For love of Earth
Born and raised on a small Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I am an Islander through and through. Like many other young people I left in my twenties to attempt to expand my universe. Although I did my best while away to try to find landscapes in the interior of Ontario that I could fall in love with, I was constantly heartsick for my Prince Edward Island home. I recall driving one bleak November day in Ontario and coming unexpectedly upon a lake and almost driving into it I was so happy to see a relatively large body of water. I didn’t realize how desperately I was missing the landscape of home; as much as I was missing the people and familiar routines.
But my little Island home, although wonderful and where we have chosen to raise our own growing up family, doesn't feel so comfortable anymore. The ease of childhood's ignorance has long since worn of and I am left with a grating feeling in my throat when I speak certain words, an inability to get a full breath when certain words are uttered by others. The words I speak about are all related to development and environmental protection, and to the ways we use our land and waters here.
We, as a small Island community, have a responsibility towards the land and air and waters of our home and I do not think we are taking this responsibility seriously enough. As environmentalist David Suzuki says people who live on islands know there are limits to things. He is right in that many of us here have a lived sense of those limits and what we need for our survival. Yet why are we continuing to allow government to be swayed by investors promising to bring jobs in genetically modified fisheries to our waters, why are we still considering hydraulic fracturing off our coastlines, and why are we not an entirely organic Island when far sighted and reasonable people believe it is a possibility that could become a reality if only the government and people of our land were to speak out, and let their voices be heard?
The essay I read last night was written by Gretel Ehrlich and is entitled The Future of Ice. It is a gorgeous piece of lyrical writing about spirit, place and the role our behaviours play in affecting the landscapes we live in. It was a read that made me want to get up out of my bed late on a wet, cold night and go outside to touch the earth at my own doorstep just so I could remember that I am alive; a living member of the world right now. Ehrlich's writing provides a glimpse into the fragile, changing nature of the North, somewhere we oft think of as the last true frontier, strong and wild and free. The witness she bears to the vulnerabilities the north is facing is startling and sadly too easily translatable to our planet as a whole. The words she uses, poetic. This woman truly loves Earth and writes about her love in a way that makes you feel as though you've somehow entered into the love as well.
As I age, I am realizing that many of greatest truths I have known in my life I knew intimately as a young child still awed by the sensuousness of the world. Truths which for too many years since I have largley forgotten. Ehrlich's words shook those forgotten truths from me much the way a good hug reminds you that you need to hug people more often. Yet her words rang hauntingly as well, like a rattlesnake's ominous warning entering spaces you'd rather pretend do not exist, rattled and shaken just before it's too late.
"How fragile we are.’We' being the humans and this mountain. My Inuit friends in Greenland use the word sila to describe weather: the power of nature, landscape, and human consciousness as one and the same. Every scar on the landscape is also a perturbation of the mind."
I have felt the desecration of our sacred lands and waters too oft as a perturbation of my own mind, and more times than I care to recall have felt the scorn of others for being too deep a feeler, too much a fool for the voiceless. Yet still I must ask: what are we doing to this wondrous world, to all its living creatures, to ourselves? Is it still possible for us to take pause, look deeply into the eyes of the world, and fall in love again?
Over the last few years I have been drawn to writers whose use of language explores both the internal and external lived worlds. A good friend of mine, poet John MacKenzie , does this brilliantly. His imagery pulled from the natural world reminds us that we are passionate, breathing creatures of bone and flesh whose bodies are not separate from the landscapes and mindscapes we inhabit.
A wonderful example of the intimate precision of his writing is exhibited here in a recent sestina he wrote:
The Winter Wings of Gulls
Perhaps, the greatest thing we could do in terms of slowing the progression of climate change is to slow ourselves, our frantic pace, our shallow breathing, and once again be mindful of our connection to the Earth. We then could be reminded of the wonders of the natural world, of the ways that place infuses spirit. Perhaps if we all recalled the forgotten truths of our childhood, the long, slow creak of years when we drank time like warm milk and squeezed the breath into and out of our days. Those truths we knew in our bones back then, those truths that I knew so well and let retreat to the shadows for too many years of my own life. Thankfully I have been reminded that we are inextricably a part of a great and wonderful unfolding; a mystery of nature and of spirit that encompasses the whole.
In a particular wintertime childhood memory of mine, I am lying in a snowbank outside of my house, alone on a blustery, snowy day. I was outside by myself as I was oft given to, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t really alone, that in the great loneliness there was room for all. I knew all of this and more at age five, lying well bundled in snow deep enough to mold around my little form, the wind blowing, lifting eddies and currents of crystalline snowflakes all around me. My breath, soft little exhales, made clouds above my face which disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared, The sharp catch of cold in my little chest as I breathed the air back in reminded me to breath slowly, gently. I can still recall that feeling of being tucked in by the snow. The cold assurance that this was winter I was lying in, but the secure feeling that there was room for me in it.
Ehrlich in her essay on The Future of Ice says:
“The sky borrows its radiance from ice, its adamantine clarity, and we spend lifetimes tracking down those elements within ourselves.”
Her essay speaks volumes about our need to make tracking down those elements that re-connect us with the living earth, with the spark of life inherent in all, a more urgent necessity in our lives. Her words an almost silent plea for us to care for each other and this planet with the same loving attention and awe with which we care for those we call our lovers. After all, the separateness we presume to be reality is only an illusion and the cost of being fooled by this is far, far too great. There is, after all, room for the whole of it.
I am re-posting this essay from 2013 as it seems as timely now as it was then--perhaps more so.
May love be your guidepost, and kindness, always kindness.