It is still difficult for me to fully grasp the places—physical and emotional—my life has taken me over the past few years, but here I am. I went for a walk around Lowell this evening. I wanted to wait for the temperature to fall before venturing out and about.
My memories of March are more along the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” and tending toward lion for the better part of the month. If ever a lamb was seen, it generally was brief and fleeting. This March in Massachusetts, I have experienced temperatures rising from the 50s-60s when I first arrived a week ago to the mid-80s. What strange, unsettling times we are living in.
So here I sit, with sounds of traffic all around outside and bright lights filling the night sky. Inside, I am surrounded by elements of nature I have collected from the wild places I have called home. I have endured much eye rolling for hauling rocks from move to move, but I am beginning to understand how much I need them and will find solace in their presence during my stay in the big city. My apartment will be my own haven, an urban oasis.
Moving to a city after living in a place like Gustavus, nestled within as pristine a wilderness as exists in this day and age, the pollution—trash, noise, light, etc.—is actually quite shocking. I see it everywhere. I feel dirty after walking around, and my nose burns. Is it in my head? Maybe. I imagine particles of filth enveloping me and landing on my skin as I walk along charming brick buildings and winding canals that lead to the Merrimack River.
I remember visiting the Everglades and watching the film at the National Park Service visitor center. There was one line that still haunts me to this day. A jolly ranger spoke of the challenges with water and resources and the push and pull between the social and ecological worlds that depend on them. He told the audience, “we all want our slice of nature”.
I have lived in places where humans seemed to be the minority, where wildness of the charismatic mega fauna variety reigned. Here, there are certainly many charismatic fauna of the homo sapiens persuasion, to be sure, but I already can feel a difference in my entire being as I sink into this place. I have been so very spoiled living in such unspoiled places where I had but to step outside to experience nature. Here, I have a fire escape, but to go outside I have to really go out in it. There is no solitary spot, no quiet place to sit. I feel blessed to know that this is possible, especially as I watch children walking down the street with their parents.
Out walking, my senses were alert, though I was not anticipating my path being crossed by a moose or bear. I brought a camera and found myself drawn to the swirling trash in the canal by my apartment. A gentleman who walked past me told me that when he was in high school—he is now in his fifties—trash filled the canals. So, I guess things are looking up? He also told me that he saw a beaver swimming in the same spot the other day.
A couple streets down from my oasis on Merrimack, there was an orange weir in the water that appeared to be collecting trash. I wonder if anyone comes and lifts it out of the water to dispose of the waste? I am doubtful, but here’s hoping. I wonder who or where I could even ask to find out? Perhaps, one can check out a large net at a library-inspired neighborhood clean-up facility?
There was something quite mesmerizing about those paper cups and plastic bottles dancing in the current, now spinning alone, now waltzing with an oak leaf leftover from the fall. In their positions side by side, they were a literal metaphor, a juxtaposition of the ecological and social worlds. We can dance in rhythm with the natural systems on this planet or we can make attempts at a solo.
When I was a graduate student, I read an article about a phenomenon called environmental generational amnesia. A premise of this idea is that the condition of the environment where we grow up becomes our foundation for how we treat the environment. So, if we grow up in a place where the natural environment is kept relatively healthy, we come to understand that this is the natural state of things and we work to maintain this condition. If you grow up in an area where anything green or natural has piles of trash and discarded waste, why would you hesitate to toss a wrapper when you finish your candy bar? What else would you do with it?
In my hour-long walk, I did come across one recycling container on the corner outside of city hall. So, there is hope. As long as I am breathing, even the air in the greater Boston area, I will not give up on this world.
And I still cannot help but feel charmed by this place, however outside of my comfort zone it will be to live here. I will consider it an addition to my life resume, and I am determined to find beauty here.