I am a journalist. I should know better than to tip-toe across the journalist-subject divide. Because I know what journalists do.
They get other people to do and say things they later regret. (Or as Joan Didion said: “That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”)
Not only did I voluntarily become the sacrificial New Age lamb, tiptoeing and tromping in front of the camera for French TV, I felt up a tree…blindfolded. I asked a flower’s permission if I could connect with it before rubbing it’s felty leaves. I stood alongside a woman named Hyacinthe and a man named Sunbeam and consented to renaming myself Sparrow.
Hello France! Watch the daffy Californian engage in a nefarious New Age ritual. How did I — a journalist, who, I repeat, should know better — fall so far so fast?
I’ll tell you why.
About a year and a half ago I wrote a feature for San Francisco Magazine on eco-anxiety. Yes, it seems crazy that I — Madame Neuroticmama — would be anxious about anything! (Ha ha ha.) But thanks be to Gore, who went all eco-Cassandra on us, ruining the pleasure of all these balmy San Francisco February days we’ve now accepted as normal, I found myself frequently waking up in terror about this inconvenient end of the world (and somehow, a man-made apocalypse is inconvenient…’cause if we had just been more conscious and less consumeristic and piggish and thoughtless, our children’s children would still know what it is to have snow in winter). It would be an ending that — I wonder if this is worse than nuclear devastation, which is as brutal as it is quick — wouldn’t end quickly.
It would be more of an excruciating, heart-breaking, fast-melting, slow-burning, environmental apocalypse.
One thing led to another.
A French reporter who wanted to do a story on eco-psychology couldn’t find many eco-neurotics in California who were willing to go on film. So, why not. I volunteered myself to be France’s poster girl for American eco-neurosis. After all, I’m happy to be open about my anxieties since the very reason I wrote the article is because I have been so freaked out about the planet and wanted to know a) Were others as freaked out as I was? b) I they weren’t, why the hell not? How they couldn’t possibly be besides themselves with the terribleness of it all and how can they live with themselves as they idle in their Land Rover in the carpool lane?
That’s why I write most articles. I want to know: it just me, or is there something going on that wasn’t before? Or again, to conjure up the great Didion: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Is everyone else as afraid for the world as I am?
So there I am last Saturday, having consented to Monsieur French Journalist to be filmed attending a workshop in Golden Gate Park on how to reconnect with nature.
The idea is that so many of us urban dwellers, who live most the sunny hours of our days cubicle-bound and fluorescent-lit, are so disconnected from the natural world that we can’t feel part of it. If you separate yourself from anything — a tree, a person — then you don’t care so much. And if you don’t care as much, then it’s not so sad a thing if that weeping willow is later milled as paper for your derriere.
This seminar, a group of about eight middle-aged white people, was to help us bridge that rift. To once again go back to the garden — yes, that garden — before there were cell phones and Cinnabun (TM) franchises. To be alive and aware as one who is part of nature rather than another of some 6-billion hapless onlookers who are either helplessly (gotta drive to work, gotta feed the kids) participating in its devastation or a heartless butcher of its bounty. (Stay with me here. This gets cheerier in the next paragraph.)
Sure, I make fun of the New Agey-ness of it because I felt self-conscious being so predictably Californian, so touchy-feely with the lawn. But here’s the thing. After 2.5 hours of consciously communing with the natural world, I came away feeling connected and softer and less in free-fall despair out about our planet. Maybe somewhere in the Amazon they’re burning down a football field’s worth of rain forests an hour. But I realized in that afternoon, in a moment while I looked without distraction at this one noble, big-barked tree, that the world might be burning up and melting and falling into the sea.
At least, though, there is this one tree in front of me. And I loved it and touched it and felt, for that moment, at peace with the world. It’s been so long that I’ve felt anything but very, very nervous. I mean, come on, the Boy Scouts sold thousands of acres of preserved wilderness to developers. Next thing you know, the Sierra Club will be clubbing seals.
The reporter asked me something to the effect of, “Will this solve the world’s environmental woes if we all hugged trees?”
“Of course not,” I sort of laughed, embarrassed. We need legislation. We need bold steps. But it doesn’t hurt, the hug, that is.
I know it’s so retro. So earnest. So seventies to be hugging a tree. It’s the environmental equivalent of the original and icky and all-too-hirsute Joy of Sex. So the hell what.
Come on, just try it. Hug him. Or go ahead and stroke him in a very suggestive way. (So much better to feel up a tree then to fell it.) Because after that, you’ll never look at your new wooden deck in quite the same way.