by Miranda Perrone

In a town like Freiburg, liberal, green, surrounded by the German Black Forest, you can stand on a slate-skied Saturday, shoulder to shoulder, anonymous behind a mask, holding a screen where cyclical slaughter loops, clockwork knives and of course fluffy male chicklets tipped into the grinder, and you can even be pleasantly surprised by how many of the human bodies traipsing the shop-lined street stop, peer at your screen, and then furrow their eyebrows, purse their lips or let them hang slack, and this again and again, without ever looking perplexed, no, not even the children because you’re here in Freiburg, actually on the ground where a synagogue once stood, but that was last century before its congregants too, like the animal bodies on your screen, were forced through a mechanized annihilation and then the building itself demolished, and now precisely where it stood stands now a girl with two white-blonde braids snaking down her chest, she seems to simply materialize and then stand still with her sister at her side until both parents slither in behind her, at which point one of us, someone tasked with speaking to those who linger, approaches this translucent-cheeked girl bundled beneath the March chill and I’m sure he sees how she’s gaping at the screen but maybe not how her blue eyes fill as he asks her, “Do you know what you’re watching?” and she answers in German because that’s how he asked, too: “Fleisch schaffen,” and he agrees and then asks if she would like it to stop and when she says yes he asks if she knows how to do that and here the child takes one, two, steps backwards and leans against her mother, grabs the arm that is wrapped around her chest, and says nothing until her protector offers, “We eat vegetarian one day a week. I know it’s not enough but it’s a start,” and the man nods and starts to speak but now the girl has turned around, has buried her face in her mother’s flecked peacoat, and then her father swoops, scoops her up, into his arms, and her legs wrap around his stomach as her face disappears into his shoulder and he turns away before swiveling again to say, “It’s important work you’re doing, thank you. It’s just a lot for her,” and if I behind my mask were allowed to speak aloud or even move I would nod or maybe even say, “Yes. Of course. It’s a lot for us all,” but I can’t and I don’t, instead I watch his orange raincoat recede until he turns a corner and still the girls’ head is on his shoulder and it hurts me too but we’ve decided that young children with parents can watch, and children over 12 also if they’re alone, because we want only someday to have nothing more to show on our screens and these younger humans live on this planet too and they are often quite logical, adaptable too, even more so than us trustworthy adults who yes, have everything under control, no really, it’s all fine, and so we allow the little ones to see because these things are happening after all and it hurts us all but maybe it can end if enough of us look, not just children but also the three young men who first walk by laughing and five minutes later return for a long discussion in halting german because even though all three are blonde and blue-eyed they’re not from this country, but they’re interested and so is the middle-aged man with the lime green beanie and wisp of brown hair tufting out who says, “suffering arises no matter what you consume -- there’s sweatshops and fish-choking plastic, for example” -- and yes, this is a flawed argument in favor of animal suffering, but nonetheless his offering of this truth, ready-made, is so Freiburg that I smile softly behind my mask, smile also because I think I understand him and know too that the alternative to simply ignoring, close-eyed, consumptions’ consequences is to live with a troubled heart, and I’d rather not do that either but maybe the pain is just a stop along the way because a few minutes later two earnest eyes floating in a cosmically freckled face appear and the mouth below them says, “Thank you, thank you for doing this,” and then before her words have stopped ringing an older man who has been loitering thirty feet away for some time now takes slow steps toward us while looking up at the drizzle darkening plantain branches from beige to moss and then he stops a foot away and as he looks steadily through the eye holes of my mask he says, “Your signs say ‘truth’ and it’s good what you’re doing, but you have to know it’s only the surface. The very shallow surface; you have to scratch deeper, get behind the screen and look at who is pulling the strings,” and he speaks in a low and soothing voice while ragged silver eyebrows rest beneath his sand-colored cowboy hat and I like the coral color of his canvas jacket, especially on this grey day, and I try to tell him this with my eyes as well as that he is welcome to stay and to tell me more, that I am listening wholeheartedly, but he just looks at my masked chin and then turns and saunters away without looking back and with him goes any fleeting ability to inhabit a fantasy world where a conversation could reveal the holy planet-saving grail, because of course for the interrelated issues plaguing us, spawning from us, there are no easy answers, and that is partially why I am here using my body to hold the screen that shows the only black-and-white issue I know, and also because a badass sixteen-year-old girl continues to tell global leaders dragging their feet that, “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere,” and I’d like to hope again, though after standing here for hours my feet ache and my toes are a frozen memory while my gloves cling, cold and clammy, to each finger and moisture pools in the hollow behind my masks’ mustache as the Münster tolls and the crowds roll by, or stop. The bells ring and ring: this is not a drill.

Miranda Perrone is a writer, philosopher, map-maker, and outdoor educator with an MS in environmental science and policy and a BA in philosophy. Issues related to climate change, animal rights, and the preservation of wild places are of particular interest to Miranda, whose varied work seeks to connect and inspire those alive today to create socioecological change. She was a 2017-18 Wyss Scholar. Her most recent work can be found in Waxwing,, and The Rumpus.