It’s been getting harder and harder these days to be positive. To dig down deep and find reasons to get up and continue doing what I love best. I am an environmentalist. I do conservation work, specifically guiding under-served youth by taking them out in nature. I teach them how to appreciate the outdoors in their own capacity. I teach them about climate change and the importance of caring for our lands, and the spaces that many of us hold dear in our hearts.
In the last two years, it has felt like the planet is under attack. Frankly, it is. The attack however, has been going on for decades, and has gone widely ignored or unnoticed for far longer. Recently though, as more and more regulations have been rolled back, as sanctions meant to protect our Great Lakes have been lifted, as large-scale polluters have been given carte blanche, and as the federally protected lands I love have been reduced and carved away to allow larger interests to use for their personal gain, I find it very difficult to keep myself charged and motivated.
How am I supposed to explain to these students that our efforts often aren’t enough? What kind of hope does that give them? These kids need hope. So many of them never had any to begin with. Their lives are hard, and the fact that they make it to school is a small miracle in itself.
I have students who have dropped out, and popped back in. I have students who have lives of horror you cannot imagine, horrors that are just their everyday lives. My mission has always been to give them a place of solace in the outdoors. To learn techniques that ground them by teaching them coping mechanisms that are free and simple to utilize.
The students I work with are amazing. They surprise me every day with their quick wit, intelligence, fortitude, and desire to work towards their goals. Their hearts can be so kind despite being sometimes broken. They have come up with their own service projects to help others at their schools, to protect wildlife habitat, and have spent countless hours in the woods with me just learning to breathe deeply and be aware. They overcome every day and struggle through. I have realized that I must do so as well.
So how do I find the hope in this catastrophic world? How do I explain to them the atrocities that are going on, while still trying to instill in them a sense of purpose and resolve to keep trying? The hope, I have found, has to come from within myself. I have to find joy in my life and magnify it so I can radiate it out towards others. The joy has to come from being with people, and from spending time in the spaces that make me feel connected to the earth. My joy simply has to exist so I can share it. It doesn’t always matter where it comes from.
When I am happy despite the dire news daily of climate change, despite the devastating wreckage Mother Nature is forced to enact due to human activity, my students are taught something important. That when things are beyond your control and you are doing the best you can, it’s okay to still be happy. You HAVE to be. The light that shines within me is not a light that is ignorant of the state of things. It is a light that shines because I have accepted that I am doing what I can and I deserve to love the little things.
The beauty I find in my partner’s strengthening love, or the rays of pride that make me tear up as I watch my daughter grow to be a strong and independent person… that’s where I get my hope. When I eat a vegetable from a garden I have tended, when the creatures in my yard use the habitat I have created for them, and when a rare bird comes to enjoy the feeders of suet I set out for them, these are the bits of joy.
The passion I hold for the work that I do will come out every time I speak. It always does. It’s okay to show the sadness within that passion too. But the hope must exist. I am trying so hard to continue showing that hope to others. Find your hope, and share it.
We could all use it right now.
-Andrea Foster, Community Programs Manager- Little Forks Conservancy