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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness’

Understanding climate:

“It’s either the whole or it’s nothing…”

 

http://www.ted.com/talks/gavin_schmidt_the_emergent_patterns_of_climate_change?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=image__2014-05-01

 

Gavin Schmidt said this at the Ted conferences in early May. I feel it is the easiest way to sum up  what is in front of us:

 

It’s either the whole or it’s nothing…

 

Either we embrace that our Earth must be cared for as a whole rather than a whole lot of separate island nations, or we humans all sink together into a kind of desperate living only Hollywood can adequately portray. And with a lot of pain and suffering for so much we love along the way, animal, plant and human alike, in this miraculous, Eden-like habitat we call home.

 

This wholeness can be really positive if embraced as a reason to care now — for each other, for the animal and plant life that is the miracle of our world, for the shreds of wilderness left intact that we protect, and for the areas of Nature now rehabilitating with or without our notice — with as much determination as we can find within ourselves.

 

Yes, let’s respond to the whole as a whole; we have the technology, and the heart and art to do so.

 

Is there any among you who can put a webcam of melting ice and stranded polar bear and cubs on the Megatron in Times Square where we city dwellers can stand, rapt with concern, and root for their survival? That might occupy attention to our wholeness. How about another webcam 24/7 on the screen at the airports, documenting not just the latest extreme weather event we watch in awe anyway, opening our hearts and wallets for those people displaced, but also one which provides a glimpse of mammals seeking water during the newest drought or fire, wherever it may be? Live, as it happens…

 

Too tough to watch, I hear many protesting. Yes, but it is real-time reality TV that simply underscores our connection to each other, our care piqued as we are a species that does have a good heart when seeing pain, and we do respond to help.

 

If we can see and experience the whole, with our eyes and hearts engaged, we can create a culture of care for the whole.

 

Really, we can.

 

 

 

 

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Tell me what awakens you…

Tell me what feels sacred to you.

 

Is it possible that these two might somehow be related? Does one awaken to the sacred, or does the sacred awaken within us a feeling?

 

A few days ago on a TED conversation, (it’s closed but you can read through it here), someone asked if ‘sacred’ was the most dangerous word?

 

Indeed, I’ve encountered (still) a bit of disbelief when I describe a blog on Earth, home, habitat, exploring Earth being sacred to others. One challenged me immediately to define sacred, as if I’d raised an old spectre; given the home nation of the person is vehemently anti-religious both out of manners and frustration, I understood it was a bees nest of reaction going on inside him. Another response more recently was, “Is it safe to write about that?” That one caught me by surprise; it took me a moment to reflect that yes, perhaps, one’s exploration of sacred might ought be kept to oneself . . .  except that would delete thousands of years of meaning-making by our species. If we didn’t explore the sacred, and the sacred in Nature, outwardly, where would art, music, dance, poetry be? These expressions of feeling and experiencing the sacred, including in the natural world, are much of the beautiful expression in every culture and in every age.

 

Yet, the Ted thread certainly got testy very quickly.

 

What is it that awakens volcanos and tempests of feeling in exploring even just the ‘term’ sacred?

And that is what brings me to wondering what awakens you and what of it, if anything, feels sacred? Whether it’s awakened to the day or awakened to feeling, it’s something we go through many times each day.  Awaken, as in rouse from sleep, experience new feelings or new awareness…

One school of thought is that God — choose your name for whatever you are comfortable calling the life force within you, the light which animates you and which visibly disappears when you die and the light leaves your physical body, as I’ve witnessed in human and animal alike — awakens each of us each day. I’ve heard this spiritual experience described especially in families where a child or loved one has a short time to live and is roused from sleep lovingly with “This is the Day the Lord has made…” by caregivers.  Certainly when Nature awakens me, I am aware of something greater calling me up and out, whether noisy jays (earlier written about here) or the ravens in the forest. I am awakened with curiosity and inspiration. In South Africa, I was awakened by the distinctly foreign sounds of monkeys chattering near by. In Wyoming, camping on the prairie, I was awakened by an early morning stampede of running paws on dirt — a local coyote pack with pups roaring by, yipping and barking with joy. I am always awakened to a feeling of wonder at Creation in these times; wonder at Creation awakens a feeling of sacred in me.

 

More locally, I am awakened to awareness by my cat. Foul breath draws near, several head bonks forehead to forehead, and when that doesn’t work because I am lost to heavy, unfeeling slumber, a deft poke with specially-sharpened central claw pulls the quilt, sheet, and then a stab into the back or face (ouch) awakens me.  I always assume that’s God’s humor in action, for if I awaken, I’m still here on Earth and there is work I need to get done apparently; the cat might wish to be thought of as God awakening  me (indeed he made it in other cultures) but such an awakening to feeling isn’t always what I had in mind as ‘sacred’ per se.

 

But then I’m reminded by this that awakening to sacred isn’t always comfy. There are the awakenings to bears or raccoons ransacking my pack with a thin tent wall between us, or the shriek of the chase between predator and prey, whether in wilds, African bush, or city alleys, that make the first words out of my mouth a prayer:  ‘Oh dear God, what was that?’ Awakening to awareness, life and death, what could be more sacred or inspiring?

 

It’s a thin line between awakening and feeling wonder, of comfort and inspiration, of Nature as source of knowledge of the Gods (sacred) and experiencing that which we live among but do not fully understand.

 

So what awakens you… to your day or your world or to Creation?

What awakens you to the feel of sacred?

What awakens you to the thin line between the two?

Tell me a story of you, and your awakenings.

 

Are the Earth and the sacred so far apart?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We don’t know what our own habitat is…

Sir David Attenborough

BBC 16 Dec 2013

 

This off-the-cuff observation, in the midst of a simple radio conversation on BBC today, startled me.

Is it possible that we, in walking through the moments of our lives, do not recognize or ‘know’ our own habitat? This ecosphere of life-giving oxygen, those mountains, that river of water, this bit of nourishment from some plot of dirt?  

Is it possible we suffer from habitat illiteracy – can you read the sky and the wind for on-coming weather, recognize a source of usable water, or observe the movement of wildlife to note puzzling changes?

Being a 3rd generation native of this area of the Rockies, where the prairie meets mountains, and raised by a woman born in the late 1800s whose survival and well-being depended on reading the land and weather, I too taught my children to read the beautiful, huge blue sky here. We pay attention to see, to smell, to feel when snow is in the air and whether it’s a northern ice (and thus cold) scent or a heavy damp one (and thus a deep, heavy snow requiring extra food in the pantry) on the way. I soothed my children with knowledge of when a cloud portended hail rather than tornado weather and which way it was blowing in order that they feel safe at Home in our world and empowered to be a part of it. We see how the prairie Blue Jays have come to inhabit our backyard rather than the foothills variety and that summer’s doves now stay too long (and thus get caught by heavier snows than they are meant for) — puzzling changes in territory and timing we can only presume come from changes in climate and habitat needs.

Reading the weather, the sky, our habitat are essential tools. For we need them to feel at home here on Earth and with earth’s vital resources that support our very life.

We are not unique; so many I know bring their own weather/habitat knowledge with them when they make a new home in a new territory as well. And thus learning and natural evolution take place; yes, it really can be 10-below for a week here and yes, power can go out.

But Sir David speaks of a more profound change:

We don’t know what our own habitat is  . . .

Have a majority of us, like the comic Jetsons of the 1960s, become used to punching a button and food is shoved into our mouths? (Let’s not forget that poor family had to wear helmets for life-giving oxygen; let us hope that is not our future here on Earth.)

Sir David went on to mention the moors and forests of the U.K., every inch of which, of course, are transformed by man’s hand over centuries save, he noted whimsically, a few tops of peaks in Scotland.

Here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world many of us are lucky enough to see wilderness, where we can see an ‘original’ habitat of man, whether temperate rainforest in British Columbia or parts of the Amazon and here in the Rockies —except that in many cases, the wilderness managed to be preserved is the edge of our habitat, a remnant of land from which man could not carve out a 4-season living, like at the tops of our Eagle’s Nest Wilderness of 13,000 and 14,000 feet, and thus left it to remain wilderness.

We do not know what our own habitat is…

Sir David did mention that we might look upon glass and steel, buildings and tarmack, as our habitat — and if so, he said, that is very distressing. Indeed we are told that a majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. And of course, that is a mixed blessing: with more urban living, more land is able to return to wild, as noted in a previous post (Re*Wilding);  yet with more people, especially our children, living in a city-bound alienation from our Earth, we become dangerous and sad. We suffer both a habitat illiteracy, and a sense of alienation from our natural cradle that gives us water, air, food, life.

The remedy? Take a moment outside. Reconnect to your habitat: notice the sky and read the wind; gaze at your water source and feel grateful it’s even there; consider what the wildlife (surely there is some near you even if a humble pigeon or squirrel) had for their breakfast. And then look to the horizon . . . and think about home. The Earth. Your habitat.

What is your habitat, really? It’s still there, beyond the glass and steel.

And your life-force, maybe even your soul within you, knows you, me, we all need it more than we might want to admit.

 

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“Dwell in the magnitude of the Universe . . .”*

Galaxy Messier 94  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Galaxy Messier 94
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

To dwell comes from Old English dwellan

— as in to wander, to linger, to tarry —

… thus to take time in

and to inhabit as a home.

Coastal_strand_with_old_growth_forest_on_oswald_west_state_park_in_oregon

Photo courtesy: Patte David, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Whether we dwell in the infinitude of Nature, of Creation, and linger there,

— or dwell on such magnitude that it is, and thus wander in the improbable, unabashed abundance of Nature —

in doing so, we are then able to inhabit the possibility that that which we call Sacred might be around us, enveloping us, within us, and also is our home.

It is then that we might know Nature, and ourselves in it, to be one In matter, in substance,

and in energy that we experience

as life.

"Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org"

Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

 

*“For those who have always dwelt on limited thoughts,

a good practice is to dwell in the magnitude of the Universe.”

 Ernest Holmes

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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.

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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.

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“(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.

 

 

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