Essay From a Kosmos Reader

Hopeful Essay Penned by Firelight

May I begin my hopeful essay with negatives? We can’t ignore their reality. Can we just get them out of the way? We all know them.

Or do we?

We know about the bees and the bugs.

In my retirement, I am engaged in bee conservation. Unheralded in the media, recent studies found native bee decline up to 90 percent in some places around the world, including parts of the northeastern United States. I remember when you couldn’t drive on the highway without your windshield smearing with dead bees and bugs.

We know about the ocean.

This is the kind of information you can know is true but still can’t believe. An island of plastic in the Pacific, growing daily, the size of Texas? Texas? The ocean kelp off northern California, where I live, is now considered decimated beyond recovery by acidity and invasive urchins. The urchins that have eaten the kelp to extinction are now dying for lack of food. As are the otters whose population exploded feasting on urchins.

We know about the birds.

People seem to understand about the birds. The loss of birds illuminates the big picture. I find even today’s young adults remember there were more birds. More songbirds. Even the annoying starlings; there once were many more. The same pesticides killing insects are hurting the birds outright, and again, by destroying their food. All birds eat insects at some stage of their lifecycle.

And many insects eat other insects at some stage of their lifecycle. And so goes the spiral of extinctions.

It seems difficult to get the negatives out of the way.

What questions started this? Is the needed transformation gaining? Do I have hope for our future?

I am writing in the harsh light of a lantern and my blazing wood stove on the fourth night of a “public safety” blackout currently forecast to last for three more days. I am not near a fire or an evacuation zone. But that could change as quickly as a new fire report.

I ventured out this morning for coffee, using precious gas. The only coffeeshop open had a huge line. The crowd was relaxed, even jovial, patient. Everyone understands the roar of the generator; the menu is limited. We are mostly locals. The highway reopened yesterday, and evacuations to the south were lifted, so many refugees left. Talk is of the gas shortage, new evacuations to the east, the latest rumor on when power will be restored. Everyone is angry at the utility company.

The gas shortage is especially dangerous. We live on a land island. Ocean to the west, mountains to the east. Rivers and floodplains to the south, the no man’s land of the Lost Coast to the north. There are only two roads “over the hill,” as we call it. Only two gas stations open. In an evacuation, there would not be enough gas to fill enough tanks to get us all “over the hill.” Nonetheless, we feel safe. We are at the ocean; this is not a fire zone.

We all know that Sunday night Sonoma County was evacuated all the way to the ocean. First. Time. Ever.

I drove home feeling resigned, fearless, making the best of it.

That’s what we do here. We often have lengthy outages during winter storms. For several years, the outages in my town have been hours, not days, but more remote areas of our rural county are seldom as lucky.

Later in my day, I talked to a family member who was outside the fire area anxiously monitoring news. I heard for the first time of people pelting utility workers with rocks.

I will say I was stunned. But that does not convey the complexity of my feelings. Appalled. Scared.

But here, on our island, we know the line workers are the heroes. Right?

Or am I fooling myself?

Why is it so hard for people to understand how things really work? To recognize who are the real criminals in this disaster?

Do I have anything more than questions?

Where is the hope in this hopeful essay?

For a current volunteer project, I drafted an article on gardening to support bees and shared it with an associate for proofreading. They returned it completely rewritten. Every bit of urgency gone—replaced by a breezy style and the assertion that helping the bees is easy.

I told them impatiently we will not use the word ‘easy’ in the article.

Their critique was that my copy was too insistent; it implied the reader “should” act; that we must act to save the bees. The “should” word is one of dubious repute, often deserved. But it did not appear in the article. I realized during the discussion they were resisting the very idea of a moral imperative, a responsibility to act. As I believe we have.

On a recent Friday, I staffed a bee information booth at a city block party in Fort Bragg, population 7,300, nearby my home. Interest was high, many visitors, many conversations. Toward the end of the evening, a local rancher, definitely not retired and in his late 80s, approached and asked, “What can I do to help bees?” “You can stop using Roundup,” I answered quickly. For a second, he looked like I’d slapped him. Was I too flippant?

“I’ve already done that,” he replied, “What else can I do?”

The ensuing conversation showed me one man’s awareness and concern for bees—and his clear understanding of their importance to life as we know it. Against my assumptions, he has already taken action on his concern.

We only move forward by action.

We should hope. Hope is imperative.

And as long as I see people ready to act, I have hope.

The prompt that inspired this may await its answers, but I drafted this in the semi-dark in a flash of emotion, and I will brook no rewrite.

About Cornelia Reynolds

Cornelia Reynolds is devoting her retirement to bee conservation. She is currently studying entomology and developing a pollinator sanctuary on an acre in Mendocino County, California. She is chair of Fort Bragg Bee City USA, and a director of Bee Bold Mendocino, a nonprofit dedicated to making Mendocino a bee friendly county.

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