The Honorable Harvest

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:

l Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

l Never take the first. Never take the last.

l Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 

l Take only what you need and leave some for others.

l Use everything that you take. 

l Take only that which is given to you. 

l Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 

l Be grateful. 

l Reciprocate the gift.

l Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.”

Robin Kimmerer

 

This was the text of the last slide of the Power Point of a recent Environmental Studies Seminar I attended at Middlebury College. (The image was a hillside covered with wild flowers and blueberry plants.) The speaker was Robin Kimmerer and the title of her talk was “The Honorable Harvest: Indigenous Knowledge for Biodiversity Conservation.” For the whole time she was talking I had that ‘filled up’ feeling when you’re close to tears, (and one or two did run down my cheek). Before beginning the formal part of her talk she did some ritual from her Native American tradition, expressing gratitude and greeting us in her native language which is endangered and of which she said she only speaks a little of.

 

Dr. Kimmerer is a environmental and forest biologist who is a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York and  founder and Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She is of Potawatomi descent. In her work she seeks to combine the wisdom traditions of native peoples with modern science. One of her early slides had a two by two grid with four words: Mind, Body, Spirit and Emotions. She suggested modern science utilizes the mind and the parts of the body we need to make observations but is missing emotion and spirit which is included in native wisdom.

 

She began her talk reminding us of the expiration of the last passenger pigeon (in the St. Louis Zoo) and the extinction of this once very abundant species and compared it to the forced removal of her people from their native lands in the Great Lakes region to the plains of Kansas by the US Government to make way for European settlers and how this same ‘invasive species’ (my term, not one she used) declared the Passenger Pigeon a pest for crops and exterminated them (while treating them as a ‘natural resource’ and a commodity, packing them in brine to ship to eastern cities).

 

Dr. K is the author of many scientific studies--moss is apparently her specialty--as well as a couple of award winning nature books: Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss.

 

What this blog is about is my own journey as I seek to recover from my cultural teaching about nature and forge a new relationship with ‘it all.’ I find my Druid practice much help in this regard and the Native American path as well. There is much similarity between these two wisdom traditions.

 

Her talk was full of reminders from native wisdom of ways I might think and act toward nature in my daily life. She also spoke of cultural evolution and the possibility of our beginning to collectively acknowledge the ‘beingness’ or ‘personhood’ of the plants, animals, birds, rocks and trees. Maybe we might thank the life that has lived in the meadow for eons before we bull doze it for the subdivision or mall.

 

In an aside, she said that when she finished her last scientific publication she wondered if she might not do more because of the strict separation in the scientific approach of subject and observer, rather than her native view of interconnection. In a final anecdote she said her SUNY course on mosses had just started for the semester and it includes a lab where they study mosses. After the lab, students asked, “Where’s the trash so we can toss the moss.” This was a teaching moment for her when she questioned this label and suggested rather than trash, maybe respect the moss as having been their teacher. They collected the moss after lab and returned it to the forest!  

Walking Ashram

From the Druid Path: A Nature-Based Take on the World and Our Place in It

            By Ron Slabaugh, Apprentice, Ancient Order of Druids in America

 

“Nature is God Made visible.”    

   Amma, living Indian Saint

 

I was talking to a friend the other day who is involved with a non-profit organization which was the recipient of some beautiful donated conserved land.

Before the wife of the couple donating the land died, my friend had asked her what she’d like see for this exquisite Green Mountain (Vermont) terrain. “Let me think about it,” she said. Several weeks later he asked if she’d thought about it. “A walking ashram,” she replied.

I said to my friend, “I’ve never heard those two words together.” “Neither had I,” he said.

Spirit in Nature could be considered a “Walking Ashram.” While for some visitors it’s just a place to walk (or snowshoe) through the woods, maybe walk the dog, for many it invites a contemplative mood and functions like an ashram: a place away from the daily toil, where the natural beauty of forest and stream invite and encourage rest and reflection, meditation, quieting, centering, silence, connectedness, peace. This framework is encouraged by the sayings on the trees along the way.

I looked up “ashram” in Wikipedia. It’s a combination of the Sanskrit work for work,  

Shrama with the ‘a’ as a negative. So it’s a place away from work (or daily activities).

I can think of many, many places where I have walked in nature with the intention of a sacred walk. That makes them ‘walking ashrams’ for me. This includes parks, forests, trails, rivers, or a wild patch along the rails.

One aspect of my Druid spiritual practice is to spend regular time in nature. The curriculum calls for quiet, open, noticing time as well as some focusing time where the goal is to notice minutia in nature. I also do a daily ritual called the Sphere of Protection which involves some body movement, invocation of the seven directions--North, South, East, West, Below, Above and Within--four elements, gods and goddesses and some mental imagery. While the ritual may be done inside, I find it much more satisfying to be outside, summer or winter.

So, one doesn’t have to go to India, Japan or California to visit an ashram. One might be available just down the block or at the edge of town or in the backyard.

        PS: The quote beginning today’s post appears along both the Hindu and the Interfaith/Peace Path. Amma grew up Hindu and her ashram, amritapuri, in Kerala, South India has Hindu trappings but her message is beyond any religion. I brought the quote back from a visit there in early 2016.

 

I Am Renewed

Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” 

Wendell Berry

This quote points to what I believe to be a major issue of our times: how do we let ourselves see all that is going on in the world and not be totally depressed?

 

I became acutely aware of this tension in my life when I began reading the ‘peak oil’ literature (If this term is new to you, try Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over; it’s been called a “peak oil primer”). I see us collectively caught on these two horns.

 

The planet is warming and Arctic ice is disappearing. One hundred year storms are becoming a regular occurrence. Coral reefs are dying, the oceans are acidifying, species are going extinct, forests cut or dying from beetles or other environmental pressure; plastic in the ocean. The climate is destabilized and we have created a way of living that requires more and more resources, more and more energy and produces more and more toxic output. Depressed yet? I could go on; I’m sure you could also add to this list.

Some of what I do and I see society doing, is distract ourselves: wait, I’ve got to check my smart phone, have a drink, watch TV, etc. Not that some of these things can’t be good choices in context, but they can act to keep us from “consider[ing] all the facts,” turning away from what is happening on our one precious planet because it hurts too much to look.

One of the healthier coping things I do is go to nature. It might be my backyard where I have a stone circle (six stones, four directions plus Washington, D. C.--need to send energy in that direction--and Orcas Island where I used to live and left a piece of my heart). I also find that working in my garden heals me (or just walking through it). Or I can walk a block from my back door to the Battell Woods, a 225 acre woodlot full of trails, left to us by the local 19th Century publisher and philanthropist, Joseph Battell. Or, better yet, drive fifteen minutes and walk at Spirit in Nature.

While in nature I do various meditative and ritualistic things to feel the connection and to affirm that I AM nature, I am a part of the ecosystem I walk through. I apologize to nature for my own footprint and that of my species and my country (the average per capita carbon footprint in the US is twice the average European footprint); I send love; I listen for messages or any subtle communication from the plants, rocks, sky, moss, stream, birds, etc. And notice the beauty--the incredible beauty--of rocks, trees, streams, sometimes decorated with snow--like it was today. And I am renewed.