I know the truth; I know it in my body

When I was a girl, I had a tree. I did not own the tree, but it was mine. It had broad, heart-shaped leaves, and stood in a field at the top of a hill. I was a wild thing. All summer long, I scrambled through green and golden fields. I ran barefoot over the hot tar of the road to the river where I swam every day. I fed the ducks on that river. I dove for clams. I found grasshoppers in the grass, and held them in my hands.


I hope that those who come after me will still have wild places to attend. Because for a time, I lost the fields and the trees and the grasshoppers, and now, at 43, I am finding them again, and my heart catches in my throat when I witness, after all this time, all the beauty that I forgot to see.

I think I developed multiple chemical sensitivities because of the pesticides I used to kill the fleas on my pets, the mites on my chickens, the aphids on my helianthus. Now, when I am exposed to perfume, it feels like my brain has swollen inside the cradle of my skull, and I can’t hold on to my thoughts. Cleaning products, fresh paint, new carpet—all of these are poison to me. And I am not the only one. Eleven percent of the population is sensitive to chemicals. And our numbers are growing.

Many of us, we who are chemically injured, think of ourselves as canaries in a coal mine. In truth, all of us, all people—and all animals, too, all grasshoppers, all trees—are chemically sensitive. It’s just that in some, the consequences make their appearance so long after the fact that nobody makes the connection. Stealth toxicants.

But I know the truth; I know it in my body. And that is why I sit down at my computer every chance I get. Because this earth we live on is not a dark and barren coal mine. This earth is lush and green, and in some places the blue sky goes on forever, and in some places the fireflies blink at night—and at the top of a hill, not too far from my childhood home, there a tree stands.

  10 comments for “I know the truth; I know it in my body

  1. Carol Hess
    June 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I love this post, Lunden. And I love the picture of you — you haven’t changed much from that little girl in the photo so full of delight at the natural world.

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010 — am thankfully free of cancer today. I recently found out that scientists are discovering the breast tissue of women diagnosed with breast cancer shows high levels of pesticide toxicity. I’m wondering if I was “chemically injured” by “stealth toxicants.” (Great phrases.)

    I used to live further north in Maine where aerial spraying of the blueberry crops was common (and where there was a high incidence of breast cancer). And then I lived in SC for 2 years where they sprayed constantly against the roaches. I didn’t allow them inside the house I was renting, but I couldn’t prevent them from spraying outside since it wasn’t my property. And my current landlady has the property sprayed for ticks every year (I convinced her to go organic this year).

    And on a final note, Lunden, I’ve just got to say — as one writer to another — I absolutely adore the way you write. Keep sitting down at your computer, keep writing, keep singing. Come over to my blog sometime (www.starpolisher.com). I think you’ll enjoy it. And guess what? I’ve just started writing a book! Very exciting.

  2. Jennifer Lunden
    June 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Great to hear from you, Carol! I sure am sorry to hear that you faced breast cancer, and I appreciate your sharing about your own experience of “toxic trespass” (another great phrase I just learned this past week). Good for you for convincing your landlady to go organic.

    And congratulations on your book! Woohoo!

  3. DeAnna Satre
    June 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Another beautifully written, informing piece, Jenn. I appreciate learning more about “what ails you.” You make it so simple, anyone should get it. I love the delight on your face in this picture (I don’t recall seeing it before.)

  4. Carrie J.
    June 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    This is such a beautiful story, Lunden. I am so glad you are doing the work you do! Have you considered linking up with facebook so that people could click “like” on your posts? Cause I was going to click it! It would be a great way to get the word out about your writing and the cause(s) you are working for.

  5. Carrie J.
    June 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    p.s. i love the picture :-)

  6. Rhonda
    June 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Love this piece. Reminds me how precious and fragile the natural world around us really is. I certainly appreciated it more when I was a little girl -why is that? After reading your piece, I’ve dicided that I will try to change that.

  7. Julie Laffin
    June 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Beautiful post, Jennifer. Just what I needed today. It’s spray season here in Illinois and I find myself dodging bullets all the time but fortunately am heading out west in a couple weeks if the fires in AZ calm down. Thank you again. xoxo, Julie

  8. Jennifer Lunden
    June 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Rhonda, I’m so glad this piece inspires you to reconnect with nature. Nature heals.

  9. Michellina Van loder
    October 3, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Wow! You’ve put it all so beautifully. I too live life while sensitive to chemicals, your words resonate deeply within. Nature is amazing. I recovered from this while living among the natural world, then I moved back to the city and now I’m worst than ever. I wish you good health and happy, productive writing. You have a gift, use it well.



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