When I first set out to be a writer, I planned to be an environmental journalist. I wanted to write about the things that meant a lot to me as a young person growing up in upstate New York: animals and wildlife, the environment, the preservation of natural places and resources. When I was 10 or 11 years old I walked from door to door (which made for quite a walk, since I grew up in a rural area) asking neighbors to sign a petition against the use of leg-hold traps. When I was a teenager, I sewed an “FOA – Friends of Animals” patch in the shape of a heart onto my torn-up Levi jeans (or maybe my mom sewed it on for me — I was never much good at sewing). I pasted an “I Brake for Animals” bumper sticker on the old maroon Chrysler my brother and I inherited from our parents for our drives to and from high school.
After studying English and American Literature at Brandeis University, I earned a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. The administrators of the program allowed me to create a degree plan that combined environmental science and studies courses with journalism, communications and writing. (You should have seen me trying to get through the environmental chemistry course, or whatever it was — thankfully a Greek PhD student who was the class T.A. helped me learn the ins and outs of things like soil PH, little of which I remember now. He also taught me how to say “garbage” in Greek, but I don’t remember that either). Before graduation, I spent three months interning at The Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Middlebrook, NY, where I wrote a booklet on groundwater titled: “Groundwater, an Ecological Perspective.” That publication, under my original publishing name “Faye Rapoport,” is so far my only claim to fame as an “author” on Amazon.com, although it is listed as out of print.
After earning my Master’s Degree, I began looking for a job in journalism. Unfortunately, I realized pretty quickly that I’d have to take a job as a general reporter at a small newspaper and do that job for a very long time before I would be assigned a “beat,” especially the environmental beat. The idea didn’t appeal to me, so at age 24 I accepted my first real, full-time job at The Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies, a non-profit organization housed in a small building in the middle of the woods at the edge of a salt marsh in Southeastern Massachusetts. I wrote press releases and newsletters about the endangered piping plover, ocean pollution and other coastal issues. When the staff of the center piled into the back of a pick up truck and raced over to Horseneck Beach to see a Snowy Owl that had been sighted, I was right there with them.
By 1990 (dating myself badly here) I was the Media Director for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and one of the players who helped organize a massive 20th Anniversary Earth Day Celebration on Boston’s Esplanade by the Charles River. You can still actually look this event up on Google, I just discovered. A Boston Globe article on a rally leading up to the event is archived here. Thousands of people showed up that Earth Day to learn about things that are more commonly discussed today — recycling, wetland preservation, river protection, overfishing, endangered species.
In some ways, that all seems a lifetime ago to me now. I eventually left the States to travel, and my professional life took a turn into the music business (long story), then back to journalism, then down various other roads, almost always related to writing, but not always related to the environment. Still, whenever I could, I contributed freelance articles to various publications about topics ranging from damaging logging practices to the endangered wolf.
Now here I sit in my home office on Earth Day 2010, 20 years past that original 20th anniversary Earth Day Celebration. It’s very difficult to believe that so much time has passed. After living in various other countries and states, I’m back in the same city, living actually in the same suburb where I lived when I worked at Mass. Audubon. I no longer do environmental work professionally, but now much of my creative work is infused with natural themes and images. One of the most well-received personal essays I wrote during my MFA program is called “Message from a Blue Jay.” It focuses on an odd and surprising encounter I had with a blue jay on a lonely, rainy January day.
In some ways I guess my writing is coming full circle. But I will resist trying to create some sort of metaphor out of that related to the earth — that would be pushing it.
Instead, I’ll just say this simply. After more than 20 years, I still fear for this planet and its creatures. They give us so much. It pains me deeply to know what humanity has, in return, destroyed and taken away.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~ John Muir