Nature Awareness Essay

Intimate awareness of nature follows naturally from a religious practice that venerates nature, and respect for the spirits that share our world arises from that awareness.

But action is easier said than done, I think. It’s easy to feel respect, but it’s an entirely different thing to make that respect tangible. Sometimes making sustainable choices is hard, and I know: I chose not to replace my car when it was totaled in 2010. Still, I found that after joining ADF and becoming truly aware of the spirits surrounding me, I felt a desire to change some of my actions to make less of a negative impact on the world I live in. I also felt a keen interest in learning about the lands I’ve called home in the past two years.

While I’m tempted to jump into the, “I’ve done this and that,” inventory of my accomplishments, it seems appropriate to begin at the beginning. For as long as I can remember, much of my creativity has come from the world around me. I sat, as a child, on the banks and in the caves along the Roaring River in the Ozarks of Missouri, and imagined unicorns and elves in the woods lining like sentinels the river’s the rocky banks. Long before I ever even thought about religion, I loved the land I loved in. The Ozarks were my heart’s home.

I’ve moved a lot since then, living in seven states and on two continents, and when I began the Dedicant Path, I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. I drove home through the pink-tinted badlands and stopped in silence to revere the Rio Grande and Santa Cruz Rivers. In rural New Mexico, nature rules: we were subject to the elements in a way I never had been before, driving over washed-out roads and watching the diverted river run through the acequia literally right under our doorstep. In early 2011, though, we moved back to yet another place I called home: Bloomington, Indiana, in the midst of the hardwood forests on the limestone karst deposits of southern Indiana.

Upon moving back here in May 2011, I wrote the following:

Throughout my childhood, through college and the last few years, when I’ve lived in four different states in four years, Indiana has been the constant, the one place I came back to almost every year. My ancestors lived here. My older brother is buried here. It has, somehow, become home.

I can feel the very land refreshing me. Perhaps it’s because I’m an open pagan now, but I’m very aware of the land spirits and the spirit of the land. Returning here is returning to my roots. It’s like home cooking, the recipes your mother made and your grandmother made: you can live without it, but life lacks a certain richness and comfort. I feel my spirit drawing strength from the tall, straight trees, the greenery, the little streams, the rolling hills. I am at peace again.

That’s all pretty ethereal, though, so perhaps I should describe something practical. I love and have loved the Earth, and it was time to make some decisions to make Her life easier.

After starting the Dedicant Path, I evaluated many of my choices. At first we couldn’t afford to replace my car, but as I considered it, I decided I could afford not to replace it. I work from home and my husband visits the office only three days a week: a second car is an unnecessary luxury, one that would pollute the earth merely by resting upon it. The second realization I made involved my monthly cycle—I truly hope I’m not “TMI-ing” my reviewer right now, but I started to think of the vast piles of plastic tampon applicators that litter the beaches of our planet, and I quickly switched to a reusable method of menstrual maintenance.

The final decision I made was a more definitive lifestyle choice, and one that has proved more difficult than the car or the menstrual difficulties: I became a vegetarian. While the choice was, for me, mostly an ethical one (I don’t want to eat another living being), the effects of factory farming on our environment played a role. I have no desire to eat another mammal, for example, but the raising of the mammals that fed me probably did more damage to the environment than my underused car ever did. It’s been rough, and my omnivore husband (who has digestive issues) and I have had a few rows about what to cook and how to cook, but I feel happier and healthier for living purely off vegetable life.

I’ve also made a few smaller lifestyle choices: cooking with cast iron instead of nonstick cookware; switching to more natural, homemade cleaning chemicals, shampoo, and conditioner; making an effort to buy local and organic foods. I am a member of our local co-op grocery store, and, though I live in an apartment, I’m even growing a few of my own vegetables this year. I am trying to make my footprint smaller. I would still like to make a number of changes, though. We don’t recycle, for instance, because we don’t have the space or the facilities at our apartment complex. I’d also like to find a more sustainable method of birth control, since science has shown that I’m leaching hormones into the water supply just by using it. I would also like to grow still more of our vegetables and even expand my container garden to include some cold-weather crops.

Finally, to return to my spiritual life, I’m trying to learn the land I call home. I’ve learned that our water comes from the White and Jordan rivers, and that our lakes are reservoirs, not natural features. I’m learning the trees of the area, and while I miss the aspens of New Mexico and the eucalyptus of California (which, while non-native, is everywhere and speaks to me of the land), I love the sycamores that adorn our land with their white mottled bark and golden autumn leaves. The hardwood forests speak to me of woods that will long outlive me, and I take comfort in their upward-reflection of the bones of the earth. My grove does much to honor the Earth Mother, more, I’m told, than many groves do, and that practice has trickled into my home practice: my representation of the Earth Mother never leaves the main surface of my altar.

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