“Earth teach me stillness, as the grasses are stilled with light…
Earth teach me suffering, as old stones suffer with memory…
Earth teach me caring, as parents who secure their young…
Earth teach me courage, as the tree which stands all alone…
Earth teach me limitation, as the ant which crawls on the ground..
Earth teach me freedom, as the eagle which soars in the sky…
Earth teach me resignation, as the leaves which die in the fall…
Earth teach me regeneration, as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself, as melted snow forgets its life…
Earth teach me to remember kindness, as dry fields weep with rain.”
from the Ute people of North America, in “Singing the Living Tradition”
The international observance of Earth Day is for me the most important holiday on the calendar. I can’t imagine anything more important, or anything that makes as much a difference to everything that lives, as planet Earth. I am still working on how to make this day Holy. I want to marvel at, record, and lovingly share as many memories as I can. I want to be physically active outdoors. I want to help mitigate some of the damage that humans have done. And I want to invite, encourage, and implore everyone to join in the celebration and protection of our lives’ Host. We are all interconnected, living expressions of Earth-ness, alongside everything else on the home crust. What an amazing community to belong to!
This year, I’ve added a new page to my blog celebrating Oregon as my home Place. Please take a look! https://scillagrace.com/oregon-outdoors/
Once, a very, very long time ago, before there was a “United States of America”…
…the Earth went through some dramatic changes. Gradually, new life emerged. Large animals, different from the dinosaurs, roamed the vast grasslands of the continent.
Not only did Earth sustain these large herds of ungulates, she also supported enormous trees in extensive networks of forest.
Eventually, however, a new species evolved, and in the blink of an eye by Earth’s time, this one dominated the canyons, the grasslands, and the forests and used up or destroyed much of the Earth’s abundance.
Somehow, it finally dawned on this species that they were causing great harm to the Earth. Many of them dedicated their large brains to the resolution of this grave problem.
It’s difficult to know what will happen in the next chapter of Earth’s story, but every member of every species on Earth is playing a part. Consider your part. Act wisely and with compassion for Her.
Thank you to Amy for issuing this photo challenge and for sharing her beautiful illustrations of Earth’s story. Click HERE to see her post.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” — The Wilderness Act of 1964
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President who signed The Wilderness Act into law.
“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” — Henry David Thoreau
“Idolatry always reduces to the worship of something ‘made with hands,’ something confined within the terms of human work and human comprehension. Thus, Solomon and Saint Paul both insisted on the largeness and the at-largeness of God, setting Him free, so to speak, from ideas about Him. He is not to be fenced in, under human control, like some domestic creature; He is the wildest being in existence. The presence of His spirit in us is our wildness, our oneness with the wilderness of Creation. That is why subduing the things of nature to human purposes is so dangerous and why it so often results in evil, in separation and desecration. It is why the poets of our tradition so often have given nature the role not only of mother or grandmother but of the highest earthly teacher and judge, a figure of mystery and great power.” — Wendell Berry
In 2014, I went to New Mexico to participate in a Wilderness 50 Conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law. I didn’t go as a delegate from any conservation organization or as an employee of any of the agencies associated with U.S. public lands. I went as a citizen eager to learn about how wild places are being protected in this country. I went to lectures, panel discussions, break-out seminars, film presentations and information kiosks. I went on a field trip to a nearby designated wilderness. And then I went home, east of the Mississippi River. I determined that I wanted to visit wilderness areas and work to protect land whatever way I could. I got a job at a land trust six months later.
The greatest tracts of wilderness land in the U. S. are west of the Mississippi, but there are a few in the Great Lakes region, in the North Woods, with dispersed campsites scattered around. I found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As I set up camp, I was greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, there was a bit of rain. In the morning, a bald eagle perched high in a dead tree on the far side of the lake, illuminated by the rising eastern sun. Staring at him through my binoculars, I imagined him enjoying an aerial view like ones I’d seen in pictures of Alaska. Could I really be in the wilderness, finally? My rational brain convinced me of the disparities, but my romantic soul glowed. Even in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.
The inevitable down side of climbing the wilderness mountain is returning to ‘civilization’, re-entering the spaces that humans have altered and asking a million critical questions about our involvement. Was this action necessary? Was this change beneficial and for whom? How is this decision going to effect this environment, this habitat, this life? How do I take responsibility when my ignorance is so vast? How do I do my best to learn and choose and be aware? What do I do when I see individuals or systems causing destruction?
I learned the 4 pillars of Environmental Education while volunteering at a local Nature Center: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. My experience in the wilderness took me on a journey past those milestones: being aware of the solitude, of the multitude of interconnected lives as well; being awed by the variety and majesty of all that I saw; feeling a deep desire to protect, to respect, and to serve Life; and finally, deciding to make changes and choices in my own life and lifestyle, to learn to embody the experience, not just as a vacation or a change from habit, but as a daily practice.
I am thrilled to meet another wilderness enthusiast through the Lens-Artists group and urge you to visit this week’s host at her blog, Rambling Ranger. Dianne has been a National Park ranger in both Alaska and Death Valley, California. She’s a fabulous photographer and writer…and I am now one of her followers!
ADVICE FROM A SEA LION
Soak up some sun
Keep your whiskers clean
Let troubles roll off your back
Don’t flip out
Spend time at the beach
Have a playful spirit
Make a splash!
It is a negligence of the mind not to notice how at dusk heron comes to the pond and stands there in his death robes,
perfect servant of the system, hungry,
his eyes full of attention, his wings pure light…
– Mary Oliver
“There’s Rosemary for you, that’s for remembrance!
Pray you, love, remember.” (Ophelia, Hamlet)
– William Shakespeare
I can’t help wondering how many more years we will be able to view sea lions and great blue herons in places where humans predominate. We’re in the midst of a mass-extinction event called the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction. If the current rate of human disruption of the biosphere continues, one-half of Earth’s higher lifeforms will be extinct by 2100. Seventy percent of biologists polled in 1998 acknowledged this event. It is happening, humans are causing it, and it is ongoing. What is being done to educate the human community and dismantle the anthropocentrism, the human supremacy, that drives behaviors that contribute to the destruction of our planet? Oceans, grasslands, mountaintops, and a host of unique habitats have been plundered and colonized to suit the human appetite for consumption.
Environmentalists are in despair. You can read a million articles and books on the subject. In the last one I read, Eileen Crist says, “In the twenty-first century there will be a reckoning with how we’ve lived, what we’ve done to the planet and ourselves, and that reckoning will set in motion an awakening: a different way to go about things.” Rather than just feeling BLUE about being GREEN, I hope to inspire the humans I know humbly to consider their place in the Tree of Life. Back in the 1940s, Aldo Leopold said we should change the role of homo sapiens “from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” That attitude, combined with our ability to solve problems, may finally lead us to restrict the damage that we inflict and bring our species back in balance and scale with the rest of the biotic community.
My thanks to Tina Schell, our host this week for the Photo Challenge. Visit her blog to see gorgeous photos of one of the United States’ unique habitats, Kiawah Island.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Wallace Stegner, 1983
For this week’s photo challenge, Ann-Christine invites us to pick our own theme. I am pleased to show my enthusiasm for the National Park system here in the United States and choose “Pick a Park” as my theme. I have visited many of them across the nation, from Acadia National Park in Maine when I was a preschooler to Pinnacles National Park in California, which was designated a National Park rather than a National Monument in January 2013, the year before I visited. I have also visited a number of other nationally preserved sites – monuments, shores, riverways, caves…but not battlefields. I have participated in citizen science finding fossils at Badlands National Park; gone spelunking at Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, and Wind Cave; witnessed geothermal activity at Yellowstone and Hawaii Volcanoes; rode a horse through Bryce Canyon; sailed around the Apostle Islands; camped in the Canyon of the Ancients; picnicked at Capital Reefs; hiked around the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains; and taken pictures at all those sites. And that’s just a small sampling of ways to interact with these astonishing Earth displays. Perhaps you may be planning a visit to one of our Parks yourself to do an activity I’ve never even tried!
“The American way of life consists of something that goes greatly beyond the mere obtaining of the necessities of existence. If it means anything, it means that America presents to its citizens an opportunity to grow mentally and spiritually, as well as physically. The National Park System and the work of the National Park Service constitute one of the Federal Government’s important contributions to that opportunity. Together they make it possible for all Americans–millions of them at first-hand–to enjoy unspoiled the great scenic places of the Nation…. The National Park System also provides, through areas that are significant in history and prehistory, a physical as well as spiritual linking of present-day Americans with the past of their country.”
Newton B. Drury, NPS Director, 1940-1951
Ann-Christine challenges us this week with a beautiful collection of double-exposure photos and quotes about the Future.
What a peculiar responsibility we have, as presumably the only species on Earth with the capacity to think about the Future. And as the dominant species, our actions create an impact that will be felt for a long, long time.
Knowing this, how do we choose to live? How do we spend our time? What do we use, and what do we throw away? What do we create? And how will we, individually, impact the Future?
Looking in my photo archives, I can easily see a few things I’ve done that will influence some part of the Future.
I have planted trees, both on the suburban property I used to own and on public properties as a member of a larger community.
I’ve worked for the past 5 years for a conservation organization, a land trust that buys land to save it from development and plants trees and prairies for wildlife habitat.
But probably the biggest impact I will have on the Future is through my four children, who are now adults. Their choices are no doubt influenced in part by the values we talked about as they matured. Most likely, they will use, create, vote, dispose, and act long after I have ceased to do any of those things. The legacy I will have through them is not mine to predict but theirs to fashion. I am very proud of them, and feel confident that their choices will be intended for good and not for harm.
Ann-Christine and I share a love of trees. I’m glad for her challenge subject today.
Much of the wisdom of the natural world is about how to sustain life in harmony with others. It turns out that Trees are no exception. They share a unique kind of communication via threads of fungi and operate as a living community. That discovery changes the way I see forests and individual trees completely.
“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”
“It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.”
“We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trees pass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community.”
“If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.”
I feel now more than ever how important it is to conserve larger tracts of land containing whole forests, especially mature growth forests. It’s not enough to plant a tree in the yard. Trees are the lungs of the planet, breathing the oxygen that we all depend on into our world.
“An organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life.”
Have you thanked a forest today?
Tomorrow is Earth Day. The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970, when
“twenty million Americans displayed their commitment to a clean environment. It was called the largest demonstration in human history, and it permanently changed the nation’s political agenda. By Earth Day 2000, participation had exploded to 500 million people in 167 countries. The seemingly simple idea — a day set aside to focus on protecting our natural environment — was the brainchild of U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. It accomplished, far beyond his expectations, his lifelong goal of putting the environment onto the nation’s and the world’s political agenda.” (from The Man From Clear Lake by Bill Christofferson)
That simple idea – that Earth deserves the attention and respect of all its human inhabitants, and protection from harm – seems to me more fundamental than any other ideology formed around life on this planet.
It boggles my mind that damage done to one magnificent cultural edifice can command more attention than the complete destruction of countless forest cathedrals, that concern over relics of antiquity can eclipse the horror of the extinction of living species…including our own.
“In the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. We are losing over 6,000 orangutans a year.” (from The Orangutan Project website)
“The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is a current event, and is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth.” (Wikipedia)
I want to present to you, on the eve of Earth Day, an invitation to reflect on our hubris, our ignorance, and consider ways to protect, conserve, respect, and champion our planet, perhaps with the affection you might tender towards a venerable ancestor.
She’s been around a long, long time. None of us would be here without her. And we have treated her badly. We have made grave mistakes. Perhaps now we can admit we were wrong and make reparation.
For example, PLASTICS. They’ve only been in existence for 60 years or so. We lived without them before; we can live without them again. No big deal…except if you’re protecting the plastic-producing industry instead of the inhabitants of Earth.
Steve and I found a quiz on Climate Change Solutions that yielded some surprising information. I challenge you to test your assumptions about effective ways to curb climate change by clicking HERE.
How will you honor Earth Day this year?
How are you changing habits that have proven destructive?
How are you encouraging love and respect for the environment in people you know?
Like my hero, Jane Goodall, I have hope in the ability of humans to make moral choices about how to behave towards the planet. In an interview with Mongabay, “Dr. Jane” gives five reasons to have hope for the planet:
- The energy, commitment, and hard work of young people once they understand the problems and are empowered to discuss and ACT upon solutions.
- The human brain.
- The resilience of Nature.
- The indomitable human spirit – the people who tackle seemingly impossible tasks and won’t give up.
- My most recent reason for hope is the power of social media.