September is considered a time for fresh beginnings. Once Labor Day hits, it’s back to school. No more slow summer pace. It’s a time for new starts.
The last week of August, I left New York City in a hurry, rushing to escape Hurricane Irene. I was eager for a long awaited family vacation. We got up to our destination just as the first raindrops began to fall in Sudbury, Vermont. It was my son’s 17th birthday, and despite the happy celebration, I was acutely aware that my thoughts were on the following year when he would be on his way to college.
Sunday it poured. We watched the trees around the cottage being buffeted by the winds. The lake, which was in full view from the deck, was rippling in rhythm to the sheets of rain traveling across its surface. We settled in for a quiet day of rest, board games, and a DVD. There was no television service.
The following day was bright and clear. Setting off on our first adventure, we learned that the road to the nearest town was closed— severely damaged from flooding. Spans of concrete had buckled and “detour” signs were everywhere. When cell phone reception was available, they were messages asking if we were safe and okay. Only then did I realize that we were in the thick of things. Later, when we were able to get the local news, we listened as people related individual tales about total destruction. Just two towns away, a woman was crying about her parents’ coffins, which had been unearthed due to the torrential waters. It made me think of the comment I heard Van Jones deliver at the Personal Democracy Forum. He told the audience, “If you want to know what the future will bring, just turn on the Weather Channel.”
When you live in a metropolis like Manhattan and then travel to a world of open spaces, trees and streams, it’s impossible not to feel the difference. You can’t help but connect to the natural beauty, like a jet-black nighttime sky filled with innumerable stars. I experienced the week as a commentary with a dual theme—the beauty of nature and the flip side of destruction brought on by natural forces.
As a backdrop to it all, minus the usual intensity thanks to spotty wifi reception, was the news of the “real world.” Obama had backed away from his commitment to the ozone standards EPA director Lisa Jackson had been supporting. Republicans were continuing to stonewall any energy agenda.
Observing the rolling fields, horses and cows, undisturbed acres of rocks and trees, I felt particularly protective of what the earth offers us—and what we need to do to defend it. In a rural setting, the cycles and rhythms of life are apparent in a visceral way.
Vermont is an interesting state. It presents as the home of rugged individualists, and liberal senators like Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Every town has a physical acknowledgement of their sons and daughters fighting in the military. But from talking to people (Yes, much to the embarrassment of my family, I asked political questions of strangers) – I saw how the inhabitants mirrored the divide on issues that affect the rest of the country. For every green food co-op, organic farmer, and solar energy advocate, there was a disgruntled constituent griping that their Congressperson was in Washington, D.C. taking part in the Tar Sands Action, instead of back in Vermont dealing with hurricane damage.
Which brings me back around to new beginnings. Am I disappointed in the step backwards that I feel Obama took on September 2? Absolutely. Chances are Lisa Jackson, who has a child with asthma, is as well. If anything, that decision by the President and my time in Vermont have strengthened my resolve to look at the environment and the issue of clean air as a bottom-up effort.
That’s also why I am an absolutist about believing that parents who want to hand off a livable, breathable planet to their children—and future generations—are the key to amplifying awareness on core ecological concerns, from toxic mercury to smog induced asthma. We must demand that the public’s health and the country’s natural resources aren’t traded away to the people and corporations with the loudest voices and the most money.
In this difficult and contentious political atmosphere, I will be holding on to the insights I connected with during the last week of August… bringing them into the fall season.
Please join me at Moms Clean Air Force. Make your concerns heard, and advocate for the best long-term solutions over the short-term approaches that are being suggested to alleviate our current economic challenges.