The Climate Crisis – Rejoin the Movement

If you fall, get back up.

Do you want to be known as that person who ignored the climate crisis and did nothing? I don’t.

Until 2020, I was an avid environmentalist and activist. No, I did not get COVID-19 but it did affect my daily life and mental wellbeing. Another series of events combined with the pandemic took me down. For almost two years, all my energy was consumed just trying to make it through each day. I had zero bandwidth for anything else.

I am grateful to those of you who continued the struggle and did the work while I could not.

Now, with the darkest times behind me, I know it is time for me to rejoin the environmental movement and face the climate crisis. My children, your children, and everyone else’s children deserve and need a habitable planet to live on now and in the future. I am doing this for them.

Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and the responsibility to pick yourself up.

Mary Holloway

In this post, we will explore how life events, like COVID-19, may interrupt our activism but that when we are able to, we can and must resume it.

Each person will have had her or his unique COVID-19 experience. Some will have been touched by the pandemic more than others. Did you lose someone you loved to this terrible disease? Was your job eliminated? Were you sick and in the hospital? Did your kids struggle with learning online instead of at school? Were you an underpaid overworked “essential” worker whose workplace was suddenly a dangerous place to be?

What follows is a condensed version of my story. Of course, your story will be different, but you may find that we have had a common experience or two.

Blissfully Unaware

In January 2020, I was going about my daily life blissfully unaware that a deadly pandemic was beginning to spread around the globe.

My first post of the year entitled “A Tale of Three Public Meetings” was intended to encourage readers to get involved in their communities by attending public meetings. Not long after that post was published, as we scrambled to find a source for face masks, in-person public meetings were being banned at all levels across the country. Online meetings became the norm in an abnormal world.

As a breast cancer survivor whose lungs were damaged during radiation, I was deemed to be the most at-risk person in our four-person family. So, I was sequestered on our property. In the beginning, this was okay because as a blogger I worked out of my home office. As spring spread across the land, I worked out in the yard to expand my native plant garden.

Becky the California Buckwheat in Full Bloom - October 2019
This California buckwheat that I named Becky is the first native plant that I ever grew from seed.

The daily barrage of terrible news wore me down. I was worried about my family and friends and all the people who were “out there” working at their jobs. By the end of March, I was freaked out. I stopped reading the news and I stopped writing. I was depressed but not sick with COVID-19. In many ways, I was still relatively okay.

Until June, when my spouse of several decades informed me that we were getting a divorce. Over the next year and a half, my life as I had known it would be destroyed.

Leaving Home

During the divorce, my family dispersed across the country. The home I thought I would live in for the rest of my life was sold. Everything we owned was divided in half: the house, cars, furniture, household goods, personal belongings, savings, and retirement accounts.

In November 2020, I packed up and moved to Florence, Oregon where a dear friend kindly took me in for a couple of months. Most of my household and personal belongings went into storage where I would not see them again for almost a year.

Foggy bridge over the Siuslaw River in Florence, OR.
Foggy bridge over the Siuslaw River in Florence, OR – Photo by Einahpets32 (Stephanie).

Moving from drought-stricken California to a cold and wet place was a dramatic change for me. The days were often dark and cloudy, it seemed to rain all the time, and to me, it was freezing. I could not appreciate the beautiful greenery because I was preoccupied with making it through the day.

On a shopping trip, I outfitted myself head to toe with rain gear. I learned to do things like go to the grocery market in the pouring rain. Every day, I piled on base layers and jackets to keep warm. I discovered that the warmest “pants” are men’s flannel pajama bottoms and now I own several pairs. Yes, I have worn them out in public. I also own a pair of fleece-lined Uggs that I do not wear outside, although many people do.

I was an emotional wreck. My family and friends kept me sane.

Retail Tales

After moving to Oregon, the next thing I had to do was find gainful employment. A decade ago, I had purposefully left my corporate job to become an environmental blogger and activist. I updated my resume and began searching for a job.

I did a short stint as a home shopper at Safeway. As a discerning shopper myself, I was good at deciding on substitutions for out-of-stock items. Lifting cases of beer and bottled water onto my cart, then onto the holding shelves, and later into customer cars was back-breaking work. I worried that I would injure myself, perhaps permanently.

My next job was stocking shelves in the general merchandise department with items like vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, shampoo, kitchen gadgets, cleaning supplies, baby food, and candy.

At the start of my shift, I would either break down pallets stacked 12 feet high with totes and boxes or lug plastic crates filled with stock off pallets and load them onto a long narrow cart. Each day I opened hundreds of cardboard boxes and plastic-wrapped packages. In a quest to find the correct locations for thousands of items, I squinted at package UPCs and tiny shelf labels.

Part of "my" section in the Safeway back room with the step stool I left behind for my co-workers.
Part of “my” section in the Safeway back room with the step stool I left behind for my co-workers.

Stocking shelves required walking several miles a day interspersed by countless trips up and down a step ladder and kneeling on the floor (I always carried a gardening kneeling pad with me). Opening boxes, even with a box knife, is hard on the hands and fingernails especially if you have had chemotherapy so I bought gloves to wear. You’d be surprised how many cuts and abrasions you can get dealing with boxes. I began carrying Band-Aids in the pocket of my apron.

When I got home after my shift, I could barely walk. All my muscles ached. I lived on Advil.

I was heartbroken, I hadn’t seen my family in months, and I was on my own for the first time in my life. Everything that had to get done, I had to do myself. Plus, my spouse sent frequent nasty emails and texts but did nothing to move the divorce forward. I was the one dealing with the myriad of tasks and the massive amount of paperwork required to dissolve a marriage of several decades.

Moving Again

In April of 2021, I moved into a tiny apartment with only an inflatable bed, a small desk, a desk chair, a TV tray, and a few kitchen items.

My apartment home office/dining area. The view was pretty when the sun came out.
My apartment home office/dining area. The view was pretty when the sun came out.

A month or so later, movers delivered a few items from storage like my bed, dresser, recliner, card table, 2 folding chairs, television, and some household items. It made me feel sad to see my belongings in this alien place where I now lived but that was not my home.

I talked with my family and friends by phone, but it was not the same as seeing them in person. I felt isolated and alone. My friend that lives here bore the brunt of my mercurial mood swings and daily calamities. She provided love and Saturday evening dinner and video nights.

At the store, a few customers thanked me and acknowledged that I spent all day wearing a mask and doing hard physical work so that they could shop for the things they needed and wanted. Yet, a shocking number of customers were rude and dehumanizing.

Some were surprised and angry that I did not know the location of every one of the 100,000+ items in the store. Others were peeved that there were paper towels on the floor of the women’s restroom. Many requested that I stop what I was doing to go search in the back for an item, an impossible task because I had no way of knowing if we even had the item and if we did, where it was stored. I fielded many complaints about things like prices, “free” items that were out of stock, the line at the pharmacy, etc.

To counteract this negativity, I did a couple of things to try to make work more pleasant.

My Safeway apron with a "kindness is free" card and name tag.

One month, I wore a business card that said “Kindness is Free” pinned to my apron. I bought several inexpensive hairbands and tiaras and wore them to work. These were popular with employees and customers.

I think we need more kindness in the world. So, no matter how unpleasant customers were to me, I was courteous to everyone. A few times, when someone was screaming at me, I excused myself and walked away.

Turning the Page

While working at Safeway, I secured an 8-hour a week bookkeeping job at a nonprofit called Plug In America. Plug In America is an electric vehicle and transportation advocacy nonprofit organization that dovetails nicely with my mission to live more lightly on Earth.

Over the previous decade, I had gained some bookkeeping experience as the Treasurer of a nonprofit called Ecologistics and a family start-up business. This seemed like the best path for long-term paid employment, so I enrolled in several online accounting refresher and QuickBooks classes at the local community college.

Each day during 2021, my main accomplishment was surviving until the next day. I was emotionally devastated and angry that my spouse’s decision to dissolve our marriage had destroyed my life and driven me out of my home. In between working two jobs and taking classes, I ate, slept, and tried to keep up with tasks like paying bills, shopping for groceries, and getting my car repaired.

I missed my kids, my family, my home, the sun, and my life.

It seemed like I was constantly looking for a place to live. There was one time when on a Thursday, I did not know where I would live the next Monday. I moved 5 times in less than a year. This made me feel afraid and unsafe.

Moving Again

After the house in California was sold, my spouse and I divided up the proceeds. My chaotic living situation had taken its toll. I knew I wanted to own the place where I would live and felt grateful that I had enough funds to buy a small house in a safe neighborhood.

After almost a year, in October 2021, I was reunited with my furniture and belongings and began the process of setting up my household.

My mother and sister visited during Thanksgiving week. To prove to myself that I could still do things, I roasted a turkey. With my iPad propped on the kitchen windowsill, I watched a professional chef carve a turkey on YouTube as I hacked away at my own. The turkey was okay, but I won’t be cooking one next year.

Both my sons visited me at the end of the year. We explored the Oregon coast, hiked in the rain, and played games. It was delightful!

A stack of Dominion games tied with kayak straps.

When we had lived together in California, we used to have “Family Game Night” on Fridays, playing games like Dominion and Settlers of Catan. My oldest son had received guardianship of the games. He cleverly transported them with straps he uses to attach his kayak to a trailer. The games now reside at my house.

Near the end of the year, Plug In America offered me enough hours that I could leave Safeway.

I was still sad and angry and grieving, but I was building a new life and finding some joy in living again.

Call to Action

As 2022 approached, I dusted off my activist self and began writing again.

I feel strongly that it is my duty and responsibility to return to the climate crisis struggle and to do my small part in helping to keep Earth a habitable place for everyone.

Having left “my people” behind in California, I began searching for new people here.

I discovered the Florence Climate Emergency Campaign on social media and asked to join their group. Founded by Pat and Mike Allen, the Florence Climate Emergency Campaign is working to obtain signatures on a petition to present to the Florence City Council demanding that they declare a climate emergency and act accordingly.

Mike Allen, Dawn Lesley, and Pat Allen in front of Florence, OR City Hall for Climate Strike #114.
Mike Allen, Dawn Lesley, and Pat Allen in front of Florence, OR City Hall for Climate Strike #114. Photo courtesy of Mike Allen.

On a Friday during my lunch break, I joined the group in front of City Hall for their weekly Climate Strike (a la Greta Thunberg). They gave me a sign to hold and asked me to sign the petition, which I did. During the Strike, I met Dawn Lesley, a candidate for West Lane County Commissioner who was visiting the group. This was auspicious to me because I believe that we need to be involved in our communities and get to know the people who influence our daily lives.

Plug In America allowed me to arrange my schedule so that I have time for participating in activism events like the Climate Strike and blogging.

At the beginning of 2022, I was searching for a topic for my first blog post in almost two years. I considered writing about New Year’s Resolutions of which I am a fan. My New Year’s resolution for 2022 is to get off the COVID/divorce diet.

It occurred to me that, even though I am a committed environmental activist, I had left my post unattended during my crisis. Fortunately, others had carried on when I could not. That is what I wanted to write about in this first blog post.

If you continued the work while I could not, again, I thank you. If you are struggling to survive, I am so sorry for what you are going through. Take care of yourself and your family. The rest of us will do the work on your behalf until you can participate again. If you have recovered from being knocked down by life events, please come back. We need you!

I’ll see you at the next Climate Strike.

Featured Image at Top: Silhouette illustration of a row of people holding hands against a blue sky – image by iStock/KeithBishop.

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Below is a list of several national/international environmental action groups of various types. Surely, there is at least one that might interest you. Also, look for state and local groups where you live.