Margaret Renkl | Mother’s Day Can Be Painful. It Can Also Reconnect Us to the World. – The New York Times

“A contributing Opinion writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

Mother’s Day is still nearly a week away, but there are buds on the antique rambling rose that my mother rooted for me from her grandmother’s rose, and it will be in full bloom by Sunday, as it always is on Mother’s Day. My husband will make brunch. Our adult children will come over, and we’ll bring my husband’s 92-year-old father over, too, because he lives for family gatherings and has felt the loss of them more acutely than any of us. We’re all vaccinated now, but we won’t soon forget how it feels to be kept apart.

Mother’s Day has always cast a shadow of sadness for me, even before the pandemic turned every day into a memento mori. My paternal grandmother died before I was born, when Dad was only 24. He always threw himself into making Mother’s Day brunch a special event for Mom — and for her mother and grandmother — but he never stopped mourning his own mother, the one for whom I am named.

So I learned early on what a loaded holiday this can be. It’s terrible for those who mourn a mother now gone, and also for those whose mothers were just not equipped to nurture a child. It’s terrible for women who desperately wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, and also for women who didn’t want to be mothers but are too often vilified for that perfectly reasonable choice. It’s beyond terrible for women who have lost a child.

I have family and friends who struggle on Mother’s Day for all these reasons. I think of them when I think, as I inevitably do on this day in May, of how much I miss my mother. The world has enough suffering in it without inventing a holiday that causes so much pain, and I would gladly eradicate it from the calendar if I could.

But painful as it can be, Mother’s Day also reminds me of how wondrously motherhood unites me with so much of the animal kingdom. My youngest child outgrew being a hip baby 20 years ago, but I have to stop myself from reaching out for a crying infant in the checkout line, and I swear I feel the urge to protect the hatchlings in my nest box as deeply as their mother does. We are partners in this enterprise of bringing baby bluebirds into the world, she and I, no matter that she doesn’t know it.

The need to protect and nurture young is a biological imperative shared by a surprising array of creatures. Ambivalence about the holiday notwithstanding, I will gladly play every cute-animal video and click through every cute-animal slide show that crops up on the internet at this time of year. Who could resist the lioness purring as she licks her cub’s belly, or a fox carrying her kit to safety by the scruff of its neck, or a giant-taloned hawk carefully nudging her curious eyas back beneath the safety of her breast?

I’m especially fond of the nurturing animals that we don’t associate with nurturing at all: the wolf spider carrying her tiny spiderlings on her back, the alligator tenderly carrying her baby in her mouth, the timber rattlesnake protectively encircling her hatchlings, the broad-headed skink silently guarding her eggs in the dark.

And as difficult as it is to stand witness to another’s grieving, it comforts me to be reminded of the universality of grief, to remember that we are not alone in our suffering, or in where we look for solace. I think of Rosamund Young’s delightful memoir, “The Secret Life of Cows,” and her story of the grieving young mother who sought her own mother for comfort, from three fields away, after the stillbirth of her calf. I think of the orca carrying her dead calf for 17 days, across a thousand miles of ocean, because she could not bear to let the baby go. (Last fall she gave birth again, this time to an apparently healthy calf.)  . . . . “

DL:  Thank you Margaret Renkl.   There are also  189 comments, many of which are extraordinary.

Margaret Renkl | We Were Born to Be Wild – The New York Times

” . . . . During my childhood in the 1960s, it was common to see people casually throwing trash out of their car windows, but these days human indifference to the natural world tends to be better hidden, even from ourselves.

Market forces have worked hard to make sure we don’t notice the depredations we’re complicit in: the microplastics that pollute our waterways every time we wash a fleece jacket or a polyester blouse, the toilet tissue that’s destroying the boreal forest, the poisons we spray on our yards — up to 10 times as much, per acre, as farmers use — because they are marketed to us as benign “applications.”

As I waited in line at a garden center last week, I listened to the store owner telling another customer about a “treatment” she could spray on every bush and tree in her yard to “take care of” any kind of bug that might be feeding on them. He didn’t tell her it would also kill butterflies and bees and obscure bird grasshoppers. He didn’t tell her she would also be poisoning the songbirds that would feed on the poisoned insects or the predators that would feed on the weakened songbirds.

Perhaps she’ll remember making a “lantern” from a Mason jar when she was a child, and then maybe she’ll wonder why there are no lightning bugs for her own children to catch. But I wouldn’t bet on it.   . . . “

Margaret Renkl | It’s Thanksgiving. Come On Home. – The New York Times

Credit…Ellen Surrey

“NASHVILLE — I thought I had escaped the beautiful, benighted South for good when I left Alabama for graduate school in Philadelphia in 1984, though now I can’t imagine how that delusion ever took root. At the age of 22, I had never set foot any farther north than Chattanooga, Tenn. I was so poorly traveled — and so geographically illiterate — I could not pick out the state of Pennsylvania on an unlabeled weather map on the evening news.

When I tell people, if it ever comes up, that I once spent a semester in Philadelphia, a knot instantly forms in the back of my throat, an echo of the panic and despair I felt with every step I took on those unfamiliar sidewalks, with every breath of that heavy, exhaust-burdened air. In August I moved into a walk-up on a main artery of West Philly, and I lay awake that first sweltering night with the windows open to catch what passed for a breeze, waiting for the unfamiliar sounds of traffic to die down. They never did. All night long, the gears of delivery trucks ground at the traffic light on the corner; four floors down, strangers muttered and swore in the darkness.

All around me were metaphors for my own dislocation: a homeless woman squatting in the grocery-store parking lot, indifferent to the puddle spreading below her; the sparrows and pigeons, all sepia and brown, that replaced the scolding blue jays and scarlet cardinals I’d left behind; even the first deep snow, which all my life I had longed to see, was flecked with soot when it finally arrived. I was so homesick for the natural world that I tamed a mouse who lived in my wall, placing stale Cheetos on the floor beyond me, just to feel the creature’s delicate feet skittering across my own bare toes.

Winter break came so early in December that it made no sense to go home for Thanksgiving, no matter how homesick I was. But as the dark nights grew longer and the cold winds blew colder, I wavered. Was it too late? Could I still change my mind?

It was definitely too late. Of course. It was far, far too late. And I had papers to write. I had papers to grade. Also, I had no car, and forget booking a plane ticket so close to the holiday, even if I’d had money to spare for it, which on my graduate student’s stipend I most certainly did not. Amtrak was sold out, and the long, long bus ride seemed too daunting. I would be spending Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, a thousand miles from home.

“I don’t think I can stand it here,” I said during the weekly call to my parents that Sunday. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Just come home,” my father said. I was crying by then. “It’s too late,” I said. “It’s way too late.”

“You can always come home, Sweet,” he said. “Even if you marry a bastard, you can always come on home.”

Margaret Renkl | Thank God for the Poets – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South

NASHVILLE — When the poet Amanda Gorman stepped to the lectern at President Biden’s inauguration, she faced a much-diminished crowd of masked people on the National Mall, but she was speaking directly to the heart of a bruised nation:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried.

Ms. Gorman’s poem — addressed to “Americans, and the World” — was timeless in that way of the most necessary poems, but it was more than just timeless. After a year of losses both literal and figurative, she offered a salve that soothed, however briefly, our broken hearts and our broken age.

Poets have always given voice to our losses at times of national calamity. Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is an elegy for Abraham Lincoln. Langston Hughes’s “Mississippi — 1955” came in direct response to the murder of Emmett Till. Denise Levertov wrote one poem after another after another to protest the war in Vietnam. In 2002, Billy Collins delivered a memorial poem for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks before a special joint meeting of Congress.

The poems inspired by Black Lives Matter are almost too numerous to count, and their ranks continue to grow, in spite of the personal cost of “chasing words / like arrows inside the knotted meat between my / shoulder blades,” as Tiana Clark writes in “Nashville.” ”  . . .

Margaret Renkl | What You May Not Know About Those April Flowers – The New York Times

A Contributing Opinion Writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — My favorite spring flower blooms along the leafless branches of the lowly serviceberry, a small tree with varieties native to every state except Hawaii. In the old days, the serviceberry’s simple, five-petaled blossoms heralded springtime itself.

Appalachian tradition holds that the tree got its name because it bloomed just as snow melted on winding roads, just as mountain passes cleared. Serviceberry flowers meant that circuit-riding preachers would be along soon to perform the weddings and funeral services winter had long delayed.

As with all beloved wild plants, these harbingers of spring have many common names. What we call a serviceberry here in Tennessee is what people in other regions call by names like shadbush, sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum and chuckley pear, just to name a few. By whatever name they are locally called, the flowers were a welcome sight for the generations who came before us. Winter was over at last. Bright new life could begin.

Serviceberries are not much of a welcome sight anymore. So thoroughly have they been displaced from our cultivated landscapes, and for so many generations, that most Americans are unlikely to recognize this very American tree. For us, springtime means flowers that evolved for ecosystems in Europe and Asia, not for American yards.”

“. . .  Wild creatures need wild plants to survive, but drive down any lane in any suburban neighborhood — or any landscaped city street — and what you are apt to see is a gorgeous, blooming wasteland where the flowers feed nobody at all.

Worse, such plants often go hand-in-garden-glove with an entire ethos of yard maintenance that relies on poison. Between the herbicides designed to kill weeds (including early-blooming wildflowers) and the insecticides designed to kill anything that crawls (including native pollinators), the typical suburban yard is actually worse than a wasteland. It’s a death trap.

And not just for native plants and animals. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters that some researchers say can have a devastating effect on human health, and may be linked to A.D.H.D., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, infertility, cancers, just for starters.

As if that’s not enough, some of the exotic plants we’ve introduced into our formerly functioning ecosystems actually do more than thrive in our built landscapes. Some of them are so well adapted to their unnatural homes that they crowd out the plants that belong. In the American South, where our climate is so perfectly suited to plants from Asia, there is an easy way to know whether many plants are native or exotic: Drive past a forest or wooded city park in the very earliest days of springtime. Any tree or shrub that is greening up or blooming then almost certainly doesn’t belong. In March, the woods here are filled with blooming — and highly invasive — Bradford pear trees, while the buds on the serviceberries are still tightly furled.”

Margaret Renkl | Yes, America, There Is (Some) Hope for the Environment – The New York Times

A contributing Opinion writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South

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Credit…Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

“NASHVILLE — I’ve been keeping a collection of links to good news about the environment as a hedge against despair when so much of the news from nature is devastating. Rolling pandemics. The near annihilation of birds and insects. Even the end of sharks. In short, a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals,” according to a recent report in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

It’s so bad that I’ve begun to mutter darkly about the end of humanity. So bad that sometimes I wonder if the end of humanity would be such a bad thing. Once we’re out of the way, the earth might have a chance to recover before everything is gone.

Y’all know it is bad when pondering the death of humanity cheers up a person who is really hoping to have grandchildren someday.

In honor of the spring equinox, which falls this coming weekend and brings with it the return of longer days, I offer some news that might bring you, too, a glimmer of light in all this darkness. I share these stories with the usual caveat attached to any kind of climate optimism: Hope is not a license to relax. Hope is only a reminder not to give up. As bad as things are, it is far too early to give up.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Margaret for this important essay. By the way, Bill Gates reported in the Netflix show, Inside Bill’s Brain, episode three, that he had organized a team of nuclear scientists who have designed a nuclear plant that uses nuclear waste as fuel, and cannot blow up in an explosion. This new device will get us through to a clean sustainable energy future if it works.
But we are in the Anthropocene, causing the sixth great extinction of species, as you well know. 7.7 billion humans are the new asteroid, or the cause of the this sixth extinction. If we don’t reduce rather than increase our numbers, we are probably doomed, and will take most to the world’s wonderful species with us. As I sing in my song “Talking Climate Change Blues,” we need a Marshall plan for population control.

Margaret Renkl | Even for Bargain Hunters, Green Cars Make Sense – The New York Times

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald, via Getty Images

“NASHVILLE — In this family, we are not new-car people. My husband and I buy used vehicles, and we keep them until the cost of patching them up far exceeds their value, a time-honored practice known as driving a car into the ground. We don’t drive a lot, either: My husband works a mile and a half from our house, and I work from a home office. I kept thinking about electric cars anyway.

We didn’t actually need a new vehicle when we started shopping. My 2006 minivan was working fine, and my husband’s 2001 minivan was working fine, too. But it was 2019, and our youngest child was a junior in college. We had long since aged out of the minivan cohort.

Meanwhile, evidence of the growing climate calamity was becoming clearer and grimmer with every new study — and with every wildfire, every drought, every hurricane — even as the Trump administration kept rolling back environmental protections at a breathtaking rate. I felt a rising desperation to do everything possible to reduce my own carbon footprint, to foster as much biodiversity as I could on my own little half-acre plot of ground.

The earth cannot be saved by personal actions alone, but there are many practical ways a person can help the environment anyway: lowering the thermostat, buying organics, eating less meat, skipping the lawn-care chemicals, planting native shrubs and trees, buying carbon offsets, subscribing to a renewable energy program, eliminating single-use plastics and other disposables. All of those changes, and many others, are important because they mean treading a bit more lightly on a suffering earth.

But the single greatest change we can make is to change the way we get around. “Transportation is the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases in the United States today, and the bulk of those emissions come from driving in our cities and suburbs,” as Nadja Popovich and Denise Lu noted in a feature for The Times last fall. According to their interactive map, total greenhouse emissions rose 88 percent in Nashville from 1990 to 2017, and that’s not simply because of population growth. Per-person emissions were up 9 percent in the same time frame. Never mind the environment: At this rate, Nashvillians will soon find it difficult to breathe.”

“. . . Biking and walking are the most ecologically sound ways to get around, of course, and taking public transportation is second best. But if, like my family, you live in a place with a profoundly limited public-transportation system and few pedestrian-friendly streets, driving is a necessary evil. If you have to go somewhere, an electric vehicle is the third-best way to get there.”  (They bought an electric Nissan Leaf. It drives like a sports car.)

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
 
Thank you Margaret Renkl, and welcome to the club of extremely happy Nissan Leaf drivers. We have the 2018, with only a range of about 150 miles, but we use it for everything but long out of state trips, which are on hold under covid. We told our salesman we were too poor to use the $7500 federal tax credit, and the dealership suggested a lease, where Nissan would take over the tax credit and reduce the cost by $7500. We discovered by talking to the Green Bank, that this was legal and legitimate. Since I put 54 solar panels on the roofs of my house, we are now a 15 kW per year power plant, running the Leaf, and a used Prius Prime, also all electric for almost 25 miles. We have also added LG ductless splits to most rooms of the house, so we are also now heating and air conditioning with our solar electricity, and the natural gas furnace is relegated to pilot mode, as our emergency or extreme cold weather back up. An electric, heat pump hot water heater also replaced its gas run predecessor. Thanks to writers like you, Margaret, we have started a pollinator garden in the back, and now we are eying our gas stove. Now, if we can pass a carbon tax, . . .