Swish, swish. Blue waves soothe my soul, twirling endless patterns of salty white foam. Swirls of Spanish music mingle in the soundscape of my beach perch, mere miles from Biscayne National Park in south Florida. The luring waves keep me from burying my head into the sand.
It’s really what I wish to do, if I may speak frankly. But doing so would not escape reality, so instead I stare into the sea, letting my thoughts flow with the breeze.
Not so long ago we stood on the back of a boat watching our American flag flow in the rain while we voyaged back to the mainland, tired after backpacking on Isle Royale National Park. I’ve seen that flag a thousand times with thousands of American miles travelled on our map. Red, white and blue. What does it mean to you?
Red, White and Blue in between the Parks
We’ve driven through hundreds of dusty towns filled with old odds n’ ends and wary but friendly folks. In one of these towns I saw a child holding a stick in his arms, gesturing as if shooting an automatic rifle. Another time an old Texan who grew up without electricity stopped and asked if we needed help because Andres was laying in the road, trying to get that perfect shot. We’ve seen so much kindness among the broken and disturbing images, but only recently have I stopped to wonder if my blonde hair and blue eyes have anything to do with it?
The Missing Color: Green
You see, color is really on my mind. I could go on to talk about the equality I wish to see happen in this country, dreams that inspired me to create recent artwork, like this painting called One Heart:
But our journey here is about the parks
One thing I realize is how under-represented our natural world is, even with 413 park units. These places are often treated like recreational destinations, rather than ecological necessities. Many people leave parks without understanding the role of nature in our very backyards, in our every day lives.
We treat “nature” as if it were a place to visit, rather than this reality: We are nature. We treat “nature” like a concept in a brand to sell more products, creating catchy terms to “green” our households. Rather than this reality: Green is not a fad, it is us. We are green, made from the same elements found in plants and other animals. That’s not hippie-talk. It’s good old science.
Yet we continue to see ourselves as dictators of our environment, rather than participants of a vibrant cycle of life. One we are quickly destroying in our current human-caused extinction event. (That link leads to a crazy article.) Sometimes I stare into a patch of forest or sea and wonder, what will it take? We have brilliant, creative minds out there capable of crafting new, healthy ways. I know it because I studied it. Whatever my Master’s in Environmental Studies might have done for me, it at least exposed me to the possibilities. They are endless.
But it takes people caring, discussing, sharing. I personally feel stuck, not knowing what to do. And incredibly lonely in a society that values the Kardashians over animal rights.
Sadly, the important conversations are simply not happening.
Completely absent from this past election season, and of little concern to most residents, green is a color reserved for marketing tables.
Beyond the Labels and Cliches
I dream of an America where green is not a fad, or just a park, or a label. I dream of an America where the color green is a symbol of unity with our natural world. Where all beings are treated with respect and dignity. Where the choices we make as a society aren’t fueled by economic interests, money or power.
Do you know what I realized sitting on this beach? It doesn’t matter who is sitting in the white house, no one can take that dream away from me.
I can credit the parks for lighting a green fire within me, a flame of inspiration that I hope you also carry in your heart. Those of us who vote for our (natural) world, we cannot sit back in sadness. We must hold our flames high and do what we can to light other green fires in our communities. No matter how little the effort, every one counts.
Embrace your dream of a diverse red, white and blue. Realize how many colors actually exist in that flag, one built upon the backs of so many people. And most important of them all, the one that binds each of us is green: perpetual symbol of life.
We might face some “huge” hurdles – some growing pains are enormous – but no one can stop us from spreading color into this country with whatever tools we have: art, writing, photography, film, spoken words.
And so I raise my face to the sun and carry on, ever hopeful. How can I not be, surrounded by so much beauty?