Part 1: Lebanon
I’ve noticed a pattern on Instagram in the last few weeks; every time I flick through your stories, I see one or two or three or four of you posting images of plant life—wild flowers, potted plants, tree bark, even grass. These little odes to botany come from different countries & diverse people, but they usually share a similar aesthetic: close up, almost reverential, with an air of rediscovered naïveté like “have you ever really seen a leaf, like really really seen a leaf?”
It seems that social distancing has brought us closer to our non-human neighbors.
I’ve felt this way before. In my last two years in Lebanon, my wife & I worked for a nonprofit based in a sprawling campus in a sleepy hilltop suburb overlooking Beirut. The location was peaceful & very secluded, especially if you didn’t drive, which we didn’t. Our mobility during this time was generally constricted, so we tended towards a pretty ritualistic existence, particularly during the workweek.
Every day, during our lunch break, we’d walk the same serpentine route around campus, past the pines & the terraced path dotted with olive trees; it was our little adventure safari. We’d watch the rock agamas flex their pecs and say hello to the chickens that someone let loose one or two Easters ago; we’d pet the neighborhood cat. We’d talk about deep thoughts and fret
about my visa and try our best to avoid other people—very good practice for times like these. We’d discover flora and fauna that we had no clue existed in our dusty part of the world: the Lebanon Lizard (Phoenicolacerta laevis), the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), the Zygaena graslini (it doesn’t even have a common name)…
There was even a hidden oasis past the housing compound next to campus; a tiny spit of land on the edge of a valley where life teemed around some water that trickled down the cliff side—a broken pipe, for all we knew. We’d visit this spot daily and watch the micro-seasons change.
Communing with fragments of wilderness in a country that did not make green space easily accessible was a lifeline for us in a very stressful time, just as it is for many right now…
Part 2: Scotland
Edinburgh was the first city I experienced as being “metronatural,” a made-up word that used to be Seattle’s motto—admittedly clunky and dated as city branding, but perfectly adequate for describing the seamless blend of green and grey in both places. Christine likes to remind me of my childlike glee walking around Arthur’s Seat, pointing out every bird and clump of bramble like I was discovering life on Mars. She’d tell me: “I can’t wait to take you to Seattle because Washington will blow your mind,” and I’d be content with having access to an extinct volcano in the middle of the city with no fences or security guards, as I’d known green space in Beirut.
And the Scots knew how to tell a good story too; the place was infused in a wisp of myth and poetry. They claimed it was the location of Camelot and the spot where a Scottish king saw the heavenly apparition that—fun fact—eventually became the Jägermeister logo. I mean, this was a people that came together, looked the world in the eye, and said: we want our national emblem to be a @&$!#-ing unicorn.
This place inspired writers and artists over the centuries who recruited and reimagined this topology as a locus of philosophical, theological, and literary tension—it is the transcendent summit of mystical communion and the daemonic crag of terror-romance. You’ll laugh, but I could relate to that.
But, as one book puts it, “wild mountain landscape though Arthur’s Seat may seem…it is also an urban park, just a few hundred yards from the city center.” And that’s what I loved the most.
Part 3: State of Washington
She did take me to Seattle and my mind did get blown; my first visit to the PNW was during Christmas, 2013, and it felt like stepping into Narnia. The greens were greener, the trees were tree-er, the mountains were purple majesty, and I saw with my own eyes why Christine loved her home state so much—this wasn’t your typical gringo jingoism.
Last night, we talked about how that trip was like a glimpse of our future; she was anxious at the time—would I like it here enough to uproot myself and move to the other side of the world? She’d enjoyed her nomadic lifestyle, but just like salmon, all Seattleites eventually swim their way back home.
It was a bit of a no-brainer for me. This place is beautiful and wild and just the right dose of weird; a little confused at times, but carrying a massive heart broken way open. People joked about my timing being way off, on a federal level, but I joked back: I needed some of the chaos and disappointment of the old country to really feel at home.
These days, we’re all pivoting and trying to figure out how best to proceed on this battered and bruised planet. Some of that will require something radically new of us all, but I think that much of what we’ll realize we need will be simple and uncomplicated, though no less radical, striking at the roots. Today is #EarthDay and I‘m grateful to be here. I’m happy that you are here too.