A couple weekends ago, I sat on the bank of the Cuyahoga River and watched a deer wade across. It felt like an honor, to witness nature behaving the way it does without humans around. This doe stood at the edge of an outcrop of trees for at least three minutes eyeing us and watched as my partner and I sat stone still. Once she believed it was safe, she stepped into the water. I thought she was just getting a drink, but she stepped across methodically, navigating the flow of the water, up past her belly, and leapt up over the bank on the other side.
This was extraordinary in and of itself, and made so much more so when you consider that just 50 years ago no living organisms existed in this water. The Cuyahoga River is known for tragically catching fire in 1969, sparking the environmental movement. This wasn’t even the first time the river had burned. The famous photo in Time magazine that year was actually taken during a previous fire in 1952.
The 1969 fire came at a special time- just after Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring was published, raising awareness about pesticides and the impact of commercial agriculture on wildlife. The fire was also featured in Time magazine‘s new Environmental Section, galvanizing the environmental movement, eventually leading to the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tragedy spurs action. When things become unbearable we are forced to deal with them. It’s a sad reality for humanity to be so reliant on our routines that it often takes true discomfort for us to make the changes we need to.
Are there small issues in your life that are calling you to action before they become tragedies? We practice mindfulness to become aware before things are on fire. Living skillfully requires honesty about our pain and willingness to address it.
But isn’t there such reassurance in knowing that nature, and we as natural beings, can heal? It takes time, courageous change, and coming to terms with ourselves to begin the process of transformation, but I know that if the Cuyahoga can welcome back fish, plants, and our doe friend, anything is possible.