Dear Governor Ducey,

It is summer. Or so it looks by the number of tourists, bike riders and smiling people downtown today. The dark sky has a different idea. I’m at the library, writing with the writer in residence, Karen Renner, who is answering questions people have about writing blogs and young adult novels. Their kids are hanging out in the kids section. My kid is on her way over from climbing camp. I just sent a draft of a book off to get I hope not rejected. I’m getting ready for The After-Normal release. (Shameless plug: June 19th at Bright Side Bookshop). The After-Normal is a book I co-wrote with my Australian friend David Carlin about climate change, our complicity in it, our sadness about it and the science we have learned about it. We borrow Donna Hathaway’s phrase that, to make sense of climate change, we have to “stay with the trouble.” This book is about the trouble, how to stay with it, how to wrestle with its fact, how to admit complicity and yet still find joy in the tiny things that make the planet worth writing about.

The trouble we made of our climate is here to stay. How do we protect ourselves from ourselves? Humans are pretty great at immediate solutions to immediate problems but we end up making a bigger mess than we started with. The whole charter school movement began to “save the children” from the come-one-come-all embrace of the public schools. Embracing every kid is difficult. Not everyone was feeling fully embraced. And so the parents took their kids to the places that would embrace them, which works at some charter schools. Others? Well, without the oversight of the come-one-come-all schools, some things, some kids and some millions of dollars fell through the cracks. Now, how does one go backwards? How do you require the same oversight at this late date? So many charter schools began with under sight. Once you pull at the threads of the problem, don’t you unravel the whole thing?

Think of the crazy protections that began when seven people died in Chicago from Tylenol tampering. Now every milk carton, jug of apple juice, prescription bottle, even tube of Neosporin has a handy plastic or aluminum cover to deter tampering. Seven deaths. Millions of tiny plastic coatings. If only the seven first people shot by guns inspired such protection, but there again, you start to pull on the string, thinking, who are we protecting? You realize you might have to start questioning your priorities. Kids or guns. Kids or guns. So tricky. I’ll take some well-regulated Tylenol and think about it.

There’s a little man-made lake over in my neighborhood called Lake Elaine. Something is wrong with it. There’s a hole in the liner, and the water just seeps, like all water in Flagstaff, through our porous, igneous rock into the aquifer. I would love if Flagstaff had a giant river running through it, but can you imagine the tourist invasion then? So the Lake Manager, aka Continental Country Club, is trying to fix it. They stopped filling it last year and this summer began actively draining it by pumping the rest of the water out. The man-made lake is mainly ornamental—similar to Tylenol protective plastics and some charter schools—but now that it’s there, it has become integral to the ecosystem of the neighborhood. Elk and deer drink from it. Today I saw three snowy egrets lining the banks. Yesterday, a great blue heron. Seventeen turkey vultures rode the thermals overhead. An osprey built its nest nearby. This is where I saw the bald eagle dive for fish.

Now that the lake is draining, I don’t know what the birds will do. For the moment, they’re happy, I imagine, eating newly revealed worms. Flies swirl around the water’s edge, easy pickings for shore birds. Shore birds! In Flagstaff. But once the lake is fully empty and the worms and flies die and what few fish swam through the lake’s waters are left to desiccate on its banks, will the birds move on? Will they have a place to go?

It was such a good idea, it seemed, building a lake, covering Tylenol bottles with plastic, starting charter schools instead of investing time and energy into the come-one-come-all schools. But humans don't always look so far into the future when they start their immediate projects. The schools go bankrupt. The plastic piles up. The birds disappear

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com.


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