When I heard my phone vibrate in my backpack last Thursday afternoon, I was unusually relieved. I was going on hour four of what was meant to be a two-hour “moderate” hike in peaks near Cold Spring, New York, where I had fled on a mini-vacation for a grand total of 48 hours. I won’t say that I got lost per se; I was definitely on a trail—desperately following those yellow blazes—it was just that I had started out following blue blazes, so it wasn’t the trail I started on or hoped would get me back to safety. (Yes, read all the metaphors into that statement that you like.) Having decided a ways back that I was headed in generally the right direction and would make it out of the woods somewhere, somehow, I was able to avert a panic attack and just had faith that I wasn’t a complete moron. So I took that buzz as a sign that I’d descended enough to be back in civilization (not that I had ever gone high enough to lose reception, mind you…I blame panic brain for my faulty reasoning) and getting close to my destination.
My impulse to check the message right away was held off by a desire to enjoy what I anticipated would be the last few moments of Thoreau-like natural solitude. Indeed, even as I got closer to street level and could hear the din of cars and the distant railroad, I felt overwhelmed by the quiet, nourished on a cellular level by the clean air that somehow too felt more expansive, more airy, than city air. My further proof of the power of nature to restore and heal was in the fact that even after a whole day of fairly strenuous exercise, I was barely hungry; I’d had a few nibbles of nuts and dried fruit and an apple all afternoon more out of precaution than need. As I felt the damp earth squish beneath my sneakers and the breeze tickle the back of my neck, I felt immensely grateful for the existence of that mountain; for all the little brooks and scampering critters and trees whose limbs danced around each other in an elegant fight for survival.
Then it hit me—the sudden knowledge of what that reassuring buzz from my phone must be saying. It had been a single, short burst, not the normal double-buzz of a text message, and hence a news update from my New York Times app. It was 3:00 PM, time for Donald Trump to determine the fate of the planet in his statement about the Paris Climate Agreement (also the time Jesus was said to have died, mind you).
When I got back to my hotel and finished showering about an hour later, I finally mustered the courage to check the verdict. Like Jesus, Paris’s fate wasn’t so favorable despite my and so many others’ fervent prayers to the contrary. The fact of my getting the news while reaping the benefits of nature so palpably felt deeply ironic, painfully so in fact. I scrolled through the photos from the afternoon with a sense of premature nostalgia for the bounty even that singular example of nature held. How many more people like me—people strung out by modern-day living, people in need of being reminded of their own humility in the grand scheme of the universe, people who value the reciprocal relationship between the planet we live on and the bodies we live in—would be able to enjoy a hike like I’d taken that day in ten years? In twenty years? Would my children’s and grandchildren’s generations be able to escape to this place from Manhattan, or would there be no Manhattan to escape from?
The next day, when I read the news recaps with a mad voraciousness, I shuddered at the statement: “I was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” I’ve always been proud to be an American, but never before had my longing to be French been stronger. I say that half in jest, since my Parisienne-aspirations have taken the form of striped clothing and gamine hair styles. But on the serious side, I considered that dichotomy as a frightening rejection of our shared humanity—of our responsibility to together, regardless of nationality, foster sustainable lifestyles and policies for the preservation, let alone improvement, of our home. I felt in that moment that we are all citizens of Paris.
The United States’s involvement in this vital agreement may be on the (hopefully long) road to ending, but seeing the country’s leaders step up in resolve to continue the terms of Paris gives me faith that there is some goodness in humanity, and hope for the earth’s future. Instead of wallowing in despair or raging against the incompetence of certain decision makers, I took up the attitude of their counterparts and felt further committed to my small but important individual decisions to make less waste and do less harm to those around me, and thus myself, through my actions. I compost and recycle, I buy renewable fabrics, I eat a plant-based diet, I limit my use of electricity and gas, I walk pretty much everywhere and take public transportation when I can’t. I do my part to be a citizen of Paris. I proclaim my citizenship of the Planet Earth.