Steeped: Tea, Climate Change and the Groundedness of Blue

After Rebecca Solnit’s essay “The Blue of Distance” and World Water Day (March 22)

I started World Water Day as I usually do, filling a calcified electric kettle with water to boil, and pouring the simmering liquid into a cherished mug with soy milk and loose leaf black tea.

Outside my kitchen window, the day yawned with a silvery blue light, the sky visible through the sagging frames of dilapidated scaffolding of the mostly abandoned building next to mine. A calendar on the wall serves as a constant reminder of the passing of time, and of commencement day looming weeks away. Mornings hold places like nowhere else, and these days I am often distracted by the thought of being anywhere-else-but-here after four years of a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. These thoughts are clouded, though, by the realization of new challenges, like what it means to fight for climate justice in new contexts – and the uncertainty of what climate change unfolding will look like in my future.

I brought myself back to the present moment in my sips of tea, thinking about how far this water must have traveled for my lips to reach its surface, and how rooted I was in my chair. I remembered I was my own body of water contained by my skin, digesting a smaller body of water contained in this mug.

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Photo by Amelia Diehl.
Water – in its blueness and not blueness – brings us back to ourselves, our land. When we drink, we drink from rivers and streams on the surface of the Earth, and below it, and even from the sky. The water continues its flow through our bodies, returning again to the soil.
This grounded cup of tea coexists alongside my mobile body, always in flux – yet neither of us are truly grounded. Water is movement. It sloshes and sways, its molecules brimming with tension. My act of boiling water changes its character. Adding milk creates layers of whirls, curves of liquid rising and falling in plumes of coalescence.

And I am movement too, even when I am still. Both of us are steeping. Steeped can mean sharp, perpendicular, unreasonable; a threatening or dangerous amount of something. Sometimes the world can feel steeped in hate, fear and distrust. But in this tension, it is also steeping – held in a constant state of potential transformation, in joy, in love, in an abundance of brimming. Just as tea leaves steeped in water become tea, I often need to let myself be settled enough to be open to change, and to recognize the power held beneath the stillness.

The mug makes a perfect circle of the surface of this water, an opening I always have to come back to as each cup becomes its own expression of time and of settling.

The blueness of water is not truly blue. Rather than being a lack, there is a strength in this opaqueness, as it responds to the appearance of its surroundings. Water is aware, perceptive, adaptable. I want to be like water, remaining open to change and transformation.

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A rushing river in New Zealand. Photo by Amelia Diehl.
Coming to terms with the past 22 years of my life and cultivating a vision of the future becomes its own landscape that fades into the horizon of the ever evolving present. Embarking on this new chapter of my life would be daunting enough, but our uncertain political times push me to make sure every choice I make is intentional.

Climate change, driven by the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, disorients us from our surroundings. Climate disaster unsettles the water, scalds our lips, floods our homes, and takes the water away.

My home state is surrounded by 21% of the planet’s freshwater, yet too many people don’t have the water they need. An hour north of where I grew up in wealthy, liberal Ann Arbor, the community of Flint’s water has been poisoned for over three years because of greed. Enbridge’s outdated Line 5 pipeline between the straits of Mackinaw threatens to burst; and when it does, we already know how this goes down. Communities are still recovering from the million gallons of oil dumped in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 after Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline broke.

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Lake Huron. Photo by Amelia Diehl.
As I think about what I want my future to look like, and a just, livable society, my memories and projections are punctuated by the shape of encounters with bodies of water, the blueness of reaching a place or a feeling.
There’s the warmth of a fresh pot of tea in the morning, shared with my mom. After years of using my mom’s brown teapot, I used to always say I’d wait to buy my own teapot when I had my own place after college. It would signify a kind of settling, letting me mark the way I move through the world. That idea of a new home floats in my periphery, remaining its own kind of distant blue.
Or there’s the blue and silver sparkle of Lake Huron glittering in the sun, where my family has swum almost every summer.

Or swimming in the wild Pacific Ocean when I studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester abroad last spring. After arriving knowing no one, I made friends over sharing endless pots of tea. We made tea anywhere: in the woods, atop mountains, in the backs of cars, on the shore of bright blue lakes and the salty ocean.

These moments of settled blueness remind me what I’m fighting for. These moments of rippling stillness are so important for finding the vibrant groundedness in ourselves and remembering we are all downstream.

When I feel overwhelmed with the despair of the world, I can always come back to the body of water that is me. I can be as grounded as the ocean when I need to be, while carving out my own canyons of wholeness as a river. I can let these rivers intersect with other tributaries of memory, of intentions, of vulnerability, of connections, of fierce love. I can trust in the distance of the river, and in the swell and the flow of this interdependence.

Amelia Diehl
Amelia Diehl
Amelia Diehl is the Network Coordinator for the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice Network, and a Communications Specialist for UU Ministry for Earth. She's been with UUMFE since 2015 and is based in Chicago and the Great Lakes region. Her other movement homes include Rising Tide Chicago, SustainUS and freelance writing.