By Rita Bober
Sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs became extinct. In fact, there have been five extinctions since Earth became a living, breathing entity. Now we are in the sixth extinction according to Elizabeth Kolbert in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. An extinction is when the diversity of life on earth is suddenly and dramatically reduced.
Kilbert states that these five extinctions happened before there were human beings on the Earth. The evolution of humans began 2.6 million years ago. Because of our presence here, we have had an impact on what has transpired and is now leading to a sixth extinction. "At this moment in time we are more and more consciously confronted by the reality of climate change, global pollution, acidification of the oceans, massive destruction of forests and wetlands and other natural habitat. All of it is contributing to the first man-made mass extinction of species that the planet has suffered, caused by industrialization and our addiction to a materialistic lifestyle. And we are all responsible—just by traveling in a car or a plane, we are actively participating in an ecologically destructive culture," according to Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a Sufi teacher and author.
Humans have the capacity to make a difference. We have a thinking brain, we have creativity, and we have the capacity to use technology in a good way. If governments don’t do something, it’s up to us to make a difference. We can choose by the way we live. Southwest Michigan is only second to California in the types of fruit and vegetables we can grow. I wish we could grow almonds here, I sure will miss them when they are gone. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes, with a significant amount of fresh water. What if we thought of this land and water as sacred?
Our connection to this land came one Spring day as we walked to the hill on the east side of our acreage. It was right in the middle of the 15 acres of rolling hay field that we had been buying from our long-time friends originally from Detroit who lived nearby. We were going to work together to have a farming cooperative, sharing machinery and work. But that didn’t happen; the couple got a divorce and moved away.
We asked ourselves, “What should we do?” Should we keep this land and move away from the idea of community? Was this land the right place for us to spend the rest of our lives? So we sat on the hillside and pondered the question. The earth felt warm beneath us; a light breeze blew from the west stirring our hair. We could see the rows of trees surrounding our land on three sides swaying in the wind. The buds were just beginning to burst open like far away stars shining in the night.
From the earth we got a flowing, a sense that we belonged. We felt a deep yearning to be here in this place at this time. Our guts said, “Yes, this is the place to live.” So began our journey in living in harmony with our land. Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, shares teachings on how to become Indigenous to place. That all the knowledge we need in order to live is present in the land. Our role is “not to control or change the world as a human, but to learn from the world how to be human.” And even though it has been over 25 years since we settled here, we are still learning.
Becoming indigenous to our place—how do we do that? Along the way we have found a growing understanding that we are not separate from nature and our land, but we are all part of one interdependent living organism that is our planet. We realize that the world is a sacred, interconnected living whole that cares for us and that we in turn need to care for the Earth, our Mother. We are learning to balance the outer world and the inner world, connecting our soul with the spirit that lives in all things. Most of us can relate to the sacredness of human beings, but many have forgotten that the Earth is also sacred, and that its soul can speak to ours. Indigenous peoples and their spiritual leaders know this and many of their rituals of daily life as well as their ceremonies and prayers are enacted for the purpose of looking after the sacred nature of creation, keeping a balance between the worlds. This sacred dimension nourishes our own soul and we need this in these trying times.
Connecting to the soul of the land—begin by taking time each day to give Thanks for all that you have been given. We have so many gifts to be thankful for. As you milk your animals each day or collect your eggs, connect with each animal in a conscious way giving and receiving each other’s gifts. When you see the first seeds emerge from the ground in your garden, give thanks for the gift of new life and continued hope that that new life represents. Have you ever talked to the wild animals that wander into your space? Sometimes we can connect with them and make deals where we honor each other’s space. We also can learn to share what we have with them and at times they share their lives with us. Do you have a sit-spot on your land where you can go and just “be” with nature? Ask a question, and listen for the answer. Be nourished by the Earth.
What about that community/cooperative lifestyle we envisioned? We are not farming co-operative with our neighbors, but two families give support through sharing and caring about us. We exchange seedlings, grapes and grape juice making, parties and get-togethers, borrowing tools, bee hive making, vegetables and fruits shared, even making sauerkraut together. Through our Transition Town - Local Lawton, we share a seed bank at the Library, started a community garden, have a school garden for 4th and 5th graders, made a Local Lawton Food & Farm guide, started a Honey Bee Co-operative, have seed exchanges, and educational and reskilling programs. Community is where you make it. Like-minded people connect to each other.
In closing, Vaughan-Lee reminds us that “the world is not a problem but a living being in a state of dangerous imbalance and deep distress.” We can work on balancing the sacredness of the Earth with the soul that lives within us.