What Do We Do When It Gets This Bleak?

On being small and human in this messed-up world

Anna Mercury
5 min readAug 21, 2023
Photo by Nick Fisher on Unsplash

It’s a bleak day in Burlington when you can’t see the mountains through the wildfire smoke. It rained so much the toxic algae bloomed again and the lake is poisonous to swim in. Central Vermont went underwater, the wells and river poisoned with toxic sludge of lives swept down the drain. I joked with all the neighbors, “Man, I’m from California. I’m not used to my disasters being wet.”

Back home in California, my 70-year-old father has been preparing for his first tropical storm. I’ve left Vermont behind, almost to the South now, to the open stretch of country where 10-year-old rape victims can’t get abortions, where schools now have to teach about “the benefits of slavery.”

That’s not even half of today’s headlines.

I’m trying to be present with each new wave of horror but my head’s still full of Maui. I’m wondering how many more people will be found dead this week. I’m wondering how many will never be found, how much history will be permanently lost, if the land will ever heal.

I’m thinking, for some reason, of the banyan tree that burned. I feel it in my heart like the sequoias and the Joshua trees that burn back home. These trees that, even in our fake, plastic world, we still can’t help but…