Getting to Know Our Place in the Watershed
Sacred-Earth Land-Nurturing, a book by Steven D Redman, has been compiled for farmers, homesteaders, land-carers, environmental educators, conservationists and more. It amalgamates the theories and ethics of Permaculture, Land Stewardship and Biodiversity Conservation practices, plus it provides useful templates to help assist with nurturing of the planet.
Each week on Permaculture News we will share with you a snippet from various chapters of the book which is available on Blurb
Todays snippet is a second extract from Chapter 5 – Getting to Know Our Place in the Watershed
Any place, in all watersheds, is a place within the Earth’s ecosphere. It belongs to the Earth. It’s a part of the Earth’s story. It is a Living place, a system, process and cycle of Life. It is a being, and it is sentient. We can also observe that it’s a biological habitat, biome and ecosystem of the biosphere. Empirically speaking, Earth is a Living planet of this solar system, and it depends on the stability of the entire solar system. The story of Earth is lived within its biosphere, not beyond its atmosphere or magnetic field. It is the biological world that we are immersed in. It doesn’t exist “below” us, in our ephemeral worlds of mind, ideas, cultures, demands or politics. It is, essentially, independent of us, not we of it. It sponsors our existence, and will most certainly outlive us. Without place, there is no philosophy, relationship, goals, commitment, plans, designs or nurturing. Place is paramount, to say the least! Everything about ecologically-harmonious land nurturing rests upon the appreciation and care for a place as the sentient Living thing that it is. We have a trust relationship with Life on Earth. When we care for it, it nurtures us in its astounding realm.
Discovering a place is an inherently rewarding experience. Most people, for instance, enjoy walking a fence-line between pasture and woodlot, or scrambling up a hill and down along a stream corridor. Perhaps, while doing so, we’re thrilled by a large bird flushed from its roost, or a small mammal leaping through the ferns before us. It’s important to land nurturing to notice things about a place. In our initial adventures within a place, we should keep our goals, dreams, designs and long-term relationships properly stored in the far back of our mind. Settle into the site first, and commit to it with the long-term in mind. That is why it is so important to choose our place wisely.
Now that we intend to explore from our base-camp-eco-farm, we can think of its relationship with the world beyond it like a spider web. It is at the centre of the web. The web is connected to the whole world. From our eco-farm we can gather ideas, visions and perspectives from all places on the web. These can inform and inspire our own visions. Considering that the land is an organism, a “person”, and a sacred place, not merely an object for use, manipulation, control, design or placement of goals upon; we should wait, and not venture rashly into that objective approach.
In culturing deep relations with a place, it is more fundamental to establish an intimate, subjective understanding. One great time to do this, is on a magnificent morning. I recommend roaming the land slowly, in wide-eyed enthrallment, like an innocent teenager, and with just a small note pad in a pocket. Several such immersions should be experienced. Just wander for hours, letting the beauty and personality of the land soak into your being and essence. Notice how the snow and wind, the bird and frog songs, the forest and flower and sunrise and sunset warm your heart and speak to your spirit. Continue this weekly, monthly and annually. Do it also in the gentle rain and snow, and on starry and moonlit nights. Listen and feel the revelations that the Earth is dreaming of. Perhaps, you may want to write, paint or sing about your thoughts and feeling about the land. Note how we see this vital “beginner’s mind” in a quote from the Disney Nature film, Growing Up Wild (2016). As two grizzly bear cubs venture onto a grassy coastal plain with their mother in Alaska, the narrator says, “These young bears are in a permanent state of wonder. And for good reason.” This is how we must experience the waterland, utterly enthralled in ecstatic wonder. When you exist in a thoroughly astounding Living world, you have a very good reason for such celebration.
I also encourage roaming the land much like a stalking hunter, who sees a new view of the world with every footstep. But, it is not enough to slowly stalk, rather one must revel as does a forest ecologist, a poet and monk. Then, we become a wild human being enjoying our life, and immersed in the sacred world. These experiences penetrate one’s spirit, and we meld with the biosphere. Now, we are more ready to begin reflecting on these spiritual wanderings.
The purpose of assessing the land is to come to an understanding of it, and how all its parts contribute to the place, and to nurture a holistic realisation. It is not to cut it up, isolate or separate any of its characters. It is good to nurture a deep, personal love and understanding of the place you live in. This is a qualitative, visceral art of wonder-filled pilgrimage and communion of which I speak. Although rarer nowadays, it is still very much available for any human being to experience and revel in. There is nothing more profound than to live free, wild, innocent, astounded and entranced in Life. Please forgive my redundancy, but it’s so vital that I communicate this forgotten wisdom, and the Living truth it honours. To assist you in nurturing this essential, but neglected honouring of Life within Earth, I strongly advocate thoughtful and highly professional works, such as, the following: The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff, Wild Earth, Wild Soul by Bill Pfeiffer, Awake in the Wild by Mark Coleman, Animate Earth by Stephan Harding and Thinking Like A Plant by Craig Holdrege. These are just the ones in my personal library, and that I have read. Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder and T.C. McLuhan’s The Way of the Earth are still other seminal works in this genre.
In getting to know and in honouring the story of the Wild Edge Garden, for instance, the Chartreuse Cliff speaks beautifully of its geologic story. Geologists tell of the origin of the Puget Group Formation Sandstone like this. Its sands were laid down from 54 to 44 million years ago along beaches and in shallow seas around a huge island that accreted onto the western edge of the North American continent. The Rocky Mountains were the active volcanic arc back then. As those mountains of Idaho eroded, the rivers delivered their sands to the beaches here. Forests, swamps and mangrove estuaries must have existed there too, because shale with leaf fossils and coal makes up part of the formation. Uplift and folding has hoisted the great slabs into the foundations of the present-day foothills. Western Washington’s geologic story also tells of a Tertiary volcanic period that began around 40 million years ago, and of Pleistocene eruptions and uplift which continues to this day. The valley where the Wild Edge Garden is located was also covered by the Nisqually Glacier 12,000 years ago. All the andesite and granite scraped from the upper valley and encased in the ice later blanketed the foothills when the glacier retreated. Like Wild Edge, every land has a unique story and personality. Of course, you can explore these stories as formally or informally as you want depending on your goals and interests. And, it is likely to be more influential upon you to do your own wanderings.
The seasons will come when we reflect on these wanderings in maps of the land. Maps will form in our minds and make their way onto papers, even models and computer files. We can map habitats and micro-habitats, slopes, topography, rock formations, microclimates, hydrologic features, and site size and boundaries. Surely, county soils maps, books on local ecology, aerial photography, and survey records can help with this. There are many wonderful, printed field guides available, as well as, on-line sites like the Encyclopedia of Life. It’s a good time also for baseline photographs and films of the land.
Climate is a vital part of any site, and must be understood as critical to the overall story of a place. Extreme weather or geologic events, like lightning storms, heavy snows or earthquakes, and fire ecology regimes certainly influence a land’s character. Sun exposure in each area of one’s land is crucial information to gardening, forestry and building plans. Observations of phenology (the timing of natural and biological events) and of plant, fungal and animal life, and estimates and assessments of “ecological services” are inspiring parts of the story.
Just as we can assess degrees of ecological degradation on site, we can also characterise neighbouring land uses, and study their positive or negative influences on the farm. The importance of human history, and the land’s immersion in the surrounding human community mustn’t be overlooked. Also of great value, are unique site features, microhabitats, and particularly rare and irreplaceable ecosystems, such as, a bog with rare plants or a stand of old trees where woodpeckers nest. These should be identified and preserved. Their preservation can often be financed by production elsewhere on-site, and from off-site work.
Finally, as we become more and more drawn into the story of our land, we must resolve to work with the site in our plans for the future. Cooperation with the site, and with the Earth, nurtures harmony and wisdom with Life. This journey is suggestive of philosophy and ethics.