What Is Our Relationship to the Earth?

Maria ChristianSeptember 22, 2016Climate ChangeThe Big Question

Late April, 2010. I am lying on my back. We are so high up in the mountains that the snow is nowhere near melting.

Back home the temperature is in the low 80s. Up above us the stars are blinking, cold and clear, in the black sky. I am 10 years old.

As my teacher tells us the names of the lights in the sky, I feel my heart soar and my stomach drop. The sky is so big it seems to swallow us. I want to be swallowed. I want to fall forever from this tiny blue light into the darkness.

February, 2011. Another clear cold night. The moon is unnaturally bright. In the backyard, I look up. The clouds are icebergs in the arctic sea. My heart soars and my stomach drops. Up there, the arctic is frozen in a reflection. That night I dream of a golden girl who tells me that I must survive.

My relationship with earth, as you can see, is tenuous. No matter where I am, no matter how beautiful, I long for the stars. The closest one can come to that kind of infinity is to look across the ocean at the horizon. That feeling of fear and awe follows me; the one place I want to reach is the one place I cannot.

When I was younger we learned about “keystone species.” These animals keep their ecosystems balanced by their presence. For instance, beavers; they provide a home for all kinds of other animals. This fascinated me. I started to draw complicated webs, weaving the different creatures in my neighborhood together with Crayola lines. I started to think that perhaps humans are a kind of keystone species. After all, we fill the bird feeders and found wildlife preserves. But what about animals going extinct?

The dual nature of man was too much. Having a black-and-white view of the world, I began to wonder if humans were essentially good or essentially evil. Was it wrong to kill even a mosquito? I tried to become a vegetarian, but, being eight, I liked chicken nuggets far too much for that.

Earth is not, for me, a source of inspiration. It is a source of confusion, of terror, of vile fascination. It is maddeningly chaotic. It is ugly where it should be beautiful and beautiful where it should be ugly. I understand animals and people and trees, but I cannot understand their song. I don’t know why a baby cries when it sees the light for the first time. I cannot know the underlying poetry of the world, though I can make stabbing, brutish guesses. The guesses become stories. None as good as when I first feel them in my bones.

The snow is falling as I write this, heavy on the branches — a slow, deadly thing. Yet it is beautiful and pure. The earthly paradox is the most beautiful things are poisonous. The stars look so much simpler from down here. But I know in my heart they are not. The stars, whoever lives beyond them, are as dangerously beautiful and volatile as us. In the meantime, perhaps it is better to keep this one, small, blue world safe.

My dream in this world is to inspire people’s hearts to soar and stomachs to drop. I want lonely people to come to me so I can tell them the fractured stories in our bones. I am always searching for the loneliest souls. I know there must be people who feel homesick for places they’ve never been; people who miss stars they’ve never touched.

As snow falls, suffocating the plants asleep below the soil, as a bird chokes out the dying note of its final song, as the world spins eternally around a white-hot star, as everything rots and is reborn, there is light.

I may never know where my dream of the golden girl came from or why I long for ice and stars. This world, and how I fit into it, is mysterious. Some answers come with time, others never do. Most often, being alive seems to be a great triumph. It is a beautiful thing to survive.

No matter how vile, how needlessly cruel the world seems, fire glows and the sun burns. Where there is violence and evil, in the cracks of concrete, a flower grows. The soil and the sand are made of the dead. Yet they live. The paradox grows into a tangled knot that no one could ever untie.

The best we can do is tell stories, sing songs, and look up at the stars.

Maria Christian is in 11th grade at Maine Connections Academy. She likes art, music, and outer space. Someday, she’d like to discover life on another planet — failing that, she’d like to write a book.