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.