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Design & Nature Reimagined: How grief can be our gateway to hope

I spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out what hopeful and interesting design or technology or natural process I wanted to talk about. I read through about 30 articles and nothing felt right. And then I realized I was really trying to force it when I'm just scared and sad. That felt disingenuous. It felt wrong. This week, this month, actually the past several months, I've been especially scared and sad. And that's okay. So

A single small pine tree under the fall sun. The tree is next to a huge moss covered boulder. Both the tree and boulder stand in front of a stream of water.

A picture I took from one of my favorite hikes.

What is climate grief?

Climate grief for everyone will be different. For me, climate grief comes in waves of overwhelming sadness and lingering dread. Since we had so much smoke from the fires in the Pacific Northwest in 2020 I've thought about the smoke every morning since the summer started. I can't get the view out of my mind. All of the sun was blocked by smoke and you couldn't breathe the air. It was scary because after the second day it really wasn't very safe to travel anywhere by car to get out even if you had the ability. Climate grief is also unique in that it often causes transitional grief or anticipatory grief. We know things are changing, we don't know how much things will change, or when exactly it will happen. This adds on to our feeling of loss because we're not exactly sure how much we will lose and when it will stop.

And I think it's that transitional grief where we find common ground. It's the fear of what might lay ahead that we share. But in our grief, maybe we can come together.

How do we handle climate grief?

If you're feeling a lot of fear around climate, doing a specific action like volunteering with a cause or donating can be a really good way to channel that fear. Fear doesn't have to stop us. Fear can motivate us to move. We just have to remember to move forward. Something I really like to do if I'm feeling sad is work on my field guide for my garden. We recently planted so many new plants for the birds and pollinators and I have a great time drawing each of the flowers. It gives me a chance to really focus on something I really enjoy.

Focusing on something that brings us joy can buildresilience so that we can go back and do the work. We have to do the work. So, resilience is important because it helps you bounce back after a setback or a trauma. And it's also something we can train, just like a muscle. There are so many ways to build resilience, like joining a group, practicing mindfulness, and finding a way to take those feelings and put them into action by helping.

We have to accept that things are going to change drastically. Even if we made all the right decisions today as an entire world, climate change is already set in motion. It's not okay, it can't currently be reversed, and we have to take that knowledge and still choose to move forward and make better decisions. It's hard for me to think about that, let alone share that with others. No one has said it better than Mary Annaïse Heglar: home is always worth it. We have to keep trying. This is our home. I want to save my home, even if I can't save all of it, maybe I can save some of it. We have to at least try.

How is grief connected to hope?

If you look it up, hope is a "cognitive practice that involves the intentional act of setting goals and working toward them with purpose." Hope takes dedication and practice, but the reason it's so important is specifically because it requires us to move forward. Grief is an act of hope because we're recognizing that something has changed or has been lost. And we're dealing with that change through grief. By acknowledging what is lost, and what we are afraid of losing we're also choosing to move through it. We're choosing to move forward and do the work and try.

And by choosing to move forward we become resilient. And that's what we need right now. We need the space to grieve, but the resilience to move forward. Because some days are going to be scary. Some will be beautiful. But in the end, no matter what, I need to know that I tried. That we tried. Through the fear and the frustration and the anger, we put in the work and we tried to make a change.

That's all I've got today. I hope that, at the very least, you know you're not alone if you're afraid or unsure or sad trying to come to terms with all these changes.

Today I wanted to share a picture that just brings me a lot of joy and peace when I look at it. This is from one of my favorite hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.

A single small pine tree under the fall sun. The tree is next to a huge moss covered boulder. Both the tree and boulder stand in front of a stream of water.

A picture I took from one of my favorite hikes.

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