My Daddy was an ornery man who drank too much, cussed up a blue streak and was hot-tempered. He was determined though, that wherever we lived, and we lived in many towns and states, we would have a house and room for animals.
In Penrose Colorado when I was in Kindergarten, Pops would come home on payday with something moving around in the back of his station wagon. Once it was three chickens, one for each of his girls. We also got a pig, and one week it was a gorgeous and protective German Shepherd named King.
My sisters and I share a fond memory of a lazy Sunday morning in Penrose when we heard a ruckus outside. Our horse, dog and pig were playing chase with each other! Sometimes the pig was in the lead, sometimes it was the horse. Life for us was a Glass Castle mix of love and instability. But whenever possible we had a house, spent time together in nature, and it seems there was always a menagerie of animals for us girls to fuss over.
Of course, the fact we moved around so much meant we often left those beloved animals behind—always a heartbreak. And then we would find a new town, a new house, and if we were going to stay for more than a few weeks, Daddy would figure out a way to bring new animals into the mix.
As a young woman I wanted nothing more than a place where I could finally settle down. I wanted to STAY. I wanted a place I could really call home where I could have chickens and dogs, but I also wanted to cooperate with a healthy ecosystem. The dream was to plant a garden; the chickens would provide some fertilizer, and in return they would share in the bounty of greens, veggies and insects. By the time I found my little corner of the biosphere, I had learned that spiders are also essential teammates, so I was determined to make space for them as well. That was 28-years ago.
Have you seen the meme on social media, “How it Started” and “How it’s Going”? Well…
For the first several years we were surrounded by buzzing and flying things, Bumblebees, Honeybees, Wasps, Ladybugs, Butterflies. I had to learn not to move too quickly if I wanted to cut flowers for the house, and even then, I would usually import a few little creatures.
There were so many birds that some mornings we would wake up to such a loud chorus we would mutter, jokingly, “damn birds”. The same thing would happen at night once we built our sleeping porch and could slumber surrounded by nature. It was so loud at bedtime! Crickets, Cicadas, Frogs, and many other night voices. I would fall asleep though, before I could take three deep breaths.
Then we began to notice that the Bee population was dwindling. No Wasps were coming inside at the end of October. The magic of the woods and fields sparkling with Fireflies? A shimmering memory. In recent years there also haven’t been as many spiders. Science Daily reported in 2017 some stunning estimates about just how much the world's spiders eat annually:” between 400 and 800 million tons of insects, springtails, and other invertebrates.” Spiders are invaluable for protecting crops from pests, but their numbers are down markedly.
The invitation to join the group that would ultimately become the Confluence Climate Collaborative (CCC) came when I was months away from completing a graduate degree in environmental science and at the time I was saying no to any and all invitations. I was buried in my final research effort--exploring how vitally important it is for the Government to fully educate us about the pros and cons of environmental policy. (It doesn’t educate us of course, but it should!)
Part of that paper was tracing the relentless increase in CO2 emissions, parts per million, through about four decades of political gridlock and infighting. (This month CO2 exceeded 420 ppm for the first time in human history. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are still rising fast and are now higher than they've been in over 3.6 million years.)
So, conversations with this new group of environmental champions were a breath of fresh air—with every member understanding that it was environmental policy (Clean Air Act) that made fresh air a possibility! (Not everywhere though. Air pollution continues to be a serious health concern in many Black and Brown communities in Illinois and elsewhere). The CCC folks would let me carry on about the loss of spiders or express my anxiety regarding the toxins in the farmer’s fields that surround my sacred little parcel of ground.
Each member of the CCC was grappling with the realities of the climate crisis in their own way, and to fall into a group of like-minded others was sweet salve for the soul.
But none of us wanted to carry on about the exigencies of the crisis—we wanted to reach out to others and shine a light on possibilities. Truths also of course. But we want the focus to be on what’s possible.
That brings us to our upcoming celebration Spring into Healing! Join the Confluence Climate Collaborative at the Fuller Dome, Sunday April 24th, for a loving Earth Day celebration honoring our shared home! There will be poetry, music, and community as we show gratitude for the gifts our planet provides and explore ways to help her in her time of need.
In the spirit of community and connection, we ask that you bring a cherished item found in nature, or perhaps an artifact you keep in your home to share with the group.
This event is free, but attendance is limited, so please do register here.
For me, finding the group that would go on to co-create the Confluence Climate Collaborative reinforced that reassuring sense of being home. And there’s no place like it!
Sally is the Founder of Studio Gaia Edwardsville, Co-Founder of the Confluence Climate Collaborative and an aspiring hobby homesteader with her husband George. Currently they have four dogs, three goats, seven chickens and one duck, and one, soon to be two beehives. Sally also works for Sierra Club as the Downstate Organizing Manager.
Glass Castle refers to the memoir by Jeanette Walls.