Rooting Into Place

I live in Eugene, Oregon, within Kalapuya Ilihi, the traditional lands of the Kalapuya people of which they were forcibly dispossessed by the US government in order to give the land to settler colonialists who eventually tried to establish Oregon as a white supremacist utopia, the legacy of which results in Oregon having one of the smallest Black populations in the country. I live surrounded by neighbors that include firs, cedars, and oaks; manzanita, trillium, and camas; rosy conks, death caps, dacrymyces, and dozens of other fungi; robins, jays, hummingbirds, and gold finches; mason bees and stink bugs; and of course the ubiquitous deer and turkeys that roam the hills through town.

I also live in what has been dubbed the worst city in the nation for seasonal, pollen-induced allergies. We generally earn this dubious honor due to the many grass seed farms in the area (a pox upon ye, lawns!) but the pollen that turns my springs into a sleepy, snuffly, sneezy misery is the tree pollen. This year, with the pollen effects cropping up in early February, several people sent me this article, explaining a new study that confirms that global warming is making seasonal pollen allergies worse. The gist is that, as the world warms, pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer and, for added fun, more carbon imbuing the air makes plants release more pollen as a response.

This is my home. The place I have chosen to make my life. I acknowledge its dark history and other limitations even as I love it. I am invested in caring for this place and being part of the communities that live here. Which is one reason why I so loved All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. This collection includes essays and poems—all written by women, most of them BIPOC—making specific points even as the their voices mingle together like a Greek chorus telling us what we need to know but may not be able to see on our own. The planet is dying. It is being strangled and boiled by our capitalism’s logics of perpetual growth and the dominance ideology of patriarchy and white supremacy. And people have as much to suffer and lose as do insects and frogs, monarch butterflies and coastlines. Even I, nestled against the hills in this beautiful, weird valley, am already feeling its effects, not only in the pollen, but in the increasing temperature, early spring, and devastating wildfires. Imagine how much scarier, overwhelming, and urgent it feels for farmworkers, those living on coastal deltas, the entirety of island nations.

This book has, I believe, an entry point for everyone (except for, I suppose, outright climate change deniers). It is organized into eight categories: Root, Advocate, Reframe, Reshape, Persist, Feel, Nourish, and Rise. It contains everything from concrete policy solutions to how to build better homes and cities, how to recenter communities, how to reconfigure our society’s toxic attributes, and why it matters to march and call and demonstrate.

All We Can Save does not focus on comfort or hope but it does emphasize all the beautiful, wonderful, amazing things we can still save and that’s reason enough to try. As the editors write in the conclusion, “So what can I do? It’s an increasingly prevalent question, which is a very good thing, but the answers offered are often trite, consumerist, and incomplete. And often the question should be: What can we do? How can we depart this perilous path? These are questions to live into every day for the rest of our lives.”

This is a feminist book but that does not mean it is only for women. I urge men to read it, as well as women. It’s a great volume for a book club or reading groups, and the new organization that is grown up around it has guidance for reading in circles. Last, All We Can Save shows us, reminds us, that we are not alone in this. It can be done. And it’s worth doing. Together.

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