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As a child, I was often told to “go outside.” That meant finding something to do in our backyard or with other kids who lived in my neighborhood. On the small farm we moved to, it meant exploring pastures, climbing trees, and spending time in a nearby creek. I rode ponies, hiked, swam in a lake, and camped with my family. I grew up participating in Girl Scouts, eventually leading hikes, taking a backpacking trip, and more. I remember participating as a scout in the very first Earth Day. 

All this outdoor time eventually led to me volunteering and then working at a zoo. (I already knew how to shovel manure so volunteering in one of the zoo’s animal areas felt like home to me.) After teaching in traditional school settings, I returned to the zoo to work as an educator – an environmental educator. 

From that point on, I talked with kids and adults about wildlife and wild places – and what needed to be done to keep the wild in our world. 

Part of my work was intended to inspire kids to consider science careers. To teach about the value of habitat and wildlife diversity – not just the value of it but the necessity of it. To help young and old alike to be inspired by our world and the ways that we can work to save it. 

I did this work in the time of Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth. I was fortunate to collaborate with field scientists from all over the world through a project with the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. I loved the work I did for nearly a decade in two different zoo settings. 

I look back now, as the climate crisis becomes more and more apparent to us all, and wonder about the past and present. Good things did happen; air quality improved, creativity brought together ideas with opportunities – packaging changed, recycling expanded, and individuals made choices such as carrying their own bags to the grocery. Our own trash can be sorted and recycled. Wind turbines turn across the planet, electric vehicles are proliferating, and science is running as fast as it can to address increasing threats. 

And yet, it hasn’t been enough. People around the world are being overcome by the challenges of changing climate dynamics. 

There are many I know, including myself, who struggle with the anxiety and grief of ongoing environmental losses. This grief is challenging because we are all within the experience or process of changes happening in the present. The changes are ongoing and visible in our immediate communities as well as in our larger world. And they can leave us with a deep sense of loss and uncertainty about what is yet to come. That means as we grieve the present losses, we also sit with the uncertainty of future losses. 

How do you and I hold the needed space for grief over the environment and our changing world?

There are no easy answers. But there are day-to-day things to do to take care of ourselves and our own grief. Like other grief, we can be gentle with ourselves when we realize we are mourning the changes in our world. We can take time to write about it, to get involved in our local community, to make conscious decisions about what we do in our own backyard.  We can empower ourselves to learn more about our own carbon footprint. We can get involved in our community. 

We can also find ways to support ourselves and our bodies, practicing yoga, spending time outdoors, walking or hiking and riding a bicycle. Movement helps dissipate our anxiety and makes room for the choices we can make for ourselves. We can become students of our own grief in this area of our lives and learn to speak of our grief with others. Collectively, we need to find ways to mourn and grieve as well as act where we can. 

I’m curious to know what you have found to be the most helpful when you are feeling the overwhelm of grief and loss related to the environment and our world. What helps? What are your needs as a mourner?