I haven’t read the news in many weeks. This after deciding that hum of anxiety that had become a steady chorus, pulsing through hours waking and chasing me into my sleep—until I was waking with an already throbbing heart—should probably be listened to. October was there and waiting, and I walked silently into her arms of golden leaves and crisp shadows. The apparitions are so bright and fleeting now, short hours before the nightly curtain falls and I am left standing in chilly starlight, skin still craving sunlight. A month of worshipping yellow and tracing the descent of leaves and standing again and again, humbled and hushed, in the presence of mule deer: they startled from their grazing and I startled from my walking, two species staring across a void both mysterious and familiar. Sometimes a tail flickers and they gallop, and sometimes a doe stands steadfast, ears stretching wide, staring at me incessantly as if to ask, “Who are you?” And I don’t know the answer.
Weeks of just hearing headlines from other people, and still I cry every day for the knowledge of those and all previous headlines. I have accumulated more bad news in the past year than I would rightly be able to process in a lifetime, not to mention everything that came before. The backlog of mourning seems to stretch from here to the nearest star, and yet for some time I continued in a grim trance of plucking more headlines to cram in every corner of my head—until it was hemorrhaging information and statistics and grief.
I don’t know how to live with the knowledge the oceans are dying. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of runaway climate change. I don’t know how to live while millions of children starve. I don’t know how to live having read the true story of my own nation’s inception, of torn scalps and stolen children and lies and lies and lies. I don’t know how to live with its ongoing imperialist thrusts, the constant numb awareness of drone bombs and severed limbs and a mother being comforted by her dying eight-year-old daughter. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of old forests tortured and rivers suffocated, of fish packed in fetid aquafarms and sows unable to turn in their cages. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of sweatshops and coltan mines and “child brides” and shredded clitorises. I don’t know how to live knowing of scalped mountains and the corpses of bee hives and 60 harvests left. I don’t know how to live knowing I may be one of the last generations of my species to do so.
I wasn’t taught how to live with these things. I wasn’t even taught these things. I just pulled back the curtain and instead of a bumbling old man, found a very sophisticated sociopath, whose abuses are now so normalized and pervasive they are hard to name. But we have named them with some degree of success: Patriarchy. Capitalism. Ecocide. Human supremacy. White supremacy. At the core of each, a hemorrhaging wound. We call them economies and social arrangements and even religions, but in essence I see illness, fatal illnesses of spirit that spread through trauma, rippling through generations and across continents.
I don’t know how to be well here, truly well. I only know to survive with some integrity I must return to the mountain and listen to the nonhuman voices. To remain somewhat well I must cry a lot, and give thanks, and journey to heal my own ancestral line, and try to find an answer for the mule deer. My mind finds this insufficient but my heart does not. This heart that told me to delete Facebook and burn sage every night, the heart that always returns to the mountain.
I lay on her rocks and listen to their memories; I caress her furry mullein leaves with my fingers; I talk to her trees and overhear their whispers with the wind. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of the human story, but I still know how to do these things. My cells know. My feet somehow remember. My throat sometimes starts to form an old song with a meandering melody, as I walk among the chamisa shrubs that are now pale crowns of seeds that cling to the trail of my scarf.
And I cry again because I know so little, and my heart is so broken, and no one taught me how to live; and yet in these moments I have everything, and more than I could have imagined. At the center of the wound is that which is deeply shattered, and yet beside this lives something forever intact. Not even the human species could break what is most intact, though for some reason many have tried. At the center of the wound, the Earth still waits for us; the tears pool and wait for a moment to fall; those things our cells remember call out to be remembered. None of the headlines in all the world will tell you this, though they might bring you here.