Questions about my trip to the Amazon rainforest have been nonstop. I’ve been awkwardly silent about my participation in LABVERDE because I’m struggling to adequately describe the experience which transcends my vocabulary and possibly my emotional intelligence. In lieu of the story you’re asking for (although I am including photos for you), all I can cobble together right now is a reflection on this bit from my sketchbook – the most poignant example of how what I learned and saw in the rainforest is playing out in my head, my heart and my home.
My oldest son just turned five. Fast forward to 2050 and he will be as old as I am now – 37. While that seems inconsequential, it’s a grim milestone that will mark what some scientists who lectured during LABVERDE estimate as a terminal climate tipping point in which nature’s systems will collapse because of our species’ booming population and our commensurate consumption.
My experience at 37 is that I have half my life ahead of me, and a privileged one at that. His experience at 37, and that of his little brother, may be dire. You know the story – flooded coastal cities that cause a massive global refugee crisis; the rampant spread of deadly diseases no longer kept in check by once diverse and self-regulating ecosystems. If I think too long about what lies ahead for my boys, my chest gets tight and the tears blur my vision. I look at their sweet faces, not yet blemished by wear of the world, and often feel panic. Maybe this is a small taste of how parents feel when their children are diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Clearly, I’m in a complicated headspace. While the informative science lectures were thoroughly depressing, daily excursions into the rainforest were euphoric and dreamlike. I tried to remind myself between bouts of despair that being in this place, in this very moment, to witness this incredibly powerful yet fragile ecosystem is an honor. I felt an intense sense of reverence. I (we) should be present it in, know it, exist with it.
It’s estimated that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. As poetically described by Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar, in which the entire history of the universe is contained within a single calendar year, humans only came onto the scene in the final hours of December 31, making any one individual’s life nearly too short to measure. Being alive in 2018 in this biologically evolved form (that took more years to engineer than I can conceptualize), to see the iridescence of a morpho butterfly and hear the haunting call of a howler monkey, is extraordinary.
I came back from Brazil with a new goal – to instill that sense of wonder and elation in my boys while preparing them for terrifying challenges ahead. It’s manic, especially with mounting evidence that we are screwed.
Being in a state of emotional paralysis leaves me in a strange place to make artwork from my rainforest experience. I’m grateful for your interest in knowing nature through my work and eventually I’ll think my way through this on canvas. Stay tuned for posts that break down highlights from the trip in more digestible chunks as well as how it all plays out in my studio.
Until next time, remember there are people running for political office who make ignorant and dangerous statements such as climate change is happening because “the Earth moves closer to the sun every year” and “humans have warm bodies, so is heat coming off?”. Please vote.
All of the following photos are by Bruno Zanardo for LABVERDE.