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OFF THE TARMAC: Thinking Aloud

Wind turbines by M. Pettis

This summer I realized a dream I have had since I was twenty. But to do so, I had to join “the guilty.” I flew. Not just once. Multiple times. I traveled by train, bus, subway and ferry. I also walked. A lot. All the choices I have made in my life— small house, small car, few appliances and possessions, recycled clothes when possible, working for wild land and creatures, no children— have come from a sense of living lightly on Earth. And this summer I took a different path. I had a deep desire to see beyond my four walls, four compass points, four directions. I intentionally strayed.

Thirty years of work, budget and responsibilities for animals kept me close to home, exploring the Western wildland I love. I cannot complain about that! But I longed to see the places of my dreams and the great art I had studied and love.

While I was gone I did not produce the LYNX in May/June. I hope you will excuse my first lapse in 62 issues. But can one be excused for guilty consumption of fuel when she knows better and does it anyway? There is no justification. And reportage is not absolution.

I arrived in Utah this week from a two month solo backpack across ten nations. In part, my journey was a tracing of the Mediterranean route of Odysseus, whose epic tale I have taught for two decades. It was also a visit to my ancestral homelands— Denmark, Wales and Ireland. I carried home stories of stunning places, welcome companions, 30 or so new watercolors, and deeper lessons I am still fathoming.

One strong, common commitment I found in my new friends, like so many here in Utah, was a dedication to a lifestyle that involves tiny, “Smart” cars (not an Escalade or Suburban in sight!) if not bicycle commuting, avid pursuit
of organic and free range food sources, and slow meals with much conversation. The German, Irish and Scandinavian countryside is dotted with wind turbines. I visited a wholly solar Danish town. Power outlets have tiny off/on switches. Toilets are dual flush/ low flow. Gasoline prices are punitive.

Since I was in Corfu and Sicily when temperatures daily topped 110 degrees F. and island fires raged, in Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland and Wales when crops and towns were flooded by record rainfall, talk focused on global climate change. Scoldings of my country’s fuel consumption, refusal to adopt the Kyoto accord, and dangerous, failed world diplomacy were frequent. It was a plea I heard repeated by many: “What is America doing to slow global warming? It is your appetite for oil that the rest of us must counteract in order to survive.”

Entering the cool caverns of cathedrals built seven hundred years ago, standing in the twilight shadow of Stonehenge, walking the foot-smoothed marble of the Acropolis… given the age of our existence and marvelous creativity of our minds, we can surely grasp that this path we take has only one devastating outcome for our species and all others on Earth. That is the message with which I grapple now and always.

In London, I felt the rumble of one after the next 747 head for Heathrow. The river of humanity arriving in that airport is stunning. That we are far too many and pressing all that once could support us is obvious. That we are losing Earth’s “others” to our human dominance is devastating… and darkly real.

I made poignant connections with teachers in Veng, Denmark and Newry, Northern Ireland. Will our plan for a project of peace between the children of three nations bloom? If good comes of my journey, is it justified?

Why not make this section of the LYNX a dialogue by sharing your “thinking aloud?” Submit your comment via our contact page. We’ll print respectful responses in the next issue. We can learn much by “talking it out.”

Margaret Pettis

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