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Climate anxiety: Taking the first step is the hardest

As a young child in Minnesota, I enjoyed playing outside but didn’t always feel the deep connection to the outdoors that many people experience in their very earliest memories.

For me, it was a process of gradually becoming more attuned to the world around me and my place in it, as well as appreciating the vast opportunities and time for reflection that are abundant in nature.

I grew up in Delano, a small community in the western Twin Cities suburbs. Our home was situated on the edge of town, close to the woods and agricultural fields of rural Minnesota. My dad had always planted a large garden in our backyard, but I considered the garden chores tedious and I would seek to avoid them if possible.

As I grew older I began feeling more anxiety. I couldn’t place the source, but as it mounted it began to cloud my thinking. Sometimes it was hard to see beyond the narrow scope of my worries.


One day, my dad mentioned that the garden could use some weeding, and I thought focusing on a job would distract me from the inner tension I was feeling. As I began to work, the tension didn’t disappear, but it shifted to the back of my mind. Slowly, it was replaced by an awareness of the moment, and I began to take notice my senses … the feeling of crumbly, sun-warmed soil sifting through my toes, soft leaves brushing against my leg, the buzz of cicadas in the warm summer air, and the cool ribbons of shade created by the shadows of the corn stalks.

Experiencing the present moment

In a simple shift of perspective, I realized how spending so much time thinking about the unknowns of life had separated me from experiencing the peacefulness of the present moment.

Logan Reider
Logan Reider
In different areas of my life, I had experienced self-doubt about my ability to contribute meaningful ideas and participate fully, and I realized that was part of why I felt anxious. I also became more aware of the many pressing issues in the world, like climate change. There was so much beyond my control, and I felt overwhelmed and powerless to make an impact.

The visible results of maintaining the garden helped me grow more confident in my ability to initiate a project and to handle challenges that came my way, allowing me to make a tangible difference through my own actions. Spending time in nature has allowed me to understand that I am just a small part of Earth’s web of life, which can free me from feeling like I have to control things around me.

Last summer I had the opportunity to work on a local farm, and the impact of climate change in the garden and on the farm has been unmistakable.

Non-native fruit flies, tomato blight

A few years ago, the large raspberry patch in my yard was invaded by a non-native species of fruit fly that is now able to survive the warmer winters in Minnesota, and the berry crop has been destroyed every year since. The heavier rains and warmer nighttime temperatures in the summer have allowed diseases like tomato blight to flourish and spread faster, creating huge losses in the harvests of many high-value crops throughout the entire state. At the same time that rainfall is increasing, a drought last summer parched the land for three weeks, and on the farm we needed to pull massive irrigation hoses through the rows of wilted plants just to keep them alive.

The destabilizing pattern of climate change has begun to upset the complex balances of the environment, gradually shifting it from a refuge of escape to a source of anxiety for many people, myself included.

It’s disturbing to realize that many people throughout the world do not have this essential opportunity to reflect in nature because their surroundings have been degraded by climate change and human activity.

Expanding our thinking

I have often struggled with caring about issues but being unsure about concrete steps to take toward solutions. My ideas felt confined by a mindset that sees things as unchangeable, and I have begun to realize that this thinking is what enables issues to keep occurring. Many people are deeply concerned about climate change, but they also don’t know where to start. For me, our goal needs to be finding ways to make sustainable choices more accessible and help people expand their thinking to question what changes are possible.

Taking a first step is the hardest part for me and many others, and I want other people to experience the same feeling of accomplishment and connection to the earth that I do whenever I step into the garden, in whatever way fits their own life.

Logan Reider is a student at the University of Minnesota. Logan’s story was originally published on Climate Generation’s storytelling collection after he served as an intern through the HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) program, during the fall of 2018.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/27/2019 - 12:38 pm.

    Logan,

    I have a home in Minneapolis, with thirty fruit trees, 200 species of plants about 500 sq ft of garden beds, and logs and wood chips for growing edible mushrooms.

    I have had the same problem with D. suzuki, the fruit fly you reference. I have been forced to pick the berries daily, or they are compromised, no good, within 24hrs, a gooey mess infested with maggots.

    There are otherwise a lot less insects generally, even since I started this garden a dozen years ago. this garden used to teem with bumblebees and now there are few. It is the same with the monarchs. Pollinators generally. The fruit flies, Japanese beetles, mosquitos and black flies are flourishing in the relative absence.

    Nevertheless this garden is my sanctuary. I could not live in the city without it. It is also part of the reason I have started a nonprofit called Food Forest, Farm and Restaurant, to build an economy that takes care of the land, waters, pollinators and people.

    You are a good writer. Ecosystems need good writers. Keep it up.

    William Hunter Duncan

  2. Submitted by Richard Sethre on 07/28/2019 - 10:03 am.

    Nice article, Logan!
    My garden is also my sanctuary, but I have had to work harder every year to maintain it. I have had to stop growing roses due to Japanese beetles. There are less bees and Monarchs. I have started collecting Monarch eggs from my milkweed and released 25 so far this year – that helps, in a little way. I feel that I am dong something!
    Richard Sethre
    Minneapolis

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