Sunday, May 24, 2009

108 Things We Can Do for the Earth/#2, Understand

Number two on His Holiness Karmapa’s list of 108 things we can do to help the environment is:

”Read, discuss, and develop an understanding of environmental issues and how they affect you and your community.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved the area where I live now that I can’t imagine not being interested in the surrounding environment. Maybe if I lived in some place that I didn’t much like, though, I’d feel differently.

For right here and right now, however, I want to know as much as I can about our local birds, our local water cycle, our wild native creatures and plants, our stars, and how the continually changing cycles of the seasons manifest in North Central Florida.

I first tuned in to seasonal changes several years ago, when I was doing a lot of reading about the new paganism (I did comparative religions in college and am fascinated by that subject), and got acquainted via email with a remarkable writer named Waverly Fitzgerald. Waverly lives in Seattle and produces a web site called School of the Seasons, which I highly recommend. Reading her articles made me realize how out of touch with seasonal changes we can become, given our prevailing culture’s neverending focus on work, consumption, and entertainment.

Now, of course, the area where I live is embroiled in the water wars. So I think it’s more important than ever for us to educate ourselves about our natural resources, so we can stand up for them and protect them. The California Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder had an article in the November 2007 issue of Shambhala Sun called “Writers and the War Against Nature,” part of which is reprinted in the July 2009 (pp. 64-65) issue; in it, he says:

“How can artists and writers manage to join in the defense of the planet and wild nature? Writers and artists by their very work ‘bear witness.’ They don’t wield financial, governmental, or military power. However, at the outset they were given, as in fairy tales, two ‘magic gifts.’ One is ‘The Mirror of Truth.’ Whatever they hold this mirror up to is shown in its actual form, and the truth must come out. May we use that mirror well!

The second is a ‘Heart of Compassion,’ which is to say the ability to feel and know the pains and delights of other people, and to weave that feeling into their art. For some this compassion can extend to all creatures and to the world itself. In a way, nature even borrows the voices of some writers and artists. Anciently, this was a shamanistic role where the singer, dancer, or storyteller embodied a force, appearing as a bear dancer or crane dancer, and became one with a spirit or creature. Today, such a role is played by the writer who finds herself a spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song. This could be called ‘speaking on behalf of nature’ in the old way.”

To really speak for Mother Nature or any of her creatures, it seems to me, you need to know what you are talking about. You need to “read, discuss, and develop an understanding of environmental issues and how they affect you and your community.”

I’ve pictured above some of the resources to which I turn when I have questions about our area and its flora and fauna. There are, undoubtedly, many such resources for every area of our country and, no doubt, the world. The Internet itself is one such resource. You can’t see it on the computer screen in the picture above, but I had surfed over to the Water page at Food and Water Watch.

Here in North Central Florida, I always encourage people to tune in to what the folks at Our Santa Fe River are doing. My friend Merrillee, who does an outstanding job of communicating river-related news, also has an e-mail list that provides a wealth of current information (pun intended!); you can get in touch with her through the Our Santa Fe River web site. Rachael Ryals, a journalist with the High Springs Herald, provides a great service not only by writing about environmental issues for that paper but also by administering the new North Florida Nature News web site.

What are you most curious about in your own local environment? What are some resources you can use to find out more? Do you know other people who are interested in some of the same things? How can you begin to speak for your neighbors who are voiceless—the plants, the animals, the outstanding natural features?

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