Photo: Koa Kalish
My plane touches down onto the tarmac of the San Francisco Airport and I flip off the airplane mode on my phone, waiting for my signal to catch. A barrage of texts and news announcements stream onto my screen: “Are you and Adam safe? Have you had to evacuate?” they read. Evacuate what? I worry before opening one of the news stories entitled “The Tubbs Fire.” I rapidly scroll through the article, aware that the rest of the plane has awoken to this same news and that many of us are now holding our breath as we go through the motions of deplaning and worming our way through customs. I send a series of rapid messages to Adam as I shuffle my way forward in line. “What’s going on?!” I text, “Is the house okay?” “Yes, everything is okay,” he replies, “let’s talk in the car.” I take my first deep breath and my hands move instinctively to my stomach, where they rest for the remainder of my time in line.
The Tubbs Fire was one of over a dozen Northern California wildfires that devastated communities in October of 2017. It became national news overnight, as it was specifically this fire that ended up burning over 5,000 structures and killing at least 22 people. Residents were forced to flee their homes in the middle of the night as whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa burned to the ground. My partner Adam and I live just a half hour south of Santa Rosa, in the town of Petaluma. This “firestorm,” as it has since been called, has inked itself into my memory, not only because of its gravity and proximity, but also because it marked the start of my pregnancy.
48 hours before the Tubbs fire ignited I gazed down at a positive pregnancy test in London. It was the tale end of a two-and-a-half-week trip to Europe, where I had been facilitating my course, “Earth Is `Ohana,” a class on embracing spiritual ecology as a response to our climate crisis. The day before I took this pregnancy test I was sharing about the “3-6-9 concept,” which references that our planet is headed toward a 3-degree Celsius global temperature increase, while going through the 6th mass extinction of species, and simultaneously headed towards a global population of 9 billion people by 2050. I had asked the class to sit in silence and reflect on how the sum of these numbers impacts them. For the majority of my 20’s my identity has largely been wrapped up in youth and climate work, understanding and sharing information like this has been the focus of my life for the past few years. The enormity of discovering that I was pregnant was also intertwined in the reality of these numbers. I was excited, yet critically aware of what it meant to bring another human being onto this planet. As I waited outside of the airport for Adam I kept thinking about how the myth of “safer, higher ground” was rapidly fading for many, and that our child would be living through so much more of this climate chaos.
The following days and weeks were surreal. Adam and I planned our future while packing up all the important items in our home. While we watched the ever expanding plume of black smoke to the north of us blanket the sky, family photos came down off the walls and were taken south for safekeeping, to his brother’s house. Checking the direction of the wind before bed became ritual, while we prayed that the fire wouldn’t jump the freeway in the middle of the night. We drove into the hot red haze that was Santa Rosa for my first prenatal appointment and listened to our baby’s heartbeat before being handed smoke masks and being warned that pregnant women needed to stay indoors during this time. As we drove home through the smoke I wondered about who this baby would be, but I was especially curious about why my child was choosing to come now. The sorrow of lost homes and lost lives poured into our small town, leaving evacuated families with nowhere to go except the front of our supermarkets. Store shelves were emptied and sirens raced continuously up and down the freeway while I tried my best to convince my close family and friends that Adam and I were safe, all the while delivering the news that we were starting a family.
“How do you feel?” was often the first question posed in these conversations. “Excited!” I would respond, eyeing the thick haze of smoke outside my window. Mostly I felt sad as I kept mentally replaying a recent visit with one of Adam’s friends. Over breakfast she had shared about her close encounters with the fire. A single mother living in Santa Rosa, she had awoken to the overpowering smell of smoke and, looking outside her window, saw flames rapidly making their way towards her home. Waking her daughter, she ran with her to their car and fled. It was only once they were at a safe distance that she turned to her child and asked if she was okay, to which her daughter replied, “my heart is shaking.”
These words echoed in my head as I remembered how our friend’s eyes filled with tears as she shared this story. This was the first moment I felt the strong surge of maternal instinct race through my body, the feeling of a love so all-consuming that it hurts to the marrow of your bones. In that moment I learned that it is possible to hear and feel the crying of the earth in a new way, that the feeling of your child’s heart shaking makes your own quake. I felt like an animal within my expanding flesh, rubbed raw by the truth that my skin was stretching to house another’s, and that one day this life would have to navigate our world.
As I grow bigger through the months I learn that pregnancy is a time of feeling vulnerable and powerful. I become aware of how my womb is an entire ocean, my body a whole earth unto itself, my baby it’s only citizen. My belly leaves nothing to hide, announcing that I have chosen to always place another’s life before mine, a life I live to protect. At times I have thought of pregnancy as both a consensual and non-consensual experience; consensual in that I have chosen to say yes to this journey, yes to growing this life, but I have not agreed to my gums bleeding and my teeth weakening because the baby needs my calcium. My body constantly feeds this life as my organs rearrange themselves without consulting my rational mind. Growing a child is teaching me that my capacity to give is rooted at a cellular level. I wonder if it’s possible to learn this without carrying a child, and I’m hit by the reality that everything I am going through is one of life’s most natural processes. I am curious how many of my peers will one day join me in parenthood. For most of us it seems inevitable; after all we are all animals.
“How will you balance motherhood and activism?” a friend asks me at the end of a conference. I appreciate her directness; it’s the silent question that I can hear wrapped around the many congratulations that I receive from my peers who know me exclusively through projects related to climate and social justice. I know my pregnancy is a surprising and even shocking turn of events for my current social group, most of whom actively work within “the youth sector.” I am the first of us to become pregnant and I can tell that, by association, I am aging my friends. Suddenly the words “the next generation” has taken on a new and much more intimate meaning. The next generation is no longer us; the next generation is growing in my womb. Recently a friend with whom I attended the UN Climate Conferences reposted a New York Times article on Facebook entitled, “No Children Because of Climate Change? Some People Are Considering It.” At first read I feel confronted by the wave of guilt that washes over me. Through the years I’ve lamented over the many points the article outlines. For me it all comes down to two questions: is it a selfish and destructive act to have a child? and if I do, will my child be okay in an uncertain future? Choosing to have a baby while being so intricately aware of the many ways the world is burning seems crazy. What does it mean to mother a whole generation of children into the devastation of these times? I’m scared because I don’t know. All that I do know is that suddenly my personal timeline has been yanked forward, beyond my own life and into the future of my child’s, providing a new type of urgency to understand where and how I might be most effective. Growing this life helps me to remember that my original introduction to grassroots activism was through mothers. These were women from my home on Maui who taught me the importance of showing up in my own community. From the mother who took her newborn door-to-door to collect signatures, to the single mothers who are currently running for office, back at home our activist spaces seamlessly blend family life and parenthood. These mothers continue to persevere because, as I’m learning, having a child demands a new type of engagement. I feel responsible for creating a healthier world for my baby to grow into, as well as shaping a human being that will play their part in our larger collective healing. I believe that activism and parenthood have always informed each other, but the act of mothering can often be invisible work. As we have started to acknowledge on a societal level, we can never know the true price of a mother or a father’s contribution, but for those who have yet to parent, we still can’t help but attempt to measure and question its value.
I feel every inch of my son’s head pass through me before I see his body gently land beneath my crouching open legs. He is silent until the midwife quickly picks him up to give him a little kiss of air that sets off a loud and continuous wail. His umbilical cord that binds his body and mine is the last remaining connection to our intimate truth of shared flesh. Just like every ancestor that has ever graced this planet, our love originates from an understanding that we were once one. I realize that my idea of what it meant to be a mother was simply theory before this moment. Until he was here I could not know that to birth another human being is to cross a threshold wherein ideas of right and wrong no longer exist. Here on the other side is the reminder that we were once all pure; within each of our origin stories was our own will to let life continue through us. When my son is placed on my chest for the first time, I am relieved of any shame for his life. I realize that dwelling in my previous guilt only takes away from the possibility of what my son’s life might offer. He is proof that within each of us lies the powerful act of creation.
I am a parent now. This new identity has slowly permeated every crevice of my being. It wills me to wake in the middle of the night to feed, to soothe, to hold. I do all these things with a gentleness and patience I did not know I possessed. I have long held the natural world in reverence, but to hold a part of me in this new truth is the closest thing I have known to holiness. For the first time as an adult I feel unapologetically grateful to be a part of my species. To become reacquainted with my humanness is a cooling respite after years of repenting for all that we have done. I had forgotten that we arrive inherently good and, in this amnesia, I had lost sight of our greater potential. In a world dominated by the story of our ugliness I have found it to easy to point a finger, to create boundaries and to have polarizing opinions about the “right ways to live.” Holding my child, I am suddenly able to shed many of these perceptions; instead I am contemplating how I might live from my own inherent goodness so that I may love my work as I do my child. After all, if those of us who care fail to seed the next generations, who will continue this work when we are gone?
This piece was originally written for and published in Loam Magazine's print publication, "Reawakening Resilience".
Words on motherhood, spiritual ecology and being creative with how we stand in our truth
I used to think that creating change was as simple as truth telling and speeches and long heart felt nights with new friends who felt just as passionate as I. Caffeine was my fuel and the label of a “good day” was given only when my productivity somehow managed to match my never ending to-do list. My identity and self worth was largely wrapped up in my ability to produce and title myself, from yoga teacher and UN Climate Youth Delegate to climate justice activist and project manager. It felt good to be seen and to impress. Like so many of us, personal value only made sense when others expressed interest or praise. A year ago, all of this abruptly shifted when I found out I was pregnant. I was on a trip, thousands of miles from home, over worked, under slept and attempting to keep a raging cold under control. I was alone staying at a strangers’ house when I looked down into a positive pregnancy test and for the first time in years I felt the gentle peace of quiet sweep throughout my soul. Suddenly the lists didn’t matter, there was nothing left to do, not even cry. Life took on the quality of one- moment- at- a- time, and so I walked myself back to bed, got under the covers, and felt the last echoes of my childhood fall away. I called my boyfriend to share the news and then I went to sleep.
When Kate asked me to be a columnist for Loam’s monthly missives, I thought that I would pick up from this point here in my story. In the last year I have been grown into a mother. My capacity to carry literally increased by 40lbs, and tested by never ending growing pains. I have felt and continue to feel all the feelings, sometimes in just one day. Loneliness, excitement, sorrow, fear, embarrassment, forgotten, love, patience, the list goes on. I have asked if I will ever be me again, and then laughed at the silliness of that question, only to ask it again the next day. I have worried and wondered how change comes about and have been filled with anxiety when I think about the world my son has been born into. Some days all I do is mother and other days I am back at my computer, in meetings discussing the recent UN Climate Change report, and planning a conference on spiritual ecology and education. In short, I am a modern mother who desires political and environmental justice and dreams daily of our collective liberation. My theory of change has always been rooted in the idea that there is more than one way to contribute and that more often than not, those who create lasting change are often quiet and invisible. This has only been reinforced in this last year, when in the exhaustion of pregnancy, I suddenly tuned into the low yet steady hum of people going about their every day lives, without the big trips and big presentations. Resistance and resilience, I have been learning looks so many ways and getting creative within the steadiness of work and home life is its own type of vital contribution towards a healthier world. This is what this column, “Reimagining Activism” is dedicated too. For those who wonder if their actions are too small, for those who hold down a 9-5 and are curious what their place might be in our greater social movements, for those who are questioning the current culture of activist spaces, I write for you. This column is an open letter to our collective struggles and discoveries, an ever shifting dialogue on the subtle ways that change comes about. Shifting culture is made up of the consistent ritual of every day life. Shifting culture takes everyday people, like you and me.
I see you, I recognize you, and I thank you for showing up.
A: We are currently seeking new leadership and we need to see diversity in all sectors so that we can even conceive of new ways of being. Most importantly though, I know that when a child that looks like me, sees me in a space where representation has been scarce, it opens up a possibility for that child to consider who they might be. All of this for me is about raising up our next generations strong.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your IG?
A: My IG is my daily love letter to the resistance movement. I challenge myself to break open what it can mean to live into resistance on a daily basis. Most people cannot live on the road traveling from one rally to the next, nor should they. I want to continue to open people’s hearts to the possibility of practicing resistance through fully embodying ones own life. What happens when more people get interested in making subtle shifts on a daily basis? What happens when we start to define our successes by the food we grow and the relationships we caretake? The news is heavy, the world is heavy, and yet we are more connected than ever. I want people to take away the feeling that they are not alone. That their small acts matter. That collectively we can shift the tide. #representationmatters
Photo: Last summer on Tahltan Territory, standing tall on my ancestor land
To those empowered by recently acquired knowledge of the pervasive corruption, cronyism, and treachery inherent to imperialism, colonialism, racism, manifest destiny, patriarchy, sexism, capitalism, etc. I commend you. Welcome to the movement.
However, the swift reprisal of anyone who may not parrot the popular opinion of the week is a counterproductive measure. Disagreement is healthy. Infighting is not.
Those activists who may have moved through much of the rage-stage do not necessarily become any less wrathful, nor have they ceased sharpening their spears.
Activism takes place on a wide spectrum, upon which an individual may shift throughout life. To expect all allies to share the same opinions & strategies at all times is groupthink. It is also Totalitarian.
In previous years, alternative news was coveted due to its rarity, yet today we are incessantly bombarded with ceaseless data. Due to the age-old marketing strategy of breeding mass outrage in order to garner more views/support/attention/affirmation, many seasoned activists have taken to resisting the distraction-factory by observing longer periods of relative silence. Such silence should not be confused with apathy. Rather, it is strategic.
Outrage fatigue is real and our movement is in the thick of it.
A movement currently hijacked by hatred. Yet fighting hatred with hatred is a zero-sum game. To be clear: anger and hatred are not one in the same.
Anger can be a tool.
Hatred is cumbersome.
Self-defense is a powerful force.
Revenge seeking is blinding.
Our movement has lost this nuance.
Our movement is rewarding groupthink.
Our movement is losing compassion.
Our movement has lost sight of the long-game. Where short term "wins" and stirring up the next great controversy are becoming as addictive as fb likes.
It is a truism that the ends don't justify the means. We must do our best to embody now that which we strive to become in the future. Collectively and personally.
It brings me great concern, because if we lose sight of peace in our attempts to create a more peaceful world, what will remain that is worth fighting for?" - Summer Starr
I've been in an ever expanding conversation with Marissa Correia of ma.medicina and she recorded a portion of it for her Practical Priestess Podcast. Marissa's work with uplifting the feminine is a gift to the world and I am so grateful to be weaving our stories together.
You can listen to the episode at marissacorreia.com.
"In this episode Kailea shares about the times of media/news inundation we find ourselves in and her practice for staying present. How to really be with our hearts and what comes up when we hear these intense stories - and to not just put it down or chalk it up to the world, instead to really feel the impact and let that inform how we respond. We also speak about her growing curriculum, Earth is Ohana & the true meaning of Resistance. Kailea offers the question, “What could it mean for you / how could it feel for you to know your place of origination and to be standing and working from that place?”"
I have not wanted to participate in the collective gathering of energy around the Eclipse and I do not fully know why. I do know that I am tired by the Eclipse posts in my feed and the repetitiveness that they represent. I do know that most days I feel angry and that at night an old type of fear has traveled its way into my bed. Before Charlottesville I was starting to lose my footing, post Charlottesville I can feel within my skin an under current of my old childhood temper. Flashes of red-hot, bursts through my bloodstream, the word ‘”fuck” comes out of my mouth frequently and I feel real hatred when I think of our current Presidents face. It’s the type of hatred that I so openly speak out against and that knowing makes me want to fall into myself and out from our mass channels of conversation. I don’t have something so pretty to contribute at the moment. I don’t have the energy to pick your spirits up. I want to tell you that there is a way forward, but I cannot be your guide.
I have been re-reading a letter I wrote to Adam, my boyfriend about my fear. This was in the month of December, and I had yet to arrive back in the states post our disastrous election results. I had woken up from a dream where I had spoken out at a rally in support of Trump. I said “we have to resist. Do not listen to his lies. Get up off the ground, go home, you do not have to be here.” In the dream I knew that part of doing this would put me and the people that I loved in danger. I could feel that our right to publicly speak out was slowly being taken away.
The night before writing this letter to Adam, I had watched what I would still consider the most impactful piece of media that I had taken in since the election. It was a video of Daryl Davis, the black man who is famous for befriending KKK members. A recent news article on him reads, ‘How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes’. This video back in December was the first time that I ever heard of Daryl Davis and this mans story was a direct confrontation to everything that I had been taught. I was suddenly held accountable to my own ideas of hope and the strong boundaries that encased them. I realized I had never seen a black man standing next to KKK members, not counting a dead body swinging from a tree. I didn’t know this could be a possible reality and it felt as though a strong beam of light was shining down into my face. I felt like a hypocrite, hiding behind my fear of the perceived ‘other’. I quite literally had to raise my arm up and cover my face with my scarf from the friend that was watching this video with me. I felt ashamed as I started speaking out all of my fear. Childhood thoughts surfaced. Men in white robes are the images of my nightmares, I realized that this ingrained fear I have been carrying my whole life led to thoughts like, “These people are not human. These people are demons… these people.” I tell my friend, “I’ve only ever had two friends that were Republican. I have been raised in such an us, them mentality.” My world seems so small against the story of Daryl Davis. I am shaking inside to think about the possibility of really deconstructing these walls that I have been shaped by. I hear the stories of my family told to me at bedtime, about the one time my Indian father encountered a KKK member, how the man spoke hate into his long native hair. I am thoroughly saturated through by my mother’s plea for my safety, “Kailea the rules are different for you because you are brown. If the police stop you, you must comply. Please be safe!” I have been knowingly and unknowingly diligently building up walls of security over the past 26 years. There has always been the feeling to be small in moments of mass fear, to glide under the surface, to be an unnoticed face. This is our family’s way of survival.
I have never let these thoughts move out of my mouth into the air. I have never let them be fully realized and I feel foolish as they burst forward in my babbling. I am not brave. I am a human girl. I harbor prejudice that can be seen through the scarf that I hold over my face. When I finish talking, my friend hugs me and I cry. Suddenly there is space to think the words, “What is possible?” It had never fully occurred to me on such an embodied level that I could meet hate crimes with humanity. The idea of it grates against my insides; I take a breath and call it a night.
That was eight months ago. Eight long months in which we have been watching our government accelerate into its own inevitable collapse, taking a part of our society with it. Eight months of a continuing rise of white supremacists. Eight months of each of our own personal turmoil as we look for shelter in the echo chambers of our feeds. I know just as much as you that there will be no solace there, yet I can’t stop looking for it even as I can feel the sucking of our progressive views becoming smaller and smaller. I am not satisfied by anyone’s anger, least of all mine.
And then Charlottesville happens and it is like watching every one of my childhood nightmares come out of the night. I have been waking up from sleep and shaking Adam’s arm and speaking my fear into the dark while he tries to listen half asleep and tries to comfort while wrapping me in his arms. I lay there still awake unable to shake this feeling in my bones, it feels ancient this type of fear.
I have a personal strict protocol to not move forward fueled by hate, and so instead I have been stalled out. I know this is not what you want to hear. I am still moving, just in place. I put in my hours, check off my to-do’s and when I can, I walk up into the hills where you can hear the dry sounds of summer crack the long grasses in half. I find a bit of fuel in books just like I always have and I think everyday about how to tell the truth about the fact that I feel more and more uncomfortable in the left. How the spaces made to help POC and native people feel ‘safe’ make me furious. I feel I don’t belong anywhere. I am tired of being so careful with my words. I am tired of fitting myself into neatly crafted PC packages. I am yearning to be in conversation with people brave enough to say it wrong, brave enough to say, “I don’t know.” Our lack of exploration leads me nowhere. All of our right-ness is starting to sound very similar to everything that we say we stand against. I am starting to forget what it is we stand for. I miss hearing into the true words of people’s hearts.
Today is the day of the Eclipse. I have not read any of the horoscopes, and the fog of the North Bay blocked out my view of the sun. Instead I went and sat down in my own yard. It was not mystical, it was not deep, it was just me and my tomato plants, my half drunk cup of coffee going cold, the feeling of dry soil against my feet. I placed a prayer down for this emptiness that I feel in the form of a contained circle made of dried bachelor button petals. Dark purple, indigo, light pink, the colors tell the age of each flower, bleached lighter and lighter by days growing under the strength of the sun. Here we are as well, running around in our frantic pain while the sun ticks time, day after day. Putting ourselves to bed in the well-known fears of the past. Asking for something different while we practice all the same motions. Forgetting that we are more alike, than different, forgetting that we are rarely original in our thoughts about the world.
Rumi left us with the well-known lines, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” There are more words though that are part of this particular passage that are less known. They read, “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”
I am putting down my big ideas of making sense of any of this. Instead I am asking for the courage to live into a humble life; a life where there is space to speak my fears and to hear yours too, before we set them down.
The Eclipse is over now.
On Saturday I was filled again and again by watching how other people interacted with our booth. Flowers for homes, flowers for lovers, flowers for a bride, flowers just for the moment. A pause in our policies, a pause in our collective pain. For all of our stumbling and uncertainty, the natural world awaits our return.
Our second highlighted film was another documentary titled, Angry Inuk which opens the dialogue on the polarization that activism can often create. This film was specifically pertinent, sharing into the oppression that inuit peoples have been facing due to both policies and environmentalism. There were so many lessons in this film, I was reminded that we need to remember to understand how an issue impacts communities on all levels, and that dialogue across what we may perceive as differences is ALWAYS important.
This is the moment that I have yet to name. I wonder about the other times in the history of humankind, when the passing of the baton to the next generation was such a somber ordeal? When elders felt more grateful for the fact that their lives were nearing an end, when looking into the eyes of those who still had so much life to live out. A few years ago when these odd interactions first started happening they confused me. I was used to looking towards adults for guidance and support, and it was a strange sort of societal initiation when I realized that I was now also considered an adult, in that I was no longer shielded from all that was falling apart. Perhaps what was most unsettling was the ease that sometimes accompanied an adult handing over ‘the world’ to me. “Here,” some would say, “we may have fucked it up beyond repair, hopefully you can make it better.” These dead end comments would leave me infuriated and struggling with myself when I couldn’t seem to create the capacity to internalize that we seemed to currently be living out some version of the end of the world. Now I realize, that this is a near impossible task. I am not sure that we humans are fully equipped to comprehend on an emotional or psychic level what it is we are in store for. We are struggling to realize in the midst of the unraveling, that we are unraveling. And we are struggling with the ability to take responsibility for our part in it all.
I’ve had a small collection of rose buds drying over the last weeks and I took them with me outside, with these thoughts in mind. I sat and slowly began to peel a bud open, petal by petal. “This is me consciously creating an unraveling,” I thought to myself. I picked up a second bud that was still intact and placed it in the center of the petals, and questioned the possibility of new growth from something old and decaying. Often I find myself feeling stuck, conscious that I am living and working within an old and dying system with the hopes of creating something new. I feel frustrated when I bump up against what seem to be immobile boundaries. “Will I to one day be an elder grateful for my passing time on this earth, simultaneously saddened by all that I could not or did not do? Will I give up early, and eagerly throw the baton of responsibility into the hands of my grandchildren?” I ask myself these questions and it makes me feel like a coward. I pick up a pinch of tiny dried petals and sprinkle them within a larger petal, “this will be a prayer for courage”, I say to myself. Moving to the next petal, I place a prayer within for belief. I desperately need to believe in something beyond our current environmental and political crisis. I do this 9 more times, moving around the center bud, laying down prayers for my own responsibility, for growing into eldership, for steadfastness even when I am scared. And then right as I place my last prayer down, a small gust of wind comes through, overturning a petal, sending bits and pieces of my thoughts into the air. An eternal reminder that we will never be in control and that everything is already in motion.
Claire Eve Margaux
Earth Is `Ohana
For The Wild
Hawaii Tiny House
India --> Thailand --> Maui
Island Tiny Homes
Occupy Farmers Markets
Seattle Farmers Market
Tiny House Blog
Tiny House Hawaii
Tiny House Maui
Welcome To Canada