Reconnecting with Mother Earth

13 ways to help heal the land


| May - June 2008



Reconnecting with the Earth

image by Anni Betts

Something within us loves the land. Sees gentle hills, undulating dunes, and toothlike mountaintops bright-lit at dusk and responds with deep delight. And not just to the look of the land, but to the feel of it. How it is to sit on a stony beach, recline in a blooming field, or plunge hands into the warm soil of summer. Such practices are essential for our sanity, to tap us into wild currents of energy without which we would wither.

These endeavors are also necessary for the health of the earth. Only when we’re disconnected from the land can we remain unaware of how we abuse our common home: carving it up, imposing monoculture and rectangular grids. Humans out of touch with the land excel in paving, damming, and digging up everything in sight, and then learning too late, if at all, of the consequences.

Not merely soil, the land is alive, and it thrives and suffers, neither infinitely lavish nor inexhaustible. Rivers run dry, forests are felled, and species die, aided by callused human hands. If we wish to counter the environmental terrors that face our planet, we must begin by fostering awareness and acknowledging harm. When we’re aware of how our actions affect the land, the lives of all who live on it are less likely to be imperiled. The more attuned we are to the vital connections that keep our system alive, the less likely we are to make bad decisions about using it.

Land use is right “when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends other­wise,” asserts Aldo Leopold in his seminal 1949 environmental tract, A Sand County Almanac. The Iowa-born conservationist proposed a new, healthy land ethic that would involve changing humans’ relationship to the land from conquerors to community-focused citizens of the earth. One can be ethical, he writes, “only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

Now is the time to revisit Leopold’s cautionary words and look with clear eyes at the “world of wounds” he described, and just how wounded it has become: forest clear-cuts, erosion, mountaintop removal, farmland turned to condos, and widespread, growing losses of species—a result of thinking of the land as ever-bountiful. Imagine a world without butterflies, without birdsong, without elephants and tigers. Picture a planet without glaciers, snow, and clean water.

We need to read and write and think. And then we must act (and, when appropriate, refrain from acting). We must open our eyes and dirty our hands. Get down to earth and humble ourselves. Let’s go outside and look around. Are we tourists here, or residents? Whose land is it? How many lives can it sustain? Who owns it? Maybe nobody does. Maybe we all do.