I first became aware of sustainability as a concept while absolutely wrecked out of my mind. I was in my twenties in Denver, Colorado. Cafe’s that served weed on-tap were still a relatively new idea. Walking into a dispensary to purchase weed felt like I was some rebel. I wasn’t, it was completely legal. Even still, I was hopped up on the giddy feeling of being on vacation for the first time. High on freedom. Also high in a more literal sense off of the finest Denver weed my bartending salary could afford.
I had saved for months to afford this trip. A bartender in some fairly unsavory locations, I wasn’t exactly broke but money was tight. Honestly? I had three cares in the world: getting laid, perfecting my ideal Manhattan, and spending time partying with my friends.
We spent most of our time, young and reckless, being typical drug tourists. Waking and baking, wandering the streets of Denver, perusing bookshops, and feeling responsible because “at least we aren’t drinking, right?”. I’m pretty sure I was high for an entire four days straight.
Let’s settle something before we move on though: I’m not advocating here for you to do a lot of drugs. I’m not here telling you to do any drugs, really. I’m not even here to tell you not to do them. Instead, this is my own experience with one instance in particular. You can take from it what you will.
Near the end of my week-long vacation, my friends and I took a trip to Estes Park. A Midwestern girl, I had never even seen a mountain before. Let alone driven up one. So to celebrate my inaugural trip into the stratosphere, I ate an entire brownie of the special variety. If I recall correctly, it was peanut butter and jelly flavored. Huzzah! It was delicious.
The drive up proved to the locals that we knew zilch about driving in the mountains. Of course we got out several times along the road to “ooh” and “aah” and take a few selfies on our iPhone Fours.
Eventually, we parked our rental car aLake Estes'nd the glittering Estes with the rest of the tourists. The water winked at us in the bright sunlight. I made the joke at least once that it was so bright because we were closer to the sun.
Around us, families were setting up for afternoon picAand, and a small child screamed along the sand loudly as she discovered the joy of splashing water on her brother. Behind her Longs Peak seared itself into my memory. I was used to the flat yellow plains of Illinois and - at most - the ancient gentle mountain slopes of the verdant Ozarks. Topping over 14,000 feet, the Rockies were taller than I had ever imagined something could be. Before that moment I didn’t actually realize purple mountains majesty was literal.
On a whim, gearless bikes were rented and we set out on a (tame as hell) adventure around the lake. The mountains seemed to stretch on into the horizon farther than I could fathom. A bike ride through corn, this was not.
Halfway around the lake, the brownie kicked in. I remember being hit with the distinct feeling that I was in a movie, directed by God himself. It explained the scenery, at least. How else had I gotten there?
The phrase “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” suddenly held meaning to me. Everything was so big! So much beauty surrounded me, and not a single Holstein to be seen. I had a fleeting thought that maybe I had eaten too much marijuana when a small child biking next to me suddenly seemed like an omen from the Universe.
Will the Earth be here when that kid is grown up? I thought, pedaling through honey and realizing I wasn’t going anywhere. The mountains will be here, but what about the forest? The air quality? Why can’t we see hydrogen. Not honey, just a hill then. My lungs felt huge in my chest. I was strangely terrified and I had no idea why. The sense of doom that settled over me felt inevitable, mixed with a strange deep quietness.
Trying to calm my suddenly racing heart, I got off my bike and walked up the hill. Walking helped because I wasn’t in a video game anymore. Gazing up at the alpine peaks around me, I came to a stark conclusion that my vapid, twenty-something year old mind had never considered before. The world was effing huge, and I was just a speck. Doomed or blessed to be gone in 80 years or so, and there was nothing I could do about it. What legacy was I to leave behind me?
I realized that the Earth would end, yet the mountain range around me wasn’t indifferent to human beings' meddling.
Sure, I reasoned that the Paleozoic sandstone, limestone, and shale that make up the Rockies could probably care less if I littered. Although...The tundra cared. The alpine meadows and the glacial lakes, they cared. The cute tiny Pika’s hiding in their burrows cared, and the mountain lions, fierce and scary as hell - those all certainly cared.
I need to save the Earth. I am insignificant, but she is forever. I can make a difference.
That moment, fueled by more weed than one person has the right to imbibe, changed my outlook on life forever. It also was responsible for the hour-long panic attack I had on the car ride down the mountain, but you win some, you lose some, I guess.
The night before we left Denver, my best friend and I walked into a tattoo shop. I showed the artist a grainy photo I had taken of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m actually quite positive that the artist thought my tattoo was quite cringy. He applied it skillfully though, on the inside of my left arm so that when I flexed (which I do often, obviously), a mountain range sprung to life. I still look at that tattoo and smile.
Back home, vowing to never anything else containing THC, I never-the-less investigated these ideas. The feeling that everything is connected. The drive to save the Earth. The wonder that comes with broadening your mind and seeing something new - even within your own country.
I re-enrolled in college. I was first locally volunteering for the schools’ Sustainability Center and writing a massive Greenhouse Gas Inventory to prove I could. Later, I enrolled at the Arizona State University School of Sustainability, where I learned of sustainable travel. I learned to recognize that holistic problems needed holistic answers. That yes, everything was literally connected - the main tenement of Ecology. Something I’m sure stoner-Brittany would feel vindicated knowing was actual science.
Now, I dedicate my life to promoting sustainable, environmentally-friendly travel practices. I haven't imbibed any form of marijuana in years. A far cry from the listless, direction-less girl I had once been.
Around 10 years after my first Colorado trip, I returned. This time completely sober, with my boyfriend. We did indeed drive up to Estes Park. Stopping at the Lake, I showed my partner how the mountains on my arm matched perfectly with the mountains surrounding us. I explained to him how one drug-fueled afternoon here as an unsuspecting 20-something made me change the entire course of my life.
A long journey, but a worthwhile one.