Archive for category 2010 This Land is MY Land?

…the grass really is greener on the other side of the mountain

3 girls enjoying the view of Perry County from Waggoner's Gap

Before Ecofeminism became part of my Dickinson College class schedule, I knew little about my surroundings or the history of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.   Cumberland County symbolized a place that was only real to me from the end of August until May. Carlisle equaled school and nothing else really. Somewhere in my college career, I lost sight of the beauty of the land around me.  I stopped noticing things such as: worms everywhere after it rains, where Orion was flying in the night sky, and the disappearance of the un-worked land. As a Women and Gender Studies major, I would often spend a lot of my time focusing on the oppression of people. I would try to find ways to change societal framework to alter the norms and pre-scripted thoughts of other people. What I failed to understand was that the environment suffers as a result of rape and oppression in the same ways women so often have.

The environment is over worked and severely under appreciated. We, the human race, take and take and take from the land and don’t give enough back. Whenever new land is found, historically society has wanted to conquer the land and reap its benefits. For example, in the historic text by Thomas Hariot, states that “And by the means of sowing & planting in good ground, it will be farre greater, better, and more plentifull then it is.” It appears that all Hariot wants is to find a way to use the land, not enjoy it. He sees it as one giant commodity, a place to farm and prosper. Why can’t he and all the others that came before and now those after him coexist with the land?

Today we still do not appreciate the beauty of the Earth until we are required. This past week our class visited Waggoner’s Gap, which lies on the county line dividing Cumberland and Perry County. It was a class trip of sorts, so everyone in Ecofeminism came along. At first this “class trip” was annoying. It required class to start earlier and stressed me out about getting back to campus for my next class.  We loaded into our vans and started the drive, making a few turns, we got to the outside of Carlisle It was then that I realized that I had never seen this drive, from the passenger vantage point. I looked at everything in sight out the window. I really took it all in, every house, tree and cow. As each minute passed, I felt less stressed. When our class finally reach Waggoner’s Gap and climbed to the top of Hawk Watch Point, calm rushed over me. During our 10 minute meditation period, I looked to both Cumberland County and Carlisle to my left and Perry County to my right. They looked so different from each other. Cumberland was much more urbanized and Perry seemed so wild and natural. At some point I started daydreaming about exploring Perry County and found myself getting lost in the sea of colors, which made up the mountainside of tress. The thought of even that small bit of wilderness and forest was enticing to me. Prior to when Ecofeminism was a part of my weekly schedule, I would not have wanted to explore the area surrounding where I spend so much of my time. I would have said “This place is pretty, but I have homework to do.” During the class trip I didn’t want to leave the mountain and go back to the real world or Carlisle, industry, and school. I wanted to stay right where I was enjoying the sunlight and the view. There was something exhilarating about being outside in that fresh air, doing nothing but taking in my surroundings. It gave me a chance to really understand how much the Earth does for us. It provides us with life. The majority of society doesn’t ever stop and thank the plant for all it does for us on its own, without humans. It is working to help us stay alive even when we do not appreciate or care for it. That day at Waggoner’s Gap showed me how much I have to be thankful for and how important it is to stop for a few minutes, take a deep breath, and really observe and take in my surroundings.

Hariot, Thomas “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/hariot/hariot.html

Photo: Emily Olman

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Made for…who?

I spend about eight months of the year in this American state, but I am not from Pennsylvania. No, no. I’m from a much flatter, colder, and developed part of the United States: Chicago. To anyone from the area I would identify my actual hometowns, Park Ridge and Wilmette, the two suburbs just north of city in which I actually grew up. It was in these two places, these two homes, that my dad would softly sing me to sleep one of two songs in his repertoire of the “Notre Dame University Alma Mater” and “This Land Is Your Land.” Until recently, I had not realized how these two songs– one Christian and the other North American, privileged, and racialized — are cultural narratives which have had significant influence in forming my identity, specifically “This Land Is Your Land.” Reading exerpts from Carolyn Merchant’s  book Reinventing Eden inspired my recognition of these narratives as so formative to my identity and how I view, or have previously failed to acknowledge my own culture and interactions and views of nature.

Upon moving here for college, I was amazed at the rolling hills (my friends from West Virginia and Ithaca, NY refuse to let me call them “mountains”) of the Cumberland Valley, but I never ventured into this beautiful land outside of the college campus. However, this year I have spent more time at various places in the Valley through my own personal interest and through Ecofeminism: rock climbing at Whiskey Springs, biking North of campus and feeling awed by this, and of course, our class field trip to Waggoner’s Gap. Experiencing the beautiful land surrounding my college has helped me feel much more at home here in Pennsylvania, that I do indeed belong here, that I am a participant of this land. It was biking through McClure’s Gap Road and spending time atop Waggoner’s Gap in which I finally understood what bell hooks is talking about in her newly published book Belonging: A Culture of Place, when she says that our “sense and sensibility [of home is] deeply informed by our geography of place” (hooks 9).

My participation in this ecofeminism course has assisted my new identification with the Cumberland Valley, through methods such as the Bioregional Quiz and holding class at Waggoner’s Gap. It was in that specific class, hearing Sarah Brylinsky talk about how fertile our land is here that I really came to appreciate all that this place has to offer. That same day, we talked about the gendered conquest of land, specifically in relation to Thomas Hariot’s inventory of the new land of Virginia in 1585. I challenged the idea that a masculine interaction with new land would be different from a feminine one (we only have one history, it’s hard to use my imagination to rewrite American history as though English women would have explored this place). But either way, the masculine  mindset of extraction possessed by the men exploring the new world still has an obvious legacy. Just consider the lyrics of one of the songs that formed my childhood, “This Land is Your Land.” They go like this: “This land is your land, this land is my land […] this land was made for you and me…” I found myself humming this song, amazed at the idea that this land could have been MADE for us, humans, to use. The European paradigm of man and nature quite obvious: that humans are separate from the earth, for these natural resources were placed by God for humans to exploit. This song also communicates much privilege when considering those who would consider the United States as their land. Would the daughter of two migrant workers, possibly not even a “citizen” of this country, consider this her land? What about the people from whom this land was usurped from (Native Americans)?

Since beginning my Ecofeminist study, my thoughts about land have changed a bit. For one thing, I rarely thought about actual land. Where I come from, a metropolitan area, land is a commodity. Spare land = $. Not only have I found a new appreciation for this land around me, the Cumberland Valley, but I have also come to consider it my home, a geographical location affecting not only my physical sense, but also my spiritual sensibility.

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Enjoying Complexity

As I live my daily life, I do not often think about what the land provides for me or how important and complex the land is beneath my feet.  When I thought about the beauty of the earth before this course, I had a picture of a romanticized fantasy.  For instance, I love watching Planet Earth and the beautiful images they captured on film.  However, this experience of the earth is through a television screen – I am not actually touching the land as we did during class.  I feel like I have grown up with an appreciation for food (from the art of preparing it, to the act of enjoying what I made), yet I am still ignorant.  My food growing knowledge is limited to volunteering at the college farm and my mother’s small garden, much like my restricted view of nature through a TV screen.  In general, I do not grow my own food – it is packaged and shipped to my nearest market.  By not hunting and growing food for ourselves (ourselves, meaning the majority of the people living in “developed” nations), we have lost that true connection with the land, and thus the true appreciation and understanding of its complexities.

When I lay on the ground, observing the soil from that level, I started to re-learn to appreciate nature for its complexity – I was physically seeing the extent of the grass system and witnessing the intricacy of the soil.  What we value in life, like food and beautiful landscapes, originate from the soil.  This realization gives me a sense of awe towards the earth’s system – something that appears so simple can be the base of all life.  The association of dirt and soil with negative conations comes from an uneven balance of knowledge about the earth.  The beauty of soil comes from what it can support, what it is composed of, how it is made – not what can we get from the soil.

The complexity of the earth’s systems is much like the complexity of the human body.  Once I let go of the social constructed views of a body (male or female) that cloud my eyes, I can see the beauty of its complexity.  I think about the digestive system (as we read and discussed from The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki) and how my hormones and emotions effect my every moment…. And more interestingly, how most of these simple complexities are shared globally 🙂 I love to be reminded that I am not only connected to the land, but also to the people around me.

I may have known or understood these concepts in the back of my mind, but bringing them to the forefront of my mind affects my daily thoughts.  Soil and my connections with it and the land is not just something to wash off at the end of the day – it is the source of all life (inanimate and animate – including mine!), it is growth, it is fertile, it is productive, it is nourishing, it is home – every day of my life.

Sunset at the Dickinson College Farm (Courtesy of Alex Smith)

Rebecca Yahiel

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My Land

It was my backpacking experience on the Appalachian Trail that made me truly appreciate nature. I had coexisted with the earth for three weeks. It was a pilgrimage. With each step, the soil stabilized me as I walked, was the bed in which I slept, and through the soil the water I could drink. Vandana Shiva’s words resonated with me. She states, “The most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as co producers with nature…There is no alternative to fertile soil to sustain life, including human life, on earth. No matter how may songs on your iPod, cars in your garage or books on your shelf, it is plant’s ability to capture solar energy that is the root of it all. Without fertile soil, what is life?”( Shiva 6). I began to see myself one with nature than a separate entity. As discussed in class, one can create a hierarchical system by placing oneself above nature. By treating nature as inferior, one can exploit more easily. Our society has done just that. Today, humans have created separation and flight from nature. We leave our carbon footprints on nature’s soil, all the while forgetting our bodies are connected directly to the earth. Through urban developments, climate degradation and pollution, we have exploited the very entity that keeps us alive and sustains us. I began to think on my hike, the earth provides me with food, clothing, etc, however what do I do for the earth? After asking myself this question, I began to question everything I did to become more sustainable. Even the small things can make a large difference by buying local food at the farmer’s market in Carlisle or recycling. If we don’t take these small steps in preserving our earth, Cronon states, “our children will henceforth live in a biosphere completely altered by our own activity”(Cronon 10). For future generations to come, I only hope they can live on an earth untouched and pure, where they too can be one with nature.

Work Cited:

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Uncommon Ground; Rethinking Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 1-19.

Shiva, Vandana. Soil Not Oil. Cambridge: South End Press, 2008.

gps.motionx.com

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Anthropocentrism Taking Over

When is the last time you stopped to smell the roses? The quickening pace of life in most societies today, especially American society, has deprived such cultures of the beauty of appreciating nature. Everyone is busy – every gender, every race, and every class of American society are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that no one has time to watch nature and appreciate its true beauty and worth. It is the anthropocentric outlook on life that humans have recently obtained that prevents us from valuing land and truly appreciating what nature has to offer.
As an environmental studies student, I like to think that I do have a strong sense of respect for the environment; however, it is a very rare occurrence that I take time to stop and think about the wonders and amazements of nature. Sure, I turn off the lights when I leave the room, recycle, and save water; but, I very rarely take time from my busy day to think about why I work to conserve such precious resources.
Through the ideals of ecofeminism, my perspective on the land has drastically changed. One instance in particular during my recent studies of ecofeminism has grabbed a hold of me and taught me something that is extremely important about land. As the class and I stared into the Cumberland Valley on top of Waggoner’s Gap, I discovered something that changed the way I look at land. Everywhere I looked from that bird’s eye view had been touched by humans. Looking down, it was hard to imagine what the valley would have looked like before humans took over the land. Where there was once a strong, thriving forest, there is now clear-cut land for farming, industry, and roads, and the clear skies are now filled with a thick film of smog and numerous power lines. Everywhere I turned on top of the mountain was an area of land that had been affected by humans.

Waggoner’s Gap, Carlisle, PA.
Why is it that humans feel the need to dominate nature? What gives humans the right to clear-cut the forest and build things that we, humans, feel are imperative to our daily lives? These are the questions that were running through my head as I reflected on this observation. At that point in time, I gave myself the challenge of finding a plot of land that had been completely untouched by humans. This task is actually much harder than it seems, especially in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As I discovered how difficult it truly is, I thought about reasons as to why this is so, and I thought about possible solutions to this problem. Carolyn Merchant proposes a suggestion from her article Reinventing Eden, “I draw on the framework of progressive and declensionist plots, on the roles of men and women in transforming and appreciating the environment, on ideas of contingency and complexity in history, of nature as an actor, and of humanity as capable of achieving a new ethic of partnership with the nonhuman world” (7). Although it is rather unrealistic to reconstruct humanity’s relationship with nature, wouldn’t it be nice to work as one with nature to benefit both the land and humans?
It starts with an appreciation of the environment. If humans could take time to reflect on nature and find an appreciation for all it has to offer, beneficial to us or not, the land would be treated with much more respect. When humans are finally able to see a non-anthropocentric view toward nature, it might be possible for a plot of land to be untouched and appreciated.

– Maggie Rees
Sources:
Merchant, Carolyn. “Reinventing Eden”. A Garden Planet.

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Our Land Provides For Us but Receives Little in Return

When I first read “Man’s freedom and happiness depend on an ongoing process of emancipation from nature, on independence from, and dominance over natural processes by the power of reason and rationality (Mies and Shiva, 430), I was not convinced. But in the last few weeks, I have realized how little I know about my land, how much I extract and do not return to the soil, and how rarely I practice mindfulness about the earth. I read Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil at precisely the right time; I am finally ready to absorb her ideas. “The most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as coproducers with nature” (6). I have been searching for the core of sustainable development and the heart of our problem facing the degradation of our earth. Yes, our earth– it is an earth we humans share today and tomorrow with all life forms and have failed to do so equally. Not only are we depriving non-humans but the future of our species. As a result of the readings, class work and discussions, and the realization that I can no longer just talk about the cultural issues that must be addressed to avoid environmental, social, and environmental catastrophe, but must be the change. I have altered my diet, I am conducting my service learning project at the Farmers on the Square Market to become acquainted with the local producers, I have developed a sense of wonder with composting– a job most would consider dirty, and I try to practice mindfulness to soak up the inspiration that nature so willingly provides.

 

“The most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as coproducers with nature” (Shiva, 6).

I have spent every year of my life looking ahead to change my social, environment, and culture setting. I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to travel extensively around the world, to meet a diverse group of people, and to be able to feel at home in many countries. I escape to Germany for a few weeks almost every summer and I spent my first two years at Dickinson looking forward to my junior year abroad in France. I am constantly running to find my new Eden or the erotic as Audre Lorde would label it. This is the first time in my life that I have not planned my next life endeavor. I realize that I never appreciated Dickinson as my home, as a land from which I take and give back so little in return. I am a mobile being and can easily physically disconnect myself from the soil- today. I, and the majority of Dickinson’s student population, feel entitled to travel around the globe while I study the impacts and consequences such as migration, pollution, refugees, instability, and insecurity of “others” in the developing world who not have a permanent home such as us. Helen Forsey’s study of “home” in “Nature, Culture, and Community” is a subject that is not new to me but that was presented to me again at the right time of my life. Should land equal a sense of home and what lifestyle would this require? I am torn between the cultural and ecological significance of land but it comes down to a basic principle: wherever I am, I tread on the land and it nourishes me. I realize that my studies of sustainability, globalization, and development must first begin with the understanding of the local land. It is my duty to move away from an anthropocentric anti-localized ideal of society and to explore the land from which I take each day.

 

We all share the same planet. We buy and sell the land but it is ours to share today and tomorrow with humans and non-humans.

I have been granted freewill that allows me to leave and to exploit the land until nothing remains. I realize that I have become intellectually independent of my hosting land and at the same time have unquestioningly followed my culture’s obsession with the extraction of the world’s resources. I walk across the manicured lawn, pick the edible landscaping, and choose my vegetables from the cafeteria without much thought. I accept buying, transforming, and selling land as a commodity as a normal concept yet absurd when I reflect on it. As we lay facing the earth during our in-class exercise, I became aware again that the soil on my hands was a fragile resource that is teeming with diverse forms of life and is not just a dirty composition of oil, rock, and natural gas. Most of my privileged Dickinson community and much of the developed world revels in the mineral world yet many, including myself, know little about it. “Our world is a city or a temple with precious stones and starlit domes” (Merchant quoting Northrop Frye, 21) and yet I lack much appreciation for the rocks that were cut and stacked gingerly to create Old West. In The Sacred Balance, David Sterling writes that nothing is dead on this planet, not even the seemingly quiet stationary rocks.

Sitting on the rocky crest of Wagoner’s Gap, looking over Cumberland County, I am aware that this small valley will have been my home for three years when I graduate. I attempt to be mindful of how this area has provided abundantly for my needs. It has been a long time since I last meditated; it has been four years since I studied Thich Nhat Hanh and Buddhist and Christian mindfulness. I realize that there is nothing more important than to be mindful of what I take from the land and what it gives to me. Suddenly I become aware again of the interconnectedness of all life forces and my dependence upon the land. I am just as much a part of this land as the minerals, soil, and animals. There is no hierarchy, just interconnectedness and mutual support. I am a product of the land and so now it is time for me to give something in return.

Though I grew up understanding that my choices have a significant impact on my environment and the land I share with all humanity and non-humans, I was unaware of how few food and lifestyle choices we have in mainstream America, thanks to megabusinesses such as Wal-Mart. Without searching for alternatives (such as the slow food movement) and straying from cultural norms, it is difficult to live a sustainable life and to give back what we have taken from the land. This is our Garden of Eden until we ruin it.

 

We have limited options in mainstream America. It takes will power and decisions to search and to adopt alternatives.

 

Works Cited:

Forsey, Helen. “Community: Meeting our Deepest Needs.” Nature, Culture, and Community.

Merchant, Carolyne. 2003. Reinventing Eden. New York: Routledge.

Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva. Introduction to Ecofeminism.

Shiva, Vandana. Soil Not Oil. Cambridge: South End Press, 2008.

Suzuki, David. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2006.

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My New Found Land

The land was a lot less complicated before Ecofeminism. Prior to this course I was focused on how to fix the environment while I should have been also looking at the underlying causes of environmental degradation. Our class readings and discussions around our place in nature have expanded and enhanced my perception of and relationship with the land. As an Environmental Studies major I have taken myriad courses highlighting the wide-ranging dynamics of the environment, mostly in the pragmatic sense. However, environmental science, policy, and economics classes fail talk about the latent connection humans have to the land. Thus, back in September I still had the conception that there was a dichotomy between humans and nature. For a long time I have been aware of how humans mistreat the Earth, though I had not thought much about the deep causes of our self-appointed superiority.

Our race has a habit of thinking in a binary manner: male or female, white or black, natural or manmade. In Dueling Dualisms, Fausto-Sterling exemplifies this behavior through the case of Maria Patiño, a Spanish hurdler who was disqualified from the 1988 Olympics after she was found to have a Y chromosome. Because Patiño did not fit neatly into the “female” box, she was unable to compete in her sport. Such binary thought is applied to most all facets of human life, including our perception of the environment. Dualistic thought results from humans need for a subordinate other in relationships (Plumwood 41). Throughout much of human culture, nature plays the role of the subordinate other. While I have been aware of this dominant position that people take, I had not previously known its deep-rooted origins. Christian theology has been a key influence on human’s hierarchical relationship with nature. As Carolyn Merchant points out in her work Reinventing Eden, mankind’s desire to ease labor via managing nature is an effort to reclaim the carefree, blissful Eden that Adam and Eve once inhabited. In addition to this, Genesis 2 directly states that human are to be stewards of nature. I had always assumed that technology’s purpose was to make tasks easier and more efficient for our own sake, disregarding the influence of the past. Past cultures were truly affected by the idea of the Fall from Eden and how their disposition has in turn affected the course of human history.

The Fall from Eden (in which God looks suspiciously like Gandalf)

My previous understanding of my relationship with the land was tainted with unchecked dualistic thought and misconception of technology. Our class discussions on our dependence on soil further clarified our connection to the land. David Suzuki draws attention to our complete dependence on soil in Made from the Soil. Without soil, our food, oxygen, building materials and more would not exist. People estrange soil, though, by associating it and its counterparts with undesirable things: being dirty and soiling oneself, for example. I now recognize these negative associations when I hear them and realize the incomparable value of soil. For example, soil represents a bond between all living things as every being’s vitality depends on it. Acknowledging the fundamental role of soil in all life has strengthened and expanded my appreciation and understanding of the land.

Lastly, our class trip to Waggoner’s Gap allowed me to contemplate our relation to land in terms of time. The land was here before any living creatures inhabited the Earth and just looking out from North Mountain one can see how swiftly people transform the land. In less than 300 years this land has been developed to the point where trees are far and few between. Through these observations I felt more than ever like an inconsequential blip on the timescale of the Earth. By remembering how ephemeral my life is I was able to once again attain greater respect for the land.

Cumberland County viewed from Waggoner's Gap.

The lessons I have learned can be applied to any school of thought: all relationships (whether the parties are animate or not) is multifaceted and should be examined in order to decipher the underpinnings of that relationship. By following this standard one can defy ignorance and work towards more meaningful relationships with beings, structures, and systems around us.

Sources

Fausto-Sterling, A. 2000. “Dualing Dualisms.” From Sexing the Body. New York: Basic Books.

Merchant, C. 2003. Reinventing Eden. New York: Routledge.

Plumwood, V. 1993.Dualism: The Logic of Colonialism.” From Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Suzuki, D. 2006. “Made From the Soil.” From The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.

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Where Men and Mountains Meet…

My view of nature and where I see myself in relationship to it has been an evolution of spiritual experiences and academic knowledge over the course of my life. While I still have much to learn, I feel that I have come to a tentative understanding of where I fit in relation to the earth, the land and all living things. And this has given me a new appreciation for all nature and everything that supports life.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~Kahlil Gibran

Most people forget that the earth is as alive as we are. I know I did. I grew up thinking that humans are superior to everything else and like many others lived conceptually within my own frame of experience with little to no regard for what I took from the earth or what lived around me. But after becoming interested in the environment, I began to see for the first time a world outside my own narrow anthropocentric mindset. The earth: the land, the sky, the water and everything that lives and grows within it is makes up of a delicate web of connections; and those connections, those processes are nature. In an article by David Suzuki about the intricacies of our soil, he writes, “The rocks are alive.” I would never have thought so in the past, but now I could not agree more. The most basic of abiotic factors that make up our world are filled with the smallest of life forms, yet they are at the foundation of what makes life possible on this planet. While conceptually I knew this, it really became apparent to me during our soil exercise in class. Laying face down in the soil, and digging my fingers through the dirt, I unearthed a colony of ants. After covering them back up and moving a few feet away, I realized that I wasn’t being as respectful as I had initially thought, since I would constantly disturb other sets of organisms, however unintentionally wherever I went. I was astounded by the thought of there being infinite numbers of living beings in this clump of brown, grainy stuff that I had just dug through. It was then I realized how alive the earth really was. Not just in the life within it, but the interconnections with all the parts in between.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ~William Shakespeare

It was at the same time, with my face in the ground marveling at the life within it, that I realized how similar I really was to the soil. While I may be much larger than the clump in my hand, I am also a complex system of connections between atoms, molecules, energy and space. Humans have a psychological need to think of ourselves as different. There is us and then there is everything else. In an article by William Cronon, he acknowledges this separation and contemplates the result if it were true, “wilderness embodies a dualistic vision in which the human is entirely outside the natural. If we allow ourselves to believe that nature, to be true, must also be wild, then our very presence in nature represents its fall…wilderness leaves no place for human beings.” But there is a place for humans; we are a part of the greater wilderness. We are all components of the whole; every life and every connection between living things is a harmonious system that keeps the earth alive.

“Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.” ~Michel de Montaigne

There is a call to arms now, for humans to become stewards of the land. We realize that we are beginning to reap what we have sowed for so long and the crises in terms of the climate, food and energy must be addressed. While this is certainly true, we must take responsibility for our actions and understand that it is not our place to fix the earth, but rather to fix ourselves. The earth is not broken; its systems are working fine and adapting to the changes we have created. Carolyn Merchant says in an article about human perceptions of the land that, “we should think of ourselves not as dominant over nature or of nature as dominant over us, but rather in dynamic relationship to nature as its partner.” While this is still a dualistic way to view humans and non-humans, there is truth here. We humans have created a toxic relationship within the complex web of connections and that in turn is impeding our ability to live here. We are not separate from the rest of the world, but we need the world to exist; the world however, can exist without us. We must take responsibility for our harmful actions, not because we have control, but because it will mend our relationship with everything dependant on us and everything on which we depend. This distinction was probably the hardest for me to understand. But I feel as if I have begun a journey which will eventually lead to a full appreciation of our rightful place within the earth.

 

 

“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” ~Francis Bacon

In order for us to make amends, for all that we have wrought, we must become knowledgeable and know the land. This requires us to become conscious consumers, conscious producers and have a much more hands on approach to our existence. We have become so dependant on technology that we have little first hand experience of the natural systems that support us. Vandana Shiva writes in her book on the triple crises facing human existence, “The most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as co producers with nature.” Our reliance on modern technology and subsequent removal from the basic principles which support our place on the earth, have impeded our ability to remain coequals with the natural world. We have gone so far in this direction that most of us picture the grocery store when we think about where our food comes from. And this is the most important lesson we must learn; nature provides our bounty and the substance of life, not man. This situation calls for a back to the earth mentality; humans must reclaim their place in the soil.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carson

I used to think that my greatest personal connection to nature was spiritual. I felt more connected to my place in the earth if I could feel it emotionally when I was sitting in peace outside. While this has not changed, I realize it is no longer what I value most. I value the land for itself. And I value the physical connection I have to it, not just the conceptual idea of the spiritual connection I feel with it. All of the nutrients that have ever fed my ancestors have lead to my existence, and when I die, I will return them to the earth to give nourishment to the organisms that come after me. That physical, tangible, personal system that I have created with the soil is one that is profound and life changing. I no longer think myself as separate and superior, but as a benefactor and contributor to all the earth’s systems. I am truly starting to feel that I am one with the earth.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” ~William Blake

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Home Is Where the Land Is

During the past two weeks of class, we have discussed ideas about land and our relationships to the land. Specifically, we have discussed what land is and how we use the land and its resources, along with land management and planning analyzed in articles.  We also took a trip to Waggoner’s Gap, overlooking Carlisle and Cumberland Valley, to get a sense of the land around us.

We examined Thomas Hariot’s “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” and Delores Hayden’s “What Would a Nonsexist City Look Like”. Hariot’s report studies all of the potential resources offered by settling in Virgnia; game, fish, trees, and other plants. This report specifically looks at how land can be turned into a resource for human settlement and development.  Hayden’s article focuses on the notion that land is primarily managed in a patriarchal fashion, meaning we take more than we need from the land and focus only on our needs while neglecting to consider the impacts of resource overuse.

While on Waggoner’s Gap, we meditated on the view over the Cumberland Valley, with Carlisle in the distance. Immediately visible were farms at the base of the mountain, with urban development more visible farther along the horizon (below a considerable layer of smog).

The view from Waggoner's Gap over the Cumberland Valley. Source: http://pa.audubon.org/kittatinny/facts_photos.html

The visual of the Cumberland Valley made me think about Hariot’s account of Virginia, and how people use their geography to settle and develop. This development according to resources is very visible in the Cumberland Valley, with agriculture prominent at the base of the mountain range, where eroded sediments collect and you would expect to find richer soils. There is also a concentration of development around the Susquehanna River, which demonstrates how important the river is for both a water resource and a transportation resource. The development of the Cumberland Valley also demonstrates Hayden’s idea of patriarchal land management, as the valley is host to a number of shipping and trucking warehouses, meaning we import and export many goods despite our potential to self-sustain within our own region using our own land. Instead of relying on the sustainable use of land immediately available to us, we use as much as we can just because we think it is available to use.

The idea of land as home was brought up during the meditation and discussion on Waggoner’s Gap as well. Another member of the class mentioned that when they look out on the valley, they see home. I have to disagree with this concerning my own sense of home in relation to the land. I consider the land that I grew up on (which is also the same plot of land that my father and his father grew up on) to be home. While I do find a sense of comfort in certain areas of the Cumberland Valley after attending school here for three years, it does not feel like home. The land I grew up on has been familiar to me since I could walk, and I have grown up with the land. I know the trees, streams, and even the notable rocks as well as I know my own house. I can tell when something has been displaced, because it feels different (such as when a tree falls in a storm or a stream dries up temporarily during the summer). The land feels like home because I grew up with it and into it, whereas I may have yet to grow into the Cumberland Valley and Carlisle area. Many people consider their physical house, situated on a piece of uncharacteristic land, to be home. However, I consider the land around my home to be an extension of my physical house. I also consider my familiarity with the land to be an important aspect of my relationship with the land that I consider to be home, and perhaps as I become more familiar with the land currently around me I will develop a better relationship with it.

Home

My backyard is an extension of my home that goes beyond my house

I consider my familiarity with the land to be the basis on which my feet are firmly rooted in the land that I consider home

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This Land Was Made For You And Me? Think Again.

http://my.nature.org/photography/

My Dad worked for the Nature Conservancy for 30 years. He has committed his life to conserving land and resources, yet it has never been something that has sparked great interest for me. Every morning when we would leave for school he would ask my brothers and I to go back upstairs and make sure all the lights were off in our rooms. I would grumble or roll my eyes because I was sure I had turned all the lights off. I would run upstairs, often to find the lights on, and after turning them off say, “Yes Dad, they were off, just like I told you.”

Looking back, I could argue that because I was only ten years old, I didn’t yet have a sense of duty or responsibility to anyone but myself. And not all children are genuinely interested in the work their parents do when they go to the office each day. But now I am 22 years old and there are no more excuses. I am responsible for the people, non-people, spaces, structures and actions that surround me and that I surround myself with. As several of my classmates and I were working and reflecting on a bioregional quiz, we noted the importance of individuals taking responsibility for understanding their place culturally AND physically in the world. It is easy to tell myself that there are plenty of environmentalists, like my dad, out there working to save the planet and that I needn’t worry about it. But this is mere ignorance and denial. No matter what I choose to dedicate my life to, I cannot choose to ignore in any way, big or small, the impact I have on this earth and its beings.

I have been asked to reflect on how my thoughts about land and my connection to place have changed since I began taking this ecofeminism course. The changes I have experienced are due to the fact that I am taking an ecofeminism course rather than, for example, and environmental studies course. For me, finding a personal connection to the issues surrounding the importance of taking care of the land has been the most inspirational.  In the beginning of this course, we focused on topic areas that I was more familiar with; sexual violence, exploitation and oppression of women, gender, bodies etc. In our transition into talking about the land and non-humans I have been able to make connections between their treatment and the treatment of women. Exploitation was the first and biggest connection I saw between women and the environment.

In my last blog and paper I talked about how my body is often a tool or object to be used, altered and exploited. Granted, this is not the extent of my body’s purpose, but it is true that in our culture, bodies, especially those of women, are often exploited for sex, labor or image. In our more recent classes I have come to see ways in which non-human entities, living or non-living are exploited for human’s benefit. Today, animals are bred for the sole purpose of feeding humans. They are treated as objects and are exploited for our benefit. In Dismantling Oppression: An Analysis of the Connection Between Women and Animals, Lori Gruen describes how cows are artificially inseminated and genetically mutated. She says “Women, too are oppressed by this system, which locates power in the ability to master and consume the flesh of another” (Gruen, 74). This mentality of treating non-humans as objects perpetuates a system that exploits animals, resources and spaces on our planet.

In addition to non-human animals, humans also exploit the soil and land. In Conquest, Andrea Smith writes a chapter titled “Rape of the Land.” She talks about a mentality that views land as something to be conquered and used; “A common complaint among colonizers was that indigenous peoples did not properly subdue the natural environment” (Smith, 56). We trade land, conquer land, discover land (as if it weren’t there before we discovered it), and buy land.  We have exploited the land, the soil, and its resources so much that we are now in crisis. In Soil Not Oil Vandana Shiva illustrates the triple crisis we are in; a climate, energy and food crisis, all of which stem from exploitation.

My connection to place has evolved greatly in only a few weeks of conscious discussion about the value of humans, non-humans, the land and all that it provides. I have dug my fingernails into the dirt, sat quietly on top of a ridge, taken a deep breathe of what turns out to be highly polluted air, and now I finally feel a personal connection to my surroundings. I may have been and may still be taking baby steps towards being the informed, conscious and compassionate human I strive to be. It started with appreciating my own body and person, seeking to understand other bodies and persons and now non-persons and the environment that nourishes all beings. I can no longer act without imagining that there are or could be consequences to everything I do, say and feel. Perhaps my next step is taking the time to talk to someone who can be influential through his background and knowledge as well as his close relationship with me, my dad.

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