Julie and I went on one of our meandering photo shoots – where we wander around country roads looking for interesting subject matter. The beautiful colors of this small marshy area caught my eye through the trees and grasses growing along the road. It reached out and grabbed me in a way that forced me to work until I was able to find the composition I wanted without an excess of roadside foliage.
This wild place spoke to me, nurtured me in a way that is hard to describe. It touched some part of my brain that feels primordial, like I feel when being close to a large body of water. I’ve been thinking about the importance of large wilderness areas and this small piece of land got me thinking about local undeveloped land in the midst of our developed areas. The vast wilderness areas are important for us to have and to visit and to respect. We need to have a sense of what our planet has looked like for thousands of years without having us humans mess with it by stripping the land of the forests or digging up minerals or building cities. But I also need my neighborhood wilderness areas to sustain my connection to nature and to feed my soul.
There seems to be a constant struggle between the nature that is human and the nature that isn’t. I have a lot of empathy for First Nation and Native American peoples who lost so much of their culture and their ability to sustain themselves when the Europeans “developed” their lands. I also understand that we couldn’t sustain the number of inhabitants on our planet without the cultivation of vast tracts of land and the development of modern food production technology.
My life has been enriched by our industrialization and technology advancement, by the development of my Michigan and Florida neighborhoods – but I have also mourned so much that was lost in the process. Michael Watson very eloquently and warmly describes this tension in his recent post. He interweaves his concern over what he will loose if the land adjacent to his neighborhood is developed, while sharing the joy he experienced while being with friends at their neighborhood picnic in their already developed neighborhood. I understand deep down in my heart what he is saying.
Julie and I experience great joy and peace as we drive down country roads (preferably dirt ones) absorbing the beauty of the crop fields as the seasons change. Our eyes are constantly scanning for interesting barns that the farmers need to support their life’s work. I appreciate the farmer who grew the tomatoes that I have peeled, cut up, packed in jars and preserved in the water bath. These home-canned tomatoes will make delicious pasta dishes and soups during the coming year that I will serve to family and friends as we gather together to break bread around our dining room table.
I drive past these crop fields every day and smile big – they are beautiful. But I also need the wild areas in my neighborhood, down these same country roads that produce my food. Just as the cultivated fields fill my tummy, I need to have these undeveloped areas to feed my soul. I need to watch the sun shine through the woods at the end of our street, and see the mist rise over the marsh as I drive to pick up Julie for our early morning photography shoot. I love my cultivated, hybridized flowers that grow in my garden, but I also need to see fields of wild Queen Anne’s Lace or Goldenrod. And the joy of discovering a patch of wild thimbleberries, strawberries or blueberries.
I know balance is a good approach to most tensions, including the tension between “progress” and “conservation.” I don’t want progress (I hear profits) to be at the expense of those places that provide my soul food. I don’t believe I need all the conveniences that seem to make my life easier (at the expense of the environment), but they seem so hard to give up now that I have them. The simple living that we long for isn’t as simple as it sounds – but that’s another post I have planned. What I need to remember, however, is that every choice that is made requires that we give up something else. My soul could be at risk if too much of the local land that feeds my spirit is not preserved. I need to keep my eyes focused on my God who is the Creator of both human and non-human nature. And as Michael Watson would say, I need to listen.