Friday, December 6, 2013

Nature Awareness Essay

When my Dedicant Path mentor, William, suggested that I work on my Nature Awareness essay I immediately felt a faint echo of nagging in the back of my head - a seed of doubt.  I couldn’t really assess the shape or origin of the doubt, but it was there.  And it stayed.  Finally, a few days later I was able to voice my concern to William - how do I pull out a thread of the tapestry that is our lives and write about it coherently without the benefit of the complete image?

I felt completely unqualified to write this essay; there are others who do so much more towards sustainable living and creating connections with the nature spirits.

Sure, I do many things that could, in a generic and superficial way, be described as “green.”  I recycle, hang laundry out to dry when weather permits, dump most of our table scraps into the compost pile and I garden enough to have a small surplus of produce to can and freeze.  I prepare meatless dinners roughly 6 days a week and buy around 60% of our household clothing at thrift stores.  I make our own soaps and lotion and I'm conscious about the number of miles driven in a week.

Sure, these practices sound “green” on the surface - they reduce the wear and tear on our precious planet and require less natural resources.  I've done these things for years, they are second nature now.  But I have a confession for you: I don’t do these things just because they’re “green.”  I do them for other entirely selfish reasons. 

The compost feeds the garden, which nourishes the produce I grow that is fresh, local, and chemical-free.  Keeping a mostly-vegetarian menu at home saves tremendous amounts of money on my grocery bill.  Seriously, I don’t understand how families that eat meat at every dinner can afford it.  Maybe it’s just that I'm cheap.  That would explain my thrift shop preference and desire to reduce the family's gasoline consumption.
But a few years ago (as a result of our self-imposed year of living on World War II rations) we moved and downsized the square footage of our house by more than 40% and, in the process, added in a few acres of land to boot.  Because of this change we now have a lot less personal space inside our home, but outside we have strawberries, blackberries and mulberries to harvest, and have apple and pecan trees that will bear fruit for us in future years.  And we have chickens.  The chickens provide us both with eggs and meat.  We raise and personally process between 20 and 30 meat birds a year, which is our main source of meat outside of any venison my husband might be lucky enough to bring home from hunting.

A smaller house means reduced utility and maintenance costs, but also a reevaluation of material possessions, a reappraisal of my decisions as a consumer.  Raising chickens means I know the eggs and meat on our table came from animals that had plenty of access to green grass and sunshine and bugs and table scraps.  And I know that their death was humane and that the meat was processed in a clean environment and free from questionable “flavor-enhancing” chemical injections.

Saving money.  Reducing my family's exposure to chemicals.  Both are good reasons to do the things that I do.  But one of the biggest pleasures of these selfish choices, at least for me, is the rhythm that they bring into my life.  If I am to do these things, I must be aware and in tune with the world around me. I must acknowledge the powers beyond my control, and be grateful for the blessings as they come.

Winter is a time of darkness, a time to remember the ancestors and say their names once more.  While most of nature is wrapped in a cocoon of snow and frost, I drool over seed catalogs and plan gardens, daydreaming of rows of broccoli and eggplants so colorful your eyes ache to see them.  I think of the goddess Mokosz and imagine a future harvest worthy of her blessing.  Winter is a time to hunt and process deer, with blood-stained hands and the smell of iron on the biting wind.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices.

Spring is a lovers' game, with green buds tempting the eyes and the songs of returning birds swelling the heart.  It is dicey game full of chance and circumstance - prepare the soil but do so in between rains. Plant early but not so early that a lingering frost kills your seedlings.  Spring is a time of celebration - winter has passed and the brilliance of life is affirmed in each new blade of grass, green and vibrant, one blade at a time.  It is a time to read once again the ancient stories of reacquainted lovers, and to see in the world around you all the promise of reunion.

Summer demands your attention, keeps you busy with weeding and watering and pulling fresh berries from vines.  Slow down only to offer praise and thanks, but don't rest too long or nature's pace will quickly surpass you.  Summer is eyes squinted at the bright sun and a steamy kitchen filled with the pleasing sound of seals popping on freshly canned produce.  Summer is fast and hot but anchored by cool nights of stargazing and bonfires.  Life creeps into the cracks during summer, no longer confined to neat plots and containers.  There is no escaping, not as long as nature demands your attention while she is at her ripest.

Fall is the last reaping, the last tomato picked and the last turnips pulled from their earthly blankets.  The sensuous embraces of summer dissolve into remnants of memories.  Thanks are given for the preceding abundance, that which will nourish you, physically and spiritually, through the dark half of the year.  Fall is the time to slaughter chickens, and we all have a part to play. It is a time to reflect, and a time to part ways. 

And then it all begins again.  

I am not made for monotonous tropical climates with their year-round fair skies and abundant harvests.  I love this rhythm, this inescapable dance sequence through the year. We're all partners - me, the Kindred, and this world.

So, for sure, doing these things that are “green” reduces our carbon footprint and lessens our impact on the Earth.  But, to me, they also bring a sense of satisfaction, at the stewardship of our household budget, but also in the knowledge and relationship it requires me to forge with the land and environment that me and my family so depend upon.  I could easily buy similar produce and meat at the grocery store - this would be a much more convenient option.  But it wouldn’t be mine, born out of sweat and time, the aching muscles and dirty nails - these things which I offer as my oath of covenant with the land. 

This is my choice, to make this promise, renewed each year as the spring rains begin and the earth reawakens. 

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