Living with Climate Change

The kind of place I find many Lindens in the Allegheny Mountains--along streams good for kayaking!

It is not easy to live in the Age of the Anthropocene–the increasingly difficult challenges of everyday life, the unweaving social fabric and community bonds, and of course, the 6th mass extinction and ongoing climate change. Despite the media parading and disjointed politics, the age of the Anthropocene is nothing to be happy about, and it is likely to get much worse before it gets better. Today I want to simply take time for some observations and reflections on being a human being in this age (in my various roles as permaculture practitioner, homesteader, druid, herbalist, artist, and land healer) and the many ways in which I think about and see the current age.  I think it is really useful to talk about how we feel and what we experience–it helps us have healthy responses, and realize that we aren’t alone.  All of us nature-connected people, the herbalists, visionaries, druids, permaculturists, radicals, dreamers, artists, ecovillage inhabitants, pagans, etc.–are living with climate change and the age of the Anthropocene well ahead of the curve. I hope you’ll join me in doing the same (please share in the comments!) so that we can support each other in these difficult times.

The homestead, at least a small chunk of it!

Being a homesteader means being out on the land every day, multiple days, year in and year out. There is not a day of a year I am not outside at least 4-6 times, often more, and for an average of 3-6 hours a day or more. We have 5 acres we are tending, which includes our bird flocks, including our beloved geese. This gives both me and my partner the perspective of being deeply embedded in the land and the rhythms of the land. We spend extensive time observing, interacting, putting in our dirt time, and also sharing our observations with each other. Of course, in addition to the primary lifestyle we live, I also engage in land healing as a primary spiritual and magical practice, paying most attention to areas that are damaged or suffering or those that are in the process of healing and regenerating. I do feel often like I’m on the “front lines” of seeing and experiencing these changes due to my lifestyle compared to many other people.

One of the first lessons I feel like this age has taught me is to live in the moment.  It is easy to fear for tomorrow, to read the long-term projections for the climate, the ecosystem, all other life on earth, and get into a really dark place. Focusing on the here and now helps me re-orient to my local, immediate circumstances and in doing good. This simple principle–living in the here and now–is taught in many cultures and traditions. One teaching from my Indigenous teacher Lillian Wolf is called “the moment”–any moment can be “the moment” and it is a moment in time that is special, meaningful, and that we simply should stop and take note of, express gratitude, and hold in our hearts.  We take time to experience the moment fully, wonderfully, and in gratitude. Another way I’ve heard this concept described is through the mindfulness practice of being in the present moment–this is one of the Buddha’s teachings from the 5th century B.C.E! Regardless of what you call it, it is about trying to stay living in the present rather than living in the past and not letting go, or living in the future.  Neither of those places is healthy to stay for too long

But there are so many other orientations, lenses, or ways of seeing this whole situation that I find myself taking on:

I can put on my scientific observer glasses, so to speak, and recognize so many changes that I have observed in my lifetime: forests that are gone, species that have come into dominance or decline, the major rise of ticks and Lyme disease–neither of which we had when I was a kid, the increasing amounts of poison ivy everywhere, the warmer springs, the lack of snow in winter, the extreme temperature swings, the lack of lightning bugs at night….the list goes on and on. I can look outside every day and see the changes, the thousands of data points adding up to a clear conclusion–that climate change is happening right now, beings in this world are losing habitat, and the world is coming to a tipping point. Those can be some powerful glasses to wear, but also, some ones that can be hard to keep on for long.

I can put on my gratitude glasses. These are the glasses that have me working to honor and engage in respectful communication with all beings as equals.  I have a long conversation with my gander about his life and his flock, and then go talk to the majestic Northern Red Oak tree that guards the southern quarter of our property, I spend time communing with the spiders in the grass and conclude my walk on the land by speaking to the ripening heads of cabbage.  All of these remind me of the enchantment and beauty of nature, here and now.  I have gratitude for my life and the lives of those that intersect. I can live in a place of gratitude and simply be thankful.

A joyful moment with Widdershins the Gander!

I can put on my joyful glasses. I really like this pair. This is the pair where I envision a brighter future–where I literally go around my landscape and share a vision of what could be in the future–a lawn converted into a hazelnut and berry orchard, a deforested mountain regrown and strong, a strip mine now covered in trees and vines, the drained swamp once again full of water and life! This pair of glasses encourages me to take my flute into the forest and play joyful music of hope and vision for the trees. This way of seeing encourages me to take up my brush or pen and share a beautiful, hopeful vision for the future. This is a place I love to be, and this is a place that holds a great deal of power and importance because of the present age.

And then there’s the grief glasses.  These glasses I don’t always intend to put on, but they still come on more often than I’d like.  These are the lenses of fear, loss, sadness, and despair.  These lenses fixate me on all that is being lost, all that is already lost, and what is becoming more inevitable in terms of loss and change and destruction in the future. These glasses can get stuck on many of us, weighing us down.  It’s okay and even healthy to grieve, to process our emotions, to hold space for our sadness and fear–and hold those spaces for each other.  The problem becomes when this is the only lens through which you are able or willing to see the world.

And there are also my anger glasses.  Literally, while I was writing this, the land and I experienced something we have never seen before here in the seven years we lived here–a helicopter with a 30′ hanging chainsaw with revolving blades; the chopper came through and destroyed many trees, damaging them, cutting growth back from power lines. I stopped my writing and immediately went out on the land to hold space, but there was fury in my veins.  Fury for such a cold-hearted way of managing a power line, anger for the lives lost and lives disrupted, and anger at this entire civilization and way of life.  Every time I see violence like this against nature–spraying the roadsides, chemicals, cutting trees, slaughter of animals, ecocide–I get furious and angry.  It may be righteous anger on behalf of life, but it is still not a good place to stay for long. Enough about my anger, it is better to put another pair of glasses on.

Usually what resolves the grief and anger is to put on my resilient glasses.  I need to do something, prepare, get active, help the land and all life! I survey the landscape for resources–those to help clothe, shelter, and feed me and my loved ones. I look at the land in terms of fire-starting materials, stones or wood for building, places to take shelter, fresh water sources and so forth. I make even more gardens, convert more lawns, help others learn to regenerate the land, and plant more and more to regenerate our ecosystem. I think about the insects–do they have places to live?  What kinds of plants would support the birds and wildlife here?  These resilient glasses ask me to be more in touch with the ways and approaches of my ancestors and to recognize the importance of a healthy ecosystem and healthy food web for all life.  But, sometimes this way of seeing can get overwhelming because I see soooo many more projects that need to be completed–more water catchment systems, more protected growing spaces, more rewilding and seed scattering, more guilds, more trees, more replanting. Whew, those glasses are intense but I do enjoy them.

I absolutely can and should always be putting on my glasses of enchantment–recognizing the world is full of spirits, recognizing that I am an equal on this land of sovereign beings, and recognizing that I am a caretaker and inhabitant of some of the oldest landforms on the planet–mountains that are so bent with age, but when they were as young as the Rocky Mountains, the earth had but one continent–Pangea!  I wrote a Love Letter to the Mountains earlier this year, when I suggested we all go with love to our sacred places and keep them in our hearts. I love simply being in the world and experiencing the enchantment of nature–in both the physical and metaphysical worlds.

But sometimes, I find myself wearing the anxiety glasses. I so, so wish these didn’t exist but they seem to bring themselves to the surface at random times. I have begun to dread summers due to the heat and drought (we used to get only 2-4 days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and now we get weeks and even months of it–it is so awful) and winters due to the extreme cold–neither of these used to happen where I live, and now they are a yearly event. I see how the plants, animals, insects, reptiles, birds, etc who live on the land suffer with these extremes.  I wonder how many more changes I will witness and how I will feel in experiencing those changes that are outside of my control. There is just so much happening now. I think about the experiences we’ve already had–the 60-degree temperature drop and “bomb cyclone” that brought some of the coldest temperatures ever experienced, or the terrible drought we had last growing season and the year before, and so forth–and there’s a part of me that is so angry and dreads everything in the future.  Yeah, that’s a place I go sometimes.

The spirit of New England Aster - from the Plant Spirit Oracle
The spirit of New England Aster – from the Plant Spirit Oracle

The glasses I put on as a bard (artist, writer, musician) are important to me–I am able to use my creative gifts to share the voices of the spirits from the world of nature.  I spend a good amount of time seeing the world in this way and trying to create good through my bardic practices. I try to tell the story of the enchantment of nature, bring voice to the plants and animals, honor life in nature and so much more with these lenses.  I choose to put these on, and I choose to write these words, play music, and paint to bring forth a vision of a brighter future. And that brings me to my final pair of glasses.

These are my glasses of hope and vision. In my very spirit, I know that humans will find a better path and that the earth will heal.  I am heartened to hear from so many people who are trying to do good and make change in the world. I know, know, know in my spirit and soul that a new paradigm is coming and it will replace all of this destruction with something better. I see it every day–people turning towards nature, honoring nature, and loving the land.  Towards nature spirituality, animism, and recognizing the sovereignty of nature. I see people in so many communities waking up and realizing that there is a better way forward–a way that allows us to reconnect with the land, regenerate ecosystems, and live in an enchanted world. What Joanna Macy calls “the great turning” is happening in a million ways all around the world, and when I think of all of this, I am full of joy and gladness. I am honored to be a part of it–just like you! And so there’s another big part of me that holds hope.

I think what I’m trying to say with all of these different lenses through which to view life during a time of human-driven climate change is that there is not a single way to respond, feel, or see. I’m glad I have cultivated the ability to experience this inescapable and enormous phenomenon in diverse ways.  I think the different perspectives help keep me agile and not too stuck, they allow me to have a complex response to a complex problem.  They give me both a chance to process what I’m experiencing and grieve what is being lost, while also maintaining my course toward helping myself and others transition to a nature-connected paradigm for the future.  They allow me to connect in hope, gratitude, and reverence.

How many people ignore the signs and crank up the AC? How many people bury their heads in the sand? Here in the US, the situation is so bad that we have entire states (Florida, North Carolina, Tenessee, Louisana)  have passed actual laws banning the discussion or even words “climate change.” (Tell that to the people who are experiencing worse and worse hurricane seasons and the new “Category 6” hurricanes or whose houses are getting eaten by the rising ocean on the Outer Banks, NC.)  I live in a rural area that is considered a “red” or “conservative”–and very few people here are willing to even entertain that climate change could be real.  They believe it’s an elaborate hoax made up by liberals or the government to tax them or take away their resources. I have to remind myself to be kind to my neighbors even if they frustrate me with their denial–many of them have never left our region and are very economically disadvantaged.  And still, this is another part of living in this age–being part of a society with so many in denial. I find trying to interact with these folks difficult, although I usually manage. Difficult because I am living every day with very obvious signs and hundreds of data points I’ve observed with my own eyes (and countless data points from everyone else).  I think often that I actually live in a different reality from many in my area.  That’s ok, they can keep their disenchanted, efficiency-driven, AI-encrusted worldview and leave me for the trees. But, I remind myself that not everyone is outside for hours on end or is an animist druid, and that avoidance is a common human reaction to fear, especially when a problem is as massive as this one is. And so I try to practice compassion.

In looking at my many lenses above, I think it’s ok to contain, in the words of Walt Whitman, “multitudes.” I think there is power in diversity of expression and thought for the challenges of our age: I don’t have to settle on a single feeling about living in this age or a way of seeing the world. That creates stagnation. That I can contain multitudes–of lenses to put on, of adaptive approaches to our present reality, of building my own knowledge and skills tied to nature, of deepening my connection with a wonderful plant and nature spirit team, and of the bardic and creative arts as means of expressing my thoughts, experiences, and the world of spirits today.

Living in the Age of the Anthropocene is a journey. For a confluence of reasons, I choose to face the present with my heart and my eyes open–and I know many of you do too.  It is not an easy journey, and it is a journey that each of us must take in our own way. But at least it is a journey that we are all taking together, heart to heart, and hand to hand.

 

Announcements:

I appreciate your patience while I took an extended blogging hiatus.  Part of what I was doing was working with my co-author to finalize our book submission to my publisher. Thus, I’m very happy to share that ReVisioning: Ecospirituality for the 21st Century will be available in Fall 2025, co-authored with the amazing wilderness survival instructor and druid Nate Summers! This book could not have been written by either of us alone, but by bringing our unique skillsets together, we’ve crafted a great book that offers a new vision for the future that shares a radical and expanded view of nature spirituality. If you are interested in staying updated, please subscribe to this blog (on the page, in the upper left corner) or subscribe to my infrequent newsletter.  I have a few other projects in the works, including a new tarot deck taking shape, as well!

As part of my hiatus, I was also able to attend the yearly MAGUS gathering and had a fantastic time along with 70 other druids–this is a druid gathering for both AODA and OBOD members that specializes in really unique and magical rituals, outstanding initiations for both orders, eisteddfod, and building a nature-reverent regional druid community. We initiated 15 people into various degrees in AODA, 5 people into degrees in OBOD, and also had some incredible rituals and experiences including a storytelling ritual and Gaulish-themed feast ritual. It was a blast!

In terms of what is coming next, on June 7-8th (next weekend!), I’ll be offering two workshops at the Hawthorn Botanical Gathering in Centre Hall, PA. On Friday evening I’ll be doing a 2-hour evening intensive workshop titled “Creating Herbal Sanctuaries for Life: Gardening and Rewinding for the Future”. This workshop will focus on creating herbal refugia, identifying endangered or at-risk medicinal species for herb gardens and replanting in the wilds; creating seed balls for wildtending, and more.  I will also be offering a medicinal and edible plant walk on Saturday at the gathering.  If you are planning on coming, please do say hello!

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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16 Comments

  1. I feel so much the same. I see and feel the losses every day. I now spend a large portion of every day sitting and feeling and connecting through my heart with the life and critters of all species around me. I talk to everyone I meet, out loud, from spiders to the chipmunk who buries sunflower seeds in the pots on my balcony to the (sadly rare) bumbles who visit the flowers (chives right now). I remember how rich and diverse the woods, fields, even roadsides were when I was a kid growing up in the White Mountains of NH in the 50s and 60s. I’m 72 now. As you said, no ticks, no lyme, no (or virtually no) invasive species extirpating queen Anne’s lace, fireweed, native lupines, lady slippers . . . It wasn’t tha long ago! It’s all happening so fast. What I know is we can change it. Love is the most powerful healer and it’s magic. I don’t know if we will . . . but I do know we can. I pray we do. Not mostly for humans, though I dearly love my 6 grandchildren and the future they logically face is tragic. For me, it’s Earth. It’s the trees the rocks the mountains the lakes and fish and even the ants. My heart aches with the grief of loss, and still I can envision a different reality because I’ve lived it. Memories of past lives going back so so long. Those memories, and the feelings that accompany them reside, somehow, in my body and certainly in my heart. Many of us have them. Somehow they are important, as is all the love we share.

    1. Hi Susan,
      Thanks for writing. Krause talks about this issue in The Great Animal Orchestra when he says that there are whole generations of people who don’t even know what a healthy ecosystem is like because so much has been lost already. It really saddens me to see what I’ve seen in my lifetime, and also think about what I never got to witness before I was born. Share these stories as widely as you can! We CAN turn this around and we can help the land and all of us!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. It was a very good way to start my day and I found it grounding. So many different glasses — It makes me think about how to choose which ones to put on today rather than having them chosen for me. 🙂

    1. Hi Oakleah,
      Yes, exactly! Being aware and choosing for ourselves rather than letting our subconsious or strong emotions choose for us makes all the difference :).

  3. smissettking3b9b7152b2

    This idea of lenses is so familiar and your pairs of “glasses” are essentially the same as mine. It’s comforting to share all this turmoil and joy and fear and hope with someone, makes it more manageable. It can feel like you’re losing perspective at times, especially when people around you aren’t concerned about the same things. So thank you for sharing and both reminding me of the work and giving me a sense of perspective.
    If you ever think of doing a workshop in the Midwest, Madison WI is very welcoming to people who walk the path. ❤️

    1. Hi Smissett, it is so easy to lose perspective. That’s why I think the glasses metaphor helps me at least–it keeps me having useful perspectives, reminds me that perspective is a powerful tool, etc. I haven’t gotten out to Wisconsin in some time, but if I do again, I’ll let you know! Blessings to you! 🙂

  4. Dana, thank you so much for being a voice (more like, THE voice) of reason during these times. I too wear many of the glasses that you described, and it fees SO good knowing that someone else cares and can verbalize it so incredibly well. I appreciate you and all your excellent posts, this one especially.

    1. Hi Mago-rama, thank you for reading and for your kind words. Keep strong!

  5. Congratulations on the publication coming in 2025. Indeed, it is something to look forward to.

    I quit driving. I quit traveling, not only on planes, but internationally, something I used to do professionally, because as an American I have a foreign policy target on my back. I gave up on human beings, as I could not find very many who have the integrity or the vision that I do. When I was washing off the crud raining down on a daily basis from chemical trails I cried out to others to see it, to understand that my trees were choking, but all I received in return was silence.

    When men came with chain saws to cut down an ancient tree I stopped them, and when men have tried to hack at trees I have screamed at them to understand that the limbs of trees are no different than their arms – just as alive. I have forbidden the use of toxic chemicals, and toxic stormwater, to touch the four acres I maintain, which includes fighting the local officials who genuflect to the convicted felon who should also be tried for treason.

    When I despair I ask for some kind of communication from the realms of the divine. One day a Monarch butterfly alighted on a peony, and I burst into tears. When I heard an odd noise coming from my pond I discovered something so beautiful and foreign to me that I instantly rose from despair into a newfound admiration for a box turtle, named Henry, who was cooling off in the water.

    In order to find balance when my tax dollars are used without my permission to make bombs that slaughter innocent people in another land I sit with the trees all around me, waiting for the wind to come through them, making music. The balance will come. It may be of a different distribution, after severe weather that no one knows how to prepare for, but in time it will arrive, for all of us.

    1. Hi LM,
      Thank you for sharing your powerful words. I feel what you are saying here so strongly. I haven’t given up on all human beings, but I do really only focus my efforts on those who are willing to see, to pay attention, and to do what they can to reconnect. It is a journey, but at the same time, it is a journey we no longer have time for. Thank YOU for tending your four acres, holding space for the living earth, and doing what you can. Your energy and love for the land matters so much.

      I agree, the balance will come.

  6. My thoughts echo those of the five commenters above. I’m a 70 year old grandma with six grandchildren and I too despair for their futures. I love them so much. And no matter what I say, my four kids just don’t get it. Mountain out of a molehill, Mom! They’ll think of something! Technology will save us! And my sisters and husband are no better. I was born on a small farm in rural Western Washington state, surrounded by relatives old and young and I loved listening to them talk about the old days and the old ways and how hard they all worked. I know they did, but the minute “modern stuff “ came they eagerly adopted whatever it was. And look where we are now. My sisters and I ran barefoot through woods and fields, were on intimate terms with our farm animals and all the little tiny animals, my favorites were the pollywogs that hatched out in the vernal ponds in the early Spring, down in our cow pasture. My children and grandchildren never got to experience that.
    And Dana, I just want to add that I spent several years living in the small town of Mars, in Butler Co., PA, not too terribly far from you, I think. Yes, most people were very conservative, but they were extremely nice people and I loved the rural living skills so many of them had. Reminded me of the skills I was surrounded with as a small kid back on the farm. I have two kids and three grandkids in Pittsburgh and am hoping to live back over there very soon. One of my grandkids there, a little six year old boy, talks to trees and listens to them and knows what they are saying to him. A very sensitive, spiritual soul. Who knows? Maybe he is our future.
    Thank you for this, Dana.

    1. Hi Heather,

      The Pittsburgh region is very nice and there have been a lot of good things happening in the larger region! Glad to hear you have roots here. So wonderful to hear about your grandson and his relationship with trees!

      I just shake my head at the “technology will save us” arguments, especially. Technology is literally why we are in this mess–the machines that burn the fossil fuels, that can destroy the land so much faster. Technology is one of the driving forces for climate change and the age of the Anthropocene. Now AI is demonstrating just how resource intensive it is–every time you ask a question of Chat GPT, you might as well dump a bottle of drinking water on the ground! But its hard for people who are so embedded in their technologies to see all of that. And if “they” would think of something, they would have already done it. “They” seem to have other ideas in mind, like continuing to line their pockets with profits at the expense of the planet. I really believe it is up to all of us!

  7. Dana, Thank you for so beautifully and aptly describing the situation we find ourselves in. I love the idea of changing perspectives and putting on different lens. I am blessed to live in a place with many people who see the changes around us, who acknowledge the enormity of it all. It makes it easier to have that support, to be able to openly discuss what’s happening and what we might be able to do to help. I am eager to learn more about land healing.

    1. Hi Brenda,
      Thank you for reading and your comment! Hopefully more people will soon move into the place of acknowledging and doing more for climate change. Stay tuned–in the next few weeks I’ll be dropping my Druids Garden Guide to Land Healing–which will include all of my posts on the subject!
      Blessings!

  8. Thank you for sharing this helpful and inspiring reflection! Various lenses are great tools, and I love hearing about ours and how they are helpful (and sometimes not helpful) to you. Cultivating the enchanting and bardic are where I’m focusing right now, to create better balance in my life. Life needs to be worth living, after all, for all Beings. And yet these areas can be the first and quickest for me to neglect. I want to live with them more deeply.

    1. Hi Meredith,
      I agree with you–life needs to be worth living. We all need to find our way despite these difficulties to lead a rich and rewarding life that is meaningful to us, that allows us to live in a good way, and that offers hope. I think the bardic arts are such a critical part of that!!!!

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