The Radical Act of Hope

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

In the final Saturday panel at the Geography of Hope conference last weekend in Point Reyes Station, California, one speaker said something to the effect that "hope" was worthless in the face of the catastrophe of global climate change. That we couldn't sit around and simply hope things would get better, we needed to act in bold ways, to make radical changes, and we needed to act now. I agree that we need to act in bold ways and now.

River of Hope created at the end of the conference. Graphics by Laurie Durnell & Kathy Evans of The Grove Consultants, Intl.; Sirima Sataman of Ink.Paper.Plate Studio River of Hope Declaration. Graphics by Laurie Durnell & Kathy Evans of The Grove Consultants, Intl.; Sirima Sataman of Ink.Paper.Plate Studio

Global climate change is happening faster than we figured, and it urgently asks us to re-imagine our relationship to each other and to this earth. It asks, as did the "River of Hope" declaration created from words and phrases supplied by attendees, what/who we love too much to lose (a feeling), and what we will do to defend what/who we love (an action).

I do not agree that "hope" is necessarily a worthless concept, one that gives us permission to be complacent in the midst of the need for action. I couldn't articulate why at that point though.

I thought about hope and why I believe it is relevant to our response to global climate change on my long trek home from western Marin County, first back to San Francisco to spend time with Molly and Mark, who are part of the family I love too much to lose, even as I am vividly aware from personal experience that their lives could end at any moment.

Louella, chalking ephemeral words....

I continued thinking about that rejection of hope as a useful response to global climate change as I drove south to meet my friend Louella at a park on the shores of an estuary near Redwood City.

Louella brought a box of sidewalk chalk with her so we could write haiku. We picked a prominent stretch of walking/biking path, composed our haiku, and proceeded to "write large."

We ran the words of one haiku down a hill the way a stream of water would run.

winter that was not
rain comes late--dissolving
ephemeral words

Dissolving.... Haiku writ large....

Our scribing a haiku on the path in a public park was an expression of desire, an incantation for rain in the face of California's catastrophic drought. On the surface, it's hopeful in the sense the speakers at the Geography of Hope conference vocally disdained.

But if that haiku becomes a way to interpret the urgency of the drought and climate change, the urgency of our making changes in our individual and collective lives, then the haiku is a beginning, a catalyst. It becomes "hope" in the active sense.

I believe in hope as an active practice. A practice that allows us to create positive change in our lives through our actions, small and large. I believe in the enduring power of the kind of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about in "Hope is the Thing With Feathers (314)":

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

Mojave Desert annual wildflower, another 'ki I love to much to lose. Mojave Desert annual wildflower, another 'ki I love to much to lose.

I believe in that never stopping, that persistence. That through the active practice of continuing to love this world and 'ki community of lives, human and so many more, we can make the kinds of difficult shifts we need to respond to global climate change and other crises.

Love, as I wrote in The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes & Sandhill Cranes, my little book with photographer Glenn Oakley, is our species' best gift:

What we do best comes not from our heads but our hearts, from an ineffable impulse that resists logic and definitions and calculation: love. Love is what connects us to the rest of the living world, the divine urging from within that guides our best steps in the dance of life.

The new moon and Venus tonight--and I love this world too much to lose any of these kin.... The new moon and Venus tonight--and I love this world too much to lose any of these kin....

If acting in a hopeful way unleashes the fierce and radical power of that deep, never-stopping terraphilic love for this battered planet and the lives we share 'ki with, let's make use of it. Hope as a spur for action--bring it on!