“One of the penalties of an ecological education is to live alone in a world of wounds.” –Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1945.
A few weeks ago, I began hearing chain saws across the creek from my house. Even though this unoccupied land isn’t mine, I’ve been going there regularly for the last 3 years to walk, pray and leave offerings, and have been delighted by many wonderful Nature beings there, both material and spiritual. I remember reflecting just recently that I bet no one else alive right now loves this humble little stretch of pinyons and junipers, cactus, desert grasses and bright spring wildflowers like I do.
Now, the owners of the land have suddenly begun to put in a road that runs right through this cherished place. My treasured little spot has already been devastated practically beyond recognition: trees cut, the ground bulldozed, graded and strewn with construction debris. A craggy, half-alive old apple tree, which I had subtly decorated with prayer ribbons, was razed to the ground, its trunk and branches cut up and cast aside. Several inconspicuous altars where I used to sing in the morning have been obliterated. The trees where springtime birds courted and nested have been felled and chipped, and are no more.
The first time I went over to look, I could do nothing but cry, like anyone would who has lost their beloveds in such a cruel, shocking way. I found one small altar that had not been disturbed and tearfully left an offering. I tried to sing the song I usually sing there and could barely do it through my sobbing.
Finally I asked, “What can I do?” Here is what I heard:
“Walk the land singing, in sorrow and in joy. Sorrow for what’s being lost, but joy that there’s something here that no one can ruin: the craving for life that is part of this planet, in its every molecule; the craving for renewal, for going on. Affirm that as you walk the land and sing.
“There’s something here that can’t be killed by the misguided, destructive acts of humanity. This is what we—the beings of this land—honor and serve: the sacred land’s buoyant commitment to life, and to irresistible rebirth, flowing in endless cycles and returns, always returns.”
The land began to glow as I stood there, even the bare dirt of the soon-to-be road. The very air seemed radiant. I sensed the impulse toward life that is present in every grain of soil, in every leaf of every tree, in the birds and the sky, the land and the waters. It’s even in the metal that was used to make the chain saws and bulldozers that are wrecking this tiny fragment of Earth. Something in our planet’s very soul, and in ours too, will never die.
I felt deeply blessed to receive this beautiful message, and I’ve felt a little lighter about everything since then. And also, sometimes, almost incapable with sorrow. Yes, I was reassured once again about the undeniable regenerative powers of the land; and yet, this pinyon, this streamside cottonwood, this patch of Claret Cup cactus— where every spring, bees ecstatically rolled around inside dozens of stout red flowers, imbibing sweet nectar and coating themselves with sparkling golden pollen—have been uprooted. They’re gone. Forever. I grieve, as is fitting.
I also celebrate and stand for the deep, mysterious, revitalizing forces embodied within our planet, powered by the sacred Light in the land. I have faith in this Light. I carry it within my own essence, and so do we all.
And, unlike Aldo Leopold back in 1945, we aren’t so alone. The wounds he speaks of are more heartbreaking than ever, but we know that there is a diverse tribe of people all around the world who are attuning with this unquenchable force, and are finding the celebration and joy within it. But coming together to express our grief is essential; this, too, is part of supporting regeneration, through tears, song, prayer and ritual.
We must also remember that our tribe of regeneration isn’t limited to only human members. Trees and streams, jays and bobcats, faeries and ancestors are also part of this tribe. Let’s all go on together, affirming joy and sorrow, and affirming Life.