It’s the peak of the first real summer travel season in three years, and nearly every other person I know is visiting Italy, posting photos of cappuccinos, cobblestone streets, and cathedrals. My own first summer travel photos are a bit cloudier. A bit more green. They show the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves and curtains of moss and vine. I wanted to visit a cathedral of another sort for my still-in-the-thick-of-COVID pandemic reintroduction to international travel.
(This is a ~10 minute read. If you’re short on time, scroll down to My Travel Manifesto for some tips on reducing your climate impact from travel).
COVID numbers be damned, everyone is traveling this summer. It’s as though two years of cabin fever are sending people on a mad dash out the door to …somewhere. Anywhere.
I admit: I’m guilty of wanting to get back to traveling. I’ve been itchy and irritable, tired of my house, my neighborhood, my city. I’ve taken so many walks in my neighborhood in the past 2+ years, I know exactly where to expect the poppies to come up in the yard at the house down the street. I will also tell you that, as I begin to move around the world again, I’m excited to shift this blog back (mostly) to my original intent: sharing experiences and observations from around the world.
But I wonder: How much does my travel obsession contribute to the ongoing disruption of our global climate? As a climate scientist, can I ethically justify travel? Should I renounce air travel as some scientists, academics, and activists have done?
Or do I fly anyway, then punish myself and hold my head low in climate shame? I know what Greta Thunberg would say. I keenly feel the impact that my generation has had on this planet, even though we were all born into a civilization built on fossil fuel, without any practical way to renounce it.
I felt sick to my stomach when I first heard the SCOTUS decision that overturns Roe v. Wade. I cried. I raged. I cussed up a storm. And then, in the aftermath of that outburst, I felt the weight of the realization that my right to be fully autonomous over my body, over my life, is gone. This verdict means that, because I am a woman, decisions about my health can be made by a politician. That the opinion of a political party will weigh more than that of my doctor or me.
The weight feels like the shadow of someone’s shoe over my head. As a privileged, White woman, who has had all the advantages of education and opportunity, this is a new feeling for me. It is a new feeling precisely because of my cis-gender White privilege. I recognize that losing the right to make decisions about my own health and body gives me a glimpse of the injustices that others have always felt. The shadow of that weighty shoe hangs over so many.
But it’s not any easier knowing that others feel this. Anyone who is not a straight White man has had their basic human rights further undermined by this decision.
I am no stranger to grief. It comes knocking every now and then. Old grief and new grief. If you live long enough, you experience it knocking at your door everyone and then. It’s inevitable.
When grief comes to visit, it’s like walking at the bottom of the ocean. It makes me feel so removed from my everyday life, but at the same time, it’s familiar and comforting. I know that the depth of my grief, the murky, dark pathway we all walk before the sun shines again is one of the measures of love. It can take time to rise back up through those murky waters to the surface again. And down here, at the bottom of the ocean, it’s possible to feel all griefs, all loves, that have come before.
What do you do when all the noise from a world in strife threatens to overwhelm your own voice?
I have long had the habit on New Year’s Eve of writing out a list of all the things I want to do in this life – all the things that motivate me, that pull me forward, that drive me to live deeply. Some of the things on that list are lofty, such as write a book about climate change, and some are simple, such as learn to make risotto or ride my bike in a metric-century. Sometimes I go back to previous year’s lists just to see what things have carried over from one year to the next – just to see: what are the common threads that drive me forward from year to year? What are the big things I can’t let go of?
I haven’t yet written about the day last year when the sky turned black at midday. It was so dark that my garden lights came on in the dim, orange twilight. But it’s August and we’re in fire season again. I find myself thinking about that day again because I’m cooped up at home with the windows closed as another smoke plume moves over Northern Colorado. Last year, we inhaled smoke and ash from late last summer to several weeks into autumn. The fires kept our skies grey for the better part of two months. But I distinctly remember that day just before Labor Day in early September when I braved the smoky air and temperatures over 90F to harvest my garden in preparation for an unseasonably early snow storm.
We’re deep into summer and the winter wonderland photos below might be a bit jarring for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. But this post about a trip to Zion National Park is ready to go out into the world. It’s long overdue. Travel is often my inspiration for blog posts. This past year led me to a lot of closer-to-home discoveries in the natural world – but, also, the lack of motivation to write, as we have all struggled to sort out life in a new version of this dystopian world. But here it is: my first visit to Zion.
I love that my first memories of Zion National Park will always be shrouded in an icy haze. Arriving in a new place after dark – whether it’s a rainforest, a bustling South American city, or a natural cathedral carved through the desert over millions of years – always leaves me disoriented. And then it snowed through the night, covering roads and painting still-bare trees in white. The world felt pillow-soft as I stepped out of my cabin. I walked across the grounds of the lodge, and the fog shifted to give me my first glimpse of a canyon wall. I had no idea how far these walls rose up, but I could feel the ones I couldn’t see – in the stillness, and in that sense of being enclosed and protected.
The last time I flew anywhere was back in November 2019 for a 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.
On my second evening there, after a long day in a working meeting, I arranged to meet a friend at the National Art Gallery on the Capitol Mall. My hotel was roughly within walking distance, but I decided to shave off some time by taking the Metro to the Mall, then walking to the gallery from there.
So, it’s been a rough week. A rough year. Sitting down to write feels like wading through molasses. There is always so much to sift through, that I don’t know whether to voice outrage, frustration, hopes or insights. Do I respond to protests and incomprehensible tweets by world leaders? Or do I let our current global challenges slide to the side and reminisce about the days when we could move around freely? Do I write about my greatest fears for our world or my tentative hope?
Truthfully, I spend a lot of my creative energy these days just trying to do my job – trying to create engaging, meaningful college courses that I teach through a screen – all about weather and climate. This takes place a 5-second walk from where I sleep, and eat, and shower, and think, and live my life. But because of what I teach, what I do each day feels much more meaningful now than ever, even those moments when we delve into the gory mathematical details of directional derivatives and radiative transfer.
But I’m reaching out today because I have a big milestone birthday coming up: the HALF CENTURY MARK. This is a big one right? It’s a big one, but there will be no party, no fancy dinner out, no room full of black balloons and people dancing to greatest hits from the ’80’s. (Don’t buy balloons, anyway. They’re bad for the environment. Not to mention that anything from the 80’s is probably bad for the environment – maybe even the music.)
But there is something that would make this birthday hugely meaningful and special, and I could use your help.
“You want to have everything clean before serving tea,” says my great-aunt Anna as she brushes crumbs from her kitchen tablecloth and sets out the tea stand. She moves slowly, using her cane as she shuffles to the refrigerator to pull out the cream. She’s 98 years old – maybe the only person I know who’s more than twice my age. She’s the only person on this planet allowed to pinch my cheeks. I ask if I can help her with anything, but she shakes her head and keeps pulling dishes out of her cupboard.