Trebbe Johnson at her 2018 Global Earth Exchange for a brownfield under restoration, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Photo by Andrew Gardner
Psychology reminds us that we can’t be whole and healthy individuals until we confront our old secrets and shames and accept them as part of who we are. Surely acceptance and reconciliation were also needed to heal the relationship between the inner-city neighborhood where an incinerator belches toxins and its residents, between the wilderness trail splayed open by a uranium company and its hikers, between the woodland where great-horned owls no longer call because the lights and noise of gas fracking have driven them away and the farm family who leased their land believing that disturbances would be minimal.
I wanted to coax those places out of oblivion and confront them, mourn them, see them for what they now were. And then I wanted to be able to pull out some tool that would help me and the place and others who cared about it to live with it in its current state and even to find new meaning and value in it. This tool I sought had to be so handy and convenient that anyone could use it at any time, without having to go to a meeting, get training, phone a stranger at dinnertime, yell at somebody in power, get arrested, or give money. It also had to be serviceable enough, even pleasurable enough to use, that those who tried it would want to pick it up again and again.
Yet what I sought was more than just an action. Action without meaningful context would become, after a while, just rote. Whatever those deeds were, they had to be impelled by a new way of thinking about broken and threatened places. In other words, before I or the EPA or a local environmental group could restore a place physically-if, indeed, that was even possible-we needed to confer upon it a mental restoration. We had to recycle it in our hearts.
This book is about what I discovered.