Terry Tempest Williams
Known for her impassioned and lyrical prose, Terry Tempest Williams is the author of the environmental literature classic, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. She is the Provostial Scholar at Dartmouth College. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Orion Magazine, and numerous anthologies worldwide as a crucial voice for ecological consciousness and social change.
When the news finally came that the democratic candidate Joe Biden had won the state of Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the United States presidential election, our household cheered!
I ran outside – not to the streets because where we live there are none – but because in some irrational state of mind, I wanted to let the wild lands community know that a breathing space was coming. I wanted to let the red sandstone mesas and cliffs and the western public lands stretching out before me – that in so many ways define America’s natural character – know that they were going to be a safer under a Biden-Harris administration.
But the minute I opened the door – I was met with wind applause: a howling, whistling, singing maelstrom of air moving every grass, every finger of sage, every twisted and gnarled juniper and piñon pine in a wild energetic dance. A congress of ravens was in full aerial display, playing with the boisterous currents in dramatic dives, swerves, and quick-moving glides with sharp-edged wing banks to secure their positions as they repeated their avian maneuvers all over again.
It was impossible not to read the signs as celebratory.
The fall of the Trump Regime is good news for our species, for the wild, and for the planet. It marks a return to decency and empathy in the White House, lost in these four traumatic years. It signals a repudiation of racism and closed borders where children were cruelly separated from their parents and put in cages. It means the Muslim ban prohibiting refugees and immigrants wanting to come to the United States will be lifted. It means less corruption and more cooperation within our government. But most importantly, this change of power and governance in America offers a global renewal to climate justice for all. President-elect Joe Biden has already promised to restore America’s place on the Paris Accord roster. He has also made a commitment to lead the country, even among our divided states, forward on renewable sources of energy with no more fracking on public lands.
As activists world-wide, we can press harder in our renewed resolve to engage in the ecological and climate crisis together. Creativity is required. Leadership within the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion are showing us the way, fearlessly and relentlessly, by making the crucial linkages between social justice and biological diversity – understanding each empowers the other. The health of our communities in cities and the health of rural communities is directly tied to the health of our forests, deserts, wetlands, and oceans.
The survival of the human species is contingent upon the survival of all species. This is planetary health.
We have seen the power of the youth with their cries for climate justice, calling for action not words. We have seen demonstrations, manifestations in every country around the globe flowing like water in the streets of our towns and cities eroding complacency as the world burns. And we have witnessed the rise of the seas, the drowning of islands, the frequency and ferocity of hurricanes, the devastation of floods and fires. We the People Everywhere must take our concerns and turn them into Sacred Rage – by that I mean an energy born out of fire that transcends anger and elicits compassion for the only home we will ever know: Earth.
Earth Now. Not Earth in the future. Not Earth as we have seen it in the past as a floating body in space. But Earth as our own bodies on the ground and on the line of every decision we now make. Time is up. Time to get back to the daily work of resistance and insistence that change happens, especially in this pandemic that is no longer a pause but a place to reflect on how our collective sickness infecting our species is not something outside us but inside us. Our healing will be contingent not just upon a vaccine, but a change in consciousness. The health of the Earth is the health of each other.
Early this morning, Venus was dazzling above Adobe Mesa. In these crepuscular hours, I locate a geologic stillness that mirrors my own momentary peace, post-election. Outside, I detect strange high-pitched sounds unfamiliar to me — coyotes, a mountain lion? Or maybe I am hearing migratory birds passing through on their way south singing up the sun in new territory? Their voices are unknown to me.
So much unknowing — large and small.
I’ve been seeing ants transporting fallen flowers from the desert willow located just off our front patio to who knows where. These wee little beings have been waving petals an inch tall above their heads that register as pink sails above their six-legged bodies. The other day I followed one. For close to half an hour, I walked behind an ant carrying a petal above its head clutched in its mandibles moving across the patio at a quick pace. It continued down the stone path from our porch, then set across the red sand past our office to where a thriving ant colony emerged from the desert floor like a raised fist.
Each time a breeze would come up, threatening to blow the tiny ant over, two other ants would appear to hold the ant steady, then they would disappear. As the ant continued on its mission, projecting its strange shadow ahead, I could see it was on a perilous path facing cracks between stones and a patch of prickly pear cactus. I thought this will be its demise – but then, three or four ants would miraculously appear and help their colleague carry the flower over the chasm and around the spines and then, once again, they vanished.
When the ant I had been following finally arrived to the ant colony, I watched it climb heroically up the hill with the magnificent blossom in tact. The ant paused and then laid the flower at the entrance where it was instantly met with dozens of workers who quickly cut the flower into tiny pieces and one by one carried the pink blossom down into their chambers where I imagined they were lining a pathway to the Queen.
We have great work before us and we, too, will be met with unexpected allies to help us with the obstacles we face. May the spirit of decency, urgency, and empathy carry us forward. The extinction crisis and climate chaos affecting all species is perilous and unprecedented. But the path to protecting Mother Earth is a beautiful one because it is aligned with love.
Wind applause is circulating the planet.
Terry Tempest Williams is the writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of more than eighteen books including the environmental literature classic Refuge – An Unnatural History of Family and Place. Her most recent book, Erosion – Essays of Undoing, has just been released in paperback. She lives with her husband Brooke in Castle Valley, Utah, and is on the board of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Act now: This 350 petition is part of a big coalition effort to get Biden to take 10 bold actions on climate in his first 100 days. Top of the list is banning extraction on public lands: