Kissing the Earth

Walking tends to be a means of getting from here to there. We generally don’t notice we’re doing it unless there is an ache or injury that makes it less pleasant to move about.

When you walk, you may prefer to wander in the past, but I’m usually several steps ahead of myself. I tend to project into the future or find myself engaging in conversation about imaginary scenarios with imaginary people. (Yeah, it’s like that in here.)

Last year, after a few months away from home, I returned to the cottage where I had lived for 7 years and the walk from the driveway to the house changed my life.

Continue reading

Coming at It Sideways

Ecologist Jerry Jenkins is working on a project that would send most reasonable people over the edge: a 9-volume atlas of Northern forests.

While his approach—an elaborate field guide that includes ecology—is fascinating and worth a nod for its ambition and integrated structure, it’s Jenkins’ practical philosophizing that captured my attention at a recent talk a the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

A researcher who spent years observing and quantifying ecological changes in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, Jenkins authored two books he assumed would change people’s behavior and attitude toward climate change: Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability, and Acid Rain in the Adirondacks: An Environmental History.

But despite the books, things seem to be getting worse. Jenkins had laid out the worst possible future scenario for the Adirondacks, yet it was business as usual. No one seemed to be listening. Continue reading

Clouds by Jenn Brown

Remembering Your Place in the Family of Things

One of the conundrums I often ponder is how, as humans, we can do what we are doing to the planet. Floating continents of trash in the oceans, flammable tap water, mountains laid low, ancient forests stripped bare. Why?

Why can’t we accept the world as it is and live in it, rather than breaking it and living among the shattered pieces, as fantasy writer Robin Hobb asks? What compels us to bite the very hand that feeds us? Why do we think it’s OK to shit where we eat?

Entitlement, greed, envy, jealousy, power, ignorance, and money are clearly motivating factors, but how, exactly, do these states or emotions overpower common sense?

Continue reading

A Moment of Silence With 400,000 People

“Silence is a source of great strength.”  —Lao Tzu

I wouldn’t have thought you could get 400,000 people excitedly waiting to begin the largest climate march in history to stop, become still and silent, and raise their hands in solidarity. But it happened—and it was powerful.

As we lined the western edge of Central Park with a cushion of quiet, we had a moment to access that place beyond words, to get in touch with the bigger picture, to tap into the mystery that transcends but includes us all.

After filling up on the love, peace, joy, connection, or whatever each of us found in that moment of reflection, we brought forth that energy in a roll of sound that moved through the crowd like a wave in perpetual crest.

It was a roar of hope and frustration, of joy and anger, of optimism and sadness. It was a roar of love—the sound of a mother bear protecting her cubs and a parent whispering, “I love you” to their sleeping baby.

It was the sound of the Earth itself, saying, “I will not be denied.”

We’re All One Tribe

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 was significant for many reasons, but for me the most important was its inclusiveness. The causes represented spanned everything from labor rights to veganism to water protection to nuclear disarmament. But underlying all the concerns is a love for our home, our precious planet, that is strong enough to get people off their couches and into the streets.

I have loved nature for as long as I can remember. I spent hours romping through the woods and exploring my dad’s vegetable garden when I was a kid, and our vacations happened in an 6-person Coleman tent that included cots and a 100-pound St. Bernard.

As an adult, I have struggled to find a place where I felt at home in the “environmental movement.” Who is my pack?

Continue reading

Masses of Beauty and Horror

Some things are perfect en masse.

In fact, their sheer abundance is what stuns our senses and freezes our minds in a moment of wonder.

Swaths of flowers. A cascade of falling leaves. Herds of animals. Mounds of rolling clouds. Amber waves of grain. When it’s beyond what we can count, or even estimate, we find ourselves suspended in a pocket of stillness, beauty, and potential.

One flower alone may be remarkable, but combine it with thousands of others, and we’re in the presence of something far beyond the sum of the parts.

Our minds attempt to find the patterns, noticing subtle differences in color or shape that create vaguely detectable variations. It may be an ocean of blue flowers, but over there it’s darker, and under the tree it’s brighter, almost purple, but we’re not sure how.

We are humbled.

And sometimes we’re horrified.

Continue reading

What Do You Say When You Meet a 4,000-Year-Old Tree?

Crowhurst Yew

Crowhurst Yew: Doorway to Stillness

What do you say when you meet a 4,000-year-old tree?

“You don’t look a day over 2,000!” Which, it turns out, might be a more accurate age for the Crowhurst Yew and many of the other gnarled specimens that dot the English countryside. 

A visit to this stunning, understated giant at St. George’s Church in Crowhurst, Surrey, on a rare sunny English day, was like stepping back in time (except for the constant airplane traffic above). 

Sitting at the door of this tree, and stepping into its hollow center with reverence, was an experience in slowing down. It required dialing back the forward momentum of life to just be with this venerable living thing that has been around for, well, a long time. But exactly how long? Four thousand years seems rather long.

Continue reading