Is it possible to create a world where 10 billion people (the estimated number of people on Earth in the year 2100) and nature live sustainably and in harmony with each other? I wondered if Singapore might have some answers for me.
When I left the US for Vietnam more than three months ago, I hadn’t anticipated I’d end up in Singapore for a couple of weeks. I only had a 3-month work visa for Vietnam, so I knew I would likely have to go somewhere to renew it. Other Fulbrighters suggested Singapore for the quick turnaround time on visas at the Vietnamese embassy. I was also curious about this tiny country that is also a very large city of six million people on the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. This is a country that has become a global center for business, commerce and culture, and espouses its commitment to sustainable development goals. But it’s probably most well known among tourists abroad for its gardens, its ‘Supertrees’, and buildings that drip with green foliage in the city center.
I didn’t know it was possible to sink into mud up to your knee caps and still pull yourself out again. But mud at the bottom of a fish pond is fully mixed with water, and apparently, walking around in it can stir up the critters who live there (shrimp, in this case), and give you a chance of catching them with a wicker basket.
I did not imagine that learning traditional fishing techniques of the Mekong Delta would be part of our Fulbright orientation. Especially not when it followed two days of meetings with US Consulate officials, including the US General Consul, Susan Burns, and many of her section chiefs. We were briefed on economics, politics, safety and health. We met with representatives from the Public Affairs section, who are very interested in our work here, building ties with Vietnamese universities. It was truly exciting to learn about Vietnam from the perspective of Americans who have been working here.
I bobbed up and down on the paddle board, alone, far enough from the beach that I could see mountains, engulfed in layers of grey cloud. I was far enough out that it would be an exhausting swim to shore. I rocked to the rhythm of the swells and soaked in the Hawaiian sun. And then I felt it: that little notion of settling into something slow and sweet, of being held and nurtured. It’s a little whisper in the waves, a voice coming through my bones, smiling and also telling me to move closer to shore.
Chest-high pink and red stalks of ginger dot the landscape like tiki torches. They brighten the forest as distant thunder echoes through the valley. Hummingbirds dart between the trees and I’m amazed I don’t get impaled by one of them. This is Rancho Margot, just shy of the eastern side of the Continental Divide in the Cordillera Talamanca, in central Costa Rica. We are only a mile or so from the nearest village, a few miles from one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes, Arenal, and about 20 miles (or a 40 minute drive) from the lively restaurants, resort hot springs, and trinket shops of the bustling tourist outpost of La Fortuna. But it feels as though we are on another planet.
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 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.