After sitting glued to the screen for far too long, watching as the chaos unfolded at our Nation’s Capitol, I went out to see a beautiful sunset glowing the fence and scattering light and color on the remaining snow in my yard – and breathed. Nature is a tonic to so much right now when this past year has been challenging in so many ways. Now, as we head into 2021, we try to feel hopeful about politics, the pandemic, and the climate both human and natural, but it isn’t easy. For many, there is hope, however, and also perhaps some solace, in the beauty of where we live and the unquantifiable value it brings to our lives.

Often, we consider the purpose of our surroundings as more functional than therapeutic, but now more than ever, it is a time to embrace that other less tangible purpose. All of the metrics might tell us that the climate is changing and that that’s another terrifying and worrisome part of our lives. But, I am hopeful that there is a lesson to be learned from what we value in the wilds of our landscape that will be both helpful to us and helpful to our relationship and treatment of it. So much of our landscape in Midcoast Maine includes water, which is a particular type of wilderness – one that can often be the most often in its expanse and its ancientness. There is no doubt that looking out over an expanse of water can bring a sense of calm and healing.

To that end, this week, I want to share a bit of a poem by Mary Oliver that I recently reread, entitled Breakage. It is worth looking up the entirety of the poem. It begins, “I go down to the edge of the sea/How everything shines in the morning light!” There is a sense of a new beginning and serenity. But, then she goes on to describe the fractured pieces of shells that are found when looking more closely. There is, “nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split”. This particular line struck me at the moment where so much feels broken. But, then she says, “It’s like a schoolhouse/of little words.” There is something to be learned from this brokenness. “First you figure out what each one means by itself,” she says. It is an invitation to look more closely at the individual components that may, at first appear to be a bit of a mess, and to find some meaning. “Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.”

Take this story to mean whatever you wish here – there are many things that feel broken and messy, including our understanding and treatment of the value of our coastal resources in every aspect from economic to emotional. We live in a place that has it all, in many ways, and perhaps that also means that it also holds some critical clues that may help us to find the solutions to improve its health and its care as well as our own.

In some respects, our impact on the ocean has decreased during the pandemic as we travel less, consume less fossil fuel, and industrial production has been at lower levels while the economy stands still. Will we be able to see that as a lasting impact? That may be a bit of a reach. Rather, the lasting impact may be in the way we think about our natural resources, and here in Maine that means the coast and ocean. In a concrete step, the Maine Climate Council has released a four-year action Climate Action Plan to take steps to reduce Maine’s carbon emissions. Perhaps, those steps forward will have more momentum with an increased appreciation for the resources they impact.

But, as the words in Mary Oliver’s poem remind us, you have to find meaning in all of the pieces in order to read the whole story. The actions and understanding of individuals make a difference. While we have been isolated during the pandemic and also during this year of unprecedented challenges and misunderstandings between people, this is an opportunity to reflect on how each of us is a piece of the solution. Each piece of broken shell has a part in the whole story.

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