Hi, I’m Caitlin. Here’s why I started this blog.
At the risk of writing an indulgent personal essay, allow me to say that I have always liked nature. My parents and their friends tell a story about me at five years old, biting into an apple and finding a worm. (Apparently apples used to have worms in them—a subject for another time.) No one knew how a young child might respond to finding a worm in her apple—tears, probably, they thought. They were shocked when my reaction was, “Look! A friend!” I have always liked nature.
Spiders find sanctuary in my home and I rescue them from certain death by drowning. Local squirrels have come to recognize me as the lady with the walnuts and come running when they see me approaching (I know, please don’t tell Parks Department). Plastic bags in the park shudder when I walk by. The compost pile at the local community garden is my second home. The chickens at the farm on Governors Island are my people. I once held a butterfly stuck on an A train running express to 59th Street in my empty reusable mug for an unfortunate amount of time before I could set it free on a leaf at Central Park. I try to care for nature but I have failed in serious ways. It takes more than releasing a house spider into the garden to be a true steward of the planet.
I don’t know when my education on environmental issues began but I remember that by the time my second grade teacher was reading us picture books about rainforest conservation, I already considered myself an environmentalist. Environmental education was scarce in schools, but as a kid I attended summer enrichment programs on environmental issues at the local high school, and my fourth grade class grew a vegetable garden. Eventually I was able to enroll in an Environmental Science course as a senior in high school. It was the only high school or college science course that meant anything to me and it’s a shame I couldn’t take it every year. The class offered some perspective on conservation and stewardship, as well as hands-on learning in our local environment, but I don’t remember in-depth conversations about climate change. I hope Environmental Science is still offered at my old high school, and I hope climate change is on the syllabus.
As my exploration of environmental issues and human rights continued, I think I considered myself a mostly alright human. I tried to reduce. I recycled. I used reusable bags. I composted. I tried not to waste water when I washed the dishes. I tried to share sustainable alternatives with my friends and family. But deep down I felt a gnawing anxiety about the—dare I say it—meaninglessness of my actions. I felt guilty. A lot. I felt guilty when my showers went long. I felt guilty when I threw away a plastic toothbrush. I felt guilty when I used a splash of almond milk at the office. I felt guilty when I ordered take-out and was left with plastic and styrofoam waste. I felt guilty when I bought processed foods at the health food store and sent the packaging to the landfill. I felt guilty when I took a cab instead of walking or riding the subway. I felt sorrow and loss when I let a forgotten piece of chicken go bad in the fridge and I mourned the wasted life of a dead animal. And I guilt-tripped my husband when he brought plastic bags into the house or didn’t rinse out the recycling. Guilt is not an entirely useful emotion, but I was feeling it a lot and putting it on other people. The alternative to eternal guilt seemed to be a lobotomy or adopting a 100% zero-waste lifestyle, one of which seemed too difficult to attempt. Then again, the only worthwhile things are achieved through difficulty.
And so I am trying. Trying to maintain my sanity. Trying to be kind to other humans. Trying to reduce my waste. Trying to reduce my usage of fossil fuels. Trying to grow towards greater awareness alongside other people. Trying to be patient as we reach towards greater sustainability, while remaining anxiously concerned and motivated to address this urgent issue of our age.
This blog is a map of my journey. This is not an instructional manual. I have figured out just about nothing. But I’ll share reflections, things that work for me, and resources that might help you. I still feel guilty and I’m still faltering, but I’m doing this.