Blessed Unrest


There are millions upon millions of people in this world who are part of the vast movement that environmentalist Paul Hawken calls ‘Blessed Unrest’ in his book of that title. The subtitle is heartening: “How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.”

This movement consists of people working all over the world to clean rivers and wetlands, bring fish and animals back to their natural habitat, reinstate indigenous rights to land and water, fight the dumping of toxic waste in low-income neighborhoods, renovate housing, clear the air, preserve ancient forests, save wild and beautiful land for everyone. There are billionaires involved, and there are subsistence farmers and hunters who don’t have a money economy. One person operates here, 7 people there, 100 gather in a city. Entire tribes work to preserve the rain forest; several work together to bring salmon back to the dammed rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Some organizations have millions of members, some have three. All of the groups, Hawken says, “are dedicated to creating the conditions for life, conditions that include livelihood, food, security, peace, a stable environment and freedom from external tyranny.”

I love his idea that the earth itself is gathering all of us, inspiring and working through us, for her own regeneration. We are her immune system, tending wounds — so many truly grievous —that we have inflicted through strife, misuse, misunderstanding, greed, tribalism, and all the other isms that limit our vision of ourselves, our fellow beings, our world, and our profound interconnections. In many of my essays, I not only celebrate this movement, I take courage from it.

A wild love for the world

Wild geranium (Geranium erianthum) Wynn Nature Center, Homer, Alaska by Betsey Crawford

My youngest nephew is standing at the gates of adulthood appalled by what he finds beyond them. He has a lot of company, of all ages. But I feel particular sympathy for the youngest and tenderest among us. It is one thing, at my age, to acknowledge that I will not see the promised land in the span I have left. But for our young, too many are wondering if they will have land at all.

What has stayed with me after a recent visit was Ira’s asking where I find comfort and inspiration in the face of our challenges. This is my answer.

Blessed Unrest: the Pachamama Alliance

Narcisa Mashiento at the Pachamama Alliance annual luncheon in 2017

The dream shapes the world, the Achuar people told John Perkins on his visits to the Ecuadorian rainforest. They asked for help to save their lands — the heart and lungs of the planet — from being engulfed by the oil companies and the dream of the west. He then met a woman from California who was having mysterious visions.

The Pachamama Alliance was born. The rainforest was changing the dream, calling in her helpers.

The enchanted boy

A dragonfly alights on a twig along Kaplan's Pond in Croton-on-Hudson, New York by Betsey Crawford

In the face of devastating news from every direction, I have been reading an incandescent book. I take it into the woods with me. As I listen I find myself slowing down until I’m barely wandering, every sense more alive to the world I’m walking through. Written by a teenage North Irishman named Dara McAnulty, it’s a diary of his challenging, ecstatic journey through the year he was fourteen.

Ecstatic because he lives in the altered states of a being who is illuminated by love. In his case, by a passion for the natural world. A saving passion because he is autistic in a world that struggles to offer him a place.

It’s the story of how he courageously came to claim one as a champion for the environment. A story lit to incandescence by his boundless love for nature and the exquisite prose with which he describes it.

When rivers go to court

Rights of Nature: the Thompson River in Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo by Betsey Crawford

Imagine a river taking her case to court. Arriving in her smooth, flowing robes, reflecting the blue of the sky, a shimmering train brushing the floor as she walks. She speaks in a deep, contralto voice. Her tone holds great authority. No one, listening to her, would doubt her word for an instant. It would be impossible to ignore what she says. And we all know exactly what she would say…

In the last few years, rivers all over the world have been given a voice. They are proving to be pioneers in the growing rights of nature movement.

The Work that Reconnects: a weekend with Joanna Macy

Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) taken in Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, California by Betsey Crawford

I’ve done something that I’ve been putting off for a long time: I joined Joanna Macy and twenty-eight other people for a weekend of the Work that Reconnects, workshops she has been developing and offering since the 1970s. I knew of Joanna as a philosopher of both ecology and Buddhism, full of wisdom and deep practice on both fronts. Over the years I would see opportunities to join her. I’d carefully read the description, which always included confronting our deep pain about what is happening with the earth. It sounded profound; it sounded like something I should do; it sounded very painful. I would decide to do it another time.

The first weekend in April was that other time….

Project Drawdown: reversing global warming

For Project Drawdown: a refrigerator full of food illustrates how many solutions an everyday appliance involves. Photo by Betsey Crawford

I’m celebrating Earth Day today by sharing some of the best and most exciting news I’ve ever heard. It started with a question environmentalist Paul Hawken posed: what can we do to reverse global warming? The standard research is devoted to ways to slow it down. But, Paul reasoned, if you’re on the wrong road, what’s the point of just slowing down? When he found that no one could answer his question, he began assembling a team to spearhead the research themselves.

They came up with action and hope and jaw-dropping surprises. And a way to reimagine our world.

What does it have to do with my unusually tidy refrigerator?

The geography of hope: saving half the earth

Saving half earth: Emerald Lake, Yolo National Park, British Columbia, Canada by Betsey Crawford

Biologist E.O. Wilson had a radical proposal: save half the earth. That’s what it will take to stem the drastic rate of current extinctions, and to provide enough room to preserve the earth’s biodiversity and thus vitality.

The proposal is wonderfully simple. There are vast healthy wild areas that can be protected. Of course, it’s also complicated. But those very complications invite us to rethink what we do with the other half. And that’s a wonderful challenge.

What we can do: gardening to save half the earth

Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on the aptly named butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberose) in Osceola, Missouri. Photo by Betsey Crawford

Activists and organizations, with good reason, tend to focus on projects like saving the vast Amazon basin. But it’s also vitally important that we preserve, create, and connect local habitat everywhere we can. Mercifully, as gardeners, we don’t need to deal with the competing interests of eight separate countries. Or 400 indigenous nations. Or corporations itching for access to petroleum, minerals, beef, or palm oil. We can grab a shovel, put some plants in the ground, and make an immediate difference.

But it depends on the plants we choose, and the reasons we choose them. If we are growing for biodiversity, we have a rich and rewarding path ahead once we give butterflies, birds, bees, moths, and other beings the plants they need for life.

Saving seeds

In the face of the corporate juggernaut that is tying up crop seeds for private gain, there are millions of people worldwide working to save our traditional seeds. They come singly and in groups, are part of large organizations and small, show up at local farmers markets and the Supreme Court. They are keeping our history alive and honoring our hard-working ancestors. And they are ensuring our future.

Rights of nature

Mountain top in the clouds in Golden, British Columbia by Betsey Crawford

In 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of nature into its constitution, affirming that nature has the right to “exist, persist, and maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its evolutionary processes.” Where we stand on this profound paradigm shift may well depend on how we see the mountain pictured here.

Blessed Unrest: the bioblitz

Silver puffs (Uropappus lindleyi) Gary Giacomini Open Space Preserve, Woodacre, California by Betsey Crawford

I’d never seen the word bioblitz until I got my first invitation to one. It had instant appeal: join a group of volunteers to survey a specific area, in an effort to catalog every species you find. Being on the ground taking photos of plants and bugs is one of my favorite things to do. Doing it to gather information for organizations who protect these lands made it even more appealing. And doing it with a group of people made it fun.

So off I went, into the blessed unrest.

Laudato si: wonder and care

The Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah by Betsey Crawford

Laudate si — Praise be! — are the opening words of each of the verses in Saint Francis’s beautiful Canticle to the Sun, and is also the title of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical defining the Catholic Church’s doctrines on the care of the earth. I recently discovered that September 1 has been chosen as the annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. To join in a day meant to contemplate the glories of creation, and our role in caring for them, I’ve interwoven some of Pope Francis’ words with pictures of the great luminous beauty of our world.

Spooky beauty, wild times: happy Halloween

Perfect for Halloween: black, curling fading flower by Betsey Crawford

It was seeing the black curving lines of the fading flower above that made me think occasional Halloween posts might be fun. And so they are. This year I’ve chosen flowers that have a spooky aura about them. But these are wild and difficult times, with plenty of real-life ghouls trying to take charge of our destiny. Wishing someone a happy anything can feel like a hopeless cause.

Where do we turn for encouragement and hope? I choose the millions of people working day and night below the headlines to make the world a saner, greener, fairer place. Underneath all the frenzy, the planet herself is taking over. Not to protect herself from us, but because she is us.

Sowing seeds into the whirlwind

White clover (Trillium repens) Cougar Bay trail, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Learning, on yet another election night, that progress is not only not remotely linear, but that the way is often bewilderingly and heartbreakingly tortuous, I was reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem, February 2, 1968.

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, 
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger, 
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

Clover is a plant of deep nourishment and renewal; no random choice on Berry’s part. For post-election solace, I turned once again to the millions of people who are sowing clover all over the world.

Ring Mountain and saving the world

Sunset behind Mount Tamalpais from Ring Mountain, Tiburon, California

I love Paul Hawken’s idea that the earth itself is gathering all of us, inspiring and working through us, for her own regeneration. We are her immune system, tending wounds — so many truly grievous —that we have inflicted through our limited vision of ourselves, our fellow beings, our world, and our profound interconnections.

Scroll to Top