Last autumn my mom called to announce the birth of my brother's fourth child and her eighth grandchild, a granddaughter.
"What's her name?" I asked.
"Willa" replied my mom.
"Oh! Like the author..."
"Willa Catheter," she interrupted. My mom has a habit of mixing up words.
"Not catheter! That's used in medicine. It's CATHER!" I laughed into the phone.
I finally read Willa Cather's O Pioneers! I enjoyed it immensely: her vivid descriptions, the way she weaves nostalgia with merciless truth-telling, and the shocking direction the book takes towards the end. Who knew life on the prairie in the late 1800s could be so riveting? But the real genius of the book is the way Cather describes the land: "It was still a wild thing that had its ugly moods; and no one knew when they were likely to come, or why."
Yesterday a storm blew through with winds so strong our windows shook violently in their frames. I braced myself for the sound of shattered glass. When it was over (the windows still intact), Micah returned home and told me a city block in Laramie had to be evacuated because of a broken gas line. The Red Cross was called to set up an aid station. "How does an underground gas line end up damaged?" I asked. "I have no idea."
There was also the rather dramatic announcement a couple weeks back of a mountain lion in a Laramie city park. An alert went out telling people to avoid the area. So of course great hoards of people jumped in their cars and drove over to Undine Park. "It wound up being a huge problem for the police who found themselves having to keep the people away," said a woman in my yoga class. She explained how the mountain lion, a cub, was quite naturally searching for territory and would find its way out of town again. All he needed was to be left alone.
A few days before the mountain lion incident Micah and I were on a hike in Curt Gowdy State Park near Laramie. We were on our way back from the Hidden Falls when we came upon a woman lying on the side of the trail, surrounded by a small gaggle of concerned people. A man and a young woman frantically searched for cell reception before finally putting in a call to 911. "She dislocated her knee," said the man. Micah and I quickly hiked the remaining twenty minutes to the trail head parking lot, where Micah was able to pinpoint the woman's location on a map for the assembling search and rescue team. A man sitting nearby in an old, red suburban asked, "Hey, do you know what's going on?" Micah explained. "That's too bad," sighed the man. "And all she needed was a walking stick."
A damaging wind storm, mountain lion on the move, and spectacular search and rescue mission are just some of the signs that the land is still a wild thing. It still has its ugly moods. But unlike Cather's time we know exactly why they come. The science of global warming means we can no longer speak of the land as some mysterious, moody enigma.
Since Trump's disastrous decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord I've included a daily prayer petition in my journal "for the protection and redemption of creation." I know this prayer is pointless unless it is one that goes beyond words, taking life in our daily actions. In the past few years, Micah and I reduced our house footprint, sold a car, set up two raised bed vegetable gardens, and planted several bushes of salvia for the bees, bugs, and butterflies. But just as I begin to believe our small acts might actually amount to something, I open up The Washington Post to find yet another article on how the EPA chief is pushing a governmentwide effort to question climate change science. It's hard to keep believing in one's small acts in the face of overwhelming and collective assaults on the environment.
But what choice do we have? So, I write the check to the Natural Resource Defense Council. I continue to pour buffalo compost made in Colorado on our salvia as bees buzz around it. I count it as a small victory when the college student we've hired to house-sit for us in a couple of weeks proudly informs us she rides her bike everywhere. And other victory when I overhear a spirited conversation among a group of friends about how they plan to start buying ethically raised meat from a nearby ranch. I have to believe these small acts, added together, are an answer to a prayer: "for the protection and redemption of creation."