I am slowly reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, an account of her family’s revolutionary transformation of the grounds of their English stately home from intensive farming to a wild natural landscape. The chapter I just finished saw them visit the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands to see how grazing animals were used to manage and improve the nature reserve.

Cattle, ponies and deer are allowed to graze freely at the Oostvaardersplassen, and the original idea was for the animals to be allowed to live and die as they would without human intervention. Some people were appalled at the sight of sick and dying animals, so a compromise was made that ailing cattle and ponies would be euthanized and their bodies incinerated, but the deer would be allowed to die naturally, their carcasses feeding foxes, birds and rodents, insects and bacteria, and the bones breaking down to release valuable nutrients into the soil.

When I think of my impact on the planet in my 54 years of being a consumer, the thoughtless way I have bought and discarded endless things, I am overwhelmed with the notion that in my infinitesimal amount of time on the planet, I have probably left behind more garbage than all the animals and birds and fish and insects that ever lived combined. Those creatures created nothing that would last forever, whereas I have purchased and tossed away thousands of pounds of plastic and metal that will probably never really disappear. I am simultaneously the most power creature in hundreds of millions of years and the most foolish.

I had the option to do good things with my life, to make good choices, and I chose to spend part of it creating a lasting legacy of greed and thoughtlessness, the sleepwalking loop of shopping and discarding, over and over. I think about this a lot. I wonder how I can do better now that I know better, and how can I make up for my past.

I can hear birds chirping their goodnight songs right now, the robins telling me about their day and their wishes for tomorrow, free of possessions beyond a temporary nest that will eventually dissolve back into the ground, and free of the shame of leaving behind things that never really mattered in the first place. Free to sing.