This is what I’ve been working on. Besides editing, I wrote 3 pieces and Steve wrote one. Please click on the Be Zine link and enjoy all the contributions! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about sharing. This is a hugely important arena, encompassing life, health, and EVERYTHING!
The Environment is a complex array of interconnections and interbeing (as Thich Nhat Hahn would say). Steve & I have various metaphors for this. He likes to refer to “his bowling pins”. He imagines setting up a toy set of pins on a lawn and bowling at them. When they scatter, you set them back up exactly where they landed and bowl again. This takes you all over the neighborhood in endless permutations. I think of “trophic cascades”, changes in an ecosystem that originate at an extinction or other dramatic altering of balance, similar perhaps to “the domino effect” but less linear. However you try to wrap your brain around it, the nature of Life on this planet is intricate and incomprehensible. We are wise to approach it with the utmost humility. Because we are intrinsically involved, however, we must not fear to engage. We are already…
(this is a featured article in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. Click here to see the whole thing.)
Once upon a time, there were a bunch of Big Brains who decided that living things (which they rarely called ‘living beings’) needed to be neatly organized. Grouping things together based on similarity was important to them for some reason. So they made up categories and named them Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, in succession from broad to specific. Then they had to remember these categories, so they memorized “Kindly Professors Cannot Often Fail Good Students” – apropos of nothing much. (Personally, I think “Kindly People Courageously Offer Fauna/Flora General Sympathy” might make better sense.)
Meanwhile, some other Big Brains decided that everything in the Universe was made by one Creator and that He gave humans dominion over all the other animal species on Earth and gave every plant for human use. That made them feel they were Most Important among the creatures on the planet. They felt very comfortable with that and valued themselves, and those that looked and acted most like them, very highly.
As for those creatures who were terribly different from them, well, they were kind of “icky”.
Well, these Big Brains were very clever. They prospered and multiplied (and divided and conjugated and came up with quantum physics). They learned how to make a Big Impact on the Earth, making things they liked out of the raw materials Earth had. And every year, there were more of them. They liked to be comfortable, so they tried to eliminate things that bothered them. Like locusts. And dandelions.
They liked to be powerful, so they claimed victories over other living things that had power. Like lions. And giant sequoias.
Gradually, they noticed that some of the other living things (or Living Beings) were disappearing completely. Some people thought that was a shame, especially if the thing was useful or furry or had a face. Others noticed that when one type of thing was gone, things began to change for the rest as well. A few Big Brains began to ask some really Tough Questions about why things on the Earth were changing so quickly and whether the Big Impact of humans had anything to do with it.
I can’t tell you the ending of this story. Perhaps the Big Brains will disappear like so many other Living Beings did, and Earth will go on without them. Perhaps the Big Brains will become less numerous, less dominant, and Earth will go on with them. Perhaps something altogether different will happen. It doesn’t really matter how I tell the story.
What does matter?
Well, here on Earth, ‘matter’ can also mean every Living Being and every non-Living Thing.
What we Big Brains decide to do with all matter will matter and will help tell the end of the story.
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog.
Today’s story is called “Behind the Pine Curtain”:
Far to the North, deep in the taiga, things are different. The anthropocentric domination disappears; the caribou and the gray wolf roam freely. Seasons, not schedules, set the pace of life: snowfall creates quiet, thaw invites growth and activity. The wind whispers and howls, carrying the voices of ravens, golden eagles and coyotes over wireless stretches connected only by a network of fresh air. Pathways through the boreal forest are deeply rutted by cloven hoofs and claws; these are the tread marks of travel. Trade and currency are exchanged in life and death, who eats, and who goes hungry through the night. There are no agencies or systems to correct these interactions between inhabitants; none are needed. Let no revolution disturb this country, no liberation infiltrate its borders. Let it be wild and perpetuate its own freedom.
— Next, I invite you to visit Kaye at Rebooting. She’s one of my newer blog friends, and I think she’d be up for a Challenge. She’s a hoot, in my opinion: British and cheeky and very entertaining. Cheers!
The Word Press Daily Post Photo Challenge states: “As we sift through fleeting status updates, toss yet another egg carton in the recycling bin, and watch as seasons change around the world, it can seem like life is made of constant change.”
Well, isn’t it?
And maybe, to step outside of constant change is to see constant continuation. Thich Nhat Hahn doesn’t celebrate his birthday, he calls it a “continuation day”.
If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people. To be born means that something which did not exist comes into existence. But the day we are “born” is not our beginning. It is a day of continuation. But that should not make us less happy when we celebrate our “Happy Continuation Day.” Since we are never born, how can we cease to be? This is what the Heart Sutra reveals to us. When we have tangible experience of non-birth and non-death, we know ourselves beyond duality. The meditation on “no separate self” is one way to pass through the gate of birth and death. Your hand proves that you have never been born and you will never die. The thread of life has never been interrupted from time without beginning until now. Previous generations, all the way back to single cell beings, are present in your hand at this moment. You can observe and experience this. Your hand is always available as a subject for meditation.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment
Continuation and endurance are kindred concepts. It’s not about effort, it’s about the flow of life: life to life.
And now, for my illustration. Sequoia sempervirens, the coastal redwood. Amongst the oldest living things on earth, the species includes the tallest living trees on the planet. This particular tree is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, about 25 miles from the house I lived in as a high school student, where my brother lives now. It’s nicknamed The Grandfather.
This May 21, 2013 photo provided by the National Park Service shows wildlife biologist Terry Hines standing next to a massive scar on an old growth redwood tree in the Redwood National and State Parks near Klamath, Calif., where poachers have cut off a burl to sell for decorative wood. The park recently took the unusual step of closing at night a 10-mile road through a section of the park to deter thieves. (AP Photo/Redwood National and State Parks, Laura Denn)
What will endure for the next generation? How do I choose my path, living in continuation and protecting continuation in all life on our interconnected planet?
“It’s a time for celebration! 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the landmark conservation bill that created a way for Americans to protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations. The 1964 Wilderness Act…created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast. This anniversary is a wonderful chance to celebrate all that’s been achieved for wilderness in the past 50 years and remind Americans of all that we can achieve in the next 50.” (from The Wilderness Society website, http://www.wilderness.org)
I read this call to celebration with great delight. My partner Steve is also turning 50 this fall. We’d been searching for a way to live out the next half of our lives more intentionally embodying all that we’ve come to value. He’s been reading up on ‘Deep Ecology’ lately and examining his own philosophy of land ethic, relationship to the Earth, and living responsibly. It can all be a very thick soup to me, but at the mention of “WILDERNESS”, I began to find a kind of clarity. Images, feelings, an intuitive sense of freedom and sanctity began to emerge from the murky definitions and contradictions. Yes, I value ‘wilderness’. I need it. I know this, deep in my soul. What is this recognition about? What does ‘wilderness’ mean, and what do I learn from it?
“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
What is our relationship to wilderness – or to Nature, for that matter? Are we visitors? Are we managers, stewards, masters? Conquerors? I hear the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of construction vehicles in reverse and the thud of jack-hammers that are currently tearing down the green space near my home and widening the interstate highway to create a Research Park, and I know that a large part of my culture is dedicated to conquering and altering the land and calling it ‘development’.
I am drawn to the prairie, to the woodlands, to green space wherever I find it, but I don’t want to be a mere visitor. I belong to this planet. My ancestry is here. When I was a little girl, I used to play in the Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I would duck beneath the shady boughs of a bush and sweep out some floor space with a stick. I would set up rooms and fashion utensils of twig and bark. I played House for hours on end, staking my claim, perhaps, to domesticity within that habitat. I want to live on the Earth, with the Earth, not in dominance or enmity, but in peace and harmony. In order to live in peace, however, I have to know when to leave well enough alone. I know this in my relationship with people, and I know this in my relationship with animals. It’s called Respect. Why shouldn’t this be true of my relationship to land and sea and air as well? Let it do what it wants to do. Let it enjoy autonomy, as I do. Let it be “untrammeled by man”.
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.
Is it naive to think that there exists any place on Earth that is truly pristine? Perhaps. And that need not be grounds to dismiss the idea of wilderness with a cynical roll of the eyes. I believe there is merit in creating what I call ‘secondary wilderness’ by allowing areas that have been previously used and even exploited to return to a more natural state. There is much to be learned by observing what time and non-human agents will do in a particular environment. Steve and I found a section of secondary wilderness right here in Wisconsin. Although most of the 110 million acres of federally designated Wilderness is west of the Mississippi in mountains, deserts, and Arctic tundra, there are forests in the North that have been abandoned by logging operations and allowed to return to wildlands. The Headwaters Wilderness in the Nicolet unit of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is 22,000+ acres of previously logged forest that has been left wild since 1984. There are 2 Forest Service roads that divide the area into three sections, but enough contiguous acreage to qualify still for wilderness status. Backpacker Magazine’s site has given it the distinction of “deepest solitude” within that Forest. We headed there just after Memorial Day.
wilderness:(1)a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2): an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
We found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As we set up camp, we were greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, we had 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 here, in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.
“…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, “Walking” 1862
We found a hiking trail into the edge of the wilderness, marked by a series of white diamonds on the trees. The trail was maintained, after a fashion, but not with meticulous interference. I preferred it to those wide, paved “trails” in city parks where cyclists, boarders and baby strollers whiz by all weekend.
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.
Steve & I are planning to attend the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico this October. We are eager to explore the sacred space of our common ground, the Earth, with like-minded people who are also interested in fostering the understanding of our life in proximity with each other and with the life around us. I look forward to feeling the refreshment of wilderness in my soul and encountering new ways of expressing the spiritual aspect of this quality of life in art, morality and intellectual discourse.
Please consider this an invitation to join me, if not at the Conference itself, in the exploration of Wilderness as a part of our humanity. Please share comments here and likes here.
“Ben Jonson exclaims: ‘How near to good is what is fair!’ So I would say, How near to good is what is wild! Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862
Where were you in 1970 when Earth Day was first celebrated? I was 7 years old. My particular corner of Earth was a suburb of Chicago where I played in a Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I learned to recognize wild flowers like violets and Jack-in-the Pulpit and animals like squirrels and blue jays. I picked up litter that motorists had thrown out their windows or that picnickers had left in the woods. I’d often find broken beer or Boones Farm Strawberry Hill bottles near the concrete structure off the trail, within the circle of the remains of a campfire. I could never understand why people would just leave their trash behind. My parents would not tolerate that kind of disrespectful behavior in me, and I was incredulous that adults could get away with it. I would come home and tell my mother (a Girl Scout leader) that I’d found evidence of people not “leaving the place cleaner than they found it”. I can still feel my girlish outrage. When I was in 6th grade, I joined an Eco Club and volunteered to help pick up trash in the playground after school. I think I was the only one. I remember being alone with a big trash bag, meandering the grounds and talking to myself. I was very happy feeling that I was contributing to the Ecology Movement. Now that I’m 50, the scope of my awareness has outgrown the patch of land I call my neighborhood. I still feel outrage; I still hope to be part of the solution but on a more grown-up scale. How to do that as an individual is perplexing. There is not one easy button to push to do it. It is a network of decisions, with threads crisscrossing from recycling to teaching to voting. To stay engaged, to keep up the effort, to put energy into learning and practicing responsibility is the way of Earth friendliness. How is your friendship with Earth going today?