Posts Tagged bioregion

This land is not my land, and I love it for that.

When I was younger, my twin sister and I were like Phil and Lil from “Rugrats.” We were always outside playing in the dirt, catching bugs and frogs, and climbing trees. I had a very personal connection to the Earth growing up. The woods were a way for me to spend time with my mother, hiking around as we talked about her life. In nature I was able to find freedom and a chance to explore, through various sleep away camps and my own daytime ventures throughout our neighborhood. On days where I just wanted peace and quiet I’d climb up a tall tree and hide away reading a book where no one could find me. These are all things that I value from the land. 

To me, these experiences are just as impactful as the food and home that it provides me. As I have gotten older I haven’t gotten to be outside as much, aside from sports fields and my environmental science classes. As a result I have felt rather disconnected from the land for a while now; even here at Dickinson, a greener college then most, the land feels rather manufactured and synthetic with all of the landscaping that is carried out. I really dislike land when it is converted to this landscaped environment (which is not to say I don’t like gardens, which are a different sort of land all together), forced like topiary to take the shape that its “owner” decided for it. I had also begun to just see the land as a separate entity that we, as inhabitants of the Earth, are polluting and exhausting rapidly. Since taking this class I have started to feel a rekindling of that connection.  This course has helped to return my previous passion for environmental justice and ecology to me. In the readings from class I can clearly map this change of thought, in myself, from a separation from the earth to seeing all of the ways that I am still connected. I no longer feel that disconnect between Carlisle, not to mention the Earth in general and myself. Playing in the dirt helped. I also have learned new ways that I impact the earth, such as through nail salons, and how the earths own plight emulates mine as well, as a woman. As we discussed in class, we put a lot of emotional work into these relationships, the workers at these salons as well as the earth, that impact all of us (from chemical inhalation hurting us and moving up to be harmful gases destroying the atmosphere). Lastly, this blog assignment is named “This Land is My Land,” a concept I do not agree with. This land is not mine, or a humans; a mistake that we have always made, through colonization and manifest destiny. I think it is important to remember the point made by Vandana ( that we are only able to live on this planet as long as it can support us, not for as long as we decide that we want to. This class has also helped me to put into perspective just how dependent on the earth we really are. As Vandana Shiva states in Soil Not Oil, “no society can become a post-food society” (p. 38-9). We need the earth a whole lot more than it will ever need us, I feel it is important that we all remember that.

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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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Growing Past Guilt: A Rediscovery of Home

Breanna Marr, Published October 11, 2010:

Resting atop Waggoner’s Gap on North Mountain, I reveled in the feeling of my back and thighs curving to fit into a natural bench formed by the layers of sandstone. The sun soaked into the front of my jeans, and the coolness of the stone leached into the back. I passively watched the Cumberland Valley roll out below me like a mosaic of farms, towns, and forests. And warehouses. In those moments where I sank into utmost stillness, I might have been part of the mountain itself.

An onlooker enjoys the view of the Cumberland Valley from atop Waggoner's Gap (Where & When, 2010).

In recent years, however, I have had to struggle harder and harder to find that sense of belonging with the Earth. Once I became an Environmental Studies major, I focused my attention almost solely on the ways in which humankind has damaged the biosphere. Each day of class brought my attention to more environmental disasters. I had an inexhaustible, apocalyptic doomsayer list: the hole in the ozone layer, global climate change, toxic rivers in China, mountaintop removal, dioxin, intersexed fish in the Potomac River, and the list could continue until the keys on my laptop wear out. I had lost my eco-innocence. In its place, I developed a nagging fear that humans were the enemy of this planet, that we were some sort of Earth-killing virus. I grew ashamed of the damage my society had caused.

Ecofeminism has allowed me to rediscover a more positive relationship with the planet, one that is built on gratitude and cooperation rather than guilt. I have become reacquainted with the partnership I have with my bioregion and the planet as a whole. This class has created a dialogue wherein my fellow students and I discuss our undeniable connections to the Earth and how our species can live in harmony rather than discord with nature. Yes, the people with the most power to affect the Earth have impacted it negatively, constantly extracting more and more from the soil and making only paltry – or poisonous – returns in exchange. However, in the words of Helen Forsey, “I believe that it is not human nature itself which is at fault, but rather the stifled and distorted attitudes and behavior that unnatural and oppressive societies have cultivated” (84). Anthropocentric societies have fooled its members into believing that the planet is just a dead rock that humans can use and abuse to their advantage. I have been able to start relearning the true meaning of “home.” A home is not some “exchangeable piece of real estate” which has been “corrupted by patriarchy to mean a man’s castle,” but a bioregion itself, along with the community of human and non-human entities it supports (Forsey, 83). I pay more attention now to the puzzle pieces that make the Cumberland Valley uniquely my home, from the various species of chestnuts, to the Hagerstown soil, and to the direction of the wind.

This is everyone (Lviatina, 2010).

I can pin-point the moment that sparked my re-education. The day our class did a literal face-plant in the grass and meditated with our noses in the dirt, the soil came to life for me. I had always considered the soil to be inert. But when I meditated there on the ground, I saw that the dirt beneath me literally teemed with life. I knew that my body came from the Earth, but until that afternoon I could never make the “eternal” connection: “life comes from the soil; the soil is alive” (Suzuki, 76). I know now what it will mean to go back to the Earth. I’m only borrowing the atoms that make up my body and the matter of my heart. This knowledge is enough to allow myself to tear down the patriarchal, “alienating structures” that taught me that I live above – rather than with – the Earth (Forsey, 84). By overcoming these barriers, I understand that by simply existing, I have entered into a ‘partnership in life’ with our planet. The Earth provides every service we humans need to live: cleansing water, cycling nutrients, offering shelter, growing food for energy. Humankind must be mindful of its connections to and dependence on nature. We do not have to be a hindrance.  We can commit to live within our means: the means of our bioregions and the Earth.

Works Cited:

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

Lviatina. Face of a Young Woman in the Soil. 2010.–image11780312.

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

Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide. Autumn in PA’s Cumberland Valley. Mount Joy, PA, 2010. Site visited: 8 October 2010.

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