Every day for the last several years my first thought upon waking, and my last thought before going to sleep (and many thoughts in between) have been about our magnificent planet, and how we seem hell bent on its destruction at every turn. It’s a desperation that threatens to double me over, daily… hourly, and I wonder what evolution could have possibly been up to when it gave opposable thumbs and the ability to reason to the only species too stupid to understand that the first rule of survival is to protect one’s own habitat.
Since the election of a man who has promised to dismantle the EPA, sell off our public lands to Big Oil, “cancel” (emperor-style) the Paris Agreement, reinvigorate the Keystone Pipeline, and remove all protection from endangered species, that desperation has increased a hundred fold. Simultaneously, every single other thing I value about this country—its diversity, its freedoms, its art and culture, its institutions of higher learning and all other forms of education, its tolerance, its generosity, its many compassions—have already come under direct attack from what promises to be the most toxic administration in American history.
And yet beneath the deep grief that threatens to pull me under, I feel an ember of hope burning in my rib cage. In the five days after the election, the Sierra Club quadrupled its monthly donation record, and that in the same amount of time the ACLU received roughly 120,000 donations totaling $7.2 million. I have been heartened to read San Francisco’s manifesto of resistance and resolve, and the letter all Vermonters just received signed jointly by the outgoing Democratic governor and the incoming Republican governor promising to disavow intolerance and hate. I am encouraged by artists and actors and scientists and the 365 corporations who have banded together to speak out against one unconstitutional campaign promise after another, and principled political leaders from both parties standing up for what American has always tried to be. What I feel in the collective atmosphere makes me believe that this time we will not go to sleep, we will not wind up in divisive squabbles between people who hold the same essential beliefs, because if we do so many will suffer and the suffering will be unmitigated and like nothing we have ever seen in this country before.
I live in the high Rockies, in a valley that has so far been not much touched by corporate greed. It snowed overnight, and this morning my elderly horses wear a ridge of bright white along their dark spines and snowflakes in their eyelashes. Earlier, when I went out to feed, the pair of bald eagles who return to my property every other year were using the new snow to spot small moving creatures in my pasture. I heard the elk bugling last night before sunset, and at first light this morning coyotes were singing with such full voice outside my bedroom window that my two Irish wolfhounds threw back their heads and sang along.
I had a father whose tactics resembled those of our president elect so precisely, that in the aftermath of this election season, I can scarcely remember my father at all. My mother, now that I think of it, was not unlike our new first lady (in absentia), in the way she always kept her jaw so tight, turned her attention to looking good, and never kissed anything but the air. For parenting, I turned to the patch of remnant woods that ran behind our subdivision, to the railroad tracks that lead into the dappled light of relatively undisturbed deciduous forest. When we went as a family to the beach for a week, I spent the last hour of every trip standing at the edge of the ocean saying an individual goodbye to each wave.
The natural world did not just heal me from the abuses I suffered at the hands of my father. It raised me up to be the person I am. I am ready to give my money, my time, and if it comes to it, my life for the right to save the earth, and if it is too late for that I will give all of those things to at least have the freedom to sit at her bedside and grieve.
I have no time or energy anymore for cynicism, anger, vanity, or even despair. We must work together to cultivate hope and courage. A lot of us have had the good fortune of living in this beautiful country, in this improbable democracy without being asked to participate fully in its care. Now we have been given the opportunity to fight for our freedoms. Now we have been given a mandate to lead radically more meaningful lives.
Sincerely, and with love,
Pam Houston is the author of two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The 2013 Pushcart Prize, and Best American Short Stories of the Century. She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is Professor of English at UC Davis, and directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level near the headwaters of the Rio Grande and is at work on a book about that place.
Photo of snowy landscape by tpsdave, courtesy Pixabay.