The sun is shining. It is too cold to even go outside and stand for a few minutes with skin exposed, to soak up the vitamin D my body is hungry for, but it is shining. That feeds the mind, if not the body. It reminds me that winter will pass, the seasons will change. In fact, it reminds me that change is the one constant upon which I can rely.
Sometime it is regular change, like that of the seasons or a birthday. Other times I look forward to original change, like a trip to a new place or changing a routine to incorporate a new animal, a new person, or a new object. A few times there is a change in my life that I wish had never happened and I long for the days before that change. Such is the nature of the world, that all moves and morphs and redefines its boundaries, hopes, or self.
I had a birthday yesterday. This birthday will mark a tremendous year of change for me. In one of the longest winters I remember, change has hit me like an angry moose, leaving little room for thought of standing my ground. I have to change.
What does it really take to change? We talk about changing behavior all the time in the environmental field, to save the planet, save the whales and save the rainforest. Some people change, but some don't. Others change their behavior over time, but not right away. Why? What would it take to change your behavior, your beliefs, your dreams, yourself?
In thinking about this, a lot lately, I've come up with one really good answer. Love. You've got to love something in order to change. It can be superficial love, or deep, everlasting love. But it seems to be the common thread.
Those who know me well know of my soft spot for animals. I love this planet and the living things on it, so I help when I can. Especially when it comes to things abused, neglected or abandoned by people. I freely give my resources to care for them because I value them, I love them.
Some are less sentimental, placing value not on the living animal as a being, but valuing it as food, as nourishment. For countless generations people have relied on animals for food, we still do. Thus, for some, protecting the forests and streams is common sense, for it harbors the food they value, that they love.
There is yet another, more detached group, that values not the animals' lives or their bodies as food, but rather the money they bring in. While it seems harsh and inorganic to me, it is still a love, the love of money drives this behavior.
The step that motivates change is a threat or harm done to things you love. Expose a citizen illegally collecting turtles from the wild and I'll work hard to hold the offender accountable for their actions. I'm sure if prime hunting land was slated for commercial development, those people that rely on that land will stand against that plan. Remove the animals that the game ranchers rely on to bring in their money from people looking to kill large animals, and they will fight to get them back.
Love is an agent, the strongest agent, of change. Threaten that which we love, and we will fight to protect it, often at an enormous cost. This is the reason there are extremists in every religious sect, in passion driven causes such as environmentalism and cultural awareness and civil rights. Those extremists, ironically, are the ones with the most love.
Senegalese poet Baba Dioum said it well, in 1937: In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we are taught. That is, ultimately, why I teach - so that others will love as much as I do. I will teach more this year, about our planet and animals and plants. I will help others understand the world in which we live, in the hope that they will join with me in protecting it. I will teach about love and loss and the power of both.
Maybe winter is a good time for brooding thoughts. The combination of losing the man I love and a long, cold, winter has given me ample time to think and ponder. Of course, there is still much to work through. But to change, you need to love something. And you need to lose something, or fear losing something.
I am changed. I will continue to change. I will fight harder for this planet, for the animals and plants that can't defend themselves, because I know what true loss feels like. I don't want to lose the animals I love, the places I love, or the planet I love. The threats to the things I love are real and move me to action in many ways.
Change is affecting even our Snowflake Festival, tomorrow, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Some old favorites will be there, the hawks and owls, snowshoes, good food, bluebird houses, and others. There are some new faces, too, with a more sustainable message about living lighter on the planet. Some reptiles will join us this year, as well as some local favorites. Come and share the changes at Audubon, as the season begins to change.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Winter hours are 10am -4:30pm Mondays and Saturdays and 1-4:30pm on Sundays. Trails are open dawn to dusk.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and starts this year of her life sad and broken-hearted. But she knows that this, too, shall pass.