Something that makes people feel as hopeful and beautiful as this moment is, and even though that seems like an impossible thing to do, although it actually seems like the very worst thing to do, I say OK, I’ll try, because at this moment the sun has just done a kind of magic trick on the water, everything shimmering layers of gold and blue, and then I wonder how many times people have used the word shimmering to describe sunlight on water, and I stop.
Later, I say. I make a mental note that once we have walked back along the pebbled road, away from the darkening cliffs and spiked green shrubs, past the farmer who herds the goats to their night pasture, bronze bells clanging around their necks as they shuffle and call, once we have stacked the dishes and shuttered the windows and poured two glasses of water for bed, I will make a list of hopeful things, just to remind myself.
But as I stack the dishes, I am thinking of this morning’s hike to a remote beach on the north side of the island, how when a cheerful woman called “kalimera!” followed by “good morning!” (just in case I didn’t know) I slowed my gait and responded in kind, and then, because we are both travelers, I asked the question travelers ask: “Where are you from?” and she smiled “Australia,” and I nodded and smiled, and she asked, “You?” and I answered “The United States,” and I dropped my head.
In that brief moment of hot pavement and weeds, all the unsaid words flung themselves around inside my chest, thick and stammering blood-red, but when I looked up, I only smiled and pointed, vaguely, in the direction of the beach. “It’s lovely,” I said. “Enjoy it.” I walked on in the heat, watching my feet rise and fall, rise and fall, and I felt the words cutting my tongue: “The United States,” the sounds like iron and steel, “The-United-States,” the taste of iron and steel and black coal dust grinding against my teeth.
Later tonight I will pour the water in two glasses, water bottled and shipped in by ferry since the island's wells ran dry, and I will think of Athens two nights before, how I stood staring up at the rocky face of the Acropolis, the white columns of the Erechtheion towering above me, no way of knowing until I reached the top the next day that a whole city of temples existed on that flat, dry place above the city. Thousands of us clicking and clacking like beetles among the ruins, surfaces grown hard and sleek in our need to see, to know, to do.
There was no way of knowing that night in Athens, in the ancient streets of Plaka, that I would feel so small, looking up. Or that in the birthplace of democracy (a democracy with voting rights and citizenship for men at the exclusion of slaves and women), that in the birthplace of democracy, upon hearing of Pittsburgh and Paris, I would scream and long to be made myth, that the tears would spring from my eyes and fall upon my feet, and in their place would grow a laurel tree, that my roots would become leaves and the leaves would become trees and the trees would grow vines and the vines would reach across the oceans and choke –
– no, I’m going to tell the real story.
The story of how when it came time to name the land beneath the Acropolis, it was Athena and Poseidon who fought the hardest for the right to name the city. When the Gods of Olympus saw this, they challenged Athena and Poseidon to a contest. To show his power, Poseidon struck the marble floor of the white-columned Erechtheion with his trident, and with the force of that blow, the marble cracked! From the crack there gushed a spring, a gift from the God of the Sea to free the land from drought. The people raised their arms and cheered, but when they tasted the water, they realized it was made of salt. When they understood that Poseidon’s gift would make them sick, they were furious.
When Athena saw this, she planted seeds in the dry land beside the broken Erechtheion, and the seeds sprouted and became an olive tree. The tree offered the people sweet fruit, it provided oil and wood, so if you’re following this, Athena the Goddess of Wisdom offered an actual olive branch. When the people saw this, the true winner was clear, because in myths, truth, honor and wisdom always prevail, so when I walked in the door that night in Athens and I read the news, I screamed loud enough to shoot leaves from my veins and I swear, I would have cut off my right breast for a golden lasso or an olive branch if it could set this right. I flung myself on the bed, watching my lungs rise and fall, through the window the crumbling white columns of democracy and myth, reminding me that for every rise and fall,
rise and fall
rise and fall
rise and fall
rise and fall
rise and fall
rise and fall
there is a sun, shimmering gold and blue on an island of shadows and light. As I turn back toward the pebbled road, away from the darkening cliffs and spiked green shrubs, past the farmer who herds the goats to their night pasture, bronze bells clanging around their necks as they shuffle and call, a movement catches my eye along the cliff’s edge. A small white goat has fallen behind.
She stands thousands of feet above the dark blue, looking out. I follow her gaze to the sun and the sea and all its shimmering, and when I look back, she has fallen – wait! no, somehow, she has landed on a thin, rocky ledge just below the cliff’s edge. I press my nails into my palms as the goat stumblehops down that precipice, another ten feet, hobble across five, now jump another ten, a hicketystumblecrumbling shower of black-red rocks, down, down to an impossibly narrow ledge poised halfway between water and sky – and when she reaches that bright green place among the rocks, she stops.
She nibbles and leans.
Watching her, I feel inexplicably lonely. Will she sleep there? Can she climb back up? I am considering the possibility of a rare hybrid of Greek yogurt-making amphibious goats when I see another movement above. Out from an unseen crevice in the sheer cliff wall leaps a tiny black-and-white goat. She hobbles along, straining and bleating, and when she puts both hooves over the edge, I realize that she is about to follow. No way of knowing that three days from this moment, the Governor Ige of Hawai‘i, joined by the state's county mayors and state representatives, will gather to sign two bills aimed at reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses, making the state "the first in the nation to join the Paris Agreement." Standing on the cliff’s edge, heartbloodlifewater flowing down.
When the goat finally reaches that bright green place in the rock, she gives a happy, bushy wag of her tail and calls out. Another moment passes, and from far above, there is a response: the high, wild call of a black goat, standing at the cliff’s edge, calling, calling: we belong to each other! Calling us home.
To ask your state to align with the Paris Agreement, 1) check this list to see whether your state is a member of the United States Climate Alliance and 2) if your state is a member, call your representative to express your support OR 3) if your state is not a member, call your governor's office and say: "Hello, my name is [NAME] and I live in [CITY]. I'm calling to express my concern about President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Can you please urge Governor [NAME] to join the other governors who are part of the United States Climate Alliance? These bipartisan leaders are coming together to align their states' goals with the Paris Agreement within their borders. I think it's critical for [NAME OF YOUR STATE] to be one of the states committed to protecting the environment from climate change.
Portions of this essay were inspired by the poetry of Robert Lax.
Leigh Hopkins' featured column Secret Circus is a 6-month series on Corporeal Clamor. At a time when government secrets can be revealed in 140 characters and our nation loves a show, Secret Circus blends personal essay with political commentary.
In 2010, Leigh left a 20-year career in social policy and education reform to move to Brazil, where she ran a retreat center and founded Viva Institute by rigging a satellite dish to a boulder in a banana field. Her writing can be found in Elephant Journal, ENTROPY Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Viva Institute, and at LeighHereNow. Leigh lives in Philadelphia with her wife, a painter, and their Jack Russell Terrier.