Earth as Sacred

Some Non-Natives (to this place) see The Earth as Sacred, too
December 6, 2016
from patty (fern) love

Dear Neighbors,

One of the beautiful testaments that has emerged from the DAPL movement is the reminder that many humans see The Earth as Sacred.  In this case it was Native Peoples protecting the water and their ancestral lands.  Most of us are not native to the places where we now live.  My own roots go back to the places in what is now called Western Europe – Ireland, England, Germany, and Poland perhaps.  Still, places where Natives were long ago deeply rooted to the land – once foraging wild food, gathering mushrooms and harvesting medicinal plants along with hunting for animal food and furs. Many spiritual traditions from those places saw all life on Earth as Sacred, too.  There was no other way to live and it made sense to revere and lovingly steward that which kept them alive.  Those urgings run through our blood and sleep in our brains today.

To provide some context, I grew up in a rural family, not overtly spiritually connected with The Earth, yet still relying heavily on what we grew in our garden, nuts foraged from neighboring trees, and fish, pheasants, turkeys, and deer hunted and brought to our table by my father.  Other hunting harvests that our own family had the luxury of refusing to eat – rabbits, raccoons, carp, and the occasional snapping turtle that hazarded through our yard or into the road – were passed on to family and co-workers who would utilize them as food.  My siblings and I all worked with our parents in the garden, sometimes also with our grandmother and great-grandmother to preserve the bounty.  We all learned to fish and shoot and, to the extent our squeamishness allowed, helped clean and gut the fish and animals harvested.  The boys also hunted.  I was happy to fish some and grow and harvest food plants and a few flowers just for fun and beauty.

Though I don’t remember my age at the time, I vividly remember the day I learned that Native Peoples believed that everything had a Spirit, even the rocks.  Lying in bed thinking about that when I was maybe 9 or 10 awoke something in me.  It deeply resonated with and awoke some inner truth that everything on The Earth is connected and necessary and Sacred.  I began to learn about Native cultures, devouring stories and facts about people who were native to their place, who derived their existence from a balanced relationship with the bounty of nature that surrounded them, and who knew that they were not separate from nature – Native American leaders, witches and pagans, among others.

As a teen during the 70s, I became interested in environmental stewardship – eschewing gold jewelry and other trappings of our shag carpet culture and embracing the concept of the “back to the land” movement as best I could learn about it.  I would most definitely have followed in the footsteps of what my dad called “the hippies” had he, who ruled with a heavy hand, not reviled them.  Still, I fought and did what I could to learn and live more in harmony with The Earth – not as easy pre-internet in a very small and poor community, with only a school library until the Mabel D. Blodgett Memorial Library was built, and where the nearest city (Canandaigua) was farther than I was allowed to travel by bike.

Now I live in West Brighton, a very special place that looks quite green when viewed from an aerial map.  I am surrounded by 275 acres of woods, a County owned golf course, Genesee Valley Park, and Red Creek.  This neighborhood, and especially my property, is still quite subject to the whims of nature.  We experience flooding typical of a floodplain but mitigated by Mount Morris Dam.  In a place where hunting is not allowed and habitat is abundant, deer forage wild foods and neighbors’ hostas.  Fox, beaver, raccoons, possum, skunks, duck and geese, fish and snapping turtles all pass through the acre that I steward.  On a quiet moonlit night, coyotes call from somewhere not too far away.  It is a blessing to live here within so much natural beauty and biodiversity.

And it is a challenge to live here.  Not all battles for the right to lovingly steward The Earth happen in faraway places.  The ways that I am stewarding my land, with love and care and reverence for The Earth and all life upon it are not in harmony with what many neighbors value, nor what my town has coded as allowable.  To walk my talk and live my commitment to my values, I often have to do things in a way that is not the best care for The Earth but is within the bounds of “one size fits all” town codes.  Hours of effort I have invested talking with town officials individually and at meetings to educate them about the important work I’m trying to do on my own land, ask for variances where code and loving stewardship differ, and to even help draft new code have all been dismissed by elected officials and staff whose salary I help fund yet whose minds are closed to my attempts to reclaim Earth-friendlier suburban land stewardship practices.  Practices based in my current understanding of Native practices.  Supporting larger public projects such as the Monroe Avenue Corridor, a step in the right direction, a mile or so down the road from a step in the wrong direction (new Whole Foods store), are acceptable yet a smaller version in my own yard that is even richer in environmental stewardship practices is not.

And a handful of neighbors are equally as difficult to cooperate with or work around.  Twice in 5 years, different neighbors have called the town before even knocking on my door or catching me at the mailbox to share their concerns with me.  The first time, a neighbor was upset because I cut the tops off a handful of languishing spruce trees to plant a food forest garden and put up a fence to protect my $2500 worth of dozens of young food producing trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs from the notorious deer who have lots of other food options.  I ended up reallocating some of my precious single mother and household income provider hours to collect petition signatures to support my variance request (got 32) and attend three Zoning Board meetings to seek a variance where I finally learned which neighbor was unhappy and met the 5 more he had gathered to protest.  (Guess who still didn’t get the variance!)  The second time, another neighbor complained to the town about a couple of large pine branches I had collected from a neighbor’s roadside “yard waste” pickup to temporarily hold down some cardboard I was using to suppress weed growth around a young living fence.  I admit it looked a little ugly in that 10 square feet or so of the corner adjacent to her lot but in the terrible heat of the summer, I was waiting for a cooler day to finish the project.  Instead of a simple call from my neighbor, the very apologetic town official visited and offered an end of the month deadline to comply with the code and I stressed my body working in 90 plus degree heat.  Later, I learned indirectly that one of the reasons she called the town to complain was that her other adjacent neighbor was cutting an overhanging tree from her yard without her permission (legit complaint) about the same time she witnessed and misunderstood my friendly conversation with her “lawn care” guy as I pointed out the property line so that he wouldn’t mistakenly also apply his chemicals to my property.  In both cases, simple human to human conversations would have saved hours, and stress, and maybe even created positive relationships.  Plus the town’s limited staff could be freed up to deal with real problems.

So back to the point, which is not to complain about my town officials or my neighbors.  My point is this – many people hold in their hearts a deep feeling that The Earth and everything on it is Sacred.  We won’t look like the Lakotas who are protecting their water source or the Haudenosaunee who once lived in this place – the lands surrounding what is now called Rochester.  But you can still recognize us if you’re willing to really look.  We are those whose lawns are filled with dandelions, plantain, wood sorrel, and clover – foods for us and the honey bees.  We are the neighbors who share our garden abundance with you, help your children or grandchildren choose a warm egg from our chicken coop, and lend you hand tools.  We are the neighbor who will help you set up a rain barrel, share plants to help you start your own garden, and take the leaves from your lawn to fill our compost bins or teach you how to compost.  And, we who see the Sacredness of all of Creation see you as Sacred, too.  So we are here to help and nurture and comfort you when you are in need.

Reach out and make a friend with your weird neighbor who prefers to grow dandelions over grass, who keeps chickens instead of a dog, or who composts instead of putting food and yard waste out as trash.  You might learn something useful and you might make a new and interesting friend.

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