Thinking Locally

Every morning at 8 a.m. I circle our house with our dog Toby, and then we circle through the floodplain along Lawson’s Fork Creek. In 15 minutes we’ve made about a quarter-mile figure eight that doubles back on itself a time or two. I use it as a opportunity to note weather, water levels, tracks of wildlife from the night before, bird movements.

It’s my daily communion with this local place, and I feel it’s one of the most important things I do every day. It’s become almost a ritual for me at this point.

This walk, if I’m paying attention to what’s around me, cannot be duplicated anywhere else on the planet, though lord knows the global is working hard to overcome our local place with kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle, and English ivy!

The phrase “Think globally, act locally” was coined sometime in the late €˜60s or early €˜70s. I like to turn it on its head and say I’m “thinking locally” when we walk, but I know I’m also thinking and acting globally. I am connected to the rest of the planet as I bore so deeply into my place every morning at 8 a.m. I am both a citizen of Tempo Court and a citizen of the world for those 15 minutes.

I’ll admit it’s troubling to me if I am. There’s a part of me that really likes this momentary freedom from global responsibility I feel for that 15 minutes on my morning walk. With my dog along Lawson’s Fork I don’t think much about global warming, or world-wide species annihilation, or the unfair trade practices of coffee dealers.

Instead I find myself thinking in the specifics of one place– the way it’s cooler near the creek, and the cottonwoods drop their little yellow crab claws in mid-March every year when their flowers emerge– and so mostly I focus on what I love about it, not the ways that global capitalism (kudzu and coffee again) has changed the place.

I’m in no way dismissing my global responsibilities. I want to be a citizen of this place and the world. When I return with Toby from the piedmont woods every morning the global is there to trouble me the rest of the day.

In my own life I’ve often perplexed when I have to move to a global level with environmental problems because I’m so focused on my own backyard. I know there is a connection, it’s just that the coyotes now moving up and down my home creek engage me more fully than the gray wolf being taken off the endangered species list. I’m aware of the wolf’s situation and I understand the connections between the growing range of coyotes and the loss of the wolf, but the daily backyard howling is real to me in a way a wolf never will be here, in this place, at this time.

And how does all this impact my role as a citizen? And what is leadership in this context? These are the questions I’m still working on.

I think my morning walk contributes a daily local vote in a democracy of the planet that goes beyond the human realm. Politics for me has become intimately connected to natural history.

And so to be a citizen of the globe demands a sort of action and thought that is well beyond anything we have demanded of citizenship so far. It demands awareness of climate change, but also education in the weather of our own place, working knowledge of the flowers and trees, and daily attention to the migrating birds. It might demand the tools of the naturalist, and universal understanding and recognition of terms such as native, nonnative, invasive, point and nonpoint source, ecosystem, watershed.

The next time you hear someone say we need to “think globally and act locally,” maybe tell them to take a hike.

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