Posts Tagged Land

The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling

I’m going to begin this blog post by being brutally honest. The class we spent playing in the dirt did nothing for me. I emerged from that dirt playing session unchanged. If anything, I grew frustrated. When unleashed onto the academic quad for some one-on-one time with dirt, I felt a little lost, even though this was the same dirt I trod on every day on my way to class. To settle my mind, I went to one of my favorite places on campus, the backyard of the Guest House. I sat with my notebook, trying my best to figure out “Who is the soil?” and “How is the land wild?” and “How am I wild?”

A glimpse of a fall night spent behind the Guest House, one of my favorite outdoor spaces.

Maybe it’s because this assignment did not push me out of my comfort zone. For me, lying barefoot on the ground and getting dirt under my nails is an everyday occurrence. Maybe I need to push myself farther to strengthen my relationship with the land. I thought for a while that I should try something radical, like tasting the soil, but then I realized that in a way, I already have soil coursing through my body. The connection that David Suzuki makes in the Made from the Soil chapter in The Sacred Balance is that “earth is the food of life”(92). Of course, we are not ingesting the earth directly, as Suzuki goes on to explain, but we absorb it through our daily subsistence. “Soil continues to be the main source of humankind’s nutrition” (101). Most of the world’s population lives primarily off of grain; therefore, we are dependent on soil to continue assisting us in agriculture. We have entrusted soil to sustain us so we in turn need to sustain it.

I currently have two bottles of Stewart’s Grape Soda bottles sitting on my windowsill. One is filled with grass and was given to me by a friend after we sat outside on afternoon, just talking and running our idle fingers through the grass. The other bottle I filled with dirt. It was while I was filling the bottle that I finally gained the insight I was missing from class last Friday. I was scooping up the dirt and pouring it down the neck of the bottle when I began to notice movement. The sun was low in the sky and I squinted towards the ground to see that all around me, ants were crawling around in this dirt. This dirt was more than what supported me and my built environment. It was even more than the crucial base of agriculture. It was an environment that stretched worldwide, was made up of minuscule parts, and sustained life as small as those ants and as large as me. When I thought of the breadth and scale of all things affected by soil, I realized just how much in my life I owe to it.

While my home now is truly Dickinson College and the Carlisle area, I cannot help but referring back to my house in central New Jersey when people ask me about home. Through my coursework this semester I’ve been running into the topic of home, land, and environment over and over and it’s been leaving me a bit uncertain. Growing up I believed I lived in a rural area, because I lived down the street from horse farms and I had to drive ten miles to the grocery store. It really was not until I came to Dickinson that I realized my home state is really all I know. I don’t have much experience traveling the world or even the country. I’ve never lived anywhere else and my whole family has lived in the same area for multiple generations. When I take a step back and realize that this country is enormous and home to many different environments, once again, scale is a difficult concept for me to grasp. Listening to the chorus of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, I hear:

“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me”

The words remind me that I really only know a small portion of the vast country that I live in. Yet, if I move past seeing myself as just as resident of the Eastern United States, I am the same as a silk tree growing in China, or a Meerkat burrowing in South Africa. We are all residences of soil.

In my History of Environment course we examined the concept that modern states make landscapes look like maps rather than maps being made to look like landscapes. With so much focus being on borders, we see our environment through the lenses of defined territory, rather than being simply defined by the soil that covers our land. If we can see beyond boundaries and scale, our connection with the world takes on a whole new meaning, all powered by the basic building block of soil.

Do borders make landscapes even when soil transcends these state-made boundaries?

 

-Amber McGarvey

 

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Is it My Land?

“This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.” – Woody Gutherie, 1940′s

 

Whether you believe the earth was created in seven days or that it formed over millions and millions of years, there is one thing that I think we can all know for sure: the Earth and the land is here for us and maintains us. However, although this popular and patriotic folk song from the 1940’s reminds us of this fact, it is clear that all of us have taken its lyrics too seriously and believe that since “this land is my land,” we can treat it and use solely to benefit our needs.

 

Over the last couple weeks in our Ecofeminism class, we have been focusing on analyzing and breaking down the relationship between our bodies and the land that we live on. In order to do this, we have been reading and discussing several books that not only bring up a great variety of issues concerning the land around us and our own bodies but also raise a lot of important questions and offer solutions to these issues. We began with Sandra Steingraber’s powerful book Living Downstream (2010) which is a very personal and honest yet extremely in-depth analysis of cancers and their direct and indirect relationships to the environment. In this book, Steingraber introduces her readers to a multitude of case studies, which stand as evidence of the effects that the population’s handling and manipulation of the environment around us can have on our bodies’ well being. From Steingraber’s book we transitioned to Soil not Oil by Vandana Shiva, which although different in its approach, provides a framework that we can use to change our relationship to the environment in order to slow down and maybe even stop the environmental crises developing around us. Unlike Steingraber’s book, Shiva focuses on the big picture, immediately urging us that “we will either make a democratic transition from oil to soil or we will perish.” (p. 7) According to Shiva, our Earth as we know it is in the middle of three major crises; a climate crisis in which global warming is a threat to our survival, an energy crisis where reaching peak oil (the end of cheap oil) will dismantle our structures of industrialization and globalization and last but not definitely not least the food crisis, in which our population’s food sources are being squandered by the first two crises.

After reading both of these books, I find it impossible to ignore the breathtaking number of issues that our handling of the environment has caused and will continue to cause if we do not take action. Prior to taking this class, I was aware of some of these issues and how they can affect our lives on earth. However, I cannot lie and say that I tried to do anything with the information I knew or even tried to become more informed. The truth is that I have always been one of those people that although is easily persuaded in accepting that there are issues at hand in our environment, I let myself become consumed in sadness and completely convince myself that there is just nothing I can do about any of it.

 

What difference can I make? Yes I can recycle things here and there or choose to not drive a car but in the big picture, what difference does that really make? It’s not like my sole actions are going to single-handedly solve these three crises. Yes I know that if we all think this way then we will be even worse off, but can we truly make enough of a difference if we all pitch in?

 

Until I took this class, my answers to all of these questions would have be straight-up “No.” Yes, I did know deep down that I was wrong, but I felt too defeated and distraught to accept it and I chose to live in denial. I’m ashamed admit know that I chose to ignore, just like I’m sure many other people do when they listen to “This Land is My Land” and get lost in its catchy tune. However, after reading both Steingraber’s and Shiva’s books, I can say that it is time to snap out of it and stop being a coward. In Soil not Oil, Shiva introduces the idea of pseudo-solutions, solutions that seem to solve the issues at hand but may actually add to those issues over time, and actual real solutions that do address the three crises. Although she argues that we must collectively come up and implement real solutions that will have us moving towards reaching “Earth Democracy,” an active and complete transformation of our lifestyle and structures to one centered around soil, I believe that taking some action over no action is an important first step. With the urgency of the crises developing around us, I do agree with Shiva that we should focus on creating real solutions over superficial ones but I also believe that arriving to those solutions will take actions that will result in trial and error. In other words, I am now willing to participate in creating some changes than in ignoring the problem as a whole.

I do not want to claim that I have suddenly been reborn an outspoken environmental activist, but am very grateful to both of these women for truly convincing me that I do have a responsibility in changing our lifestyles because I am connected to the land. Maybe I had never understood this before having grown up in New York City, where having Central Park with its abundant trees is somewhat of a miracle, but I’m tired of making excuses.  However, I have felt disconnected to the land in big part because I haven’t really been surrounded by it. The only place where I have truly felt any sort of connection is in Colombia, where my parents are from. It is because of this distance between my body and the actual land that I am so grateful for reading these two books, which in a very small way have not only interested me in pursuing more connection with the land but in actually recognizing that it and its population needs help fast.

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This land is your land, is this land my land?

As a young girl, I never found the outdoors appealing. Perhaps it was my abrupt transition from a concrete jungle lifestyle to the easy-going atmosphere of suburbia living. Perhaps it was my risible and what then I considered disgust towards insects. Or perhaps it was my attraction to jungle gyms, which later on turned into an unrequited love after suffering from many injuries. In any case, as I think back to my childhood, my relationship with land was near to inexistent. Apart from watching my grandmother from afar planting and cultivating her vegetable garden tirelessly for hours on end, I had very little exposure never mind direct interaction with land that surrounded me.

Attending boarding school in a desolate location surrounded by forest, my relationship with nature developed but still tended to fluctuate as I searched for a reason as to why I was interacting with nature. I had friends who would go on ‘nature walks’ just to retract from the hectic school schedules while I found solace in afternoon naps. I mean, I knew the land around me in terms of navigation because of various science courses, but apart from classes, I intentionally limited my exposure to the outdoors because I did not see a ‘point’ in exploring nature. Thus, I graduated from high school without a personal relationship with the land I had been a part of for three years.

 

My high school, Westover School

With all that said, when Professor Bartlow announced a “day with soil,” one could imagine my instant dismay. I could not help but cringe at the thought of senselessly playing with soil for the sake of, well, I wasn’t exactly sure. I had thought that Dickinson’s was well kept especially with the hype around our sustainability initiatives and continuous grooming of the landscape, so what was the purpose of this seemingly invasive task of discovering soil? Well, had it not been for my one-on-one time with a small section of the land on campus, my sentiments towards nature would have been continued to be deeply rooted in the few frivolous encounters I had with land throughout my life. An immediate sense of guilt and shame took hold of me; I immediately began asking myself, “Whose land is this?” “Is this soil natural?” “Do I have the right to dig up flowers and uproot species from their natural habitat for a short-lived moment of ‘self-discovery’?”

PRIVILEGE:The source of my guilt

At that moment, I acknowledged the limitless power of the land beneath my feet. Right then and there, I had the ability to dig up soil that had been a component of the land for years without seeking permission from a higher authority. In David Suzkui’s Made From Soil, Suzki defines land as a “place or context…it means the nation or the region we belong to, as well as the part of it that belongs to us; it is also place of safety” (Suzki, 77). While the land around is a physical support system, the ways in which mankind has taken advantage of this support and exploited the land’s natural resources far outweighs the benefits the land reaps from human involvement. Essentially mankind was never granted access to changing, cultivating, or manipulating nature.

With the rise of industrialized nations over time, humans have been conditioned to view the Earth’s body as empty, barren, and purposeless even though at some point or another during our childhood inhaled and digested the same soil. How is it that some nations around the world are removed from this discourse of ignorance and nature to focus on preserving soil’s sacredness? Our land is entirely too complex and rich in history for us to alter with its roots. “Land is one organism,” (Suzki, 78) says Aldo Leopold. When we land, we risk ending the lives of several thousands of other species inhabiting the land. Instead of taking ownership our land we should be learning to foster the natural reciprocal relationship between man and land.

Forces of patriarchy, oppression, and colonialism surely contribute -and if not fully responsible- for the exploitation of our environment, as Wangari Maathai illustrates with her work on The Greenbelt Movement. Maathai draws upon the connections among people and their roots, God, and the environment within the Kenyan communities. Because standing cultural values were obliterated during the movement of colonization, many Kenyans see the environment degraded to nothing more than a commodity.

Expounding upon this issue of oppression a bit further, an ecofeminist would look at the connections between the violation of nature and the violation of females. One prominent connection is that between the defilement of the earth’s body and the defilement of black women’s bodies. In Delores Williams’ “Sin, Nature, and Black Women’s Bodies,” Williams equates the exhaustion that comes along with strip-mining the earth’s body to the exhaustion of the “practice of breeding female slaves” (Williams, 25). Oppressors continue to oppress both the land and black women’s bodies despite aware of the potential long-term effects.


As a citizen of this earth, I believe each person has an unspoken responsibility to save the earth in his or her own way. Through this process we must remain patient, humble. As Vandana Shiva urges her readers in Soil Not Oil, “we are not an Atlas carrying the world on our shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying us.”

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“And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’ if this land’s still made for you and me..”

Not the best view, but this is a picture of me on the steps to our cottage from my Grandmother's garden.Ever since I could kneel, I have helped my Grandmother weed and plant flowers in her garden outside of our summer cottage in Block Island, Rhode Island. My Grandmother has been working on the garden for over twenty years. My Grandma knows more about that garden more than I know about anything. She has figured out what deer do not eat, what time all of the plants and flowers grow during the year, and exactly where to plant each plant and flower according to the shade. My Grandma’s garden is her sacred place. I have not significantly contributed to her garden, but I have always loved helping my Grandma weed, kneeling next to her on her light green foam pad. She always wears a huge floppy straw hat and digs into the soil like it was the thing she was put on earth to do. It is not just playing with dirt for her or for me; I connect with her in that soil.

I have always felt connected to the environment and the land. I am from urban Baltimore, so I did not grow up around a lot of trees and wildlife, but most of the best times of my life have been in or around the Gunpowder River, which is about 30 minutes from my townhouse in the city. One of my only clear memories from Pre-School is going to the river and standing on a huge rock, looking down at my Mom and my baby brother in the grass. I spent all day jumping off of that rock into the cool running water and digging my hands in the dirt on the bank, digging for whatever I could to build castles and anything I could imagine.

The Gunpowder River.

I have always valued land and its complexities. What is land? It’s everything we live, breathe, eat, and sleep on. I do not understand how people say that they do not have a connection to the land. IT IS LIFE. We are born on land, our food comes from land, and we live (for the most part) on land, and do almost everything ON LAND. Everyone has a connection to land because it is where we exist as human beings.

When we talked about soil in class, I realized that land is even more complex than I thought. Soil holds millions of organisms, creatures, and resources that humans unquestionably need to survive. Soil is a system- just like humans are! Our culture exploits land like it exploits women. We weed, for example, because it “looks better.” Land and soil is manipulated and altered for asthetics or for maximum profits that will have consequences. The land is treated like a non-living object for our benefit, when in fact land holds more living things than any humans do.

I have also, however, definitely been ignorant to land. For example, I know that I eat the food that comes from farmers that reshape land and exploit it for more profit. Steingraber writes “… I worry that, over the past half century, a focus on producing two commodity crops in gargantuan quantities has resulted in a drastic simplification of Illinois’ agricultural system” (153). Steingraber uses this one example out of countless ways that that farmers and people ignorantly abuse soil like it is endless. Abuse of the land will only stretch so far before there are consequences. The realization that our resources, including land, are worth more than money needs to be made. I have no idea what it will take to make people start taking action. We discussed in class, for example, that the food crisis might come to people’s attention when certain foods start disappearing, like seafood. As a Marylander, I LOVE Blue Crabs more than almost anything, but without them consumers might actually begin to realize that they need to know about their food, where it comes from, and how it effects the environment as a whole.

Before this class, I had a genuine, meaningful connection to land, but I did not understand that I was exploiting it, probably on a daily basis. Now, I know that land is even more important than I thought and that I need to learn about what I am doing to both help and hurt the land around me. I need to do my best to figure out what I can do to preserve the earth’s resources the best that I can. I need to raise awareness and tell people what they can to preserve the land that is essential in every human life.

I chose this political cartoon to show how land is often seen as something that can be conquered and nothing more.

This land is not made for you and me- it is made for you, me, and every other system within it. This land is not made for us to thoughtlessly plow and destroy as humans have exploited it in the past. This land is a living organism that should be protected, or this land will not always be.

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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 (http://madasamarinebiologist.com/post/20866826787/you-are-not-atlas-carrying-the-world-on-your) 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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I <3 LAND.

 

The human world largely lives under the illusion that their success and existence is unconnected to the success and existence of the natural world around them. I think this picture demonstrates well that the roots of our system are in nature.

I have had a connection to the land for awhile and I cannot pinpoint a moment in time or a particular experience that made me aware of that connection. But that makes sense. I think that only a shallow interpretation would involve there being this isolated moment. Just as solutions surpass the label of pseudo-solutions only when they seek to understand the complex and multi-faceted relationships which fuel the issue, my connection to land is not the result of an isolated experience in time. Time is a human invention and we try to fit all aspects into its confinements but we don’t have to. It would be easier to answer this question if I simply described one moment, but then I wouldn’t really be answering the question. Vandana Shiva might call that kind of answer a pseudo-answer.

OUR should imply everything and everyone. Instead it implies human beings and a lot of the time, only certain privileged human beings. This is precisely the problem though: they think that THEIR and OUR are synonymous and that they are the only ones who count. This type of mentality leads to the disenfranchisement of many other groups.

Since I’ve started this class, my awareness about issues affecting the land has certainly increased. This education is so important because it provides the tools to be a voice for an increasingly silenced earth. So this class has definitely given me that. However I didn’t come in as an individual of human beings, but instead as a human being of the world. It is not that I don’t connect with human beings; I do, although it is important to note that this connection is not common for me. It is easy to interact and joke around, smile and make an impression, but to actually connect with another human being is rare. I have many acquaintances and I appreciate them, but a true connection is difficult to find with human beings. It has always been easier for me to find this connection with non-humans; I think this is the case for everyone, but some humans are less inclined to open themselves up to this kind of connection. I don’t mean that I dig in the dirt and feel this powerful, beautiful, life-shattering feeling instantly. It is nothing so dramatic. After hours working with land (farming mostly), I feel simply happy. Like distance running, it definitely serves as a kind of meditation for me. While working on a farm, the earth does not ask anything of me. It lets me think and let go of thought as I work towards a finite goal. It gives and I give. Famous philosopher John Locke described property as the mixing of one’s labour with the resources. This assumes that the earth’s contribution is the right of the human being as opposed to a respected and appreciated gift. This way of thinking is definitely shared by most human beings today.

 

My perspective will always be limited to the view through my own eyes but this is not an excuse to be unconscious and irresponsible regarding my interactions with the earth.

One of my favorite books, Shell Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, speaks to the kind of natural and easy relationship that exists between human being and land. The earth provides human beings with the luxury of life and in turn, it only asks for respect. We have forgotten that without the earth and its resources, we would not survive. Yet we walk around like we are invincible, exploiting whatever we want and ignoring the way in which it may affect the earth that we take it from. The relationship reminds me of abused animals and their relationship with abusive owners. In so many instances, the animals refuse to run away from their owners; they stay and withstand the beatings until they are removed from the situation, whether it be living or dead.  We take because we can and we refuse to acknowledge our connection with the earth, because with this connection comes responsibility to treat the earth as equal. It makes me sad because this class has made me realize all the ways in which I exploit the earth and its resources. I do not want to contribute based on my ignorance. I don’t want to give a donation to a company whose proceeds go partially to “saving the whales” when the whales would not need saving if we had not exploited them in the first place. We create all the problems because we are greedy and then respond by throwing some money at the problem until the media frenzy quiets down. That is the scariest part- the things that raise to public consciousness are only the tip of the iceberg. George Clooney advocates for this cause so it is lucky enough to be popular, while another cause is never given a voice because he never had the chance to learn about it. Last time I checked, Angelina Jolie was not an authority on most crucial causes to take up. Surprisingly enough, I can think of a whole lot of other people who have advocated for various causes their entire lives who might have a better idea about the particular problem and the ways in which to combat it. It isn’t that moviestars do not have a place in raising awareness, it is that we all, each of us, have that responsibility. Depending on trends to lead us to consciousness is relinquishing our responsibility to others. I am awaiting the moment when human beings become aware of the terrifying realization that money is only dirty paper with a design and it cannot buy this pretty illusion back once the time comes that it is permanently shattered by reality.

Being provided with opportunities starting at a young age to interact with the land is really important in shaping a conscious, open-minded adult with an appreciation for the earth. Children are so enthralled in playing video games that they don't take the time to head to the pumpkin patch or roll around in the dirt as much anymore. Entertainment is becoming more and more virtual and technology-based.

I like that the land is so rich and provides us with so much but I wish that it had an independent means by which to stand up for itself other than through those human beings who choose to give voice to the exploitation. Because the land does not have a human voice, it is our responsibility as human beings and users of the earth to represent its interests and treat it fairly, but we do not because the earth cannot hold us accountable in a way that humans can understand. We largely ignore the danger signs.

The prominent ecofeminist Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil definitely made me think about this aspect of the earth, namely its inability to “speak” for itself. In its own way, the earth is speaking through the imminent threat of food crisis. Although it doesn’t speak like human beings, it sends signs through things that affect us like our food system. Our exploitation of the earth’s oil is a huge problem. We only begin to care when we realize that it will affect us negatively. We care because it will soon cause major problems for our food industry as peak oil starts to become a problem that people are aware of. It is pretty sad that it takes a threat to humans in order to even blink an eye about exploiting the earth. It is terrible, but that is the impetus for change with environmental issues.  Many strategies to issues, even outside environmental issues, consist of showing humans how this issue negatively impacts THEIR individual lives. This catches peoples’ attention. This strategy is good because it works, but at the same time it encourages this kind of self-absorbed notion that the only issues worth sacrificing over are issues that affect the individual. This is an interesting dilemma because although the strategy assumes negative behavior and through doing so reinforces it, it might be a necessary cost for the overall benefit of getting humans’ attention.

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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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