These are incredible times to be an environmentalist. Of course it’s hard—we’re up against some of the greatest challenges this Earth has ever faced—and the majority of these trials and predicaments human-created.
We are the perpetrators of our own destruction in many ways, caught in a self-manifested, fast-paced, technology-driven world that unfortunately has become increasingly removed from our most sacred connections: those ties with Mother Earth.
Still, when someone says, “It’s really hard right now,” I can’t help but think that, well, of course it is. That’s why we’re here, right now. We’ve been given this time and this space and these battles because we are the people for whom they belong.
I believe that to create a brighter future for ourselves requires that we look into our forgotten past—using what once was to imagine what could be. It is absolutely essential that we bring back historical ecosystems, particularly our marshes and our forests. It’s time to recreate for ourselves again a more connected, empathetic, awake connection with this world, so that we may consciously change the way in which we daily interact with it. And we must change the way that we regard our fellow creatures. Trees can no longer simply be viewed as commodities or natural resources, but life-giving, climate-altering, medicinal wonders. The future of our children depends on treating all of this beautiful planet with the respect it so deserves.
Surrounded again by so much development upon returning to the United States after nearly a year in Central America, I feel a renewed a sense of urgency to both protect what has been spared, and to restore what we have forgotten to care for.
The Native Peoples of the coastal Pacific Northwest referred to the cedar tree as “Mother Cedar”, or “the Tree of Life”.
Rot resistant, cedar trees could be made into seagoing rafts large enough for twenty paddlers. The tree gave up hats and warm caps, protecting Her people against the wind and rain. Her bark, stripped and beaten into soft wool, swaddled newborn babies. At the end of life, your body once again returned to her. Thankful for her many gifts, the people cared for and revered Mother Cedar.
“The Tree of Life survives in patches of death,” wrote Robin Kimmerer in explaining another beautiful fact about the cedar tree. Although root rot (caused by a native fungus) kills most other trees, red cedars appear immune to the disease. When other trees die, the cedars quickly rise to fill in the gap along the forest floor.
This is how we must be too, I think: like Mother Cedar. Already it feels as if a new generation is rising to meet the old: rediscovering and rekindling the healing properties of the natural world, bringing the magic of our wild spaces back to life, and relearning again the lessons of reciprocity between people and the land. It’s time to give back—even if that means learning to change and grow in the face of sometimes seemingly overwhelming destruction. We are the new life breaking through the Earth. We are the gift-giving, life-bearing, strength of the old forests coming back anew.
This morning I walked down the beach as the sun rose…soft sand between my toes, slowly dusting my heels with little golden rocks. I sat down at the point to watch the early morning surfers and let the tops of the biggest waves surge up the beach to wet my toes. A small fluttering movement caught my eye, and I looked down at a furry little honeybee marching towards me.
She spun around until her wings and little golden stripes caught the sun. In that instant she was suddenly shimmering—living gold and alight.
My hair hung down and spun in the wind, shining, almost the same color as her fur in those moments. In that space and time it almost felt like I could reach out and touch her—that if I did we would somehow become one and the same that morning–two creatures enjoying the magic of a new day.
It is humbling to think about all the good that this little creature has done for the world—all the flowers and fruit trees and bright red tomatoes that she has pollinated and brought to life.
She flew away up into the sky and I almost waved goodbye. We learn the most from the smallest of creatures. By watching, by listening.
I have harmed the earth in infinitely more ways than I have taken care of her. But maybe that is about to change. I believe so much in the human spirit, and the places from where it came.
To love a place is not enough anymore. We are called now also to heal it. To learn from the smallest of creatures, as well as the most grand.
I hope, in doing so, that we just might begin to also restore ourselves.