What is Left

I grew up in Connecticut. To most, it is the constitution state, the rectangle of quaint towns founded by New York bankers and tended to by their wives. To me, Connecticut is my small town nestled between the chop of long island sound and the marshes fed by the Connecticut River. The town with a Dunkin Donuts on every corner (but the one on Post Road is where the cool kids hang out). The town 20 minutes from rolling farms, each with a single horse and his one red barn. And another 20 minutes from Hammonasset State Park where I camped with my girl scout troop and where I now go to sprint out onto the jetty and pretend I am flying like the gulls of another coast–a shore where no houses lay claim to beaches and where no shipping yards eat into the waves. I grew up in a place whose nature you can tell was once a peaceful beauty, but now is lost in the shuffle of residential life. 

When it was time to go to college, I thought I was through with small town life. How boring, petty, and PG that existence was. Give me adventure! So, I went to a city. During my four years in Boston, I reveled in being able to walk out my door right into cute cafes. I fed on exotic foods and held odd jobs at unexpected places, like the Spanish tequila bar that looked like 50 Shades of Grey meets Day of the Dead. And yet, whenever I came home, I found myself instinctively hitching the kayak to my dad's pickup, driving to the lake, and paddling out into the middle where only the croak of a frog and the croon of a mallard could be heard. I couldn't get enough of this small world, tucked away from civilization. It was a comfort to be in a place that was uninterested in exams or internships, politics or pride. This place simply was; why couldn't I simply be?

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Today, I live in New York City–the big, infested apple. "New York is where you have to go," my professor advised, for that was where I could kickstart my career. And it's true, I am doing what I went to school to do. I am adulting my way through my life one paycheck at a time with my 8 million closest friends and foes. This city of ambition is a sea of development, innovation, and progress–all a person can hope to contribute in their lifetime. Yet here is where I feel the greatest aversion to humankind. Sardined on a subway with my 100 closest neighbors, they don't smell great, but that's not why. The ambition of the metropolis seems increasingly shortsighted. We work long hours to make money to buy things and that's really it. Very few of my 8 million neighbors are doing anything worth doing. And while we count our green papers, the real green stuff that matters is burning before us. 

In college, my trips home were a respite; today they are a life raft. I return home and I sprint out onto the jetty with a new urgency, willing my body to sprout wings that will take me farther from the ground, trying to run away without leaving. Run away from the concrete, from the distraction of ambition that belittles my need to fight for the environment that is crumpling around me. I try not to open my eyes on the jetty. The water I so desperately want to fly over I know is too warm, too high, and too endangered to worry about for fear of paralysis. 

Our world is dying a slow death, which is the cruelest of deaths. It taunts us with a quiet suffering that outlasts generations and is slowly forgotten. And now the sickly patient Earth might be too far gone to save. Like a passerby watching a homeless girl shiver in the cold, we waited for someone to do something as others shouted from apartment windows, "Help her! Listen!" We watched from our heated perch in our fancy furs as the girl's lips turned blue and only then did we hear the shouts from the neighbors; only then did we rush out, banding together with the hopes of saving her. There are those people who have been shouting since the start. Pleading us to see what was happening right before our eyes. There are those strong humans who devote their lives to Earth, to the shivering girl. John Muir, Edward Abbey, Julia Hill, Bill McKibbon and countless others are fighting the good fight and drawing more of my 8 million neighbors to help. These are the people who we have to thank, and always listen to. But Earth is taking too long to die, and people have lives to live in the meantime. Why waste time and money on a reward you will never see? Houses, jewels, and stilettos are far easier to obtain and much more fun to show off. Saving Earth is much harder. 

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On my most recent trip home, I took my dog for a walk along my favorite path in the woods. We passed that rock that looks like a nose. My brother and I used to climb the nose and my father would yell, "ACHOO" and we would jump into his arms below. My dog ran through a pit of mud ahead. The wooden plank bridge was still there, but the water was not. We mounted the next small hill and looked out on a pristine, expansive...housing development that had eaten the field I ran through as a girl. Everywhere I looked the wood disappeared into backyards. Our walk was now over about two miles before it used to be. My childhood had been eaten by population. I trudged through the leaves to go home, unable to find peace in nature's simplicity. Nothing is simple anymore. 

I am scared that one day, I will go back home and the marshes will be dry, the egrets and herons gone to a place untouched by man, if such a place exists. I am afraid that I will come home and see the highways have grown, the trees cut down, the jetty stretching out into a desert instead of a sea. I am scared that one day, I will have nowhere left to go. 

Kiersten UteggComment