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James Manton Mitchell
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Dear Niam,

Dear Niam,

I remember the time we went on a bike ride to Kingman island, how we hiked down to the very tip of the island way past where the trail ends. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the uncertainty as it started to grow dark, you asking me when we’d get there and complaining about the cold (even though you refused to put on your coat haha) just like something I would’ve done at your age. The way you smiled and laughed as we found ourselves following unkempt trails through green tunnels of trees till we could go no further, the end of the island looking out onto the Anacostia river. You had imitated the way I sighed as I sat down on a log and looked out on the water, I laughed at this and you giggled too. I don’t know where all this is going, where you’ll be, where the world will be, and I’d be lying if I could promise you that everything will be ok. I just don’t know that. The more cynically realistic part of my brain wants to lay the truth of the world’s situation out to you in bare truths. I’d tell you about how previous generations took and took from the world, unknowing or in many cases knowingly stealing your future from you. I’d want you to get angry, as angry as I get when I feel that sense of unfairness grow in me. Have you ball your fists and strike with action against those responsible for robbing you. 

Maybe I’d just start with a simple story. I’d tell you about how I found myself in the footsteps of giants, at the feet of a glacier nestled between mountains. An old man stepping out of his truck and hobbling over to a small picnic table. It’s cold out and we’re the only two people around. The Alaskan autumn sun has peaked over the mountains and shines down on us as I give a friendly wave to the old man and make my way over to him, hands stuffed in my pockets as the crisp air blowing off the glacier runs right through me. Small words are exchanged and then he says something that hits me. “When I was a boy you couldn’t even sit here… all the ice” gesturing around to the picnic table and gravel road behind us. I look around, back at the glacier. The wall of ice doesn’t seem too far away, maybe a half mile or so… but maybe more. “Those peaks were never bare” he says matter of factly, but a tinge of sadness trails off his sentence. An arthritic finger points up towards the mountains and I crane my neck upwards. We sat in silence for a few minutes as the sun rose little by little, warming the earth at our feet, warming the ice once again. It felt like a funeral, his words a eulogy, the mountains a tomb… a mausoleum to the dying ice. Somewhere distantly the glacier calves a large chunk of ice, falling into the frigid water, the booming acoustics echoing off the walls of the mountains. Like moans and groans, like the deathrows of a dying world.  I felt angry at that moment. As if I was seeing a fraction of the world as it was, a world drained and tired, only catching glimpses of shadows. My efforts to “do my part” for the earth felt miniscule and woefully inadequate, as though I was fighting for diminishing returns of marginal gains. 

I want to be able to give you more than I had, to have you see the world more as it was and far less like what I fear it will be. My actions feel insignificant in the face of the larger forces at play here. I think it’d be easier to give into feelings of futility, to surrender and say “maybe it’s not that serious’”, but the way you laughed sticks with me. I want you to have more of those moments, to have more of those beautiful natural things to put a smile on your face. And so I can’t just sit by or sink into my couch as the climate crisis plays out on my television. I’ll continue to fight for a future, for your future, though I may never see it, though the shade of the trees I plant will not be ones I sit under in my lifetime. For if i can even improve the chance by .000001% I will have improved the chances… and that is enough to me.  I wish you more than luck in your future endeavors, most of all I hope you stop and appreciate what seems to be increasingly fleeting, right outside of your window. 

Best,

James Mitchell

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