Last year, remembering the previous very long winter, my husband and I decided to finally take a long anticipated trip to Europe. Winter there would be milder, and in any case, there would be plenty to see indoors.
It was all we expected. Little sun but not cold, friendly people, impressively preserved history, awe-inspiring museums. And yet, as with other trips, I was reminded that ignorance can be bliss when it comes to travel.
Conservationist Aldo Leopold said that “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” And I’ve seen the truth of this in many places - not only in clear-cuts of old-growth in the Northwest or the smog of Los Angeles, but almost everywhere I go - including on this trip.
We spent only days in any one place, so my impressions of Europe’s Low Countries are superficial. But it seemed that the meticulously maintained old cities often gave way to suburban sprawl, and the bicycles, trams and excellent metro systems, which make residents and tourists alike feel virtuous, are being replaced by cars. Despite Europe’s enviable train system, traffic jams are common.
Then there were the public restrooms that flush vast amounts of water, just like ours; little recycling; and the unseasonably warm weather, which reminded me that Europe is just as affected by climate change as the rest of us.
I missed Holland’s famous tulip fields but having learned that most use the very petrochemicals that contribute heavily to climate change, I didn’t really mind.
Travel always includes some low-level guilt, since flying or driving come with their own polluting side effects. So I almost always prefer to be home in Vermont.
Our historic buildings may lack the grandeur of Europe’s castles, and our most majestic maples are dwarfed by redwood cathedrals. But many ecological wounds in Vermont have healed. Our once decimated forests again cover three-quarters of the state. And there is a determined effort to preserve the working landscape.
We’re also doing our part to act locally in a way that makes a difference globally, with model projects in energy efficiency, GMO labeling, and even a possible carbon tax.
And so, on even the most frigid days, there’s plenty of beauty here to sustain us - in the stillness of open valleys and our gleaming mountaintops. And in the commitment to take good care of them - for ourselves and those who follow us.