These days, when I’m at home in between my frequent travels, I find myself lingering longer, trying to absorb something I can’t quite name. After returning from the airport late at night I’ll stand outside the car for a few minutes, gazing up at the countless stars you can see in the darkness of rural Vermont. In late fall I’ll stay in the river next to our house long enough for the intensity of the sharp, cold water to wear off and I start to feel numb. I’ll crouch while hunting deer until I realize my knees are throbbing and my pants frozen.
At times like these I feel somewhat like a squirrel, gathering nuts for the winter, not knowing how long it will be until I eat again. But I know that next time I travel I’ll be back home before too long. And I know, no matter how bad global warming gets, that there will probably be brilliant night skies and deer left in Vermont (if not the same sugar maples, cold September water, and vast amounts of snow). I often think that my lingering, semi-trancelike ways have to do with a fear that my father will die before I get home to see him again. Or sometimes I think they have to do with the joy of escaping from the urban bustle of Washington DC and connecting to the land and life I understand and admire. Or simply that I am seeing things differently with the distance of space and time I have acquired since I left the Upper Connecticut River Valley seven years ago.
While I know that each of these thoughts is true, they still don’t explain this overwhelming sense I have of something I can’t quite give words to — foreboding? loss of innocence? — that has little to do with me, my dad, or my childhood. Because the images that enter my head most of all in those moments are of babies and children that I don’t even know yet, children I haven’t yet begun to conceive mentally, let alone biologically, who I know will live in a fundamentally different world.
The closest literary approximation I can find to this feeling, albeit in mirrored form, comes from the character Jonas in the book The Giver, by Lois Lowry. Jonas lives in a world with “no snow or sunshine, no colors or music, no animals or nature.” He is assigned to be the “receiver of memories,” so that his sterile, conformist society has some repository for what feelings felt like, what tastes tasted like, and what sights looked like.
A world in climate crisis will still have all of these sensations, many of them in even more profound ways than today. But I can’t help sensing that something that is central to what makes us human will be gone, missing. So the next time I’m home I’ll once again try to absorb that which I still can’t name but that I must save somewhere in me for another thing without a name: my future children.