I “own” sixty-two acres of beautiful woodland in Southern Maryland. On a very cold end of March day I went out to the top of one of the many ravines on the property to sit and look out across the streambed below onto the rise on the other side. The maples were tinged with red as buds swell with their catkins that will flower, develop their winged seeds and eventually leaves. The forest floor mottled brown with last year’s leaves was so visible any movement of deer or turkey could be readily seen. Gray and brown tree bones were laid bare so that the complex interlacing of branches created a chaotic pattern against the sky. Later when the trees are fully leafed the green canopy covers it all creating a very different sense of space: no horizon but closeness and an appreciation of the immensity of great green beings.
I have never felt like I “owned” this land. We seemed to have a contract to fulfill together. I have held ceremonies here, brought people overnight for retreats, taken people outside to sit for therapy sessions and opened trails so that people could share the beauty of Nature’s creation in this sacred and holy spot. Nature and I are partners. I do my best to keep the four wheelers from romping through the forest just after a good rain, tearing up the forest floor in their total disregard for the destruction they leave in their wake. Or keeping this place safe from hunters who would randomly kill the deer and turkey I wanted to keep this one little place safe for them. I do honor those who would hunt to feed their families just not here on this land.
When I was a young girl, I was very active in Girl Scouts. My favorite activity was summer camp were we lived in the woods, developed good swimming skills in cold lakes, crafted, canoed and most fun of all hiked on trails up and down the wooded hills and ravines next to babbling brooks. One day when I was hiking listening to the phenomenally beautiful fluted song of the Wood Thrush, I said to myself, “I would love to have a piece of property some day and hear this beautiful singing.” Now every April when the Wood Thrush begin their songs at the break of day I roll out of bed and into the woods. What a holy moment. I think of them as musical instruments that bring heaven to earth.
This Mother Earth, Gaia is an amazing living being that needs to be treasured, have our respect and stewardship. She is an immensely complex Being that fosters many living species from the tiniest microorganism to the greatest Blue Whales.
“The cooperative dynamics evident in the evolution of the Earth’s biosphere have led James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis to hypothesize that the planet’s climate, oceans, and atmospheric composition are actually regulated by living organism working together in a coordinated fashion to maintain the conditions necessary for life. In the most widely accepted version of the theory, this coordination takes place through complex cybernetic feedback loops such as those in… systems theory. This life-sustaining system encompasses the Earth’s entire biosphere—that is, its living organisms plus the water, air, and soil with which life interacts. James Lovelock goes so far as to assert that this system actually functions as a single living entity.” P. 262 Hathaway and Boff
The narrow range of surface temperature required to sustain life forms on our planet has been maintained over the last four billion years in several crucial ways. Even though the sun’s temperature has grown 30 to 50 percent warmer during that time, initial levels of CO2 formed a protective greenhouse blanket and have been gradually removed by the action of living organisms keeping the surface temperature regulated. Our rainforests have played another role, by evaporating vast quantities of water and forming reflective clouds that “act as the Earth’s air conditioning system.” The oxygen levels also have to be maintained within a narrow band. If they become too high “spontaneous combustion would result, destroying much of the biosphere in a storm of fire and smoke.” The process of photosynthesis produces enough oxygen to support life both in the oceans at first and then only after the ozone layer was built up enough to protect life on land could it develop there as well. The soil of the earth is filled with huge numbers of microorganism that make up a large portion of the biomass on land and extend well below the earth’s surface. P. 264 Hathaway and Boff.
What a delicate dance of balanced dynamic processes that allows life to flourish on this living planet! The unfortunate thing is that especially with the onset of the industrial revolution and our capitalistic economic system that demands more and more consumption we have wreaked havoc with this balance. Rainforests have been destroyed in the name of mahogany, coffee plantations, gold mining, to name just a few. Our ozone layer is being depleted making us more vulnerable to solar flares and radiation, hence the rise in skin cancers and other disastrous consequences. The list goes on and on. We have given little thought to the future but only for what we want in this present moment to satisfy our insatiable hunger for more stuff.
Chief Seattle’s letter written in 1854 eloquently expresses the deep sense of connection to the Earth that the Native American people felt.
“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or see the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air, and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are a part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers….
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. The earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.” http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/seattle.htm
This speech among other things makes me realize that although I love this land I have only been here for twenty-two years. This is the longest that I have lived anywhere. I do not have a sense of my father or father’s father being part of this land, walking the forest paths, stopping to observe the flow of water in the stream or feel the wind on their faces.
We are for the most part a very transient culture and as a result we have little connection with the place where we put our feet and house our families. In this day and age the houses grow bigger and the land they sit on grows smaller and smaller. When I was a child I was free to roam the hills and swamps, to play in the fields, climb my favorite tree to sway in the breeze and to plant a garden. Today children are very sheltered. They watch and inordinate amount of television, play video games, hang out on their phones or tablets. There is little attention paid to having a sense of place connected with the earth and sometimes even with other people. This makes outdoor education a very important component of a school curriculum. Parents, who take their kids tent camping or send them to camp or go hiking or make a garden together with them, are giving their children a tremendous gift.
What about stewardship, what does that entail? When I finally was able to sign on the dotted line for the additional 37 acres that I was adding to the original 25, I went for a long walk on those acres talking to the trees. I was celebrating with them that no one was going to come and build the 11 proposed homes. No one was going to come and cut down the trees because for some reason it is more convenient to build from a clean slate moving the dirt around, reshaping the topography to suit some plan that originated on a drafting table than by walking around and looking at the beauty already created.
Why would you cut down huge oaks, sycamores and beech to burn them needlessly and in the new housing development replant new little twigs in their stead? Don’t people understand the value of huge trees as conduits of energy between the sun and the earth feeding the billions of microorganisms that make up the soil and who replenish nutrients? And what about the process of photosynthesis that provides us with the oxygen that we absolutely need for our survival? Cut down a mature tree and we kill thousands of leaves, like little solar panels that metabolize the light to be used to produce oxygen, feed the tree, the earth and help maintain the delicate balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen supporting all of life on this planet.
The Copper Beech Deva invites us, “Come closer. Rest in our strength. Become aware of the smaller notes that we play—the flutter of leaves, the shining glints of color, the sunshiny softness of spring. All are connected with the birds, the insects, the elements. A large tree is a place of beauty, a family, a home, a country to explore. A refuge to many, it stands proud, giving out to all, reaching up to the sky and deep into the earth, enduring. The tall tree stands as a symbol of a particular perfection of God. Let it stand, and you will come closer to God.” P. 75 Maclean.
These trees also create a buffer for the stream beds that run through the property providing water for the animals of the forest, habitat for small fish, eels that come every year from the Sargasso Sea to spawn, frogs, water snakes and countless other forms of life that I cannot see. This water kept clean in part by a healthy forest moves out into the river that then moves out into the Chesapeake Bay. These waters when healthy feed the people with rockfish, oysters, blue crabs and more.
To steward the land is to love the land, to care for it, which to my mind basically means to leave it alone. Nature knows very well how to manage her forests and streams creating habitats for all who come to dwell or walk within this immense beauty. The Landscape Angel implores us, “Unless you become conscious of the divine within yourselves and act from that, you are open to grave limitation. To be in touch with the true nature of life, you must be conscious of our existence. We play such a great part in the formation of your world, but until you recognize us, there is no true cooperation. Recognition forms the bond on which to build.” P. 79 Maclean.