When I compare what is right here, right now, to what was right there, right then, the biggest absence is the expectation of a dependable future. That’s a tough one, and I hate the thought that my granddaughter, so sweet with her bright eyes of innocent expectation and promise—promise that she and every other grandchild in this world have every right to expect—may be sorely challenged and very disappointed as they achieve their own adulthood. Disappointed in their present, dismayed by their own future. Shocked that the generation who loved them so well also left them such a mess.
I have felt this way for years now. No metaphysics of time, no philosophy. Just plain down the rabbit hole. Extinction, that’s the term. And I’m an artist who cares about this, so I make an image of a consuming conflagration, of a maze and its wanderers, of a tornado’s devastation. Small things against the scale of a sickened planet. But I do these things . . . light a small candle . . .
So I know that other artists with bigger voices and followings are also doing their best at a scale I haven’t a clue how to reach. There are networks to join; for instance, Ecoart Network, Extinction Rebellion, and others. Many efforts to connect with and do something at a scale that will make a difference, hold back the tide from rising too far. Forget about that, but I can act and join and make more art in this direction. It’s a marathon I can run with.
My premise holds: a dependable future seems absent . . . like the one I once had without even knowing when I played mumblety-peg with my pals in the dirt and grass of my back yard, like our daily hikes into the kind woods of Stackhouse Park, from our tree houses and forts down to the stream where the crayfish hid under the rocks we’d lift to build dams and wade barefoot.
That was our present, and, though it lives on here in my mind, it is as absent as our once dependable future. We assumed that same future would always be there for us, for our families, children, and friends. Too slowly, we’ve watched the penny drop.
Climate and carbonization, warming past 1.5 Celsius—already inevitably upon us. But there is a bit of hope. Our efforts to decarbonize have had noticeable positive effects. 1.5 will be very hard on us and our descendants, but we will not all become extinct if we doggedly continue to make progress. A bit of a downer, more than a bit, but true.
The wrong thing to do is to be absent from this race, to look the other way, to lose myself in my endless quotidian tangles, the cleaning up and messing up, the me and me, my willingness to forget and ignore.
The right thing to do is be present, join in, and pick up the pace.
Image at top: Burning Love, watercolor on paper, 7 x 5 in., 2021.