Quixote Consulting

Green Wisdom from Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai
By Laura Herbert

Laura Herbert is the Production and Logistics Manager at Quixote Consulting.  She has a deep commitment to environmental conservation and a great love of the outdoors.  Laura serves on the Conservation Commission in the Town of Erving, MA and is a leader in land preservation in her community.

What do Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai have in common?

What could an elder wizard and an environmental and political activist possibly have in common? Gandalf, for one is fictional, yet his gentle strength and powerful wisdom make him one of the most beloved characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Wangari Maathai, on the other hand, was a very real figure who possessed those same remarkable qualities.  Her brave spirit carried her on a journey to start the Green Belt Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women and combating desertification in Kenya by planting trees.
Both of these figures faced tremendous adversity, but did not abandon their quest.  Gandalf, when faced the fiercest of foes, the ancient Balrog in the mines of Moria, did not flee from his mission to protect Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring.  Likewise, Maathai, despite being harassed, imprisoned, and beaten for opposing government policies in Kenya, was not deterred in her quest to see a billion trees planted worldwide.  Maathai was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts.  She passed away a few weeks ago, but her legacy and mission live on.

How can Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai inspire you on your quest?  What’s one thing that you are passionate about?  How have you tapped into your inner strength and wisdom on your quest to follow that passion?

How Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai help me get through the day (Part One)

In my last segment, I spoke about Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai, and the wisdom and inner strength that helped them on their quests.  I also posed the question, “What are you most passionate about?” What quest does that passion lead you on?  For me, that is the environment, the natural world, and this beautiful and fragile planet that we call home.

Like many people, my passion came to me at a young age.  My earliest treasured memories are of playing amongst skunk cabbage in the stream in the backyard, digging up worms in the garden, and relishing the fallen maple buds scattered against a blanket of pine needles. 

The natural world has endless wonders to behold, small and large, and each of them equally marvelous and significant, and all of them interconnected.  How is it then, that we humans have caused so much devastation to our environment? How is it that we have exploited and misused so much of what the earth has given to us, with seemingly little concern for the consequences?  This is a question that haunts me nearly everyday.

The reality is, we live in a world with mounting environmental problems.  Using resources faster than they can be replenished, an exponentially growing population, pollution, and climate change are all stark realities (like Gandalf’s Balrog) that we must face.  Furthermore, scientists predict that at least ¼ of all the earth’s species could become extinct by 2050 and up to half by the end of the century.  These are not just crazy doomsdayers who think that Armageddon is upon us. These are scientists with hard data.

Depressed yet?  Me, too.  This is a scary time to be living in. Sometimes I think about how frightening it must be to be a child at this point in time – how scary things like climate change must seem to them!

It’s no wonder why, for many, worries about the fate of our planet can be overwhelming.  “Eco-anxiety” is a term coined for those who suffer from fears and worries about the fate our environment.  It is a very real condition that can even be quite debilitating.  I know because I suffer from it.  At times, I cannot fall asleep at night because of concerns about climate change, a vanishing species, a drought that is ravaging part of the world, etc., etc.  Sometimes I fall asleep, but wake up in the middle of the night panicked about these same things. Sometimes during my day I feel completely paralyzed because I feel overwhelmed and helpless.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen to me very often anymore, and it’s not because I’ve decided to shut everything out and live in a state of ignorant bliss.  Like Gandalf and Maathai, I am sticking to my quest.  In my next segment I will share some of their wisdom that has helped me in the face of these environmental concerns.

How Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai help me get through the day (Part Two)

In the Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and his protectors are traveling through the mines of Moria, Frodo becomes scared and overwhelmed.  As they stop to rest as during their ascent up a long, gloomy staircase in the dank, ominous mine, Frodo says to Gandalf, “I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had happened.”  Gandalf looks at him with gentle compassion and says, “So do all those who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.”

This profound piece of wisdom has helped me when I feel scared about the grave environmental problems of today.  No one wants these things to happen, but this is the reality, and we simply must choose how we will respond.  I like to think that maybe I can be like little Frodo, summoning the strength and courage to carry on.

But how can you carry on when it is all so overwhelming?  Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, has often told the story of the hummingbird.  In the story, a wildfire broke out in a forest and all the animals ran out and watched on with fear and helplessness as their home was destroyed.  The hummingbird, however, flew to a nearby stream and got a drop of water in its beak and dropped it on the fire. It did this over and over again as fast as it could. The other animals, as they stood watching, told the hummingbird that it was too small and that carrying one drop of water at a time would not be enough to put out the fire. The hummingbird, undiscouraged, simply replied, “I am doing what I can.”

And so, the combined wisdom of Gandalf the Grey and Wangari Maathai has led me to the simple and perhaps obvious realization that all we can is the best we can with the time we are given.  I know that I cannot single handedly stop climate change, but what I can do is keep going, doing the best I can, whether my actions are small or large, to care for this precious planet that I love so much.

How can you do the best with the time you are given?