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Archive for October, 2011

Why is it we call ‘Natural Disasters’

Acts of God?

Does is mean that, for a moment, we see Nature as being part of God?

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If we view a place as sacred,
we treat it differently.

It’s been a long journey so far.

It has taken me to wilds north and south . . .
From a rocky beach on the southern tip of Africa, watching the Indian and Atlantic oceans crash into each other from a moonlit beach of Tsitsikama National Park. . . .
To watching polar bears wait patiently for sea ice to form in Hudson Bay
one snowy October when sea ice still formed in October;
From wondering what kind of song a grizzly bear resident of Denali National Park would like to hear before she and I met on the hill between us, as the tour bus slowed to watch what happened next . . . .
To the wilds of post-Glasnost Moscow when Soviet citizens –for the first time since the Tsar had been overthrown — gathered to learn in mutual horror what environmental disasters had befallen their beautiful country during the long course of the secrecy that accompanied the decades of Communism.
From watching a female cheetah reprimand her rowdy cubs during a hunting lesson in the Kalahari National Park . . .
To finding spoor and track of a wolf in the northern Rockies, early proof of her return from the brink of extinction to a not-yet-forgiving ancestral territory in Montana. Neither I nor the biologist I accompanied that day knew she lay dead on the highway beyond and her young were trying to survive it alone.
Did I ever know how much this journey would break my heart,
and leave me breathless
(if not sometimes speechless) at the same time?
The simple answer is I’ve known no other way.
Since a child I’ve listened to the voice of God and Nature, sacred and instinctive, woven into one song and found in the quiet of a mountain’s shelter, desert’s amphitheatre or ocean’s cradlesong.
Since Dr. Seuss’ memorable character “The Lorax” left each of us to do the work of caring for this Earth, I have felt obligated, inspired, and frankly, an urging, passionate need to answer the Lorax’s call of, “Unless. . . , ” and to tell the stories of unique awe this Earth holds in the universe.  But I do not tell the stories for me, for my sake, but for the voiceless with whom we share this beautiful habitat, this sacred garden — Earth — which our species is lucky enough to call home.
Because, as my father has said so many times:
“If you can’t create it, don’t destroy it.”
My journey thus far has informed me that this is more than a mere philosophy. It is a way of living. And it is a heart-based paradigm change to which our species needs desperately to warm if not actually evolve into the wisdom inherent in it.
“If you want to change the future of mankind,
you must begin with the heart.”
That is what a dear, beloved guide, Ian Player, challenged me to so many years ago now.
Hoping, working, writing to capture your heart to see our Earth-home as the Sacred Space it is.
Seeing every inch of our home Earth as the original model for the Garden of Eden — as it being a reminder of that original sacred place in the way it reveals symbolism, meaning and life before memory had a human face — presupposes there is something larger, a more important law than those made by and for the human species.
It presupposes we are part of the habitat of Earth, surviving by living– yes even nurtured — within its folds, not a foreign invader to it.  It presupposes our species is not more important than all of the rest of it.  And such a view certainly presupposes we are not outside, above or beyond the effects of this natural world, as any natural event we humans call “disaster” shows us.
Seeing the natural world that provides everything our species needs to not only survive but thrive as “sacred” is a holy way to see our habitat Earth.
That this global habitat supports such myriad life forms— despite how hard we work it, pollute it, cut it down, dig it up and pave it over — is even more amazing.
If you can’t create it, don’t destroy it begets a natural corollary:
“If you can’t fix it, don’t break it.”
How can we fix something we don’t truly understand? We pull it apart piece by piece, but are stymied still by the intricate workings of it as a whole.
The Earth, and its complexity, is still full of unknowns to our species, and like the primates we are, we keep experimenting.  Unfortunately like weekend mechanics, we “adjust” one small thing — remove too much of the Amazon forests or further destroy the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Coast, destroy a species, add a notch too much smoke into the atmosphere, drain one small tributary of one small watershed and, “Oops,” something goes seriously wrong a decade or two later.  Now our latest experiment with CO2 emissions is global, and we don’t understand fully either what we’re doing or how to fix it.
Eventually we’ll get it right — well maybe.
But no doubt when we are finished with it, there will be parts left over that we need and don’t know how they got there, and we will leave a path of destruction from our failures as we try.
We are engaged in an Earth-DIY Makeover job and it is unlikely this tragic sitcom can run a second season without our species finally learning some humility.
Why does this matter? Because on these journeys I’ve always come back to the same question and have yet to hear a logical answer:
What is the future of a species which fouls its own nest
to the point of destruction and disease? 
What kind of species willingly destroys its own habitat?
Those species we see around us that behave in this fashion we deem “pest” species.
In our disassociation between our actions, beliefs and the reality of our habitat’s processes, we choose to live blindly, putting faith in “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” and a technological big brother, rather than listening to the very uneasy whisper within:
That whisper is the voice of survival — the gentle urgings to evolve again — and nags us each time a natural event (oh, yes, from our species view, a “disaster”) hits.
Don’t you feel it? Any natural extreme occurs– tsunami, earthquake, volcano, drought, flood, windstorms or purely withering summer —  and something deep inside us  lurches, just a little.
Although in the U.S., as in other nations where it’s still possible, we retreat into our four walls where technology moderates the extremes of climate, provides shelter, and our stores of food stockpiled soothe us, the lurch still raises an unsettling “What if?” in our cellular memory.
We remember the urge to move on to better territory, to evolve our ways to survive. The primitive cellular memory to evolve that has allowed our species to flourish is hard to ignore.
All of my journeys through pristine wilderness and threatened agricultural lands, wide open spaces and the foulest technological “solutions” would leave any animal thinking about how to survive.
If we view a place as sacred,
we treat it differently.
Once we see a place, man-made or natural, as holy and we tend it with love, respect and, yes, even a sense of awe.
Think of how you feel when a quiet hush comes over you at the sight of beauty. Feel how we instinctively nurture that moment, so as to make it last, as we do the fragile life of a young infant — or our cooing over a baby of any species on Earth.
We are programmed in our cells to nurture, I believe. Countless journeys through this world have shown me this.
Although human cultures which viewed the Earth as sacred have been destroyed by other cultures’ aggressive domination which arose from conflicts over survival (my family eats, not yours) and although milennia of leaders’ encouragement to substitute the intoxication of victorious power for the trump card-power of God — and although we can’t unmake this history — we can still evolve.
Each of us can choose, just for a moment in each a day, to try on this new viewpoint:
If we view a place to be sacred,
we treat it differently.
If we feel in our hearts a place is sacred
we behave differently in it and toward it.
Even if just for a minute each day, we can feel as our ancestors did when migrating from hostile, dry, broken deserts to new green valleys: we can feel relief and thanks for what this habitat Earth provides.
And then we can act in accordance with our new feelings of living in a sacred garden:
We can tend gently and care greatly for all of Earth’s inhabitants.
We can choose to live as part of a whole woven fabric: as in a sacred wild garden.
So let us heed that uneasy feeling that accompanies mighty natural “events” . . .
and evolve already.

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