Letter to America: We Will Emerge Full-Throated from the Dark Shelter of Our Despair

By Kathleen Dean Moore

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Dear America,

Here is a small parable from Oregon, where marsh hawks are hunting over flooded fields, even as darkness pools under street lights in Washington and New York:

My friend, a small woman in Alaska, could not sleep. How can any of us sleep? So much work to be done to save democracy, to save decency, to save children, to save the marsh hawks, for god’s sake, and even the flooded fields. We could work all the bright day and all through the night, and still the work would not be done, and how can it even begin? My friend lay awake in a darkened room, one hand gripping the other. Who can let herself fall asleep, when she has not found a way to save the world—because that’s the task we set ourselves, each of us. Is this not so?

Every evening, she watched as bare branches and telephone lines sliced the falling sun as if it were an egg yolk, and the day darkened—until one night she remembered that the sun was, of course, not falling. The far edge of the Earth was rising.

As each of us falls into bed at night, exhausted and despondent because we have not yet saved the world, the sun is rising on the other side of the planet, and other people are rising to the challenge of protecting what is flourishing and just and beautiful.

On the rotating planet, there’s a great dawn chorus of committed people, millions and millions of them, who rise from their beds or mats or blankets, rustle up coffee or atole or tea, and set off to do the good work of defending the world’s thriving. We can hear the chorus if we listen—the rustle, the creak of doors tin or wood or grass, voices calling out to each other in a thousand languages, the roar of action advancing around the world, awakened like birds by the rising sun.

When night comes now, my friend is able to sleep, and when the dawn comes, she takes up her part of the work that others, exhausted, have laid down. Because my friend is Alaskan singer-songwriter Libby Roderick, her part of the work is to write the songs. Here are some of the words she wrote in “The Cradle of Dawn”—

Sunset in your country, sunrise in mine
Lay down your body, hear mine begin to rise
Sunset in my country, sunrise in yours
I feel you there in the dawn. . . .
There are no promises that we will see the day
The dreams we live for will succeed
But I can promise you that half ‘way round the world
I’ll hold the light up while you sleep

Each of us will emerge full-throated from the dark shelter of our private despair. We will find our cause. We will find our chorus. We will find our courage. And then nothing can stop our collective action—not troopers on a North Dakota highway, not uber-bankers, not sniveling oligarchs or complacent professors. Then nothing can distract us—not football, not shopping, not even composting. There might have been a time when our work for the world was in our private lives, focused on exemplary recycling, or some such. That time has passed. Our work now is in the streets, in the state houses, on the riverbanks, in the college quad, on the path by the flooded field. What we cannot do alone, we can do together.

This is not the end of the small story I offer. This is the beginning.


Kathleen Dean Moore



Kathleen Dean MooreKathleen Dean Moore is a philosopher, writer, and activist from Oregon. Her newest book is Piano Tide, a “savagely funny” novel about a village’s resistance to the sale and export of  water from an Alaskan salmon stream.
Read editorials by Kathleen Dean Moore appearing in Terrain.org: “Because the World is Wonderful” and “To Re-imagine the Place of Humans in the Natural World.”

Header photo of walkway through marsh by tempotempotempo, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Kathleen Dean Moore courtesy Kathleen Dean Moore.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.