The Whole Of A Life
Taking the time to deeply and irrevocably connect with the earth can take the whole of a life. (Tara Houska, Anishinaabe) I spent the first part of my life being formed in elite institutions into a scientifically literate citizen, with tools of analysis that led to a PhD in interdisciplinary humanities. Though I spent time outdoors, most of my connection to the earth was through fantasy, and most forays ended in the comfort of home, or at least with a well-stocked backpack. I have more or less spent the whole of a life becoming a privileged white man and a highly educated elitist. On the other hand, I have had a passion for earthcare since the first Earth Day, and quit academia at the Millennium to dedicate myself (imperfectly) to educating about climate science and trying to help awaken others to the global ecological crisis. But am I truly awake?
In the early days, I anchored each presentation by teaching some basic climate science. Later, I would give a quick summary of the crisis, giving the latest climate news. But what was always most effective was leading group interactions around feelings and values in response to these momentous changes, especially doing grief work, and explorations into deep time. But I have yet to dedicate to deeply and irrevocably connect with the earth, and certainly have not given my whole life to it.
Once, when I gathered Celo Friends Meeting to pray for the safety of the water keepers at Standing Rock as they faced eviction by the state police, spirit came upon me and I rose to plead that we all adopt our local places as sacred, worth defending with every means available. No, I and my listeners are not natives to this place, where we displaced the Cherokee (Gaduah). We are a nomadic, opportunistic species, and I am a European colonialist. As my respected friend/sage Joe Hollis has said for decades, we are a species that has lost its niche, wandering uprooted in our technological play-world. As Joe says, "We have replaced natural diversity with human diversity." But setting a deep intention to honor our places as sacred, and renewing it daily, is profoundly different from the admonition from some environmental groups to "do one thing for the Earth each day."
I cast my lot with Greta Thunberg and the millions of young people rising up all over the planet. The science speaks loudly, but not loudly enough to reach the reactionary forces on the rise worldwide. We can only hope that as the wave of strikes increases, it will finally overwhelm an over-civilized world which prefers the illusory comfort of business-as-usual to living in daily deep connection to the Earth. It is quite probable that these strikes will not bring change fast enough to avoid climate catastrophe, but the effort has dignity and nobility and courage.
More importantly, I have recently connected with Cherokee (Gaduah) elders, and come to recognize just how sacred is the valley I inhabit, and the majestic massif overlooking it, the Black Mountains. This land was their gods. I am humbled by this, and I will spend my elder years going as far into these mountains as I am able, sometimes without provisions, so that I may listen more deeply. Whatever happens to global civilization and our species during this sixth great extinction, the Earth will endure, and so will the gods in this land. No matter the circumstances, it can take the whole of a life.