job, and I returned to the East Coast to plan my next steps. A producer from Nashville contacted me out of the blue and offered to help me record my music that I had been writing and singing with my guitar since before Covid happened. I had written over 300,000 words about how music, going to live concerts, dancing and learning guitar, analyzing music history from my iTunes library, falling in love with singers, songs and songwriting had helped me escape my horrible situation. This offer seemed like a great idea, but I didn’t think about the fact that my hip would hurt again returning to the cold weather on the East Coast.
I was so depressed didn’t want to get out of bed or eat for the first three days. I didn’t go to the grocery store for five days. I ate everything I could from the pantry. I made quinoa with garlic, turmeric and canned white beans. I found the frozen chives and green onions my mom had saved in the freezer and added those. I made oatmeal with frozen blueberries, honey and vanilla. I drank my tea with out milk for a week before I finally made it to the store to buy fresh vegetables, turmeric root, tofu, yogurt, milk and frozen items. I am not vegan, but I don’t really eat meat any more. I ate some fish in Maui, as it is a specialty and cultural way of life in Hawaii. In February, I felt guilty for wanting to go to the Fish Market in Paia for a mahi-mahi taco because it was “Fish Free February”… an idea created by one group to help people think about sustainability and over-fishing. Sustainability affects everything we do now, and it’s hard to have fun if you’re always worried.
The Christmas wreath was still on the front door when I arrived back on the East Coast in February. It was dried up and I know my parents would never have left it on the door this long. The light over the front porch was out and needed a new bulb. I kept thinking of all the times my sons slid down the stairs, giggling or sat and watched the clothes spin inside the washing machine. My parents and I have been denied the opportunity to see my sons for the last several years, partially due to Covid and partially due to the changes that come with a relationship ending and communication break down with their father. My family wanted me to have a chance at a new life, but I miss my sons too much to start over 3,000 miles away. Maui seemed like a great place to heal from my total hip replacement surgery and simultaneously, create a fun opportunity for my sons to visit me there. Flights to Hawaii from San Francisco are common and easy enough to come by. My sons would get to swim with sea turtles, ride bikes with me in a new place, surf, windsurf, swim and learn about a new culture. They could work at local grocery stores and restaurants, maybe attend the community college and see their mom happy and away from past trauma.
I took the wreath down and removed the ribbon, pinecones and decorations my mom had added. The needles were dropping, so I took it outside to the backyard. I put on my snowshoes over my sneakers and crossed the melting snow in the sunshine to the compost behind the garage. Unwinding the wire from the dried boughs took a while. Each bough fell into the snow on top of the compost bin. Finally, a thicker, metal circle appeared. This could be used to make a new wreath with boughs next year. What a simple gift. What a simple, reusable solution. Make your own wreath. Save the metal and wire. I imagined how many wreaths like this are thrown into the garbage at the end of the holiday season. Some people here in this town can afford a wreath for every window, and it looks beautiful… but how sweet and truly sustainable is it to save this wire circle and make your own welcoming gift of love each year? Homemade was the only way we had in the world at one time. Then we believed it better to mass produce and buy everything at the store. Disposable was easier. None of this was really right. How incredibly hard it is for all of us who lived believing in the technologies of the last century to now come to terms with letting go of the past. Embracing new tech and going back to many homemade items that don’t create extra waste. People aren’t evil. Neighbors really want to save the environment, and butterflies and give their grandchildren a good life, full of the joys they had too. It just means that we have to be truly willing to let go of disposable and easy. Let go of having it all to be more sustainable and different. Less junk and more everlasting gifts that can be made again and again. Events, nature and experiences over accumulation of plastic toys. Butterfly kits. Nature club memberships. Swiming with sea turtles. Learning to grow a garden and forage your own greens, fruit on a hike or bike ride with a nature app like Sunny Savage’s “Savage Kitchen”.
I want to live in Maui because it felt like I was moving forward, not backwards into my past life. I want to live in Maui because it helped my hip feel better, swimming every day. I studied transportation and have been writing about all the ways it could be improved and more sustainable. I lived with out a car for three months and only used the local bus and my bike. I rented a car once when I was inbetween housing and it poured for two days. There is no way to explain to my friends how hard it’s been to leave my sons with their father these past few years. There is no way for them to understand how difficult this change has been for me and I am not ok. I am shredded, exhausted and suffering tremendously. Maui was not some sort of spontaneous and whimsical vacation for me. It was a leap into a new world that was the only way to sustain my hope after loss. It was what I really needed, and here at my childhood home, I no longer feel positive or joyful. This is how life and letting go of past trauma change us. Sometimes, the only place to go is somewhere new. Looking back is only bathing in all the hurt and sorrow, and you can’t come up for air. Letting go of the past allows us to move forward and start over, with fresh fruit and colorful new experiences.