"I really believe that to stay home, to learn the names of things, to realize who we live among... The notion that we can extend our sense of community, our idea of community, to include all life forms — plants, animals, rocks, rivers and human beings — then I believe a politics of place emerges where we are deeply accountable to our communities, to our neighborhoods, to our home. Otherwise, who is there to chart the changes? If we are not home, if we are not rooted deeply in place, making that commitment to dig in and stay put [...] then I think we are living a life without specificity, and then our lives become abstractions. Then we enter a place of true desolation."
--Terry Tempest Williams, from an interview with Scott London
My central focus for 2015 is to sink my roots deeper into Maine soils. I'll check in with my backyard and nearby patches most days to ground myself and to track the turn of the seasons. I'll visit a handful of York county spots on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to ensure exposure to a variety of habitats. And, I'll venture north at least once to meet some of the creatures who inhabit the boreal forest.
On a moonthly basis, I'll commit to a personal practice or challenge of some kind (see my Moon Challenges page for ideas). How will you stretch yourself in 2015? Do you have any moon challenges planned? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo caption: White-winged Scoter on the Mousam River, Kennebunk, ME.
"As time went by, I also realized that the particular place I'd chosen was less important than the fact that I'd chosen a place and focused my life around it. Although the island has taken on great significance for me, it's no more inherently beautiful or meaningful than any other place on earth. What makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart, not whether it's flat or rugged, rich or austere, wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame. Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received."
--Richard Nelson, The Island Within (1989), p. xii
The more I get to know the land around me, the more this quote rings true. My introduction to place-based learning came about a decade ago when I was a student of the Kamana program. Kamana taught me to strengthen my senses, get to know my non-human neighbors, and give thanks to and for the many cycles of life. My hope is that my work transfers some of those teachings to you.
“I hope that everybody has some activity that gives their body so much joy that it can tell the mind to shut up. And then the mind finds itself on vacation, without the perceived need to output a lot of silly chatter. And lo and behold, when the output spigot is turned off, uncensored input flows in [...]”
-- Jon Turk, The Raven's Gift: A scientist, a shaman, and their remarkable journey through the Siberian wilderness (2010), p. 151
My chatter-stopping autumn activities include birding, basket-making, wild food foraging, and, yesterday, making fallen leaf art with my partner Jenny (see above).
What sorts of activities work for you?
"Wildness is not so far away. Sometimes it is much closer than we think."
-- Paul Rezendes, The Wild Within: Adventures in nature and animal teachings (1998), p. 201
Wild fruits and nuts are ripening all over the landscape. As I walk and bike around town, I've been making note of developing Autumn-olive fruit, Blackberries, Black Raspberries, Black Walnuts, Blueberries and Mulberries.
I inevitably check the same spots each year to see how things have changed. While typically the changes are subtle, I occasionally find previously wild and deliciously bountiful places that have been freshly scarred by construction equipment, sprayed with herbicides, or even covered in pavement. If those responsible for the damages knew of the gifts of these places, perhaps they would choose different actions.
In the book The Island Within, Richard Manning speaks to the issue of recklessly interacting with the wild:
"On several occasions, I've seen people harvest huckleberries by breaking off branches and stripping them clean. If society judged this a crime, the offenders could be sentenced to pick berries from the same bushes each season for several years. This principle could also be applied in other cases where nature is exploited with little mind for the future. I wonder, for example, if a person required to live in one patch of woods -- taking food and shelter from it, becoming familiar with every tree, interacting daily with the animals who also live there -- could then bear to see this woods, or any other, leveled by clearcutting." (p. 192)
While I don't subsist on wild foods alone, I value highly their place in my life, and as such I do my best to ensure that my harvesting techniques contribute to the health of my local landscape. Slowing down, expressing gratitude, and gathering with the future in mind all seem like positive strategies to me.