I stare down at the dry riverbed, aghast. I enthusiastically agreed to go on a spontaneous day trip into the Mt. Rainier area in October last year with my friend, eager to see the fall colors and feel the brisk mountain air and autumn sun coloring my face. The riverbeds this time of year are typically low, but exist. I am stunned by what I’m observing. A puddle here and there. Nothing resembling this river I’ve visited many times before in Autumn.

Climate change.

Other memories with my same kind of stricken acknowledgement come to me. 

I visit Glacier National Park on a vacation, immediately noticing with shock the state of the glaciers, dwindled and dwarfed markedly from my last visit years ago. 

Eagerly wandering down a road near Mt. Baker in my state, I see glimpses of the mountain as I keep driving, looming larger and larger in the front window to my utter delight. Suddenly, I stop in horror as I watch the change in front of me on both sides of the road. The forest. I am witnessing the destruction of the conifers—all brown skeletons. Pest-infestation, I learn from a park ranger driving through, due to the change in the climate, and with it, the trees’ ecology. This forest is more likely to go up in a fiery blaze, too, with the ranging wildfires that have taken hold all over the West. Burning trees destroyed along with wildlife, households, and, even, whole communities. 

In early Autumn, I’m on another vacation, when I am alerted by tornado warnings in southwest Washington near the ocean community I’m staying in and, again, a few days later a couple of hundred miles further south, in Oregon. The tornado threatening the small community where I’m staying, and, then, landing a few miles away, destroying homes and businesses. (I’m no stranger to tornadoes, having lived in Colorado and the Midwest for a number of years, once near “tornado alley.” I know what to do to stay safe. But here?) As I stop for coffee and a meal, local folks are commenting on this out-of-the-ordinary experience in their lands by the ocean.

I remember wondering, “But is this another “new” normal?”

“New normal” seems to describe the uncharacteristically hot and dry weather in the Pacific Northwest in recent history. Leading to drought conditions in the land of rain and a surge in raging, heartbreaking wildfires in our forested lands with heavy smoke cover in many communities, mine included. I now own a mask to be able to breathe when the wildfire smoke forms a heavy layer pressing down, fading out the summer sun, yet casting eerily beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the land. I keep up with the destructive paths of wildfires, stricken. 

Two weeks ago, in March, in my land, we saw a wave of hot weather arrive, the hottest on record. I’m alert to the changes we’re seeing with escalating concern over the changes we learn about more broadly. 

A documentary about changes in bird migration and losing entire species daily, which deeply saddens me. News coverage of violent storms, some the most violent seen in communities ever, as folks pick themselves up and help each other rebuild, some for the second time in as many years. Arctic ice caps melting, adversely impacting habitat and Inupiat (Eskimo) way of life. Floods and landslides, increasing numbers of intense and destructive tornadoes and hurricanes, scorching temperatures, and drought, all globally claiming human, trees, and wildlife lives. 

Other news reminds us of the tradeoffs of our dependence on nonrenewable energy impacting Nature and us: oil spills in rivers and oceans, oil slicks covering wildlife, increased air and water pollution, chronic black lung disease of miners caused by their work with coal dust as they extract coal. To name just a few.

Climate change and our stubborn reliance on nonrenewable resources.

What then, do we do?

 “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I am heartened by stories I hear of organizations, states, and individuals working to mitigate the impact of climate change upon our collective lives through local projects, advocacy, and spiritual focus and healing in Nature. I welcome local conversations and grassroots-led conferences and workshops. And I reflect on my experiences with trees and plants, and my learning through a few books recently, reminding me of honorable partnerships. 

Reflecting, I’ve noticed that my houseplants do the best when there is at least one other plant close by, in relationship. I’ve had the amazing experience of Sister Cedars acknowledging my presence, subtly, but clearly. I have enhanced understanding about how trees take care of each other, and other Nature Beings surrounding them, and find mutual healing in my own experiences. 

Rather than sharing what I progressively do in my own life (it’s a constant process) to honor Mother Earth, through blessings, rituals, behaviors, changes in habits and advocacy actions, I’d rather turn to the trees, the rivers, the birds that feed each other, and be reminded about our own place with Nature. Believing that we hold this opportunity, if we listen with respect and act with honor, to become more trustworthy and protective stewards and partners of Mother Earth’s well being. To safeguard what is precious for our next generations.

 “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” 

~ Chief Sealth (Seattle)

Katey Simetra has been a journal writer, a poet, a teacher, and a group facilitator for many years, and a nature walker for nearly as long. She warmly supports the reflective and writing process, encouraging every person’s experience in honoring and experiencing Nature. She continues to advocate for the well being of Mother Earth while mitigating the impact of climate change. She is an emerging elder, interested in safeguarding places in Nature, including protected places, for the next generations.