Thursday, 18 Sep 2003

NEW YORK, N.Y.

Today I’m back home. With Hurricane Isabel bearing down on the North Carolina shore, and evacuations aplenty forcing people away from the coasts — west toward Asheville and its convenient little airport — I feel lucky to have gotten out without too much of a hitch. Except, that is, for having to wake up at 4:15 in the morning, meet my colleagues in a dim hotel lobby before 5 a.m., and catch a 6:15 flight back to New York.

Regardless of the credentials you might have, your wealth or the professional station you might hold, there is something about waking up at 4:15 a.m. or thereabouts to catch a plane that unavoidably makes you feel diminished, almost victimized. You just know that waking up that early to get in a car to go to an airport is fundamentally not a proper way to live. Then, little by little, as you suck down your morning water and juice and the sun begins to rise and the plane gets closer to home, your emotional stature recovers bit by tiny bit, and despite being enormously tired you at least begin to feel whole again and, indeed, when the sun is up and the plane lands and the bustle of New York is all around, you forget how compromised you felt at 4:00 that morning and instead feel like you’ve got a bright and early jump on the day.

Now, besides reviewing and beginning to act on the research and institutional coordination tasks that the past few days of paper industry-related meetings left me with, I’ve got to sit down and prepare for three upcoming speeches: Next Wednesday night, I lecture on the ravages of and the alternatives to sprawl in my hometown, a quiet little tree-saturated hamlet 60 miles north of New York City, where I was born and raised. Then, on the following Sunday, I will deliver a lecture right after mass at All Souls Church in Manhattan, at 53rd and Lexington Avenue, about the “Role and Responsibilities of the Corporation in 21st Century America.” And just a few days after that, I head down to West Virginia with my NRDC colleague Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to lecture to the Doris Duke Charitable Trusts’ Fellows Program, where I will be speaking about the needs for, and the barriers to, sustainable industrial development, which is what my recent book, Bronx Ecology, is about.

Although research is my passion and among my greatest privileges, I love lecturing and I look forward to my upcoming speeches because writing speeches offers me the best excuse for converting a wide range of experiences into conscious thought. I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson that lecturing properly, true eloquence, is indeed an art, and that only with the emergence of free and thoughtful lectures did civilization arrive. The art of giving a good lecture, said Emerson, “is eminently the one [art] that flourishes in democracies, since it calls out the highest resources of character.” “True eloquence” he said, is “the serious and hearty love of truth.”

Today’s entry, you might notice, is more a diary-like entry than my submissions of the previous three days, where I focused not only on where I was, but also, and mostly, on outlining the technical work I was doing and why. There are two reasons for my change in tone in today’s diary.

First, I am tired. It’s been a long three days of travel, with late nights of work in offices and back in my hotel room, without the warm, joyous comfort of my family, and suffering through early morning meetings and plane travel to boot. So, alas, being tired as I am, it is hard to muster up the truths of ecology that my research reveals to me and that I love to share, albeit perhaps a little too much for most people’s tastes.

Second, soon after I returned home, I spoke with a professional in the PR/communications world who, I found out, happens to be a Grist reader, and shall remain nameless. He had been reading my diary entries, he told me, and he then chided me for not writing in the proper diary style: “You’re not right for that kind of writing,” he said. “You like to lecture, to teach. It was a mistake to have you do the Grist diary. You put in too many facts. That’s not what a Grist diary should be,” he told me. After hanging up politely and trying to recover, I turned to Emerson, my counsel, as I so often do: “Little people pull down and overcrow,” I read. “The least people do most entirely demolish me … a snippersnapper eats me whole.” Thanks, Waldo — as usual, that was just what I needed to hear (or read).

Thankfully, I then got back to my desk to view some of the emails sent to me while I was away, and there were more than a few from other people who had been reading these diaries, even one forwarded on to me from the Grist editor, and these people thanked me for what I was doing and, my professional “snippersnapper” PR friend notwithstanding, there were more than a few emails expressing admiration for and interest in what I was writing about. Although I try to be, like Emerson, “too great for enmity & fault-finding,” reading the emails made me feel revived and, once again, free and confident: “Free should the scholar be, — free and brave,” wrote Emerson. “The world is his who can see through its pretension.”

I like facts because there is no pretension in them. And when I write about facts, as I have these past few days in my Grist diaries, there is no pretension in me.

“We speak for Nature.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson