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A Culture of Care

It’s often noted that the many who support abstract concepts, like ‘protected wilderness’ and “Nature” as being separate from human life, actually live far away from either protected wilderness or Nature. The many who see Nature as a value often live in places where wilderness or Nature is not, as in large urban corridors and concrete valleys of city and building, surrounded by human construct. Or it is not thought of at all, as inconsequential and exotic as the animals housed in zoos.

Those who are fortunate enough to live, whether by choice or fate, in the midst of Nature have a different relationship to it: For one thing, Nature is not abstract.  For some, it is living in Eden or paradise. But for others, familiarity can breed contempt:  living amid Nature is living in a daily reminder of all that must be done to “survive against the elements”.

So we are left with Nature in the abstract, valued or seemingly inconsequential, or Nature as neighbor, appreciated or something to be battled vaingloriously, proving we are up to the age-old match.

So how, in these possibilities does consumption or care of Nature come in to our human experience? Each are auto-behaviors, auto- in that we often don’t think about how we choose to interact with Nature, local or wilds. Either we see and care, or feel something for the habitat supporting us, or we see and consume., ignoring or even just not even feeling or thinking about what we are doing.

We thrive in community and our survival has taught us how to survive in community and in commune with our habitat, in a perhaps today unnoticed rhythm and pattern of call and response. Nature calls — we see storm clouds or notice the weather — and we respond, knowingly or not. For some of us, we respond with a willingness of heart and exhilaration of being at one with our natural habitat: we enjoy the relationship of the call and feel our way to our response. For many others, we react in age-old ways I doubt such are aware of; I’ve long marveled at the ‘instinct for survival’ I see in my local supermarket, when folk told of snow clouds on the horizon by the weather service and a bite to the air sends people in for piles of toilet paper rolls. Honestly, it’s the one aisle immediately sold out when snow of any depth is forecast in my city.

What we are talking about is, simply, caring. Caring to be in relationship of call and response rather than in our current Culture of Consumption of our natural habitat, whether near or far away and abstract in our thinking from moment to moment.

But I believe care starts wherever we are, and creating a Culture of Care, moving us away from our Culture of Consumption, is what we do best and is when we are at our best as part of the mammal species.

I know, this isn’t anything new.

The most simple and profound changes rarely are lightening-strike new, or a giant leap. They are steps, small and while securely holding onto handrails, whether in space or in the universe of our hearts and psyches.

Humans are good at taking these steps; I wonder if step-taking are what we do best, using our instinct and intuition to lead us, step-by-step to understanding of that which we didn’t a moment before.

The steps to a Culture of Care, using heart and instinct to care in a responsive relationship for that which we may not experience each day — like wild areas, or wildlife, grand vistas and yet unknown species cute or not, and like the imperceptible web that holds our life and lives together in a thriving habitat— begin with the smallest of steps:

Wonder.

In both senses of the word.

I wonder how that pigeon survives here.

I wonder at the realization it survived the storm and finds any food  to eat at all, much less a place to nest  . . .

I wonder how that polar bear will make it to shore, through thousands of miles of water, as the ice melts?

I wonder at the amazing fact she leads her young to the very same spot for food each year.

I wonder how that tree survives in the grate in the sidewalk.

I wonder that, surrounded by cement, it finds enough nutrients and water to grow so tall.

I wonder how the elephant is able to find water in a drought, or senses when danger is near?

I wonder, I marvel, that such an animal finds a way to survive at all . . .

I wonder why the air is so sweet and fresh today?

I wonder that air is breathable at all. . .

If we live in the midst of wonder, in any given moment, we are not in a moment of consumption, of taking for once and for all time for our own gain.

Yes, consumption can suggest taking for nourishment, but there’s a sense of limit and desperation to the whole of the word, whether as an individual consuming what s/he feels is needed (so others don’t get it) or as a society consuming without awareness — or wonder — where it’s all coming from. As in ‘it’s all for me’; just even the thought of consumption suggests “better grab it while you can,” even though we know from all of our childhood fairy tales and teaching stories that those who share end up receiving more.

Interestingly the word consumption, at its root, means ‘taking, e.g. for granted,’ according to my delightful book Partridge’s Origins. The root of sumption, in all its Latin forms, means: to take, and to take by choice.

Add the ‘con’ prefix and, Mr. Partridge explains, the word consumption means “to take completely, to devour, to destroy.”

Used as a name for a disease from which humans frequently died in earlier years, consumption, this makes sense. And it was always tragic.

When we apply it to the Culture of Consumption of the last  two centuries and especially the one in which we live, it’s a chilling, if accurate, revelation. We take, we devour, we destroy Nature.

I don’t know how we ended up in a Culture of Consumption, but I know it was no doubt the result of small steps taken without wonder, and added to with exponential growth in population and possibility for ‘new and improved’ product to consume.

I also know that the steps to a Culture of Care are equally small, immediate, and begin with something we each can do, and do well: The steps are engaging in a response to a call, taking in a moment of wonder by you, and you, and you, and we’ve begun. A Culture of Care is underway, little step by little step.

Try it. Turn away from your reading and look at something given to you by Nature, whether apple, cat, dog, beloved friend, or tree, insect, flower, or even for the deeply Nature deprived, look at the sky. Or even just try to see the air which envelopes you or marvel at the water in a glass on your table,

What do you wonder about right now? What small observation can you take, in wonder and wondering, that Nature continues to enfold you in all that is needed for life and living? Can you marvel and feel the wonder at what you see or at that which calls you and gives to you from Nature, whether a change in the wind, or a brilliant drop of rain? Or even the knowing that somewhere far away perhaps, a wild habitat simply is, breathing, living, in cacophony and an intricate web of relationship, perhaps sending the cool change of breeze to you where you are now?

The steps to care — and to creating a Culture of Care — are ours to take.

There: if you wondered even for a moment how beautiful is this bit of Nature, abstract, isolated, or abundantly around you, you’ve just begun.

© 2013 elizabeth darby

Wonder

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Re*Wilding II

Re* Wild; Re*Solve; Re*Generate.

This is what Nature can do.

It will do it over us (and our dead bodies, as the saying unfortunately goes) as with earth-events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and other events not in human control.

It will do it despite us, as any one noticing dandelions growing between sidewalks and in parking lots in any urban human-created landscape. It may not be what we want, but Nature will start somewhere.

It will do it especially with human help, in the form of protections, elimination of poisons and pollutions, over-use and over-demand, and with human help in the form of leaving Nature alone in areas set aside to re*wild, re*generate, and re*solve problems we created in our management of it.

This was the report of the Rewilding Europe initiative.

The European Brown bear is returning; you can go and watch them (what a delight that would be!) on the Finnish/Russian border or in areas of the Carpathians.

A wolf carcass was found in the Netherlands — meaning usually there are others seeking new territories — in the Noord Oost Polder region. It was the first time in 150 years a wolf — anything, living or dead — had been identified in the Netherlands and scientists investigating noted it seemed it had been living in the area for quite some time, before being hit by a car or truck.*

Red Deer populations are increasing; beaver are making a huge comeback with hunting protections. White-tailed eagles and European bison are back from the brink of extinction, as are several bird species.

And the operating force here is, essentially, leaving Nature alone, and offering protection for the habitat and numbers who were left. It is estimated that by 2020, 4 out of 5 European citizens will live in urban areas, leaving areas where Nature can re*wild and re*generate habitat. Even “wilderness’ is on the map again. If…

Ah yes, If.  The famous two words of the Lorax are always near:

IF . . .

If the areas being left and emptied of humans — most marginal farmlands and no-go zones along old Eastern Bloc borders — are not turned into huge forest plantations for the biofuel market and, in other areas, if forests aren’t allowed to overtake natural ‘bush’ areas where wildlife can thrive. And this is best done letting Nature do what Nature does best, with large grazers like elk, deer, wild horse and aurochs allowed to roam, keeping open areas and forested areas dynamic: The way Nature works.

What an opportunity.

Re*Wilding Europe envisions a Europe with “open, broadleaved forests where bison, deer, wild horses and aurochs exist alongside wolves, lynx and bears and where most of the original plants and animals of lowland Europe thrive. Extensive grass steppes and shallow lakes where the ground trembles under the hooves of thousands of horses and aurochs, with a myriad of cranes, waders and other wetland species breeding or resting during migration. Mountain cliffs alive with ibex and chamois…” and eventually the return of “mystical old-growth forests” and “spectacular landscapes with abundant wildlife, which attracts visitors from all sectors of society and from all corners of the world.” It will begin this vision with five wild projects in Western Iberia, Eastern Carpathians, Danube Delta, Southern Carpathians, and Velebit, with more to come  soon.

Sounds like heaven. Or perhaps Eden. Certainly it sounds like the tapestry in which humans first emerged in Europe to live in balance, and some would say harmony, with the Nature of which we are apart and in which we have our lives, livelihoods, and spiritual being. Oh, those words again: balance, harmony, spirit.

As with the best ‘wilderness’ these aren’t areas where humans are kept out but rather Nature where humans are simply reminded to not destroy that which supports us, as our well-being is part of the well-being of our habitat; Nature thrives and humans thrive in one seamless weave.

But to begin, as we know, it takes all of us: To protect from rapacious use; to allow re*generation where possible; or to help with re*introductions and re*solve to re*claim habitat for the native species where not.

It’s an exciting idea, this re*wilding. If you’d like to help, get in touch with Rewilding Europe. As with any effort it will take all of our voices and our re*solve to say this is a world we want. Go and visit; help fund the idea of wildlife and wilds having value with your feet and your tourism currency; become a donor or contribute to the European Wildlife Bank. And don’t stop there; there are similar opportunities near you, in your local habitat as well.

The thing is, it will take our hearts first, as we commit to a balance in living with Nature rather than ‘against’ it as we develop a new Culture of Care. Then it will take our breath away, when we witness the beauty of Nature re*wilded. We will know we have helped re*generate Home.

*Roadkill and wolves; it’s never just the one wolf. Somewhere there is a pack without its designated hunter coming home with food for the young. See my article about the Return of the Wolf in the Rocky Mountain West from the 1990s at my portfolio website. It is when we can see such ‘roadkill’ as part of a system of life, family, and let our hearts be moved by the realization something, somewhere, is waiting for the return of that particular animal to the den, that we will truly assist the process of re*generation of our Wild Home on Earth.

Re*Create Re*Wild

I am sitting in the middle of a city in Scotland. It is a marvelous exhibit of what man chooses to design, to build, to construct. Yet all of the materials from which it is made are from Nature in some way. It is hard to remember this in its greyness ’tilll I see the stones and natural materials of a few of the older lovely streets. In the newer ones, Nature is hard to see as the source material, the materials of Nature chewed, fired and flattened out.

In that I cannot see mountains or green hills over these past few days, I’ve looked with longing for that which humans can neither design nor construct, for I need that sense of something bigger than humans and human-hand constructed around me. I need it for my soul.

I need to see and feel that which humans cannot fashion to remind me there is something bigger, larger, grander than ‘just us’ in this world and in this Universe.

And I’ve found a few trees still left standing in patches here and there, a few pigeons which fly at head-level, and a few gulls crying overhead, which are not human-made  I saw a river yesterday, and knew it was not originally made with human hands, though possibly is now re-channeled by human forces. I found a bee stuck in the packaging of my cabbage at the grocery store last night. I didn’t really want cabbage, but I bought it in order to let it fly free out the door when I departed rather than perish in a man-made cooler, and it did fly into the dusk. I hope it found the pots of flowers under the street lamps.

In all this human-construct I’ve wondered:  If humans could design a mountain, would we build one? Would we, if we even could, construct a complete habitat, or even a wilderness, and could we even begin to put together such a complexity with the success and ease of miracle as we witness when green-growing things emerge between the sidewalks and stones of our chiseled, flattened streets?

Would we — could we — ever ‘re’join Nature to fashion that which we seem to not have the power or miracle-ability to create: A mountain, a valley, a habitat in its entirety, a wilderness? Would we choose to, even if we have the power and comprehension if not also wisdom, to do so?

Habitat: We find ourselves trying to ‘re’build it, to ‘re’ construct it from our challenged understanding of its workings. There is so much we don’t know. As John Muir wrote in his journals (and so frequently misquoted; this is the original and accurate version):

“When we try to pick out anything by itself

we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken,

to everything in the universe. “

 

And about Wilderness, something we cannot re*build as then it is no longer ‘wilderness’:  We are learning we humans do best when we let the Nature take over an abandoned area to create itself anew through a power we do not comprehend. That is our hope for ‘best’ when we have already destroyed, in moments and years and centuries of not being at our best, that which we cannot create or re*create.

 

What we can do to help the process of Nature re-wilding we are yet learning. This week the first report on the possibilities for Rewilding Europe are being presented in London at the Zoological Society, as a pre-event to the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain.  I am so very grateful to be in attendance, where we will listen, learn, and wonder:

How best can we humans help to re*store that which we cannot ourselves build, fashion, style, or create?

 

In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.

The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.

John Muir

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

 

 

Thanks to The Sierra Club for the works and quotes of JM.

“(Tu) as courage . . .”

 

As I write in my other blog, Here you Begin, I was blessed with these departing words a little under a decade ago by a lovely older woman, a beloved mom of my friend.  She knew a bit about what she spoke to me in French: As courage:  Have courage. She’d done work with the French Resistance as a teen in her native France and she’d raised two girls on her own as a mother who’d been left by a husband and father when her children were still young. She knew what it was to have courage and she said this to me as I was facing the beginning of some challenging times in my own life-time here.

 

I took the words to heart; the encouragement gave to me a model of grace and fortitude I would attempt as I faced the coming storms buffeting my own home and family at the time. And I knew the phrase to mean both to “take heart” and “to have courage”, especially when used as a phrase when departing, as she intended.

 

What I didn’t know till this week was how the now-superstar “researcher-storyteller Brené Brown described courage. (TED talk here from a year ago; (yes, I’m behind cultural times still):

In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today.

 

Courage originally meant

“To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” . . .

 

That is what we do, we who write about the Earth, Nature, the wilds, the wildlife, the environment, the places we love that are larger than our ourselves and our constructed homes, the places we can neither construct nor re-fabricate: the Wilderness of our Earth-home.

We speak our minds by telling all our heart – and we do it because we ourselves are moved at that which we experience in our hearts as being achingly beautiful and achingly forgotten in this busy world. We do so because we can’t keep quiet.

And we do it to move you . . .

 and you and you and you . . .

 

. . . to care about that which is largely unseen but is the habitat and source of our sustenance: Nature. The Earth, our home and habitat, whether wild or struggling under pavement.  We do it to make the unseen wild Nature of our home visible, potent to the senses, brought to mind and perhaps even share our sense of how vital these places are to our lives and to Life for all of us. We do it to nudge ever so slightly this tumbling world toward a Culture of Care rather than the current Culture of Consumption we have created this last 100 + years.

 

I have done so for my whole career of — yipes, 35 years — as an environmental journalist and writer about Nature, but also as a teacher and mother.

I do so in the hope that by being moved, finding a place in your heart and soul to see a world of more than humans, to see a world of Nature, you too will be caring enough to participate in caring for Nature. You’ll be moved in your heart, and perhaps even moved to take action, whether in terms of conservation, stewardship, of giving voice and notice to the invisible Natural world through art, protection, engagement, or introduction of your heart’s engagement with Nature to others.

 

The work of writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers — as conservationists — takes courage to express against the cultural ‘norm’ of the language of economic value, use, utility, consuming, and willful destruction of our Home and Habitat that is Nature.

So thank you for making the connection. Thank you for reading, for considering, for creating the connection between Nature and human life, however you do it.

To those who do this work, thanks for having the courage to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart about our beautiful, and in my way of seeing it, sacred Earth.

In a couple week’s time, the  Tenth World Wilderness Congress will be assembled in Spain. There will be a lot of voices there, all having courage to speak out for Nature. I hope you’ll follow along and take heart if not courage to open yours to the Work we can do together.

 

 

Intangibles

My cat died this week. And this really does have something to do with Nature, or Earth, and the essence of making it relevant to our lives, so keep with me.

micat

micat

As she did the work of breathing to the point of letting go,  I held her, soothed her, encouraged her, and spent hours, days and weeks as we came together to the final gentle moments last Sunday.

She had been sick for a time longer than I knew and when I admitted what I knew to myself (she wasn’t saying a word or showing a symptom; just sleeping a lot in a dreamy way) the tumours seemed to ‘suddenly’ appear, big, black, staining, first one, then another. She was not in pain save when I was cleaning them to prevent painful external infections; she was mostly calm, enjoying the sun and the cat mint, her food and water, until the last couple days. It was an afternoon when I, holding her and enjoying moments with her, admitted to us both the intangible reality: She didn’t need to linger, she could ‘leave’ at any time she chose, this wasn’t going to ‘get better’ nor would her life ‘be saved’ . . . somehow.

 

One by one the phrases wandered through my mind: life saved or lost; leaving; dying, transitioning, passing, flying away.  No doubt we’ve each used any one if not all of these terms when grappling with the intangible of life and not-life.

 

We are humans and apes. We do not like death. Our species does not like endings or leavings, death or not-life, or whatever we call it when one we love no longer breathes and whatever intangible it is in them that is no more leaves us with a cooling, stiffening life-less mess of organic materials no longer containing the intangible of our beloved. In her great book, The Other End of the Leash, Patricia B. McConnell  notes that our near-cousin apes carry around their dead young, unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge they are no longer, until the body falls apart and it is dropped.

We are humans and we like happy endings. We like magic. We like our words of passing, and we like the magic of after-life, no matter the place, style, or ritual involved with it. Whether my cat is near me in Spirit, still, watching, and our four-legged co-companions make room for her on the bed still as they do, which is what I feel and observe, or whether it’s my heart-soothing to believe so, gone but not gone, it’s a mystery and mystery is the realm of magic.

After all, what is magic without faith in it, and what is faith without a magic to it? We are dealing in intangibles here, of course.

 

In holding my cat and soothing her over the last evening, I watched as she tiptoed to the edge of not-breathing, then raise her head (often as I couldn’t muffle a sob) and give me a look of total exasperation. What was my deal? I was not behaving as the other animals on her/our bed, who respectfully turned their backs yet lay close by, and kept energetic-spirit watch with us. There was a unity of energetic sharing in the room, a quiet watching and waiting. But it, too, was intangible. I couldn’t prove it, but rather just feel it. And the magic and faith of it. We all breathed together, waiting.

It was hard work for her, as all of life is, getting that far and resting a bit. Like birth. They are each hard work, each transitions with rhythms and rests, physical expression (so to speak) and a process out of the control of ‘mind’.  I gently stroked her face to soothe her. When my cat took the ‘2-am’ opening to depart— my grandmother who was of an age in which a woman had to know how to care for both the birthing and dying had taught me that these transitions most-likely happen twice a day in accordance with Nature’s cycles, once at sunset and again around 2-3 am — she stretched fully twice, as she used to before being ill, and then with great leaps and loping of legs, and a small mew (she was a quiet cat not given to mewing), she . . . left.

She took off.

She leapt.

She  died . . . transitioned.

Words are hard to choose, for it is a mystery.

She was gone.

Well, her Spirit, her Life-energy was gone. The intangible that was my cat was gone, leaving me with her soft fur, small paws, and all that was physical of her left. But she wasn’t there anymore. Like in every death before this which I’ve kept watch through, whether beloved dogs or cats, or beloved Grandmothers. There is beauty, Nature, spirit, work, sadness, harshness, Life, magic, and tears. Lots of them.

It was beautiful; it was magical; the strength of my cat’s movement brought such wholeness to what otherwise was such a withering illness and for me a witheringly heartbreaking loss of a dear companion who has been with me through the darkest of nights, soothing my angst and tears through these past few tumultuous years by literally stroking my face with her paw.

 

Nature doesn’t have happy endings — there are tears and sadness, harshness and physical expression involved no matter who one is rooting for, fox or rabbit, owl or mouse, wolf or elk, coyote or cat. Nature is full of mystery, and thus magic, and I think most of us, being apes who won’t let go of the tangible, are nervous around that. So we use ‘terms’ to give soothing explanation to the intangible and hide behind concepts of ‘mercy’ that hide the hard work that is seen and experienced in care for the dying and the birthing.

 

In reaching for the intangibles of making Nature relevant, I consider now:

Maybe it is Life, and its intangible magic in Spirit, that we are seeking to make ‘relevant’ and valued. Not just Nature’s relevance, as if it were something separate or different, but the magic of Life itself.

Or maybe they are one and the same.

Spirit, Nature, Life.

 

 

Wild Rules

“Your visit may be marred by tragedy if you violate park rules. Law enforcement rangers strictly enforce park regulations to protect you and the park. Please help keep our contacts with you pleasant by paying special attention to park regulations and avoiding these problems . . . “

Rules are the invisible barrier between humans and Nature, writ large in the park information given to the nearly 3.5 million visitors each year who visit  Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

“Yellowstone is a wilderness filled with natural wonders that are also potential hazards. There is no guarantee of your safety. Regulations are strictly enforced to protect you and the park’s resources.”

My teenager is singing Sondheim’s “Everbody Says Don’t” as we drive from Yellowstone into Teton National Park and on the way pass numerous park signs on our attempt at a great but short American car trip; we each can hardly wait to get to the National Forest just a bit south to happily splash barefoot in the cool waters of the Hoback River (and irritating the nearby fly-fishermen, I admit) to get away from the crowds and to ‘engage’ with a Nature that feels accessible if not actually relevant, rather than this ‘do not touch’ experience of Nature protected in the national parks.

Image

Gratefully found and borrowed from Yellowstonegate http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2011/10/no-boiling-live-fish/

We are passing families breaking the rules, going off the trail to have their kids pose behind the Welcome to Yellowstone NP sign for the family photo op. They are clearly seeking the happy memory souvenir of their own childhood car trip images, but I notice these kids aren’t necessarily grinning on cue. It’s a rebellious lot, this generation, unwilling to preserve the image of a family car trip as my generation did with the requisite wave and grin. I ask my daughter if she, too, wants the photo op to memorialize our trip and she responds wryly that she could have seen Old Faithful on the cam web of the park website rather than watching people line up 6-deep on the boardwalk to watch the sploshes.

“And the hype!!,” she says with exasperation. She leaves the thought there as I wondered if it had been my hype or the park’s, or a larger, American hype of fondness over the car-trip to Nature in Yellowstone National Park to which she was referring.

Ah, Yellowtone. Hyped since 1872 to tourists, I note, remembering that this is Nature with tourism. Hyped to keep people not living near it valuing it in order that it be protected from private development by people, decade after decade; the road-access areas of the parks are a way in, an Ambassador of Nature to the public, for the millions of acres set aside that the public doesn’t normally see and therefore might not find relevant to their lives.  Hyped to keep it — Nature — in the game of the American mind or at least a relevant part of the discussion of ‘what is great about America’. Without the ambassador Nature become invisible; with the tourism, Nature stays in the picture, so to speak. Full circle.

The rules are necessary because we don’t know how to behave in Nature, from feeding animals truly wild (yes, it happened a day we were there, a preschooler pushed into the picture with the bison by goading parents wanting another photo op. It turned out okay, thanks to a park bus driver who yelled a warning) to taking a bath in the hot springs (a warning in the tourist information but thankfully no takers, so far this summer.)

We had sat on the veranda of the gracious old Old Faithful Inn, feeling the ghosts of turn-of-the-century tourists strolling about in hats and large skirts, as we waited the 88 min for Old Faithful geyser to blow. I was eying the out-the-door line for ice cream while my daughter wondered why it felt like Stonehenge where crowds of hundreds also stood 6-deep, all gazing with expectation and cameras at the ready, to one central spot. We wondered in retrospect what they were waiting for at Stonehenge; at least here was an action shot provided by Nature.

A woman from New York conversed with us on the porch, having spent 3-days-so-far on a bus from South Dakota, taking her elderly mother to see Yellowstone for once in her long life, we were told. “She could care less if she sees another geyser at this point,” the woman laughs with us. Indeed, the mother was inside eating lunch ignoring the ticking minutes to The Moment, and the daughter quipped the atmosphere around us felt like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, with the crowds and the waiting and then with pictures taken, the shuffle back home. “You always think, ‘I could have watched it on TV,'” she muses. But then anticipation rises in the gathering crowd with a small splosh from Old Faithful. “Do they at least sound a horn or something before it goes, so we know when to start taking pictures?” It was funny. Really funny. And it was so far from relevant to our daily lives; it was a good-time.

The magic and mystery of Nature that the 1800s tourists might have felt in this far-away-from-civilization wilderness seemed gone. Knowing now Old Faithful  is part of a system of a giant underground caldera that is predicted to, someday any day now, make my home of the Rocky Mountains West a geologic memory, the watching of it suddenly felt a bit like knowing too much. It felt suddenly akin to what the required sex ed class does to the romantic notion of “bff love” in middle school, at once fascinating and vaguely unsettling.

Is magic and mystery needed to make Nature more relevant to us?

I wanted to make a last effort to engage daughter with the Nature behind the zoo-i-ness of the park before we left the boundary, the Nature that is just behind the signs and the rules, the Nature that is at once protected but also wilderness and a very wild home of grizzly bear, moose, elk, wolves, is out of man’s control, and is the last, the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states. But these are just facts and facts don’t engage the soul or the senses.

I asked her to ‘just for fun’ connect to what it would feel like if she saw the beauty of the wilds in the park as what some call “God’s handiwork” or “the face of God”, or as with Native American culture, for her to try out seeing God(s) in the many facets of Nature that are around every curve in this beautiful, protected wild area. I asked her to use her imagination . . . and her heart.

She was quiet for a time.

I wondered for a moment where such a crazy idea came from in me, and then I heard the voice of my own father saying in the tone of voice he reserved for reading great stories as we stood looking at the park when I was a little girl: “Man is just a visitor here . . .” he said mysteriously, as if the mountains were Val Halla, the land of the Gods, and we mere mortals had to be Heros to last in the wilds where God or Gods roamed.

“If you can’t create it, don’t destroy it,” he added often as we’d head to the Ranger talks under a sky full of stars.  This from a not obviously religious man who loved Nature and is a self-described “recovering Christian” as the result of a too-strict church-going childhood. When I was a child, he gave me the every-Sunday-morning choice (choose one) of driving through the beautiful mountains here in Colorado or going to church, as to him they were a similar destination: a place to connect with what man can’t create.

But the mystery, the engagement of the imagination, the teaching of the intangible, how is that communicated? From a sense of mystery about something so ineffable? From an expression of ‘value’ by a parent? Or equally the time spent splashing in creeks as we did, too, when I was a child; it was the ‘treat’ at the end of the day of driving or short hike. Or isn’t the transmission of ‘importance to me’ from parent to child also often grounds for rebellion rather than a kind-of-inherited reverence for that which is valued? What is it that provides the relevance and the connection?

I wondered if the woman from New York would take her wry humor, joy, laughter, endurance, and pictures, and in the power of telling the Story of her trip, suddenly feel the value of Nature, the relevance of the experience of Nature, to her New York life? And what of the tourists we saw from India, Asia and Europe — what connection did they take home with their pictures and their stories?

Whether my daughter was humoring her crazy mom with her moments of silent reflection, or connecting ‘for fun’ with a different view of Nature as sacred (or both), I’ll never know but I do know she’s a good, good kid willing to expand her heart and soul and give such nutty requests a faithful try. She knows the importance of imagination; it’s what makes life interesting and creative, magical, and yes, engaging.

“Yes,” she finally said quietly. “It is different. It’s so … really beautiful.”

And then with a turn of the bend of the Snake River, we were out of the park with the forested Hoback River waiting just 20 min beyond the human circus of Jackson’s Hole.

With wet legs and sighs of relief, we engaged for a time in a now very relevant Nature. Who cannot connect with clear cold mountain waters, the shade of spruce trees, and the fresh air of forest on an 85-degree day and hours of traffic and driving behind us?

Magic, mystery, reverence, imagination, and clear, cold water. Nature was returned to relevance from behind its protecting rules for a lovely hour or so. Now how to carry it home without pictures, if not in our souls? And a story to tell in the future.

 

 

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© elizabethdarby 2012

Each morning, in my middle-of-city existence, I hear blue jays coming to check out my back-yard banquet (to them) table where nuts and fruits and seed are placed throughout the year. It is a daily ritual and they often arrive, blue-white sirens which awaken the world, at the banquet table,

um, before I do.  

 

I hear them.

They arrive at first with excited calls — the day is dawning, I muse — and they’re heading over from wherever they nest at night to a feast.

 

Then, upon arrival, the pitched cry goes a bit shrill when there is no seed waiting, and the calling grows louder and faster and a bit sharp and edgy. It feels a bit pushy, but truly I have no idea why; it’s just the frequency of the sound of the call and the rest is imagination. Nonetheless, I feel I understand them as I listen, for the call changes with my arrival with seed. Then there is a bit of silence and after a few moments, the excited call, again, as they head off to the next feeding station on the other side of a street somewhere beyond. If there is seed, then the excited call continues for a bit before they wander off to the other potential somewhere nearby regardless of my offerings. The jays always circle back around to my table throughout the day; if it was empty earlier, they’re back in a couple hours, with the same calls, the same pattern, and the same excitement. 

When I hear them on their way, I often find myself saying quietly, “Yes, yes I’m coming. Hang on. . . .” whether willing exhausted eyes to open or stopping in daily work to make sure I respond — bringing seed out and aware of the flicker of wing and blue as the jays hide briefly while I come out the door.

 

Respond.

It is a conversation.

 

At least it feels so to me, for they don’t ‘hear’ me respond, but I know the calls so well, I can hear the changes in sound based on my opening the door. I can feel their darted-looks as they sense or hear (not sure which) my digging at the seed on my back porch to bring it out, as they wait with all the other birds and squirrels assembling for the banquet to appear. And I can hear the calls change when I don’t respond, when I don’t take action with seed in hand.

 

It is a conversation, whether of sound or sense or dance of movement between us.

It is a “conversation” because we are aware of each other, and one of us (at least) I know is listening and responding to the other, for it is me who is responding — usually with joy, delight, and care and wonder — to the call.

 

It’s an ancient one, this call and response, and like any sacred ceremony based on call and response in any culture; it’s a call to connection with each other and with that unseen but tangible to the feel web that connects us. 

 

As I begin the work of imagining what a paradigm shift to a Culture of Care for Nature looks like and feels like — and how to nurture it —  I’ve wondered where such a Culture of Care begins. Maybe even — no, especially — I’ve wondered how it begins.

 

And then I heard my “response” to a conversation from Nature.

 

If we are actively caring for someone, whether someone we love or someone with whom we care enough to be in relation, we listen to him/her/them, don’t we?

 

We witness his/her/their lives and their perceptions of reality; we make ourselves aware of their habits and challenges, joys and urgencies.

 

We create a connection of care by responding to what we hear and see from them and in them.

 

We are actively connecting in conversation and it is experienced, by at least one of us, as care.

In active connection we respond, “I care what is happening; I care what you say; I care what you think and feel, if not also care about what you yearn for and for your health and well-being.”

 

If you listen to Nature as a conversation, wherever you are in this moment, what would you hear?

 

Is there a pattern you’ve noticed but disregarded?

 

Is there an urging to action that you’ve felt, but set aside to later?

 

Have you responded to the conversation calling to you from all around, whatever beloved you are hearing at this moment, whether Spirit, beloved Companion, or a fellow in Nature?

 

By entering into conversation, we witness, we connect, and thus we begin to care.

 

What do you hear?

 

Do you respond?

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